Box Office - Decade at a Glance: September - December 2005

By Michael Lynderey

October 28, 2009

These bears would go on to be stunt doubles in The Golden Compass.

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The big disappointment of the weekend came with Rent, another in a series of stage musical adaptations greenlit after the success of Moulin Rouge! and Chicago. While the previous year's Phantom of the Opera faltered somewhat, Rent took failure a step further, finishing with only $29 million and further stunting the resurrection of the movie musical. The week's other releases included Just Friends, a particularly awful Ryan Reynolds-Anna Faris farce ($32 million total), Usher's first and thus far last leading role, In the Mix ($10 million), and finally, the neat little thriller The Ice Harvest, which wound up with $9 million for its troubles. And then, with nothing more to show for itself, November gave way to the blockbusters of December.


With another troubling torrent of titles tumbling towards the trembling masses, December had two clear uber-blockbusters leading the way. After Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy ended in 2003, the following year's holiday season was bereft of a designated hitter, and so the world was forced to turn to the monstrous Meet the Fockers to make box office ends meet. However, seeing what his absence had wrought, Jackson was merciful enough to return to the month that he dominated in the early years of the decade, and unleash another blockbuster to keep the season in shape. And what better choice for such a film than a remake of King Kong, with its obvious potential for special effects grandiosity and high-tech action scenes? Jackson's version of Kong cost upwards of $200 million, and assembled for its jungle adventure not only starlet Naomi Watts, but also mischievous comic entity Jack Black and occasionally frail-looking Oscar-winner Adrien Brody. The release was scheduled for Wednesday, December 14th. This one was ready to be huge. Massive.


But it wasn't. Yes, King Kong opened with $50 million and eventually racked up $218 million, but there was a distinct air of disappointment on the part of those who follow box office. Another film had stolen Kong's thunder - after all, the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opened with $65 million just the week before, and had holiday legs so good that it dropped over 50% the next weekend but still finished with an astonishing $291 million, thus becoming the fall season's highest grosser (and the second biggest film of the year, after Star Wars). Ironically, this large-scale adaptation of the popular novel had come to fruition only as a result of the success of Jackson's own fantasy films (as well as that of Harry Potter). Guided by Tilda Swinton's menacing work as the White Witch, some catchy special effects, an obvious appeal to children, and reviews that were positive if not uber-positive, Narnia had all the right elements put together to emerge as a natural successor to the founding fathers of the modern fantasy genre, the aforementioned Lord of the Rings and Potter films. Mr. Kong didn't stand a chance.

The only other three digit earner came with good old Jim Carrey, whose team-up with Tea Leoni in Fun with Dick and Jane was only intermittently amusing and thus received only intermittent box office - but it eventually did rack up $110 million, a classic example of holiday legs doing the job they're paid to do. Outside of that, December was about evenly divided between Oscar-bait and the more commercial fare trying to attract holiday-season audiences. The Oscar-bait was led by drama Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's short story. This is the one that broke Heath Ledger back into critical acclaim, after a period (2002-2005) of floundering in inconsequential films. Brokeback also won Lee his Best Director Oscar and grossed $83 million, but was beaten out for Best Picture by May contender Crash (at a total of $54 million, Crash remains the lowest grossing Best Picture winner of the decade, and also seemed to signal the beginning of an era when Oscar nominations went predominantly to movies that did not perform particularly well at the box office). Other meaty chunks of Oscar bait included Munich ($47 million total), Steven Spielberg's Israeli-set thriller, The New World ($12 million), Terrence Malick's widely ignored epic about early America, Japanese-set Memoirs of a Geisha ($57 million), and finally, Broadway adaptation The Producers, which grossed $19 million and thus again helped to suppress the musical genre (although that genre's still kicking).

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