Box Office - Decade at a Glance: May - August 2009
By Michael Lynderey
December 31, 2009
Summer '09 began with perhaps the most routine, unremarkable May opening frame of the decade: you had your standard Marvel Comics-based superhero film (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), your prototypical Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy counterprogramming (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past), and, as is also necessary, an obscure movie being dumped for no particular reason (Battle for Terra had that distinction). Hugh Jackman's solo outing as Wolverine was the first of a series of summer disappointments - neither the fanboy world nor much of anyone else particularly liked it, while the numbers were solid if not very earth-shattering ($85 million opening, $179 million total). As for Battle for Terra - well, if a film is to be properly obscure, surely we mustn't talk about it?
The real juice of the summer started pumping on May 8th, with the release of J.J. Abrams' reimagination of the Star Trek enterprise (and I don't mean Enterprise). Here's what this one was about: in the most deviously brilliant plot yet, Eric Bana - apparently playing a particularly business-minded film producer - travels back in time to a date before all of the Star Trek films and television series, and by doing so, wipes away the franchise's entire established continuity! Do you know what that means? It means that far from simply being alleged prequels, the Star Trek films that we're going to get throughout the 2010s (where they will repeatedly open to outrageous, eye-popping numbers) can do absolutely anything at all with the series' continuity, all without ticking off the Trekkers. And if you think that means they'll be craftily resurrecting Khan or other easy box office tourist traps - hey, you're right. It is perhaps the most fiendishly clever reboot of them all - because out of all of them, this is the one that literally remakes a franchise through a plot development, rather than a press release. Oh, and the box office? $75 million opening, $257 million total. Leggy. Was it the highest grossing Star Trek film by a country mile? Duh. It's 2009, so of course it was.
May 15th's designated hitter, Angels & Demons, was a somewhat more innocent time at the movies, as Tom Hanks raced about Rome - solving mysteries and diffusing bombs and doing all those things he's grown so fond of in the latter years of the decade. This wasn't a half-bad outing, actually, except for the ending, which featured Ewan McGregor as perhaps the single most implausibly-motivated character of the year, if not the decade. But enough about him - Angels & Demons followed '06's Da Vinci Code, and not all that well - $46 million opening, $133 million total, to the first one's $217 million sum. But we all saw that coming.
Next, May 22nd had been planning to hatch a couple more biggie titles, but only one came out more or less okay. That would be Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian - while it didn't match the first film's Christmas-time gross of $250 million, the sequel took its loopy menagerie of historical caricatures to a $54 million opening and $177 million total. This one gave stars Ben Stiller and Amy Adams a fairly respectable grosser, even if one that seemed particularly badly written (though a few of the scenes - like the visit inside the V–J Times Square photograph, did brim with some nifty imagination). Next on the weekend's tab, spoof Dance Flick nicely rounded out the decade - I don't mean the movie was good - I mean there's some excellent symmetry in the fact that the Wayans Brothers relaunched the whole parody subgenre with Scary Movie in 2000, and now were on hand for what is likely to be the last spoof in quite some time. Next, McG took over the Terminator franchise with 2010s-set fourquel Terminator: Salvation, which teamed Batrman star Christian Bale with Australian newbie Sam Worthington, to evidently no avail - critics and fanboys alike voted thumbs down, and the film totaled at $125 million, a gross higher than that of only the first film in the franchise. So - wait, wait, let me get this straight here - am I saying that Paul Blart: Mall Cop made more money than Terminator: Salvation?
The 29th brought along Sam Raimi's entertainingly loopy tackling of the PG-13 ghost film, Drag Me To Hell, which totaled at a fair if slightly downward-tilting $42 million. May ended on a real low note, though, with the unleashing of the latest Pixar disaster, entitled simply and glumly Up - a sort-of-remake of Gran Torino, except all cartoony this time, and just a little more violent. As per usual for Pixar, this one flopped hard, opening with $68 million and finishing with a miserable $292 million, their second biggest total after Finding Nemo's meh-inducing $339 million; critics bashed this one, giving it just 98% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and calling out Pixar for their insistence on repeatedly releasing very bad movies... (Okay, okay - Up was a massive hit and everyone loved it. Do I really have to stick to facts?)