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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Stepping down from the top, some of the month's moderate successes included Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s allegedly heart-warming drama Radio ($52 million), Denzel Washington's slight box office misstep Out of Time ($41 million), and the John Grisham-based thriller Runaway Jury ($49 million), which was Gene Hackman's second-to-last film to date. Like every busy fall month, this one had its also-rans. Star power (Clooney + Zeta-Jones) failed to give much traction to the Coen Brothers' fun Intolerable Cruelty, which finished with $35 million. Angelina Jolie struck out again with Beyond Borders, dragging poor Clive Owen down with her, while Meg Ryan's evidently erotic thriller In the Cut failed to bring back her status as leading woman. Intergalactic canine-fest Good Dog! did ok with $37 million, but I guess they needed to put more furry animals on the poster. And finally, the cinematic world at large was introduced to the undisputed genius of one Uwe Boll, whose film House of the Dead blasted across the screens, igniting his legacy of brilliance (the entire staff of BOP are in agreement on this one).


The month began with a coup of staggering proportions: despite early expectations to the contrary, "Elf beats Matrix" was no "Dewey defeats Truman". Realistically, the signs were all there: The Matrix Reloaded had disappointed a great many who turned out to see it based on the hype and buzz, and so sitting through another 2hr+ venture into cybernetic Hell was not the most appealing option 'round the holidays. Elf, on the other hand, had everything going for it - gushy reviews, funny trailers, an appealing premise, and a kid-friendly demeanor. While Elf opened with $31 million and built staggering holiday legs to $173 million, The Matrix 3 turned a three-day gross of $83 million into a mere $139 million total. With his SNL and early film career now but a memory, Elf was Will Ferrell's coronation as one of this decade's kings of comedy.


After this particular battle of the gargantuans, the rest of the month couldn't help but underwhelm. Mike Myers' Cat in the Hat terrified young children and film critics alike, finishing with exactly $100 million after a $38 million opening, and marking Myers' last live-action role until the Love Guru in 2008. Eddie Murphy delivered yet another kids' movie, the seasonally mis-matched The Haunted Mansion, and did pretty well for himself: $75 million, albeit on a $90 million budget. Russell Crowe teamed up with Paul Bettany for lush, $93 million-grossing period piece Master and Commander, but the slow pace and unrestrained length that come with such films were a definite box office liability. Next, Halle Berry had a decent hit with the horror film Gothika ($59 million), and an all-star cast of British actors was led by Hugh Grant to moderate success in Love Actually ($59 million also), a very funny romantic comedy epic from the makers of Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary. Love Actually also introduced Bill Nighy as a top-tier character actor import, and we can always use another one.

For those who see the glass half empty, November losers included the Brendan Fraser-led Looney Tunes: Back in Action ($20 million total), the Paul Walker time travel thriller Timeline ($19 million), and slow-paced Cate Blanchett-Tommy Lee Jones western The Missing ($27 million). The month was capped off nicely by the surprise success of very dark comedy Bad Santa, which capitalized on some entertainingly cynical humor to the tune of a $59 million total. This was the one that turned Billy Bob Thornton into the man to call for playing sourpussed vulgarians. Along with Elf and Love Actually, Bad Santa was one of three excellent Christmas-themed movies released in the winter of 2003, each very different from the other. As we see almost every year, a good Christmas movie is hard to make, so 2003 still stands as a gold standard.

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