Box Office - Decade at a Glance: May - August 2008

By Michael Lynderey

December 16, 2009

Whatever you do, don't call him crazy.

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A summer veritably overflowing with comic book adaptations was in store for 2008, a season that looked like the logical culmination of the fanboy-based blockbuster mentality of the 2000s. May's first film was indeed a perfect example of such a title over-performing to unexpected scales, as Iron Man, an adaptation of a relatively lesser known comic book character, opened to an amazing $98 million before totaling at $318 million. Granted, the reviews on this one were enthusiastic to the hilt, buzz of all sorts had been growing, and Robert Downey Jr.'s career-remaking performance generated not only fan adoration but rumors of an Oscar nomination. The plot was a little predictable, and reminiscent for my money of the basic structure of the first Spider-Man movie (think about it), but the supporting actors were well chosen, with a deliciously villainous Jeff Bridges matching wits with Downey and his entourage (Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard). But a $98 million opening? That's a number reserved for established franchises or universally known characters, and indeed it's exactly how the sequel to Iron Man should have opened, not the first one. It's a figure of staggering enormity, and one I still can not explain, other than as a foreshadowing to just how outrageous the box office for a certain other summer '08 comic book film would be.

May 9th brought along a classic case of box office bait-and-switch. The Emile Hirsch-starring, $120 million-budget, Wachowski Brothers-directed epic sci-fi adventure movie Speed Racer disappointed, while the nondescript if well-natured comedy What Happens in Vegas broke out to a decent sum. Indeed, the Racer film's fate seemed continuously more grim as the release date approached. While some of the trailers were fun, the character wasn't particularly beloved stateside, and word-of-mouth slowly started to trickle in on the wrong side of the positive/negative spectrum. It was an imperfect storm of sorts, and the box office delivered the summer's first blockbuster-that-wasn't: an $18 million opening and a $43 million total. Things were looking up for the Vegas film, though - the teaming of Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz seemed like a workable enough match, and the film broke out well, opening with $20 million and finishing with a monstrously leggy $80 million.


May 16th's designated hitter was a film I once expected to be the summer's biggest. But - jeez! - was I ever wrong here. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian followed up its $291 million-grossing predecessor with a $55 million opening and $141 million total - a clear and noticeable step down from the breakout success of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. What turned this surefire fantasy epic hit into one of the summer's more noticeable underperformers? Well, none of the Narnia books were ever as popular as the first, the non-holiday release date decreased the size of family audiences, and while the movie did get some positive critical notices, it seemed to me like a fairly routine excursion through the usual barrage of swordfights, fictional geo-political conflicts, and foreign-accented villains. And of course, there was no baddie on display as effective as Tilda Swinton's majestic White Witch, slain in the first film. All that aside, a third film is on the way for December 2010 - and it's going to be real interesting to see if that one bounces back in the Christmas season that spawned the franchise.

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