It's September, which means the summer movie season is over and it was time for CB's Michael Brody and I to meet up again for our annual Summer Box Office discussion. Still smarting from last year when I ditched him at Luby's and left him with the check, Brody suggested instead of a restaurant we just meet up at the newly constructed Cinema Blend offices this year.

Though I'd miss my baked fish, I acquiesced, and so Brody entered my executive suite dragging his new Samsonite briefcase behind him. As you'd expect, the thing was stuffed with reams of printouts and figures, the guy just refused to invest in a laptop. So we kicked back and started talking about the 2005 summer movie season. Me with my feet propped up on the desk and a newly opened bottle of Jack, Brody with his briefcase and the leavings of an outdated dot-matrix printer:

Box Office Winners

Monster-in-Law

MB: Jane Fonda’s fifteen-year hiatus from the big screen was reason enough for audiences to make this critically maligned farce a sleeper hit, as Monster-in-Law turned to “money-in-bank” with a surprising $23.1 million opening. The cinematic face-off between a returning Fonda and superstar Jennifer Lopez turned out to just the right formula for a dark comedy being released during the brighter summer season, as Monster growled up an impressive $82.9 million.

JT: I don’t know if I’d call $82.9 impressive, more like serviceable. What’s impressive is that people were dumb enough to see it. It had just the right formula to make me want to pull the fire alarm and clear the theater. Jane Fonda is so much better than this. It was great to see her back in theaters, perhaps the fact that this made some bucks will get her to do another, hopefully better film. Good actors shouldn’t be forced to work with JLo. It’s not right.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

MB: George Lucas had his revenge as Sith not only outperformed Episode II, but broke several box-office records, and became the highest-grossing film of 2005 by a long-shot. Nay-sayers had claimed that after Attack of the Clones took a backseat to Spider-Man in 2002, grossing a disappointing $310.6 million domestically against Spider-Man’s $403.7 million (the first, and now, last time that a Star Wars film did not become the highest-grossing film of the year), that Episode III would have trouble regaining the spotlight. But advertisements pushed the film for what it was: the absolute last Star Wars film ever, and people took notice, as Revenge of the Sith opened with a staggering $158.4 million over five days, breaking the record for highest opening-day gross ($50.0 million, eclipsing Spider-Man 2 by nearly $10 million) top four and five-day grosses, and fastest to reach both $100 and $300 million. Critics agreed that is the perfect swan song for the series, and word of mouth lead the film to an extravagant $379.7 million domestically, proving that Revenge was a dish best served, period.

JT: What’s with the Klingon proverb reference there at the end Brody? You’re confusing your franchises. Star Trek movies flop, Star Wars movies set records. If nothing else, Revenge of the Sith proved that when Hollywood actually makes something people want to see (instead of remaking something they’ve already seen), they’ll pay to see it. Forget all the hype about people staying home to watch DVD. I’m sure they used to say the same thing about VHS… and really ultimately what’s the difference? A slightly less fuzzy picture? Sith deserves the big wad of cash it earned, George finally got the damn thing right. Third time’s the charm. Cry havoc, and let slip the Ewoks of war.

The Longest Yard

Longest Yard fans celebrate its success MB: The first-time pairing of “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Adam Sandler and Chris Rock opening in the coveted Memorial Day slot helped to make this MTV-produced remake of the 1974 comedy-drama a touchdown with audiences. Yard kicked off a great game with an impressive $47.6 million opening and went the distance to a superbowl-sized $157.6 million, the second-highest earning for a film about football, after Sandler’s last gridiron smash, The Waterboy.

JT: People like football. People like Adam Sandler. There’s no way this one could have missed. I’d like to take a moment however, to question what sort of person likes this movie in particular. I picture flannel shirts and pants-challenging beer guts. Maybe even a rusty El Camino. Anyone else?

Madagascar

Penguins know best MB: Dreamworks Animation followed strongly after Shrek 2 and continued to challenge Pixar with another huge summer hit, as the feisty creatures of the Central Park Zoo, brought to life by an all-star cast including Ben Stiller and David Schwimmer, added to one of the biggest Memorial Day weekends in history. Opening at #3 after The Longest Yard, another Chris Rock comedy), Madagascar narrowly missed the #2 spot by less than four-hundred-thousand dollars with a $47.3 million opening, but eventually had the last laugh, as audiences (read—parents) ignored the negative reviews and made the children’s film an elephant of a hit, with $191.0 million domestically.

JT: Whoa, hold up on that bad review proclamation. It got some really positive reviews! Well, it got one really positive take anyway… from me. It’s not really fair to lump this movie in with the sort of films Pixar is doing. It’s not that kind of movie. The only real similarity is that they’re both computer animated. Pixar tries to create family films, Madagascar is just a flat out wacky comedy. This is a great example of good word mouth trumping a few unfairly negative reviews. And if you check out Rotten Tomatoes, the reviews weren’t exactly terrible. The consensus was more mixed. Now Longest Yard, there’s a movie with bad reviews.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

MB: The prospect of seeing a couple of married assassins repeatedly try to kill each-other in a romantic action-adventure-comedy-thriller seemed to be exactly what audiences had in mind for the summer, as the dueling pair of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie defied expectations and opened with a whopping $50.3 million, nearly twice the opening of Director Doug Liman’s last film, The Bourne Identity. The film’s positive word-of-mouth and star appeal lead to a much higher-than-expected $184.5 million; something both the Mr. and Mrs. can agree is a good thing.

JT: Fans of Jennifer Anniston turned out in droves to watch Brad & Angie try to kill each other, probably hoping someone would leave real bullets in one of the prop guns. It’s fun movie, not great, but fun. I’m not sure $184 million was totally unexpected with the kind of star power those two are packing. The whole relationship controversy likely only helped by bringing out the curious house frau.

Batman Begins

MB: Batman truly did begin again as Director Christopher Nolan’s $150 million semi-remake quieted fears that it would be another bloated Batman & Robin and opened with a solid $48.7 million over three days and $72.8 million over five days. Although the opening wasn’t as strong as Warner Bros. would have hoped for, in fact barely equaling the openings of its predecessors, the studio was able to breathe a sigh of relief as unanimously glowing reviews kept people hooked like they were on a batarang, and the film held on to a surprising $203.2 million, making it the second-highest grossing in the series (unadjusted, after the first film) and ensured that the dark knight would indeed fly again.

JT: The opening was a bit weak, but oddly enough if you look back at them none of the Batman movies have really performed all that well at the box office. That 48.7 million is actually pretty good for a Batman film, particularly after the sting of Batman & Robin. People have now forgotten Clooney’s abortive take and Nolan is the flavor of the month. Another triumph for good reviews and good word of mouth.

War of the Worlds

Tim Robbins can’t handle success MB: The dream team of Director Steven Spielberg and megastar Tom Cruise outdid themselves by more than a $100 million in the United States with the remake of the 50’s science-fiction classic. Advertised as a terror-themed Independence Day, the film came close to ending Hollywood’s nearly 20-week year-to-year slump in business and became the second-largest fourth-of-July opening ever (after last year’s Spider-Man 2) with $64.8 million over three days and $112.7 million over the six-day holiday weekend. War eventually exploded with $232.6 million, exactly $100 million more than their last pairing, Minority Report, and proof that Spielberg’s aliens don’t need to phone home for cash.

JT: I’m a litle surprised to hear it made that much. People seemed a little dissapointed in this one, and after it debuted the interest in it appeared to vanish pretty fast. For the record though, Independence Day is an action-themed War of the Worlds, not the other way around. Drives me nuts when people bitch about Spielberg’s movie being an ID4 clone. Unless Will Smith had a time machine to go back and write H.G. Wells’ novel for him, it isn’t.

Fantastic Four

MB: The now-notorious twenty week year-to-year slump in box-office office revenue was unceremoniously halted in its track, with Marvel’s “fab four” pulling off a task failed by the Jedi Council, Batman, and a working-class Tom Cruise. The superhero quartet muffled scathing reviews with a snappy ad campaign, oodles of special-effects, and a light tone perfect for mid-July. The $100 million comic-book adaptation opened with a yes—fantastic—$56.0 million and flew to $152.0 million, enough to ensure a little more clobberin’ time.

JT: This was the movie for people looking for something a little more light and family oriented in Batman Begins and didn’t get it. Note to parents: Batman is not for kids!! Tim Story’s movie is far from perfect, but as something light, action-oriented, and family friendly Fantastic Four delivered. The nice thing about it making enough money for a followup is that whatever you think of the first film, you’ve got to admit it’s a decent platform for potentially much better sequels. There’s room for growth in the characters and in the storylines already established. Let’s hope the next installment makes enough money to keep it going.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Freddie Highmore gets his first residual check. A method actor, he later tries to eat it. MB: Success was sweet for Director Tim Burton’s $150 million creep-fest, a remake of the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The second adaptation of Roald Dahl’s famed children’s novel turned out to be Burton’s highest-grossing film since Batman and continued Johnny Depp’s newfound mainstream superstardom brought on by 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl with a spectacular $56.1 million opening, which, despite the critical and audience consensus that star Johnny Depp was doing no more than a Michael Jackson impression, and opening the same week as the new “Harry Potter” novel, was still able to make it’s way to $201.2 million.

JT: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory gave me a toothache. Good god Brody, I think you’re contagious. Anyway, it’s terrible. Really. What a horrible movie for people to like and spend their money on. The worst thing is the t-shirts. The giant, Johnny Depp pedophile head t-shirts floating all over the mall. It makes me ill. It’s nearly as bad as “Vote for Pedro”. It should be Gene Wilder’s head on those t-shirts. Give me vintage Wonka, not pedophile flavor of the month.

Wedding Crashers

MB: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, two members of the comic clique (that also includes Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and Luke Wilson) crashed the summer box-office party with an unlikely sleeper hit. Following in the footsteps of There’s Something About Mary, the $40 million Crashers became one of the highest-grossing comedies in history. After opening with a $33.9 million, the good-natured R-Rated farce was the perfect solution to an otherwise blockbuster-heavy summer lineup. The perfect combination of positive buzz and lowbrow antics at a wedding, kept the film crashing to $195.7 million.

JT: It’s turned out to be another really good year for comedies. With the way things have been going in the world since 9/11 people are eager to get out and have a good laugh when they see a movie. Luckily, there’s been a string of pretty funny films to deliver it. I’m most curious to see where The 40 Year-Old Virgin will end up on the box office scale. Since that’s really a post-summer release we won’t be talking about it here, but it looks to be well on its way to Wedding Crashers style success.

Box Office Losers

Kingdom of Heaven

MB: The summer season started in limbo as Kingdom was overthrown by lack of interest in the subject matter (the crusades, never a popular topic) and hordes of decidedly mixed reviews. Director Ridley Scott’s $130 million historical opus opened to a disappointing $19.6 million, the lowest opening for a summer starter since Gladiator, but didn’t fare nearly as well as Scott’s last sword-and-sandals epic, and collapsed at $47.3 million, a showing not worthy of box-office Heaven.

JT: Bad movie gets exactly what it deserves. After Alexander audience tolerance for these sword and sandal epics was already pretty low, and then Ridley Scott gave us a collective kick in the groin. If we’re lucky, the failure of Kingdom of Heaven will finally stop the flow of copycat historical epics for awhile. Get the message Hollywood: These movies suck and we’re sick to death of them. Take a knee.

Cinderella Man

MB: Director Ron Howard and star Russell Crowe proved that they were no Spielberg and Cruise, as the much-anticipated follow-up pairing from the Oscar-winning duo was far from a fairy tale. The depression-era boxing drama threw an ugly first punch with a disappointing opening of $18.3 million, and positive word-of-mouth never seemed to spread, as the film was KO-ed at a disappointing $61.5 million. Worse, with the film having been released in June, it’s unlikely it will be able to make any successful Oscar bids.

JT: A lot of people are pointing to Cinderella Man’s financial state as proof of audience disinterest in going to the theater. The thing had phenomenal buzz surrounding it, but no one saw it. But look, they just released it at the wrong time. This is a fall/Oscar season movie not a big summer blockbuster. Now once in awhile a movie like this can do well in the summer, but this just wasn’t one of those films. The studio botched it by releasing it when they did, the explanation is as simple as that. All the good word of mouth and positive reviews in the world weren’t going to help it. It might as well have been Murderball. Certain types of movies simply play better at certain times of the year. Except movies about cripples… they never play well. I wouldn’t worry Ron Howard, Cinderella Man is a movie that’ll probably do gangbusters on DVD. You’re right though Brody, it’s probably going to be forgotten come Academy Awards nominating season.

Bewitched

MB: Magic was not in the air for this big-screen remake of the popular 60’s TV show, with an awkward movie-within-a-movie plot baffling audiences and reminding them why some shows just shouldn’t be made in to films in the first place. Following almost exactly a year after Nicole Kidman’s last botched dark comedy The Stepford Wives and merely a month after Ferrell’s failed Bad News Bears knockoff Kicking and Screaming, the two stars found themselves cursed, with the film opening to only $20.1 million and falling off the broom at a low $62.2 million.

JT: Bewitched was my xXx this year… I seem to be the only person who liked it. I’d blame Will Ferrell lust for clouding my judgment, but I hated Kicking & Screaming, so that can’t be it. This is actually a weird one to have in the losers column. I mean, it opened at a CLOSE number 2 against the juggernaut of Batman Begins at number one. Under those circumstances I don’t think $20 million is totally shameful. But the thing cost $85 million to make, which is just ridiculous. Most of it was probably spent on star power. They should have spent the money on Will Ferrell then saved some cash by hiring some cheap, random starlet to play the role of Nicole Kidman. The film still would have made $62.2 million but might have actually turned a profit. As it is, with overseas Box Office bumping it’s totals up to $95 million, once you take into account marketing cots it’s probably going to break even.

The Island

What do you mean you don’t need Jerry Bruckheimer?  Great, now you’re going to blame us. MB: In what had to be the ultimate testament to the marketing savvy and blockbuster genius of über–producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Director Michael Bay’s first non-Bruckheimer-produced action-adventure was left stranded, opening at #4 with a dismal $12.4 million, nearly a fourth of the opening of his last film, Bad Boys II, and Bay’s lowest-opening ever. The $130 million sci-fi chase thriller left audiences confused as to what the film was actually about, relying on overly cryptic taglines and images to create a sense of anticipation that would have been almost impossible to build. The last time a science-fiction film kept the public wondering about the plot was Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, another Dreamworks sci-fi production, and that turned out to be one of the biggest flops of 2001, grossing a poor $78.6 million. The Island struggled for the rest of its very brief run, eventually disappearing with a meager $35.7 million, a huge disappointment considering that Bay’s last four films all went to gross over $100 million.

JT: Bruckheimer as the missing component… you know you may be right. Because really, it’s a good film. It’s about on par with last year’s I, Robot, a movie which did pretty damn well. The failure of The Island is a strange and frightening mystery, one we’ll never unravel. I suggest we blame an invisible, pilot-eating monster; then I’ll leave you here and go on a date with Evangeline Lilly. It’s for the best.

Stealth

MB: Hoping to continue his formula for video-game style, brainless action, Director Rob Cohen’s $100 million action-thriller flew under the radar, taking off to a disappointing $13.2 million. The marketing, which relied heavily on cg images of a stealth bomber running amok, gave audiences no reason to believe it would be any different than Cohen’s previous hits, xXx and The Fast and the Furious. The performance of the film proved that there has to be more than explosions and fast cuts to make an action hit, with the film eventually crash-landing at $31.5 million, less money than Cohen’s last two films opened to.

JT: Stealth is the big, dumb, retarded kid who lives down the block. He’s unintentionally funny and gives a good hug, but the thought of hanging around him makes you kind of uncomfortable. This is one of those movies that you look at and wonder how it got made. It’s hard to understand how anyone could look at this script and actually see financial success. I understand why people like Jamie Foxx, Josh Lucas, and Jessica Biel did it, they get paid no matter what. But why would a studio greenlight it? I guess they greenlit based on Cohen’s past box office success rather than on the script he was pitching. Their mistake.

Box Office Toss-Ups

Kicking and Screaming

MB: …is exactly what Universal Pictures might have been doing when they saw the numbers for Will Ferrell’s latest comedy. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but they certainly weren’t thrilled. After Anchorman’s lukewarm business proved Ferrell’s super-success with Elf to be a fluke, Kicking didn’t help matters, opening at #2 (after Monster-in-Law) with a passable $20.1 million, eventually faring far worse than Anchorman’s already disappointing $85.2 million, with a very low $52.6 million, nothing to scream about at all.

JT: You’re way off base here. Elf is a fluke? Ridiculous. Kicking and Screaming is a terrible movie that got terrible reviews. The only reason the thing broke even is because Ferrell was in it, and for him people went to see it in spite of bad reviews and bad word of mouth. And you’re underrating Anchorman, which itself turned a pretty decent profit. Maybe it didn’t make $200 million, but not a lot of comedies do. You’re also ignoring his other big successes. Old School anyone? I don’t see any evidence here that Elf was a fluke. What I see in Kicking and Screaming is a bad movie doing better business than it has any right to. But no one ever wants to blame the film’s shitty script… we’re all quick to look for something else. Sometimes movies suck, and no matter how much Ditka you use it isn’t going to help.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

MB: Warner Bros.’ low-key summer sisterhood dramedy was most likely looking to recreate the sleeper success that the Ya-Ya Sisterhood had in 2002, and they were probably honing on the same audience, as well, if not a little younger. Marketed more or less as “Ya-Ya Jr.,” this adaptation of Ann Brashares novel didn’t travel too long, as it opened with a modest $9.8 million over three days and $13.5 million over five, but the $25 million Pants could only fit so well, and busted at the seams with $38.9 million.

JT: Jesus, I can’t believe we’re even wasting time talking about this one. Underage girls in magic pants? There has to be something illegal in there somewhere. If your goal in making a movie is to recreate the success of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood you’re pretty damn well in trouble. Movies that only make money because they cost so little to make don’t deserve to be toss-ups, throw this on the pile with the rest of the flops.

Herbie: Fully Loaded

MB: Herbie The Love Bug came in at only half-speed from the start, with Disney’s $50 million remake-cum-sequel taking off with a mere $12.7 million over three days and $17.7 over five before running out of gas at $64.7 million, a strong gross for such a weak opening, but the race wasn’t being judged on points.

JT: When did it become acceptable in our society to use the word “cum” as a snappy, cutesy, bullet point? It’s disgusting, and much like Herbie’s excessive CGI blinking, a symptom of just how wrong the world has gone. I don’t blame you Brody, you’re a product of your time. Anyway, the film made a decent profit. It’s a kids’ movie so it’s probably going to make a boatload more on DVD. With the state of things at Disney these days, this is the sort of success they’ve got to be absolutely wetting themselves over. When you suck as bad as Disney, you’ve got to aim low. Herbie achieves that. They could have made more money if they hadn’t digitally reduced Lindsay Lohan’s breasts.

Bad News Bears

MB: Paramount Picture’s $35 million remake of the 1976 Walter Matthau baseball comedy might have been looking to hit a home run, but it could only hit a curveball, as both Director Richard Linkater and star Billy Bob Thornton failed looking to recapture the success of their last edgy hits, School of Rock and Bad Santa, respectively. The new Bears couldn’t dodge the fact that people were tired of ragtag kids and obnoxious coaches, after having been unimpressed with Kicking and Screaming and Rebound. As a result, the film opened with a so-so $11.8 million and hit a bad swing to only $32.5 million, almost the exact same gross of the original.

JT: I’m not sure I’d call School of Rock edgy, though I get where you going with it. The difference in films like School of Rock and Bad Santa is that they’re original. I’m a little surprised this particular remake didn’t do better, but happy about it. Hopefully, this is a sign that people are getting sick of seeing great old movies remade. Of course then Charlie and the Chocolate Factory went and made a bazillion dollars. Alright toss out that theory.

The Dukes of Hazzard

MB: It was more like “yee ho-hum” for this $50 million big-screen version of the popular late 70’s/early 80’s TV show. Hoping to become the good-ol’ boy movie for the new-millennium, the Dukes crew started at full throttle with a solid $30.6 million, but ran out of gas at $77.4 million, not quite enough to guarantee another ride.

JT: Well, since they’re already planning the sequel I think the ride is guaranteed. The film is still in theaters and making money too. It’s safe to call this one a success. If they sequel goes ahead though, they’d better not expect this kind of box office performance to be repeated. With the advent of the internet, there’s really no reason to go to the theater to see Daisy Duke’s ass. Hopefully, folks will start figuring that out.



I'd finished my bottle of Jack but Brody was far from running short of papers. Lulled into an unusually vicious stupor by his incessant figures, I slumped in my desk chair and allowed my head to loll back a little as if to signify we were finished. From there things get a little hazy, but when I woke up the next morning on my desk in a pool of saliva Brody was gone, and there was a note and a picture attached to my chair: "Answered your phone while you were out. Had a great time with Evangeline. See you next year!" He didn't take that picture himself… did he???

Read last year's annual summer box office analysis: Summer Box Office 2004: The Chronicles of Critics
Read 2003's summer box office analysis: Summer Box Office 2003: Critics United

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