When Brody and I got together for our annual summer box office review chat, he came prepared. I showed up at Luby's with nothing but some cash, which I used to order the fried fish (extra tartar sauce) and then settled in at booth back amongst the cafeteria's usual clientele of blue-hairs. It was then that I saw Brody stumble in; weighted down by what looked like a large assortment of carefully organized three-ring binders. He barely made it to the table before they tumbled out of his arms, just missing a disastrous collision with my massive mountain of half eaten tartar sauce (I had been sculpting it in Close Encounters fashion). It looked like Brody was kicking the facts and figures up a notch this year; I'd have to be on my guard. Here's what happened when we had our summer review:

Box Office Winners

Shrek 2

MB: The big green ogre blew the house down when he opened with a gargantuan $108.0 million (only $6 million behind the legendary opening of the original Spider-Man) and broke almost a dozen records, including the largest opening for a sequel (a difficult feat considering that many of the largest openings are sequels), largest single-day gross ($44.7 million), and became the fastest film to cross the $300 million and $400 million mark. The fairy tale comedy then met a fairy tale ending with a final domestic gross of $436.7 million, making it the third highest-grossing film of all time (unadjusted).

JT: Shrek 2 had some nice jokes about puppets wearing thong underpants, but I just don't think it deserved so much viewing attention. I'm a huge fan of the original and I really liked this sequel, but it just didn't have the bite of the first one for me. Still, it's a good movie so I guess I wouldn't complain about it getting seen. $436.7 million just feels a bit excessive. Like last year's Finding Nemo this seemed to become the default movie for everyone to go watch.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

MB: The boy wizard conjured more box-office magic when he opened with a staggering $93.6 million, five million more than the opening of the last Potter adventure, The Chamber of Secrets. The decision not to open the third film in the fantasy series last Thanksgiving (in the same frame as the first two films) turned out to be a wise decision, as it allowed anticipation to build for The Prisoner of Azkaban to pull in a $247.6 million, only $14 million less than The Chamber of Secrets.

JT: I know Potter fans weren't as eager to embrace Cuaron's take on the franchise as they were Columbus's, but they should be. It's a fantastic movie, while the others were just mediocre kids entertainment. It's incomprehensible that $14 million dollars worth less of people would have seen this than Chamber of Secrets when Prisoner of Azkaban is about $100 million dollars worth better. Hopefully, as Hermione gets older they won't have to resort to sticking her into age-inappropriate bikinis to keep the box office totals from slipping further in future franchise outings.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

MB: Talk about truth in advertising! The $20 million Dodgeball really did turn out to be a “true underdog story” as it opened up against the third blockbuster pairing of director Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, The Terminal, and managed to win the number one spot for an opening weekend of $30.0 million. Even more impressive, the film was no one-hit-wonder, either, staying in the game for a final run of $113.3 million.

JT: Well Brody, you're clearly ready to start writing for the E! Channel with an opener like that. Hopefully they don't lure you away from us with their health plan! I also wish people hadn't been lured into watching Dodgeball (With a segue like that I'll soon be working for Entertainment Weekly) which managed to be mediocre comedy at best. One of the basic truths of our society is that people like to see other people hit in the face or even better, hit in the nuts. Hurling hard rubber balls at people in a movie presents the possibility that both of those things may happen on screen and I guess that sort of comedy is just too hard to resist.

Fahrenheit 9/11

MB: Director Michael Moore pulled a Passion and let the controversy for his new film do the marketing, enabling Fahrenheit 9/11 to pull in $23.9 million in only 868 theaters nationwide on opening weekend. The “documentary” fought out what could have been a second-week slump and lived up to the hype, to hold onto an audience for a final run of $117.4 million.

JT: It's an amazing thing for a documentary to make that much money, but for it to be this documentary makes me a little sad. Not that I have a problem with people watching whatever Michael Moore is selling, it's only that I like my movies as an experience that brings people together. Cinema used to cross cultural divides, national boundaries, even language barriers to bring new ideas and shared experiences to people. Whatever Fahrenheit 9/11 is, it certainly is not a unifier. It's divisive and even talking about it sets people at each other's throats. You can't have a civilized discussion about it. People can't handle it. I guess there's a place for it, it's just a little disheartening to think of $117.4 million dollars worth of people walking out in a political fervor ready to crush whoever they perceive as their political opponent (aka the devil), usually some guy who happens to be their neighbor. It's the kind of movie that sends people out into the parking lot to key cars bearing “George Bush” bumper stickers or that gets guys wearing “John Kerry” t-shirts beat up by snaggle-toothed rednecks. Michael Moore does have nice taste in hats though, so maybe that is worth $117 million bucks.

Spider-Man 2

MB: In what had to be the least surprising turn of the summer, the famous wall-crawler caught the country in his web and held on tight when he snagged $88.1 million on opening weekend and $152.4 million over the six-day Fourth of July weekend to break several records, including the largest opening for a July release, the highest-grossing opening day ($40.4 million), and the highest-grossing opening week of all time, at an earth-shattering $192.0 million. While the sequel was unable to top the $403.0 million gross of the original, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man was still able to swing to a spectacular $367.9 million finish.

JT: I blame myself. Spider-Man 2 deserved to break $400 million. After all, it's the best superhero movie ever made. So why didn't I see it more than once? I just didn't have the time to get in for another showing of it, no matter how badly I've wanted to see it again. I was forced instead to make time for meow mix like Catwoman. If only I'd made more of an effort, if only I'd found the time, then maybe it would have broken the $400 million mark. I feel pretty guilty. Spidey deserved more effort from me.

The Bourne Supremacy

MB: Success was re-Bourne for the spy franchise, as Supremacy reigned supreme over its predecessor, The Bourne Identity. The sequel to the hit espionage-actioner was even able to top the $121.6 million gross of the original, opening with $52.5 million, nearly twice what Identity opened with, and topped off a solid run with $158.2 million, ensuring Jason Bourne one more adventure.

JT: The thing is, The Bourne Supremacy probably could have made another $50 million more without the shaky cam. In this particular case I actually liked it, but a lot of people just can't handle the nausea. It causes a major case of tired head in moviegoers, even those who loved the original. Nothing keeps people from seeing a movie better than being warned about the shaky cam by their friends. I fear Bourne Supremacy's success at the box office is only going to make it more prevalent.

Box Office Winners

Van Helsing

MB: Monster “mash” turned to monster “mush” when Universal started the summer season with this $160 million action-adventure that boasted “Adventure lives forever.” Yet after a solid $51.7 million opening (which was somewhat disappointing compared to last year's $85.5 million summer start of X2: X-Men United), adventure did not live forever as the film plummeted off the top ten to a disappointing $120.1 million.

JT: Even though I enjoyed Van Helsing in a puffy cloud, forgettable way, I'm delighted to see it turn out as such a failure. No doubt with international box office and DVD sales it'll still break even, but hopefully a bit of failure like this will make it easier for whoever ends up making X3 to get Hugh Jackman signed up as Wolverine. He can't hide out on Broadway forever.

The Stepford Wives

MB: Re-shoots and cost overruns turned the modestly budgeted Stepford remake into the next Town & Country: a $90 million "adult" comedy that cost at least twice what it should have. While the small-town sci-fi comedy-drama fared better than the legendary disaster of the latter (which grossed $6 million on a $90 million budget), the film opened to a mediocre $21.4 million and fizzled at $59.3 million.

JT: Frank Oz really needs to get back to his roots: Muppets! With George Lucas' CGI erasing the need for Oz's hand in Yoda's butt, maybe it's time for Oz to get back to working with the Jim Henson Company, take a more direct role, get this thing back on track! Brian Henson is out of his mind, show him who's boss Frank! Whatever the result, it can't be worse than this Stepford Wives crap. I hate to see Frank Oz flop.

The Chronicles of Riddick

MB: Bankrolling $105 million on a sequel to what would barely qualify as a “sleeper” hit (Pitch Black, which grossed $39.2 million on a $23 million budget) is rarely a good idea, and this case was no exception. The expensive Chronicles opened with a so-so $24.2 million and faded faster than Vin Diesel's hairline to a fairly disastrous $57.7 million. The tagline, which advertised that “All the power in the universe can't change destiny” proved disturbingly true for Universal Pictures as Riddick tanked almost exactly twenty years after its last expensive science-fiction epic-turned-high-concept dud, Dune.

JT: You're stabbing me in the heart by bringing this one up. I love me some Chronicles of Riddick, even if no one else did. It's not as good as Pitch Black, but I dig seeing Vin in this character the same way I go for seeing Wesley Snipes playing Blade. But with numbers like this, there won't be another return to the screen for Riddick. Those Dune comparisons really sting. Riddick is so much better than that messy Lynch disaster. Maybe big budget, dark science fiction for adults just can't succeed. Might have helped if they'd have gone for the R rating and some Starship Troopers-like shower scenes.

Around the World in 80 Days

MB: It may have taken Phileas Fogg eighty days to travel around the world, but it only took a couple of weeks for the expensive remake of Around the World in 80 Days to disappear from theaters. The Jackie-Chan-starring remake (replete with the martial arts you've come to expect from the classic Jules Verne tale) took off with an embarrassing $10.3 million over five days and deflated like an American-made air balloon with only $23.9 million. And at $110 million, it may stand (or fall, depending on how you look at it) as one of the biggest money losers of all time.

JT: Rent the Pierce Brosnan mini-series or better yet read the book. They're good stuff, this is not. Every movie Jackie Chan has done lately has been a dramatic flop. At some point his projects will stop getting funded. Then we can all breath a sigh of relief and go back to watching his older stuff, mentally erasing things like Around the World in 80 Days from his filmography. They don't fail because Jackie himself is bad; they fail because he keeps picking horrible things to do. It's easy to point to Hollywood as the reason for the recent failure of Jackie Chan, after all his Hong Kong stuff is better. But Hollywood isn't forcing him to make Around the World in 80 Days. After Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon the man had his pick of projects and he keeps intentionally choosing garbage like this. Most actors usually wait till they have kids to make movies for before sucking as badly as this, so I guess Jackie is getting a late start.

King Arthur

MB: Arthur reigned over no one in the second week of July, opening with only $15.1 million at the number three spot, behind Spider-Man 2 and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. The $120 million “retelling” of the legend failed to spark the interest of the same audience that went in droves to see other historical action-dramas, Braveheart and Gladiator, and flopped at $51.3 million. Sometimes, it isn't good to be the king.

JT: It could be that we're all just sick of historical action-dramas since Troy didn't exactly tear it up either. Or it could be that King Arthur was just a terrible movie (which it was) and that Antoine Fuqua is just a one note director who has been revealed as a talentless hack who got acclaim riding the shoulders of uber-talented actors. I'd go with the hack theory myself. This may actually have been the worst version of Arthur ever on screen, so the box office seems wholly appropriate. Sometimes audiences aren't stupid.

Catwoman

MB: If Spider-Man 2 was the sure-fire hit of the summer, then Catwoman would almost certainly be the sure-fire flop. Surprising no one by opening to disastrous reviews and the worst attacks since Ben and Jen made their duet debut in Gigli, the biggest surprise about Catwoman was that some people actually went to see it. Opening at an expectedly weak $16.7 million, attendance proved to be a fluke for the $100 million Batman Returns pseudo-spin-off, as the feline lost all nine lives in the following weeks, going astray at $39.4 million.

JT: Ok, Gigli basically killed Ben Affleck's career. What do you think this will do to Halle Berry? My bet is nothing. She's hot, men love her and we're generally willing to forgive just about anything (even substituting in a mid-riff baring Italian stuntman for yourself) if you're good looking. Ben Affleck may also be good looking, but female fans aren't nearly as forgetful. This movie was a catastrophe on every level and Halle Berry still can barely act but no doubt she's already on her way to another overrated project which will also tank. Funny, this movie was approved by Oprah. I guess her mojo only works on books, not films.

The Village

MB: For every blockbuster thriller to his name, horror maestro M. Night Shyamalan seems to have one big dud up his sleeve. For The Sixth Sense, audiences suffered the dreary comic-book drama, Unbreakable. For Signs, they had to endure The Village, which promised to be the horror hit of 2004. While the masses were coaxed into believing that the first weekend around, allowing The Village to open at $50.7 million, they were not fooled twice. The film left town in the second week, plummeting 67.5 %, one of the biggest second-week drops of all time, ending up at $110.6 million.

JT: Now Brody, audiences did not suffer through Unbreakable. Ok, well maybe half of them did, but the other half including me absolutely loved it. It's a brilliant flick which I think has become even more popular after the fact. Still, I doubt The Village will have that kind of shelf life. Even the few people who liked it admit it's Shyamalan's worst work. I think the numbers you're quoting there reflect that pretty accurately. It's Shyamalan's first legitimate, huge, stinking bomb. With the way he handles public opinion so poorly; this is bound to have a huge effect on whatever his next project ends up being, hopefully for the better. If we're lucky, maybe he'll change his mind and do an Unbreakable 2.

The Manchurian Candidate

MB: Go figure: audiences clamor for an intelligent mid-summer thriller and when a studio finally delivers, no one sees it. The $80 million remake opened well enough at $20 million, but great reviews and even better word-of-mouth never caught on, leading to a disappointing $59.2 million.

JT: With the kind of positive buzz it had, I really thought this movie would have longer legs. Strong word of mouth can propel a just decent opening like that into a profitable and lengthy run in the theaters. This movie had the word of mouth thing going for it, but for some reason no one saw it. Maybe it was political burn out. After Fahrenheit 9/11 perhaps people were just sick of hearing about politics in the theater, even fictionalized politics. I know I was, in fact I think that's one of the reasons I myself never got around to seeing it.

Box Office Winners

Troy

MB: By all accounts, the $175 million Gladiator wannabee would be considered a bit of a belly flop. Opening to a much-less-than-expected $46.8 million, the Trojan epic faced an enemy far worse than the Greeks in some pretty substantial drop-offs, leading to a so-so final domestic gross of $133.2 million. But thanks to the worldwide appeal of the supposed “super-hunks,” Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom, the film managed to invade overseas some $356.9 million for a worldwide gross of $490.7 million.

JT: It was lucky to get $133.2 million domestically. Most of the people who saw it here just saw it for sexy man thighs. It's not often you stumble on porno made for women, but Troy comes close. Even Playgirl mostly caters to gay guys. Troy though, a few cool fight scenes aside, was straight up soft-core female fantasy. Orlando Bloom would be well on his way to becoming the ladies' Sharon Stone if this thing had made just a little more money. It didn't, and though it made money internationally, someone at Warner Brothers has to be at least a little pissed. That's a lot of wasted star power, and for the movie to do anything less than contend with Spider-Man 2 and Shrek 2 for king of the summer has to be considered a big disappointment.

The Day After Tomorrow

MB: The $125 million end-of-the-world epic bravely opened against Shrek 2's second blockbuster weekend and held its own at the number-two spot with an impressive $68.7 million opening en route to $186.2 million. While the disaster duo of Director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin avoided another Godzilla (a box-office cataclysm at $136.3 million), they could not match the success of their inaugural mega-hit, Independence Day.

JT: Well the problem there Brody is just that Independence Day is actually a pretty fun movie with cool effects, wheras The Day After Tomorrow is not. After all the easily-amused-by-CGI-wolves-and-one-scene-with-a-tidal-wave neophytes went in and spent their cash, the box office dropped like a rock. So let's not get all high on Emmerich avoiding another Godzilla. He only avoided another Godzilla because people weren't disappointed by CGI waves, having never seen a man in suit portray one before. Though I personally wish he would have put a guy in a tidal wave suit and let him destroy the city. Maybe he could just roll around on it, crushing buildings and Jake Gyllenhall. That at least would be funny. Then he could follow it up with Tidal Wave vs Godzilla, bring in Mothra… I forget where I was going with that.

The Terminal

MB: On any other day, the $60 million comedy-drama would have been a nice little hit for DreamWorks. But this was the third pairing of Director Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, whose past two collaborations together, Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can, grossed $216.5 million and $164.6 million, respectively. The film was not only beat to the number one spot by Dodgeball, a low-budget comedy, the opening weekend of $19.0 million and final domestic gross of $77.0 million made it the director's lowest-grossing film since Amistad and the second straight flop for Hanks, who starred in the dismally performing remake of The Ladykillers earlier this year.

JT: I'm not going to let you get away with blaming The Terminal's failure on Dodgeball. The money that it did make it made purely on the name recognition generated by Hanks, Spielberg, and (shudder) Zeta-Jones. The money it didn't make it lost because the movie wasn't very good, not because Dodgeball kicked its ass. The two movies weren't even going for the same audience. The reviews were bad, the word of mouth was bad, and some people were confused enough by Hank's accent to believe that he was playing an Arab. Airport rom-coms featuring Arab characters no longer seem to be popular. I hear that Spielberg's next project will be a heist movie about a Lithuanian man in the desert who just happens to look a lot like Saddam Hussein. It ends with a big chase on a nuclear wessel.

I, Robot

MB: “Big Willie” stayed out of the coveted Fourth of July weekend for the second straight year, opening two weeks later to an impressive $52.1 million. But like many major releases in the summer, plummeted more than 50% in its second week after only so-so word-of-mouth. The adaptation of the Isaac Asimov short story was the underperformer of the season, grossing $140.6 million on a $120 million budget, much like Smith's own Bad Boys II and the last big-budget sci-fi mystery fueled by star power, Minority Report.

JT: This is another movie that really surprised me by not hanging in there a little longer. The trailers were horrible so maybe that had something to do with keeping people away, but once the movie came out the reception for it was generally solid. It got nice reviews, generally warm word of mouth. Maybe none of that was enough to push it up past the realm of lukewarm love into a place where more people felt like they had to run out and see it. Or maybe The Matrix has just ruined the concept of robots gone bad. I guess folks didn't want to see the Fresh Prince hoisted up on a faux crucifix.

Alien vs. Predator

MB: The “versus” trend continued into 2004 with results similar to Freddy vs. Jason, as the merging of the popular (but fairly prehistoric) Alien and Predator franchises fell somewhere in between the grosses of the previous films. The $60 million intergalactic showdown had more hype than Tyson/Holyfield and opened at a very impressive $38.2 million. Though it sank as expected, the opening should have guaranteed $100 million in returns and the resurrection of both franchises, rather than the disappointing gross of $77.0 million and the general uncertainty of a rematch.

JT: I guess this is a toss up, but I really have this urge to toss it in the garbage bin. With the kind of drop it had after that opening weekend it deserves it. Still, I am one of the few people who had a little bit of fun with it and while I know it sucked I don't think it sucked as bad is suckiness could have sucked if it could suck would. Little limerick for you. At least I think that is a limerick.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

MB: Call it a case of the "sophomore blues:" DreamWorks had its hands on the new comedy starring Will Ferrell, white-hot after the holiday blockbuster, Elf. So they stuck Anchorman in a prime July slot and waited for lighting to strike twice. Only they forgot that Elf hit big because it was a well-received Christmas movie opening in the weeks leading up to Christmas, almost always a sure-fire sign of success. While Ron Burgundy opened strongly at $28.4 million, he could not cross the $100 million mark as hoped, and disappointed with $84.2 million, less than half of the business Elf did.

JT: Granted, it didn't manage $100 million. Yet, I'm not sure if you can expect that for a comedy unless you tantalize people with the possibility of people getting hit in the nuts. Anchorman did turn a pretty nice profit for what the studio invested. I think you've got to call this a decent success for Will. Like Old School, it's really going to kill on video. It'll become another one of those comedies that people suddenly start quoting a year later and referencing with their friends. Dodgeball may have made more in the theater this summer, but it's Anchorman that'll stick in people's heads. I love lamp.


I’d finished my tartar sauce construction project and was getting bored. Brody was pouring over his tomes again so I slipped off to the bathroom. Or at least that’s what I told him. Within seconds I was in my car revving the engine, leaving Brody more numbers to play with – the check. See you next year MB!

us with your box office breakdown.

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