Box Office - Decade at a Glance: January - April 2009

By Michael Lynderey

December 29, 2009

What did you say about Love Actually?

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As the sun arose on the first day of the last year of the 2000s, filmdom was about to enter the single most astonishing month of box office I have ever lived through. That's not hyperbole. January 2009 had already started off big, with the post-December 24th holdovers raining down their wrath upon the box office: Brad Pitt was aging backwards and making $100 million in Benjamin Button, Marley of Marley & Me was nibbling down some particularly lucrative dog food, and even Tom Cruise's Valkyrie had been doing better than expected, with audiences ignoring the high potential for camp that the Cruise casting could entail. By this point, the big numbers for the Christmas movies had ceased to be surprising. The real shocker was that the assault on the box office was just beginning.


January 9th seemed like it would be an average year-opening weekend, with the standard mix of romantic comedy nonsense (Bride Wars) and PG-13 ghosties popping-up to scare clueless undergrads (The Unborn). Indeed, said films' numbers weren't all that alarming: Bride Wars utilized its star power (Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson) to open with $21 million and total at $58 million - not an outrageous sum - while The Unborn took in the standard boring PG-13 thriller numbers - $19 million opening, $42 million finish. Now that I think about it, that last opening did seem a little on the excessive side, but neither of those two films were the real stunners on the weekend charts. Rather, the big shocker was Clint Eastwood's expanding Gran Torino, which had platformed in December like a good little Oscar film and seemed headed for the usual sub-$50 million total allotted to such awards contenders. But it was not so this time - after taking in $11 million in limited release, Torino grossed an inexplicable $29 million over the January 9th - 11th weekend, and then had legs, legs, legs, finishing with a gargantuan $148 million - Eastwood's biggest total to date, and one I still can not explain. How could this little movie - not to be condescending, but that's what it looked like, a little movie, a low-key story - make so much money? Torino hardly came off like anything special: it was a simple tale of an aging semi-bigot's life-changing shenanigans, and as far as Oscar movies go, it wasn't the leader of the '09 awards pack by any reasonable measure. Sure, Torino cast Eastwood in an alleged "one last hurrah" role - but so did every single film he has starred in since at least 1993, when he played an aging secret service agent saving the President's life one last time in In the Line of Fire. None of his 2000s roles came near to this kind of box office: the closest, 2004's Million Dollar Baby (another "last hurrah" role), was boasted by exceptional reviews and an Academy Award Best Picture win to a $100 million flat total - and that was a slow, leggy ride, with just one weekend gross above $10 million (and it wasn't much above it). Torino, on the other hand, opened huge right off at the bat, and ended up without a single Oscar nomination. The numbers just made no sense.

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