This Week in Box Office History
This week we stroll back in time to 1982. This period is a bit of a watershed, as we enter the modern era of film. There are clearly defined seasons that attract different genres, especially the mid-summer blockbuster season. The number of films released and the number of tickets sold exploded, leading to the current trends in the medium. While audience tastes have changed, Hollywood’s tactics have not, and we see that much of what we currently watch is dictated by lessons the industry learned during this period of time.
The Week that Was (Actual/Predicted)
1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (36 million)/ Same (35 million)
Those cheeky monkeys held strong this week, showing a very graceful descent from a stronger than anticipated first week. One could argue that this week was particularly weak for competition, but other movies such as Captain America 2 and Godzilla cleared out their time slots, and yet still had a pretty hefty declines afterwards. I think many people were at first surprised by the advance praise for this film, and then surprised again when the movie actually made good on those reviewers’ promises.
2. The Purge 2- Anarchy (30 million)/ Same (25 million)
This sequel actually out-performed it’s first installment. I wouldn’t call either openings a ringing success…except that this year in particular horror movies have been box office poison. Compared to many other films in the genre, the strong-ish performance of these two films must be a much needed relief.
3. Planes – Fire and Rescue (18 million)/ Same (20 million)
This movie is somehow not being called what it is: a bomb. A film spun-off of a money-making franchise (Cars) from golden studio Pixar that made less money than John Carter? That movie is a bomb, folks. An unvarnished stinker. From a family of stinkers. I don’t care what deference Disney has in the industry, stop shoving crap like this into theaters.
The Week that Will Be: Predictions
3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (17 million)
This brass monkey may just have enough juice left in its battery for a third week in the top three. It has over-performed at every step, so I can’t write it off this week, even in the face of some really stiff competition.
2. Lucy (30 million)
The movie masters over at Box Office Mojo predict this film to trounce Hercules this weekend, but I beg to differ. Not because I want this movie to falter: I love director Luc Besson, as I’ve amply proved; I hope in my heart of hearts that Scarlett Johansson (who I have praised here and here) is the strong, smart female lead who will finally break up the boys’ club and rule the box office as even Angeline Jolie has been unable to do; and I certainly don’t want a Sci Fi flick to do poorly. I just think that people are writing off the Rock prematurely. And people who do that get choke slammed. So I’m just hedging my bets here…
1. Hercules (36 million)
Oh, big, dumb, swole Hercules. How I adore thee. Let me count the ways. I have a giant hole in my heart for Herc that precedes Kevin Sorbo. The unadulterated male fantasy of destiny, tragedy, and power that overcomes any obstacle lives in a deep part of my heart, where it crushes out sick bench-presses and resolutely ignores leg day. I think Dwayne Johnson has put in the work to make the first actually decent version of the demi-god, and even the poison kiss of the pretender, The Legend of Hercules, cannot rob this movie of its glory. The Rock has had his ups and downs, but the stars will align for him here. If he can make 40 million for the crap that was The Scorpion King, please don’t try to tell me that viewers won’t like him as Hercules. That’s some candy-assed hogwash there, and I refuse to even dignify it with a rakishly raised eyebrow before dropping my elbow of film criticism justice on that stuff.
Top Movies: 1982
I made some pretty bold claims above about how this year is the year that defines current film trends. The early 80’s definitively ushered in the pantheon of our modern era: directors like Lucas and Spielberg, iconic leading men like Schwarzenegger and Stallone; as well as the franchises that continue to resonate: Star Trek, Star Wars, Rambo, Conan. Some of the biggest movies of all time came out this year, including E.T. and Gandhi. Numerous other films, such as Poltergeist, Wrath of Kahn, and Blade Runner, made Horror and Sci Fi acceptable fare instead of B-Movie trash. This year also saw an explosion of films, many of high quality, that marked a resurgent Hollywood which knew how to best take our paychecks. The sequel, the super hero, and the space opera became bankable strategies that the industry has milked for nearly 30 years now. With the instant home market making a decent in-road upon the previously unassailable box office, television reaching near parity with film, and Star Wars looking to book-end these trends with new films, I think we are poised to see what model of film the next 30 years of cinema is going to look like this decade.
The peanut butter candy loving alien invaded our hearts, and not remotely in the manner that John Carpenter had led us to believe. This film was a run-away train that took top spot at the box office again and again. Unlike other years, E.T. had serious competition, even in its own genre, but always managed to return to the top spot. Steven Spielberg made aliens cool again, and gave us the definitive blockbuster, without having to blow anything up. Take that, Michael Bay.
Academy Award Best Picture: Gandhi
Ben Kingsley has been laboring under the shadow of this film for 30 years for good reason: it is a classic. A broad, sweeping epic that has pacifism as its central tenet, you could not imagine a harder sell for a big Hollywood blockbuster. The quality of the acting, paired with a lean and focused story that included universal themes of freedom, self identity, social values, and the ever-popular cotton spinning industry, combined to create an iconic masterpiece that has lasted the ages. Unlike Ben’s other works…
Longest Time at #1: Porky’s
I have to bend the metric a little here. Technically, E.T. held the top spot for 16 weeks…but those top spots were broken up by other films. Porky’s managed a solid 8 weeks in a row. Since I’ve already sung the praises of the telephone-challenged extra-terrestrial, I’m going to give the nod to the raunchy comedy. Porky’s became a monster of syndication, spawning several sequels, and defining the line up of many cable TV channels well into the 90’s. For a film that showed more nudity than the un-scrambled Spice Channel, it certainly managed to inform the anatomical knowledge of countless adolescents. Now if somebody could please explain the ludicrous plot to me…
Our Pick: The Dark Crystal
One of the finest specimens of practical effects and puppetry ever created, The Dark Crystal has my nod for the best film of 1982.
Several other films, many of them noted above, vied for the title. The Wrath of Kahn…Conan the Barbarian…even Tron made strong impressions on me. The bizarre, lovable, and frighteningly adult Secret of NIMH was a perennial favorite of my household. After all the votes (one) were tallied, however, Jim Henson’s masterpiece took the prize.
A High Fantasy story about a celestial conjunction that heralds the end of an age for several fantastical races of creatures, The Dark Crystal was the type of fairy tale that we rarely experience since Disney set about sanitizing the genre. Two equally powerful races, the kind Mystics and the devious Skeksis, each harbor half of the world’s life force inside them. As one declines, so does the other. A rare astronomical event portends the end of the current bifurcated world, and the beginning of a mysterious new order. The Mystics are content to go gracefully into the night, but the Skeksis will stop at nothing to retain power…even including the destruction of their world. Into this duality steps the Gelflings, a curious but weak race of elf-like creatures that the Skeksis fear as the inheritors of the new age. They mercilessly hunt them down, till only two remain. These two, a boy and girl, must journey through danger and take their place as the new masters of the world.
This movie is gorgeous and a true labor of love. Henson himself takes on much of the muscle-work of moving larger than life puppets in a seamless manor. The flora and fauna of this world are painstakingly created. The story, though convoluted, is faithfully told and adult in its prosecution: loved ones perish, the world is made terrifying and new, and neither side is completely blameless in the birthing of this new age.
In an era where slick CGI manages to evoke little emotion, this film reminds us of the central ingredient of any special effect: care. Henson cherished and honored his visions, Muppet, Fraggle, or Gelfling, and always gave his all when creating alien worlds the viewer could inhabit.
Information courtesy of Box Office Mojo. Used with permission.