Box Office - Decade at a Glance: May - August 2004

By Michael Lynderey

October 13, 2009

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After the endless onslaught of blockbusters that was May 2003, 2004's first summer month wasn't quite up to par. With one exception.

That exception wasn't Van Helsing, May's first movie, and indeed it's a film that still stands as one of the weaker summer season openers of the decade, in just about every aspect imaginable. While I managed to extract some campy fun out of it, Stephen Sommers' monster mash generally failed to please critics, audiences, and most importantly, box office analysts, opening with a strong $51 million but finishing at $120 million. For star Hugh Jackman, this was an attempt to parlay his popularity as X-Men's Wolverine into another successful summer franchise. Director Sommers, having come off the successful Mummy films, was tasked with re-imagining more '30s Universal monster movie properties, and pitted Dracula, Frankenstein and a non-descript Wolfman up against Jackman's ghoul hunter and Kate Beckinsale's slinky, non-regionally accented Romanian monster-killer. On paper, it's a great recipe for summer movie success, but the end product didn't quite work out as planned. Still, Van Helsing did produce one undisputedly great line of dialogue: when asked why he painfully prods the tied-up werewolf, perennial hunchbacked-assistant Igor replies simply: "It's what I do".


Next, May 14th's designated big hitter was Troy, a $175 million-budgeted historical epic about the shenanigans down in that legendary Greek city-state. This one was cast like a slick summer product, with Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom and Brad Pitt leading a bevy of British character actors. At this point, Bloom was probably bigger than Pitt, what with his role in all three Lord of the Rings movies and the previous summer's mega-blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean. Bana, on the other hand, was plucked from those pesky low-budget Australian movies (you know, the ones with the 90% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes) and into summer blockbusters, following up 2003's Hulk with Troy. The direction was by Wolfgang Petersen, no stranger to big summer movies. And yet... and yet... Troy disappointed, receiving mixed reviews, a $46 million opening, and a total of only $133 million. By this point, the wave of historical epics that began with Gladiator in 2000 was beginning to wind down, and Troy still stands as a prime specimen of the subgenre in decline. Just wait till we get to King Arthur.

May 19th - 23rd is where the real winner was - Shrek 2, currently the fourth highest grossing movie of all-time, triumphantly entered the summer sweepstakes and became the highest grossing film of the season, opening with $128 million in five days and finishing with a remarkable $441 million. The signs were all there: the first Shrek was universally beloved, its 2001 release was heavily leggy, and the sequel came at just the right time and place to be absolutely massive. If studios hadn't learned the CGI formula (celebrity voice cast, pop culture in-jokes, wacky-looking characters) by now, Shrek 2 re-taught the lesson, turning future CGI excursions into prime summer meat. Finishing off the month, May 28th's dose of blockbuster came with The Day After Tomorrow. This was a movie that had nothing going for it, except for the fact that it was a big, '90-style disaster epic with a lot of special effects and landmarks being destroyed, damaged, or otherwise inconvenienced. And surprise, surprise, though we were deep into the 2000s, that old '90s saw still worked: the film broke out, opening with $68 million and finishing with a strong $186 million. Good for stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid, the latter of whom was by this point really gaining his footing as a solid audience favorite, after years of wobbling around in lesser seen films (now that I think about it, that's true for Gyllenhaal, too).

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