Box Office - Decade at a Glance: September - December 2003

By Michael Lynderey

September 24, 2009

We may never know the wacky tobacky that Gandalf was smoking.

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A better than average coalition of films rained down on theaters in September 2003, with a decent combination of action, drama, Oscar bait, and long-forgotten bad movies.

Leading on the action front was Robert Rodriguez' latest genre pastiche - Once Upon a Time in Mexico, his follow-up to Desperado and El Mariachi, was an entertaining mix-up of an absurd (perhaps nearly incomprehensible) plot, creative moments of violence, and a high-profile cast (Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, and Johnny Depp, among hordes of character actors). While the reviews were pretty good, it was really the fortunate presence of Depp - in another quirky role so soon after Pirates of the Caribbean - that elevated this one on the box office scale ($23 million opening, $55 million total). Another action entry was Underworld, a werewolf/vampire mish-mash that joined Tomb Raider and Resident Evil in creating the "girls with guns" subgenre; while its quality is highly debatable, it did give Kate Beckinsale a decent hit (finishing with $51 million). Next, with The Rundown, The Rock took another step in his path as an heir to Schwarzenegger. However, while the film got decent reviews, it wasn't much of a breakout hit, finishing with $47 million, roughly half of the total of The Rock's first leading role in The Scorpion King. Clearly, Schwarzenegger's steps weren't that easy to retrace.

Outside of the genre pool, Diane Lane followed-up her Oscar nomination in Unfaithful with a starring role in romantic drama Under the Tuscan Sun, and it paid off - happy reviews and a fair sum of $43 million. Good for her. Elsewhere, child actor Haley Joel Osment took on his first "older" role and paired up with old-timers Michael Caine and Robert Duvall for the family film Secondhand Lions. This one did pretty well, too ($41 million), but it was nevertheless Osment's last role in a major film to date. Why? I don't know. Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage teamed up with the allegedly teenage Alison Lohman for the exceptionally well-reviewed con artist escapade Matchstick Men, but the whole thing appears to have been too quirky for the mainstream, finishing with only $36 million and no expected Oscar nod for Cage. And finally, Beyonce Knowles followed-up her role in Austin Powers 3 with the musical drama The Fighting Temptations; with a $30 million total, it wasn't one of her best roles.


The real standout of the month, at least in terms of quality, remains Sofia Coppola's much-adored Tokyo-set drama Lost in Translation. The $44 million it dug up thanks to legs is a decent sum, but the movie is especially notable for two things: first, it re-shaped Bill Murray's image from comic to serious actor, and second, it introduced Scarlett Johansson as a talented young ingenue perpetually on the brink of stardom (that description still stands).

The bottom rung of the month had to be filled by somebody, so why not get some high-class talent to do it? Heath Ledger delivered his absolute worst film with the incomprehensible The Order, Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore bombed way beyond anyone's expectations with Duplex ($9 million total!), Sharon Stone ran for her life in Cold Creek Manor ($21 million), and David Spade had his last solo star vehicle to date with Dickie Roberts: Child Star (all right, with a $22 million total, I guess I have to maintain at least a shred of journalistic integrity and admit that it didn't really do that badly). Also around was Eli Roth's first film as director, the gross-out horror Cabin Fever. Considering that it cost a mere $1.5 million to make, the $21 million it took in stands as an early example of Lionsgate Films' knack for doing well with low-budget horror. The Saw films were still ahead for them.

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