The Number One Movie in America: Jagged Edge
By Sean Collier
May 15, 2019
“Jagged Edge,” a decently successful 1985 thriller, reached the number-one spot in its fourth weekend.
That kind of sleeper success isn’t really possible anymore, though it was fairly commonplace at the less competitive box office of the 1980s. A less-flashy comedy or drama would debut underneath a crowd of tentpoles and post relatively small week-to-week drops; a month or so later, on a quiet weekend, the lingering popularity of a film such as “Jagged Edge” among adult viewers would result in an unlikely champion. Another weekend winner from 1985, “Witness,” claimed the spot in its fifth weekend (only for “Beverly Hills Cop” to reclaim the title a week later, in its 15th week of release).
If a film takes more than a weekend — or, in many cases, a few hours — to claim the top spot today, it’s the result of a deliberate platform release. (The last true case of a sleeper hit climbing to number one is probably “There’s Something About Mary,” in 1998, which also claimed the title in its fourth week.) The sheer number of releases, along with the promotional machine which has been ever-refined over the past few decades, doesn’t allow room for even a successful movie to climb quite so high in 2019.
“Jagged Edge” is a fine example of the model, released in the midst of a flood of action hits. It debuted alongside “Commando” on October 4th; the Schwarzenegger film would win three weekends. The preceding week had been won by Chuck Norris in “Invasion U.S.A.,” and “Back to the Future” took 12 of the 13 weekends before that. “Jagged Edge” was effective counter-programming against such fare; while the teens could watch Chuck or Arnold sow mayhem, grown-ups could have a pleasant date night watching Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges.
Not that “Jagged Edge” doesn’t have some violence of its own; in fact, the opening scene is troubling. With camera movements borrowed from “Halloween,” a hooded figure breaks into a beachside house and murders a sleeping woman. Jack Forrester (Bridges), the victim’s husband and a prominent newspaper editor, is immediately arrested — because, as “My Favorite Murder” has taught us, it’s always the husband.
He insists that he’s innocent, however, and he’d very much like no-nonsense former prosecutor Teddy Barnes (Bridges) to represent him. She’s reluctant; after a prior case got messy, she left criminal law. She’s charmed by the future Dude, however. He seems to really love his horses, after all.
(The horses are pivotal. One gets the impression that Teddy would not have taken the case had she not met the horses.)
It’s more of a courtroom drama than a whodunit, although you’ll spend a great deal of time deciding whether or not you think Forrester is guilty. An enjoyable supporting role as a gruff investigator earned Robert Loggia an unlikely Oscar nomination, and Joe Eszterhaus’s (“Basic Instinct,” “Flashdance”) script ratchets up the sexual tension in delightfully ’80s fashion.
It is, however, more than a bit of a mess; “Jagged Edge” features the most lax legal ethics this side of the Ted Bundy trial, and a lot of the twists and turns are arbitrary. If it had no-name actors, it’d be a movie of the week.
Fortunately, it doesn’t. Bridges isn’t yet in full possession of the powers he’d develop later in his career, but he’s more than capable here. Loggia is a surprising delight. And Close — who was not nominated for this role, despite earning nods the prior three years — is a supreme heroine, endlessly watchable and perfectly sincere.
They still make movies like this; in fact, a remake of “Jagged Edge,” with Halle Berry, is in production. But they don’t let them get to number one anymore. (And they often go straight to Netflix.) In an age full of (admittedly good) tentpoles for all ages, it’s worth keeping an eye out for movies which are unabashedly aimed at actual adults.
“Jagged Edge” is the subject of the latest episode of The Number One Movie in America, a look back at past box-office champions. Each episode’s film is drawn at random from a list of every number-one movie since 1982. Please listen and subscribe!
Next time: No, really, the third chapter of a comedy series starring George Burns went to number one.