Box Office - Decade at a Glance: September - December 2006
By Michael Lynderey
November 18, 2009
Speaking of major stars - December is, in fact, a good time for them, and that also showed with Will Smith's latest, The Pursuit of Happyness. An oddly-titled drama that started out depressing and ended up thoroughly inspirational, it was a perfect fit for the season, and the presence of Smith's son in a prominent role rounded out the potential demographic appeal. After a $26 million opening, Pursuit climbed all the way to $162 million, giving Smith another step up his 2002-2008 chain of $100 million movies (and an Oscar nod, too). Next in the big star department was Broadway-based drama Dreamgirls, which teamed Beyonce Knowles with Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx, launched Jennifer Hudson into film prominence, and legged its way up to $103 million; perhaps more notably, after three big musical failures in a row (Phantom of the Opera, Rent and the Producers), Dreamgirls helped keep the genre alive for the second half of the decade. And while big stars are important, they couldn't lift violent drama the Blood Diamond (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly - $57 million total), bubbly romantic concoction The Holiday (Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black - $63 million) and near-three hour CIA drama The Good Shepherd (Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie - $59 million) out of mid-level grosses. Nancy Meyers' The Holiday followed up her very entertaining, and thoroughly leggy, Something's Gotta Give, but audience reception just wasn't as strong this time; Diamond and Shepherd, on the other hand, both had the same problem - mixed reviews and a too serious subject matter in a season yearning for something lighter. And the one thing I remember best about Shepherd is a line from Anne Thompson's review of it on Ebert & Roeper: "I think people want her [Angelina Jolie] to be sexy, and maybe even have sex with somebody, and that does not happen here".
The rest of the month was almost preternaturally busy - perhaps more movies in wide release than in any other December this decade. Mel Gibson's initially uncommercial-seeming epic Apocalypto pulled in a decent $50 million, Sylvester Stallone made a surprisingly strong comeback with Rocky Balboa ($70 million total), and the Matthew McConaughey-Matthew Fox drama We Are Marshall did okay, with $43 million. Charlotte's Web, another adaptation of that old pig book, opened low but finished with $82 million (compared to the 1973 version's... $2 million). The Nativity Story failed to repeat the success of the Passion, taking in only $37 million. Fantasy epic Eragon overcame bad reviews to finish with $75 million. And DVD four-for-the-price-of-one bins were eternally grateful for the presence of National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj ($4 million total) and vaguely torture porn-ish Turistas ($7 million). A few awards contenders marginally opened in December before expanding in January - movies like Guillermo Del Toro's excellent fantasy Pan's Labyrinth ($37 million total), the unusual animated film Arthur and the Invisibles ($15 million), and the perhaps overpraised dystopian thriller Children of Men ($35 million), which seems to be growing a big cult fanbase (even as I write these words).
And finally, since 2006 had offered more horror remakes than any other previous year in the entire recorded history of mankind (that's really true, by the way), it was entirely appropriate that we would finish off the year with another one. Black Christmas, a redo of the effectively creepy 1974 film, opened smack dab on Christmas Day but failed to entice anyone in particular, finishing with $16 million (the original had actually opened in October - go figure). Predictably, this version replaced everything that worked in the original film with dollops of excess, overplotting, and directorial overkill.
That kinda makes it an absolutely perfect summary of the cinematic year it was closing, doesn't it?