Box Office - Decade at a Glance: May - August 2002

By Michael Lynderey

August 25, 2009

He's king of the world...or the girder, anyway.

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A more... intellectual... summer was in store for 2002, in a stark contrast to summer 2001's very entertaining B-movie explosion. May was a busier month than usual, tossing out the traditional "$100 million movie-per-week" routine of most recent summertimes, and throwing in a batch of intriguing titles aimed at adults. But the summer certainly started out with a bang. Most box office forecasters had pegged Star Wars: Episode II to easily win the month, and the year, but this was not to be: Spider-Man opened on May 3, 2002, with a $39 million Friday, $43 million Saturday (an increase!), a weekend of $114 million, and a total gross of $403 million. The opening of the first movie of summer 2001, the Mummy Returns, was considered pretty big, but Spidey blew it out of the water in 2002. Aside from that, it trampled all over the opening weekend box office record set by Harry Potter the previous year ($90 million), and held that highest opener title all the way up to 2006. Most importantly, the well-reviewed Spider-Man confirmed what X-Men had suggested in 2000 - that the comic book-to-film subgenre was alive and well, and that long-awaited film versions of popular fanboy properties can and will justify their budgets, sometimes with thunderingly large numbers. The success of Spider-Man also plucked stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst out of their natural indie habitats, and into the big leagues. Willem Dafoe, as the Green Goblin, got a juicy supporting role out of it, too.

The other two May 3rd openers, Woody Allen's Hollywood Ending ($4 million total) and Deuces Wild ($6 million), would have seemed tiny anyway, but compared to Spider-Man, they look almost absurdly small. The second weekend of May also loomed under the web-slinger's shadow, but the Richard Gere thriller Unfaithful did open with $14 million and finish with $52 million, nabbing Diane Lane's terrific performance an Oscar nomination in the process, and turning her into a mid-tier star. The DJ Qualls vehicle, the New Guy, actually didn't do that badly - considering the critical assault heaved on the film, the $29 million it ended up with may have been the best case scenario.


Thursday, May 16th saw the release of a blockbuster whose thunder, it was now clear, had thoroughly been stolen. Spider-Man's triumph only cemented Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of the Clones as the weakest link in George Lucas' new trilogy. Aside from a reception that wasn't as enthusiastic as Spidey's, Episode II grossed only $310 million (after a four-day opening of $110 million), significantly below Episode I's $431 million take in 1999. Episode II didn't quite make a mega-star out of Hayden Christensen, but hey, he's still around, isn't he?

The rest of the month was never intended to reach blockbuster levels, and didn't. But there were some very respectable performers. After his successful supporting role in the previous year's Bridget Jones's Diary, Hugh Grant played another cad, and very well at that, in About a Boy. The directing team of Chris and Paul Weitz, previously responsible for the American Pie films, took a nice change of pace with this British comedy, which coasted to a decent $40 million. Elsewhere, Al Pacino and Robin Williams teamed up for a strong match of wits in Christopher Nolan's Insomnia, with Williams in particular convincing as a villain and psychological manipulator. The damp, Alaska-set thriller didn't exactly look like a summer movie, but excellent reviews propelled it to $67 million. And finally, Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman headlined The Sum of All Fears, with Affleck taking on the Jack Ryan action-hero role previously occupied by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford. The last Tom Clancy adaptation, Clear and Present Danger, certainly did well in 1994 (finishing with $122 million), and this one was close, opening with $31 million and ending up with $118 million. While the reviews weren't gushy, many were positive, so it's a little startling that Affleck never reprised the role; the franchise was clearly ready for a sequel that would open even bigger than Sum of All Fears did.

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