Box Office - Decade at a Glance: May - August 2001

By Michael Lynderey

July 28, 2009

They're skeptical about traveling with a ginger.

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As the hit-and-miss spring season ended, May brought about an almost perfect B-movie summer, filled as it was with a more-than-decent array of entertaining action/adventure releases; the common thread for a decent chunk of films, and a blueprint for summers to come, was an opening between $40 million and $70 million and a total around the $130 million - $180 million area. There were solid hits all around, though heavy frontloading was becoming more apparent (2001-level frontloading would be described as "very good legs" today).

The first offering was the Mummy Returns, which staked out the first week of May slot that was successfully filled two years before by the first Mummy film. And it worked - a $68 million opening weekend and a $202 million total, improving on the first film's $155 million take. At the time, that was still a very big opening, and indeed the first week of May would later be used to set two opening weekend records (Spider-Man in 2002 and Spider-Man 3 in 2007). May 11th brought along the standard disappointment that usually befalls the second weekend of May - the slightly unusual historical film A Knight's Tale, the only release, finished with $56 million. It was Heath Ledger's first solo leading role, and his last big summer movie until The Dark Knight.


May 18th got considerably livelier with the release of Shrek; if we declare 2000 to be the year when CGI definitively won over traditional animation, then Shrek was the film that firmly defined exactly how CGI was going to govern during the decade (it wrote the party platform, as it were). Everything about it - the sunny, cartoonish animation, the pop culture in-jokes, the celebrity voices - served as prototype for all the CGI hits (and flops) to come: Madagascar, Chicken Little, or even an obscurer film like Happily N'Ever After - all were modeled right on the blueprint that Shrek served up. At $267 million, it's still one of the highest grossing CGI films (and the highest grosser of the summer), but subsequent entries in the series would merrily trash that total and scale even bigger heights. Also out on the same weekend was another Jennifer Lopez movie - Angel Eyes - but who was really going to see this oddly-marketed romantic drama? Not me, that's for sure - not during the great B-movie summer - and considering the $24 million total gross, not a lot of other folk, either.

May 25th finished the month off with what may have been the summer's most anticipated film - Pearl Harbor - a $150 million-budgeted historical epic about the events of December 7, 1941. A lot of comparisons were initially made to Titanic - the romantic angle, the budget, the action, the historical tragedy - and indeed the film was clearly intended to strike a similar note. But one crucial element was in disarray here - the man at the helm was action stalwart Michael Bay. Of course, Bay's the Rock and Armageddon had succeeded admirably in the later years of the 1990s, but his quick-cut 'n comedy action style appeared somewhat inappropriate for an apparently serious historical film like this one, and the critics responded in kind. At a $59 million Memorial Day weekend opening and a $198 million final, it was still a successful film - but expectations seemed to be higher. None of the criticisms rubbed off on stars Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale, who'd deliver several hits in the years to come; co-star Josh Hartnett wasn't as lucky, but we'll take the blame off Pearl Harbor for that one.

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