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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The Torino affair was far more plausible, however, than what happened next. The four-day Martin Luther King Day frame, the 16th, seemed like a peaceful little January weekend, with a standard hodgepodge of early year product jockeying for a little attention. But forget all about that. We were in the big leagues now, as Kevin James' Paul Blart: Mall Cop opened with a staggering $39 million four-day gross, and just like Torino, legged it way, way, way, up to a number I will never be able to understand, for as long as I live - ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY SIX MILLION DOLLARS (these days, a friend of mine always asks me "Wait, wait, let me get this straight here - you're saying Paul Blart: Mall Cop made more money than [insert blockbuster of your choosing]?") . How could this completely non-descript, random January comedy make just so much money? Yes, Kevin James was in a hit sitcom and played second banana in a $100 million film or two, but that doesn't explain how he made this solo vehicle such a must-see. Blart was a film no one had heard about even a month before its release, and it was a title I predicted would make just about $8 million - as a total gross, needless to say. If you think critics boosted this one up, think again - the Tomatoes score came in at a mild 34%. And we're not talking about Blart growing legs over time, ala Big Fat Greek Wedding. No, this mall cop was massive right from the start. I don't care how many excuses box office analysts come up with for this one. For me, the Blart numbers are just incomprehensible, and they always will be.

So, with that one out of the way, you'd think the weekend's other films would have the decency to flop? Nah. Sure, B.I.G. biopic Notorious did drop big after its $20 million opening, finishing with only $36 million. But the 16th's two other titles came in on the high, high end of expectations: ultra-gory slasher movie remake My Bloody Valentine rode a $21 million opening to a strong $51 million total, and kidpic Hotel for Dogs finished with a staggering $73 million after a $17 million start. Sure, Valentine was boosted by 3D ticket prices, but that number still seems a little high to me; as for the Dog movie: while we all know by now that films with posters featuring hordes of cute animals go big at the box office, you'd think Hotel for Dogs would have been muted some by the PG-rated success of fellow traveler Paul Blart. Not a chance.


Next, the 23rd at last gave inexplicability a breather. Werewolf threequel (really prequel) Underworld: Rise of the Lycans totaled at $45 million (below the last one's $62 million), while Brendan Fraser's somewhat cheesy adventure Inkheart finished with a mild $17 million. Gee, with these kind of numbers, you'd think we were in January 2006 or something here.

January ended with - oh, what's this? Another $100 million movie? Yes, if we count Torino as a January title, then the first month of 2009 delivered no fewer than three $100 million earners, a figure usually reserved for summertime. Now, don't get me wrong, Liam Neeson's Taken always looked like an okay little thriller - the trailers were efficient and so on, and the reviews were pretty good. But the same can be said of about a hundred other 2000s thrillers, so what was it about this one that nabbed it a startling-enough $24 million opening, followed by January '09-style legs (hollow laugh) that climbed all the way to a massive $145 million total? After all, Neeson is a familiar actor, but not an established box office draw. The premise was certainly not out of the sphere of ordinary. There really is no comparably leggy box office performer among the thriller/action genre, and so, once again, I am left clueless in the dark on this one, except to say that some supernatural box office enchantment was in the air this month - and I think that's really all there is to it. I could believe one of these amazing box office stories, but I can not believe all of them happening at exactly the same time.

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