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Sandra Bullock Top Box Office Star & The Unreliability of Such Polls

“… Far and away the biggest-grossing movie with a female as its sole main player, which is certainly a challenge to conventional Hollywood assumptions (men can star alone, while women need a co-star of either sex).”

That's Sandra Bullock in the 2009 football drama The Blind Side, right? Wrong. Film commentator Stuart Byron was referring to Goldie Hawn in the 1980 army comedy Private Benjamin (right), which earned $69.8 million at the domestic box office (about $173 million in 2010 dollars, as per Box Office Mojo's average ticket-price ratio). That same year, Hawn co-starred with Chevy Chase in the comedy Seems Like Old Times: $43.9 million (or approx. $109 million today).

With more than $200 million and counting, Bullock's The Blind Side did even better in 2009. Add the $163 million for The Proposal (while ignoring the $34 million for All About Steve) and Sandra Bullock's position as the top box office star on the Quigley poll of US exhibitors is fully justifiable. She's only the eighth actress to ever top the list since 1932, following Marie Dressler (1932, 1933), Shirley Temple (1935, 1936, 1937, 1938), Betty Grable (1943), Doris Day (1960, 1962, 1963, 1964), Elizabeth Taylor (1961), Julie Andrews (1966, 1967), and Julia Roberts (1999).

But despite Bullock's undeniable box office appeal in 2009, those Quigley polls shouldn't be taken all that seriously. For instance, in 1980, the year Goldie Hawn was the star of “the biggest-grossing movie with a female as its sole main player,” she wasn't included on the Quigley list of top-ten box office stars. Barbra Streisand, who didn't have a 1980 release, was.

Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind
Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind

Gene AutryGone with the Wind opened in late December 1939. Boom Town became one of the biggest hits of 1940.Both movies starred Clark Gable, who kept himself quite busy by also starring in Comrade X and Strange Cargo.

The biggest box office star of 1940, according to Quigley's exhibitors' poll? Mickey Rooney.

Sure, Rooney's vehicles were box office, but they weren't Gable-caliber box office. But stuff like Strike Up the Band and Andy Hardy Meets Debutante did well in small towns, where owners of little movie houses were happy to book flicks showing Mickey dating Judy – or Gene Autry (right) hanging out with his horse.

Autry starred in six 1940 releases: Shooting High, Carolina Moon, Gaucho Serenade, Rancho Grande, Melody Ranch, and Ride Tenderfoot Ride. If none of those titles sound like major blockbusters, it's, well, because they weren't. But they kept 100-seat movies houses all filled up on Saturday afternoons. And that's why Autry was #4 in the 1940 Quigley list, ahead of Tyrone Power (The Mark of Zorro and Johnny Apollo), Bette Davis (The Letter and All This and Heaven Too, two of her biggest hits), and even Judy Garland, Mickey's partner in both Strike Up the Band and Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, and the star of her own Little Nellie Kelly.

Of course, regardless of what the Quigley exhibitors had to say in those days, the studios' accounting ledgers showed that they made most of their money in the big-city palaces that charged top prices for admission (which is one reason why “average” ticket prices per year is a faulty way to calculate inflation-adjusted box office figures, especially for decades-old movies).

For the record, below is the Quigley list of the top money-making stars of 2009. Denzel Washington, whose The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 was a flop, and Matt Damon, whose The Informant! and Invictus were box office disappointments, were included. I'm not sure if George Clooney is on the list because of the flop The Men Who Stare at Goats, the box office disappointment Fantastic Mr. Fox, or Up in the Air, which will be making most of its money in 2010.

And someone somewhere should introduce US movie exhibitors to Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.

  1. Sandra Bullock
  2. Johnny Depp
  3. Matt Damon
  4. George Clooney
  5. Robert Downey Jr.
  6. Tom Hanks
  7. Meryl Streep
  8. Brad Pitt
  9. Shia LaBeouf
  10. Denzel Washington

Stars of Tomorrow:


         
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2 Comments to Sandra Bullock Top Box Office Star & The Unreliability of Such Polls

  1. Andre

    It's true that “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was not a total box-office disaster, but since it reportedly cost somewhere around $25m (http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=menwhostareatgoats.htm) and grossed $32m domestically, of which about only half will reach the producing companies, then if I shouldn't call it a flop then perhaps “a costly disappointment'?

    Either way, that movie provides no justification for Clooney to be listed among the top ten box-office stars of 2009.

  2. bisle

    sorry but The men who stare at goats is not a flop. A $20 millions' budget films who got more than $30 millions with very little promotion is very far from a flop. And Up in the air is already a big success even if it has only been released widly those past days!