Box Office - Decade at a Glance: January - April 2002
By Michael Lynderey
August 24, 2009
The last two weekends of the month brought out some decent hits. Action-horror combo Blade II got Guillermo del Toro on board to direct, and it showed, with better reviews and a higher gross than the first film ($81 million to $70 million). Panic Room, a well-reviewed, meticulous-though-conventional thriller by David Fincher, opened with $30 million and finished with $95 million, giving Jodie Foster another excellent resume entry. Dennis Quaid had a very respectable hit with the baseball-themed The Rookie, which got all the way to $75 million after a $16 million opening (now those are great legs!). And finally, the somewhat-hyped 20th anniversary re-issue of E.T. took in only $35 million. The E.T. monster (okay, friendly alien) wasn't the only oddity lurking out and about in the last days of March - the bizarre Barney the Dinosaur parody Death to Smoochy was left behind at the box office, despite the presence of stars Robin Williams, Edward Norton and Danny DeVito, while the inexplicable cross-dressing comedy Sorority Boys didn't have much to show for itself, either. On quiet nights, you can sometimes still hear the ghosts of these films sobbing (especially if you get cable).
After a fairly strong March, April was home to a few decent hits, too, and one monstrous behemoth of a box office performer. Ashley Judd had a mildly successful re-teaming with Morgan Freeman, High Crimes ($41 million), while the excellent Ben Affleck-Samuel L. Jackson thriller/character study Changing Lanes took a $17 million opening to a $66 million finish (this marked the beginning of a terrific box office year for Affleck). Also good was the gross of the Mummy spin-off, the Scorpion King - while $90 million isn't at summer blockbuster-level, it's nothing to sneer at for a badly-reviewed April film starring a first-time leading man - yes, this was the Rock's debut, and while he hasn't quite reached that predicted Schwarzenegger/Stallone-superstar status, he certainly keeps trying. But the monster of the month didn't star anyone most people had heard of; rather, it was a film that perhaps illustrates the concept of word-of-mouth success better than any other in the history of cinema (or at least in the 2000s). On its first weekend, April 19th, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a small regional release, out in New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Dallas. 108 theaters in all. The reviews were okay, leaning on the positive, but not thoroughly enthusiastic. I thought the movie could make a million dollars or so if it was lucky.
But something about this film struck the right note with audiences - something that led to this generally likeable romantic comedy escaping from its niche release, and continuing to add on theaters pretty much every summer weekend, ending up in over 2,000 of them only in October. The per-screen average on that first weekend was in the $5,000s, and here's a key to the film's success - throughout its expansion, My Big Fat Greek Wedding didn't rise above a $6,000 average, nor fall under a $3,000 one until the weekend of November 1st. It reached the $50 million mark only in mid-August, the $100 million mark in early September, and $200 million in November. So here's a film that went from having never been intended for wide release to finishing with $241 million and ranking right up there with Harry Potter, Spider-Man and Lord of the Rings at the top of the 2002 box office charts. It's the kind of performance that may never be replicated, and I'd rank My Big Fat Greek Wedding as the #1 biggest box office surprise of the entire decade (good thing it doesn't have Titanic to compete with for that slot).
The rest of the month offered no surprises. There was Angelina Jolie's Life or Something Like It, a romantic comedy that proved that Jolie was better off in action films. Sandra Bullock starred in Murder by Numbers, a decent thriller that didn't get past $31 million. Box office success was not in store for the Sweetest Thing - a raunchy sex comedy with Cameron Diaz - nor for National Lampoon's Van Wilder - which gave Ryan Reynolds his first starring role. Frailty, an excellent little thriller with terrific performances by Matthew McConaughey and Bill Paxton, was forgotten with only a $13 million total. And finally, April 2002 saw the release of the first Friday the 13th movie in nine years - Jason X, documenting the adventures of the hockey-masked killer in space, opened with little fanfare and finished with $12 million. It was enough, evidently, to inspire New Line Cinema's greenlighting of the long-awaited Freddy Vs. Jason, a film that ended up outgrossing Jason X in its first day. It happens.