Box Office - Decade at a Glance: May - August 2009
By Michael Lynderey
December 31, 2009
June 2009 began as an almost-textbook case of upturned expectations. The big winner of this comedy-filled weekend was not the pre-designated star vehicle blockbuster - but the little movie that could. And in a typical case of 2009-style Blartism, it wasn't a title that opened slow and then bore itself some legs through word-of-mouth; the legs were there, of course, but this one was inexplicably huge right off the bat. Indeed, how was it exactly that The Hangover, an admittedly well-reviewed but totally starless Vegas comedy, managed to open with a staggering $44 million? (I'll express shock at the $277 million total gross another time). Yes, I know the film had some good advance buzz, and a catchy trailer, too - but this was an R-rated title with no established draws - and it somehow opened bigger than any live-action comedy did in 2008 (with the exception of Sex and the City, but c'mon). On the other end of the rainbow, Will Ferrell's bizarre, pot-drenched piece of prehistoric television adaptation, Land of the Lost, opened with $18 million and finished with $49 million. Indeed, after headlining some of the decade's biggest and most memorable comedies, Ferrell was now distinctly faltering - after the failure of Semi-Pro and the moderate if crude success of Step Brothers, the dinosaur picture was a step in the wrong direction. In fact, conveniently around as a sort of Ghost of Big Star Future was Nia Vardalos and her vehicle My Life in Ruins, which finished with an $8 million total that in no way reminds one of her 2002 mega-hit, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Will Ferrell, take note.
June 12th took a little break from $100 million earners (hey, it happens), teaming a villainous John Travolta and a typically heroic Denzel Washington for so-so thriller remake The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, and giving Eddie Murphy another shot at family film stardom with Imagine That. The Pelham film - occasionally effective if somewhat meandering - opened with $23 million and finished at $65 million, coming in on the lower ebbs of Washington's standard box office formula. Imagine That, on the other hand, was a somewhat entertaining children-aimed comedy that was summarily ignored, finishing with a mere $16 million and making the idea of Murphy's re-strapping on one of his many beloved fat suits an even more tempting one.
Another Hangover-style upset awaited the 19th. The winner of the week was quite often amusing if unabashedly routine romantic comedy The Proposal, which lifted itself above the pack with a stunning $33 million opening and near-unbelievable $163 million total - a definite case of 2009-style Blartism. While the trailers for this one seemed good-natured enough, no hint was to be found anywhere as to just how big The Proposal was going to be. And aside from helping (further) break out star Ryan Reynolds, The Proposal gave Sandra Bullock her then-biggest hit, shaping up a career that had been hit-and-missing throughout the decade. The box office wild streak of The Proposal masked the weekend's other comedy - Year One, which had Jack Black and Michael Cera as pseudo-cavemen stumbling through the unfunny prehistoric era, and totaling with just $43 million (but at least the tagline was good - you know, "Meet your ancestors"). Also around this time of the month was the somewhat syrupy if generally workable drama My Sister's Keeper, which used some star power (Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin) to glean a decent $49 million total. With all of that out of the way, it was time for the summer's biggest film to arrive.
Indeed, the fairly action-less June ended with an outrageous barrage of sound and fury, signifying the coming of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The first Transformers gave the second half of summer '07 a leggy $300 million+ hit, and so the sequel behaved as such things must - $200 million five-day opening, followed by a staggering climb to $402 million. Even most of the critics who derived some pleasure from the first film disassociated themselves from the follow-up, and I can't really blame them: while I'm generally a Michael Bay fan (hey, The Rock was a great movie), even I can't much defend this overlong collection of explosions and loud noises (well, at least the robots still looked really cool). As I write this, Transformers 2 remains the highest grossing movie of 2009, although it looks like Avatar is quickly gaining on it. Check back in about ten years to find out if it ever got there.