Box Office - Decade at a Glance: September - December 2009

By Michael Lynderey

January 5, 2010

I'm sorry I said that Dr. Manhattan's blue junk is bigger.

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The month ended with a batch of typically hit-and-miss Thanksgiving titles, none of which offered more surprises - Robin Williams and John Travolta teamed up for the really very bad parental re-education comedy Old Dogs ($47 million total), blood hit the wall as the title character went to work in Ninja Assassin ($39 million), and the CGI machine produced a rare box office misstep, Planet 51 ($39 million). Elsewhere, Wes Anderson's interesting claymation adventure Fantastic Mr. Fox finished with $19 million, a figure allotted to any would-be children's movie that dabbles in animalistic existentialism.


The first half of the last month of the 2000s didn't exactly set the box office on fire. No, times were slow, and holdovers were still ruling the day. December 4th dished out a typically minor slate of releases, led by effective Portman-Gyllenhaal-Maguire drama Brothers ($27 million total), Robert De Niro's cross-country holiday trip in Everybody's Fine ($9 million), PG-13 action film Armored, looking sorely out of place in December ($15 million), and something called Transylmania, which received a wide release but finished with a number considerably lower than one million dollars. December 11th perked up some, what with Disney's (one-time?) return to traditional animation, The Princess and the Frog, opening with a moderate $24 million and finishing somewhere by $100 million. On the other side of the hall, Clint Eastwood's South African-set Invictus began its pre-Oscar run, but thus far hasn't met much enthusiasm ($30 million and counting).

The Christmas movie rush really only started on the 18th, when the release of Avatar recharged the box office with surprising new life. But before we get to that, let's take a look at the not-inconsiderable rest. The top two non-Avatar December titles look to be heavily-anticipated sequel (I kid, I kid) Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, with its immeasurable total potentially touching $250 million, and Robert Downey Jr. headlining Guy Ritchie's campy tackle of Sherlock Holmes, a film that overcame its Victorian setting to a total approaching $200 million. Also doing pretty good was Meryl Streep, teaming with Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin for It's Complicated and delivering yet another of her hits, a film that's looking to get to around $100 million, if perhaps not quite breach it.


Meanwhile, some of our Oscary friends were doing better than others - George Clooney's dramedy Up in the Air had racked up $45 million by early January, while Harlem-set Precious was brewing under the scenes, and has so far taken $43 million out of the Oscar pool. Much less lucky was big star-musical Nine ($13 million thus far), but enough about all that. It's time for the big one - the breakout film of the month, the season, and the year.

Overcoming all expectations and doubts, James Cameron's return to big-budget sci-fi filmmaking, Avatar, opened with a hefty $77 million and looks to total at a sum much higher than $400 million (thus beating Transformers 2, natch). Much has been written about this one elsewhere, and none of it will be repeated here, except to say that I really hope Avatar doesn't end up quite as influential as its prognosticators think. See, I really don't want to spend my entire 2010s moviegoing time stuck wearing 3D glasses. And, now - wait, wait, let me get this straight here - am I saying that Avatar made more money than Paul Blart: Mall Cop?

See you in 2019. Maybe.

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