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

By Michael Lynderey

October 13, 2009

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June 18th continued toying around with unpredictability. The surprise winner of the week was the silly sports comedy Dodgeball: An Underdog Story, which carried some low-key buzz and generally positive reviews to a $30 million opening and solid $114 million total. This was another key Frat Pack movie, another notch in Ben Stiller's remarkable 2004 belt, and the breakout role for Vince Vaughn as solo comic lead (something 2003's Old School set him up for). With the debatable exception of Fred Claus in 2007, Vaughn would follow Dodgeball up with a hit comedy every subsequent year up until at least 2009. Not so lucky were Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan, whose remake of Around the World in 80 Days received a general critical "meh" and was summarily ignored at the box office, finishing with $24 million on a budget of $110 million (gosh, that's not good!). Meanwhile, Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg combination The Terminal did pull in $77 million; that might seem good today, but at the time, with the two's hefty records still fresher in mind, it was pegged a disappointment. While serious dramas have occasionally scored well at the box office during summertime, this one failed to catch on.

Now, if you thought weeks two and three of June were surprising, the fourth and final week announced that you ain't seen nothing yet. First, the exceptionally unentertaining comedy White Chicks gave the Wayans Brothers another decent hit, opening with $19 million and finishing with $69 million (yes, yes, it had legs...). Next, the effectively soapy romance The Notebook cemented itself as one of the most famous cinematic love stories of the decade, pairing rising young starlet Rachel McAdams with the previously indie-oriented Ryan Gosling. Coming out with some good trailers and scrumptious reviews, this one did even better than expectations would have it, opening with $13 million and finishing with a strong $81 million. Classic June weeper.


But the big surprise over the weekend wasn't even that. It was Fahrenheit 9/11, political documentarian Michael Moore's breakout into (temporary) A-list stardom. Moore's first movie, Roger & Me, was a minor hit in limited release all the way back in 1989, but it was his 2002 film Bowling for Columbine that more recently earned him heavy critical acclaim, an Oscar win, and some real mainstream recognition as a film persona of note (I remember that my teacher took my entire 12th grade class to see it in theaters during school hours). While Bowling broke out in limited release, eventually totaling $21 million, it was the film's status as catalyst of discussion during 2003 that kept Moore's name in the news, and controversy about Fahrenheit 9/11 out of the 2004 Cannes Film Festival spotlighted it as a follow-up. With the 2004 election a prominent news fixture at the time, Fahrenheit 9/11 arrived as one of several politically-charged films in a year that also included The Manchurian Candidate and Team America: World Police. Fahrenheit 9/11 played out like no documentary had before - opening with $23 million in 868 theaters and then expanding and gaining legs, eventually finishing with a remarkable $119 million. This was Moore at the peak of his star power. By the way, although the 2000s are frequently cited as a stronghold for documentary films, and they were, many seem to have forgotten the amazing '70s trend of would-be scientific documentaries that touched on various supernatural or science fictional notches in popular culture; films like Chariots of the Gods (1974; $33 million total), In Search of Noah's Ark (1976; $55 million), Beyond and Back (1978; $23 million), the Late Great Planet Earth (1978; $23 million), and several others. That's boffo box office, and more than one $100 million earner if you adjust the numbers.

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