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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Summer box office went a little mad about two weeks into July, but for now, let's enjoy the relative quiet before the storm. First, Big Willie Fourth of July weekend was back, as Will Smith headlined superhero parody Hancock to a $62 million open and handy $227 million total. Here was an example of a film that could be characterized as having nothing going for it except sheer star power - it wasn't based on anything, the reviewers appeared unenthused, and the film itself was an occasionally entertaining mix of tones that started like a fun if violent affair, and turned darker as it dabbled in an odd little plot twist. But Smith carried this one well above its negatives, even if the movie was the last entry in his seven consecutive year (2002-2008) batch of $100 million movies (as I write this, he's got about 15 days to release another $100 million grosser, or it won't be eight consecutive years). Also hanging around this weekend was another Abigail Breslin vehicle, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, a well-reviewed Depression-era adventure - but one left behind in Hancock's dust ($17 million total).

Next, July 11th gave us one more bait-and-switch. Designated comic book blockbuster Hellboy II: The Golden Army got out of the gate strong, with sturdy reviews and the generally positive reception of the first film lifting this one up to a $34 million opening. But the drop was severe, and so Hellboy II totaled $75 million to the first film's $59 million. It was, in fact, the weekend's other film that would make it to $100 million: Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3D, one of the first entries in the recent resurrection of that old format, opened to a fair $21 million but then legged it up to $101 million. With adventure film veteran Brendan Fraser at the lead and generally welcoming reviews, this silly B-movie excursion probably had the advantage of being good kids-aimed counter-programming to the much darker The Dark Knight. Hellboy, on the other hand, was pummeled out of the ring by his comic book contemporary (I won't say much about the weekend's third release, Eddie Murphy's Meet Dave, thoughts of which are too depressing to return to).


The decade's most perfect storm hit theaters on July 18th, with the release of a film that broke both the opening day ($67 million) and weekend ($158 million) records, before finishing with $533 million - the biggest tally of the entire decade, and the second largest domestic box office gross of all time. Indeed, The Dark Knight followed the setup-punchline format utilized by many other well-received, leggy films whose sequels end up opening massively (Batman Begins had taken in a comparatively-measly $205 million). Along with Iron Man, Dark Knight's dabbling in darker themes was cited as a maturing of the comic book film, a genre that had come a long way since its renewed inception at the beginning of the decade, when X-Men did well enough to inspire a host of new comic adaptations. As for the film's cast - while Christian Bale was well received in the title role, it was really his co-star who walked away with the praise - playing a just slightly more plausible version of John Saw of the Saw pictures (think about it), Heath Ledger's The Joker was perhaps the single most talked about performance of the entire year, and netted him a posthumous Oscar. The Dark Knight got reviews even better than its predecessor's high accolades, and so the film turned into a leggy phenomenon, proving that some ultra-high openers can live up to their first three box office days.

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