Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#10: Bullock Blind Sides Box Office
By David Mumpower
December 30, 2009
After the release of Speed in 1994, Sandra Bullock became one of the most popular actresses in the history of the industry. No, this wasn't her first role (pay channels used to get a lot of enjoyment from playing Love Potion No. 9, a film she probably wishes had been destroyed) nor was it even her first mainstream action film (she provides awkward love interest support to Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man). Heck, it wasn't even the first film where I loved her. I have a soft place in my heart for one of her early roles, The Thing Called Love (River Phoenix's penultimate movie). North American audiences were unaware or uninpressed by these early performances, of course, but that all changed once they fell for her as Annie, a neophyte bus driver with an unflinching ability to keep her vehicle over 55 miles per hour. Speed earned $121.2 million domestically, making it the seventh most successful release of 1994. What was fascinating about the fallout from Speed is that Keanu Reeves and Bullock split the credit for it and both of their careers were indefinitely secured.
Bullock's next film became her staple, the romantic comedy. In this case, it was While You Were Sleeping, which also starred Bill Pullman (not Paxton), and earned $81.1 million domestically. Her following film, The Net, is already as technologically dated as any release over the last 25 years (even Hackers), but it had North American revenue of $50.6 million against a $22 million budget. It was also her fourth consecutive title to earn over $100 million worldwide. Ms. Bullock had become bankable domestically and abroad in a very short period. From 1997 until 2002, she had four more $100+ million worldwide hits (including her voice work in Prince of Egypt). Her biggest domestic performer during this period was A Time to Kill, which made $108.8 million while her largest worldwide hit (ignoring Prince of Egypt) was Miss Congeniality, which brought in over $212 million. In the timeframe from Speed to Two Weeks Notice, her popular 2002 release, Bullock's films averaged $57.6 million domestically and $110.2 million worldwide. She was as reliable a draw as the nature of the industry allows.
After Two Weeks Notice, Bullock's career took a downturn. Part of this was based on perception, but the reality is that her next five major roles earned an average of $40.9 million domestically and $79.7 million worldwide, significantly below her earlier works (and not even adjusting those for inflation). Part of the reason for this is that a couple of her roles were awards contenders, accepted to be less appealing from a box office perspective. The decision to make Crash paid off while Infamous did not.
Along the way, the now 40-something actress fell in love with television host Jesse James and got married. Given that James' ex is famous porn star Janine Lindemulder, who would later be incarcerated for tax evasion, there were a lot of salacious headlines the actress deftly avoided for the most part. During this period, it was a smart decision to keep a relatively low profile in order to avoid being inexorably linked with the mistakes of another person.