Box Office - Decade at a Glance: September - December 2008

By Michael Lynderey

December 17, 2009

Must love dogs.

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As usual, November's last week was a more hit-and-miss affair, but just one more $100 million title was flailed out for all to see: Four Christmases, an old-school cheesy comedy with a lot of star power (Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall) and generally appealing premise, opened with $31 million and totaled at a strong $120 million after some holiday legs. The old holiday movie package never fails, and indeed the weekend's other titles could only look on in envy - Transporter 3 ($31 million), the standard late November action entry, Milk ($31 million), with Sean Penn's Oscar-winning title performance, and Baz Luhrmann's Australia, which did exactly as you'd expect all 166 minute-long epics starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman to do, opening with $14 million and finishing with a mere $49 million - and on a scary $100 million+ budget, to boot. Anyone wondering why studios don't make old-fashioned romantic epics very often should look no further than the numbers on this one, that's for sure.


The slight fall box office slump was nowhere more evident as it was in the early weeks of December 2008. The first weekend's titles weren't expected to do much business, anyway, but they disappointed even at that: Ron Howard's very Oscary Frost/Nixon, pitting Frank Langella's president against Michael Sheen's randy television interviewer, finished with an $18 million grossed out of vaguely disinterested awards-bait crowds; meanwhile, cartoonishly ultra-violent sequel Punisher: War Zone ("reboot" to you savvier folk) totaled at a very non-respectful $8 million, down from the first movie's not-quite-searing-either $33 million. In a way, this result was refreshing: after living through the summer of 2008, that number restored my faith in the old idea that a comic book film can actually bomb at the box office, at least once every few years.


December 12th was when the real boffo box office was theoretically scheduled to arrive - but it looks like it missed the train. The week's designated hitter, big-budget ($80 million) Keanu Reeves-starring sci-fi remake The Day the Earth Stood Still, opened with a mild $30 million and totaled at $79 million, a victim of negative critical reception and a dowdy, depressing look in a season aching for something a bit more cheerful than hordes of alien-induced death and destruction. Next weekend, the 19th, didn't pick things up either, despite some star power: Jim Carrey's Yes Man opened to $18 million and finished with $97 million, while Will Smith delivered his first non-$100 million starring role since Ali (2001) with twisty drama Seven Pounds, which started off with just $14 million and finished with $69 million. The Smith film obviously had far too much of an unclear premise and bad critical buzz, while Carrey's return to live-action comedy form failed to pick up any critical or audience approval, either. Still, Yes Man is notable as one of the few 2008 films to crawl its way into the late $90 millions without actually hitting the one-zero-zero mark. Oh yeah, also out was yet another book-based CGI - the creepily-animated mouse-filled The Tale of Despereaux, which totaled at a not-so-notable-but-better-than-I-would-have-expected $50 million.

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