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Fall Box Office: Crime & Fantasy Among Top Hits

American Gangster Russell CroweAmerican Gangster with Russell Crowe. Directed by three-time Academy Award nominee Ridley Scott, this real-life-based crime drama was a fall box office hit.
  • North America’s notable fall box office titles belong to a whole array of genres, from crime and socially conscious dramas (American Gangster, Michael Clayton) to musical fantasies (Enchanted), horror sequels (Saw IV), and moralizing comedies (Why Did I Get Married?).

Disparate genres among this year’s fall box office hits & misses in the domestic market

As fall in the Northern Hemisphere is fast coming to an end, this oft-updated article offers a glimpse at the box office performances of several major and mid-size domestic releases in the last three months.

Immediately below are the current – up to the Dec. 14–16 weekend – domestic totals of four November/early December releases with Oscar chances in various categories: American Gangster, Enchanted, Atonement, and the domestic commercial flop The Golden Compass.

American Gangster

According to studio figures found at boxofficemojo.com, American Gangster has scored $127.6 million since its Nov. 2 debut. The Ridley Scott-directed crime drama based on real-life events is the most commercially successful movie released in North America in the last six weeks. Its nearest competitor, Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner’s computer-animated comedy Bee Movie, has taken in $122.4 million.

Set in the 1970s, American Gangster has reunited Scott with his Oscar-winning Gladiator star Russell Crowe, now cast as a Newark police detective on the trail of a hugely successful Harlem-based heroin smuggler, among whose “collaborators” are homebound Vietnam War veterans.

As the titular entrepreneur, Denzel Washington was cast in a role not all that different from the one that earned him the 2001 Best Actor Oscar – see Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day. Well, except for the fact that the drug trafficker in American Gangster isn’t a cop.

American Gangster has as its source Mark Jacobson’s New York magazine article “The Return of Superfly,” which chronicles the story of Frank Lucas, the most influential drug lord in Harlem during the 1970s. Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York) was credited for the adaptation.

Also in the cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Best Supporting Actor winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire, 1996), Josh Brolin, Armand Assante, and veteran Ruby Dee (A Raisin in the Sun, The Incident).

Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, by the way, had been previously seen together in Brett Leonard’s 1995 action sci-fier Virtuosity.

Enchanted

After four weekends, Walt Disney Pictures’ generally well-regarded Enchanted has raked in a respectable $91.8 million. Among this year’s fall releases in North America, the Kevin Lima-directed romantic musical comedy fantasy – it’s all that – is trailing only American Gangster and Bee Movie.

Enchanted tells the story of a fairy-tale princess (Amy Adams) who escapes her 2D world after being thrust into present-day New York City, where she falls in love with a divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey). Oscar winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking, 1995) is the humorously wicked villainess.

Also in the cast: James Marsden, Timothy Spall, Idina Menzel, and Rachel Covey. Veteran Best Actress winner Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, 1964) narrates.

Atonement James McAvoy Keira KnightleyAtonement with James McAvoy and Keira Knightley: Fall season’s Oscar bait.

Atonement

In limited release (117 locations), Joe Wright’s mostly British-made period drama Atonement has pulled in $2.9 million since its debut 10 days ago.

In the Oscar-baiting cast: James McAvoy, Best Actress nominee Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice, 2005), Saoirse Ronan, and Best Supporting Actress winner Vanessa Redgrave (Julia, 1977).

Oscar winner Christopher Hampton (Best Adapted Screenplay for Dangerous Liaisons, 1988) is credited for the adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel.

The Golden Compass

Chris Weitz’s good-looking but poorly received – and, in some quarters, controversial – fantasy adventure The Golden Compass has brought in $41 million after 10 days. Whereas the $180 million production is thriving overseas, its domestic box office take has been an unmitigated disaster.

In the cast: Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours, 2002), Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Eva Green, Sam Elliott, and veterans Tom Courtenay, Christopher Lee, and Derek Jacobi.

In the voice cast: Ian McKellen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Freddie Highmore, Ian McShane, and Oscar winner Kathy Bates (Misery, 1990).

Unlike American Gangster, Enchanted, and Atonement, The Golden Compass’ Oscar chances are undoubtedly restricted to the “technical” categories.

And for the record, the big winner on the Dec. 14–16 weekend was Francis Lawrence’s post-apocalyptic action thriller I Am Legend, starring Will Smith in the old Charlton Heston role (The Omega Man, 1971): $77.2 million.

Saw IV fails to beat predecessor while Dan in Real Life has decent debut

Fall box office – Oct. 26–28: With Halloween just around the corner, Lionsgate’s Darren Lynn Bousman-directed Saw IV was the no. 1 movie at the North American box office, collecting $31.8 million from 3,183 theaters.

The fourth installment in the Saw series barely managed to edge out (not factoring in inflation) Saw II’s $31.7 million opening, while failing to beat the $33 million debut of its predecessor, Saw III. Both earlier titles were also directed by Bousman.

Of note: New entry Dan in Real Life landed in second place, collecting $11.8 million from 1,921 locations. Directed by Peter Hedges, the romantic comedy stars Steve Carell as a widowed newspaper advice columnist who falls for his brother’s girlfriend (Juliette Binoche).

Also in the Dan in Real Life cast: Dane Cook (as the brother), Alison Pill, John Mahoney, two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest (Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986; Bullets Over Broadway, 1994), Amy Ryan, and Matthew Morrison.

30 Days of Night is latest Josh Hartnett box office disappointment

Fall box office – Oct. 19–21: With Halloween about ten days away, David Slade’s horror thriller 30 Days of Night topped the domestic box office chart with $15.95 million from 2,855 venues. That’s hardly a great debut for a $30 million production (not including marketing and distribution expenses).

Based on the 2002 horror comic book miniseries written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith, 30 Days of Night stars Josh Hartnett – whose recent list of box office flops include Resurrecting the Champ, Lucky Number Slevin, and The Black Dahlia – as a sheriff whose Alaska town is attacked by a gang of bloodthirsty vampires during the dead of winter.

Also in the 30 Days of Night cast: Melissa George, Danny Huston, and Ben Foster.

Why Did I Get Married? Michael Jai White Tasha SmithWhy Did I Get Married? with Michael Jai White and Tasha Smith: Modest fall box office hit.

Marriage & morals comedy-drama Why Did I Get Married? is no. 1

Fall box office – Oct. 12–14: Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? was the top pick of North American moviegoers (remember, Mexicans don’t count here and Canadians don’t make that much of a difference) this past weekend, earning $21.35 million from 2,011 sites.

Geared to black American (and Christian?) audiences, this latest adaptation by playwright-turned-director Perry has easily surpassed the $16.9 million five-day gross of his previous film, the Idris Elba-Gabrielle Union romantic drama Daddy’s Little Girls, which debuted at 2,111 theaters last February (on a Wednesday).

Trailing both Why Did I Get Married? and last weekend’s holdover The Game Plan (with $11 million), new entry We Own the Night landed in the no. 3 slot, pulling in a mediocre $10.8 million from 2,362 locations. Set in late 1980s Brooklyn, James Gray’s crime drama stars Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix as two estranged brothers – the former is a cop; the latter is a hedonist – who discover that the Russian mob is planning to murder the NYPD’s Deputy Chief, who, as it happens, is their father (Robert Duvall). Eva Mendes costars.

Of note: Tony Gilroy’s well-received socially conscious thriller Michael Clayton expanded to 2,511 theaters, earning a hugely disappointing $10.4 million – that’s a $4,131 per-theater average vs. We Own the Night’s $4,583. Michael Clayton’s ten-day cume stands at only $11.5 million. In the cast: Righteous attorney George Clooney, plus Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Best Director Oscar winner Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa, 1985), and Michael O’Keefe.

Widely derided Dwayne Johnson star vehicle beats widely derided Ben Stiller star vehicle

Fall box office – Oct. 5–7: The widely panned Dwayne Johnson star vehicle The Game Plan once again topped the North American box office, raking in $16.6 million over this past weekend. Directed by Andy Fickman, the PG-rated comedy has reached a total gross of $43.2 million.

In second place, the widely panned R-rated new entry The Heartbreak Kid brought in $14 million from 3,229 sites. Based on Bruce Jay Friedman’s short story “A Change of Plan,” first published in Esquire magazine in 1966, the Bobby and Peter Farrelly-directed comedy stars Ben Stiller as a newlywed who falls for another woman during his honeymoon in Cabo San Lucas.

Also in the cast: Malin Akerman (as the wife), Michelle Monaghan (as the dream woman), Jerry Stiller (Ben Stiller’s real-life father), Danny McBride, Scott Wilson, and Eva Longoria.

Directed by Elaine May from a screenplay by Neil Simon, the far better-received 1972 version features Charles Grodin, Cybill Shepherd, and, in supporting roles, Audra Lindley, and Oscar nominees Eddie Albert and Jeannie Berlin.

Disney’s sentimental flick The Game Plan atop North America’s chart

Fall box office – Sept. 28–30: Critical derision or no, the Walt Disney Pictures’ Andy Fickman-directed “family comedy” The Game Plan – about an egocentric star quarterback (Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock) who discovers he has an 8-year-old daughter (Madison Pettis) from a previous relationship – debuted at the top of the North American box office this past weekend, with $22.95 million from 3,103 venues.

Fickman’s previous comedy, She’s the Man, starring Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum, grossed at total of $33.7 million domestically in 2006.

At no. 2, new entry The Kingdom earned a solid $17.1 million at 2,793 locations. Directed by Peter Berg, and starring Oscar winners Jamie Foxx (Ray, 2004) and Chris Cooper (Adaptation, 2002), Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman, the action thriller follows four elite FBI agents in their investigation of the bombing of an American-occupied housing complex in Saudi Arabia. Also in the cast: Jeremy Piven, Tim McGraw, and Kyle Chandler.

Of note: Feast of Love, this past weekend’s third major new title, collected a paltry $1.7 million from 1,200 venues. Directed by veteran Oscar winner Robert Benton (as writer-director, Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; as screenwriter, Places in the Heart, 1984), Feast of Love chronicles the ups and downs in the relationships of various Portland, Oregon, denizens. In the cast: Greg Kinnear, Selma Blair, Radha Mitchell, Toby Hemingway, veteran four-time Oscar nominee Jane Alexander, and Best Supporting Actor winner Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, 2004).

Resident Evil: Extinction Milla JovovichResident Evil: Extinction with Milla Jovovich.

Fall box office kicks off with Resident Evil: Extinction

Fall box office – Sept. 21–23: Resident Evil: Extinction debuted at the top of the U.S. and Canada box office on the first fall weekend of the year, collecting $23.7 million from 2,828 theaters.

Directed by Russell Mulcahy and starring Milla Jovovich, the third installment in the critically lambasted but popular action sci-fi/horror series based on the Capcom video game (barely) outperformed both opening weekend grosses of its predecessors: The original Resident Evil pulled in $17.7 million in 2002; Resident Evil: Apocalypse grossed $23 million in 2004.

New entry Good Luck Chuck came in second, earning $13.7 million at 2,612 locations. Directed by Mark Helfrich, and starring Dane Cook and Jessica Alba, Lionsgate’s romantic comedy delivered an acceptable opening-weekend performance despite its R rating and negative reviews.

Last week’s winner, The Brave One, slipped to no. 3, bringing in $7.3 million from 2,755 locations – a steep 45 percent drop. The Neil Jordan-directed revenge thriller starring Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard lifted its cumulative gross to a modest $25 million after ten days.

Lastly, in case you’d like to travel further back in time, check out several of this year’s summer box office hits – and a few misses – in the domestic market.


“Fall Box Office: Crime & Fantasy” endnotes

Unless otherwise noted, “Fall Box Office: Crime & Fantasy Among Top Hits” box office information via Box Office Mojo. Budget info – which should usually be taken with a grain of salt – via various sources, including BOM.

Comments about a movie being profitable or a money-loser at the box office are based on the available data about its production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production budget), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb, around 50–55 percent of the domestic gross and 40 percent of the international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies).

Bear in mind that contractual details and data regarding pre-sales, rebates, and other credits that help to split/alleviate production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses can be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is accounted for).

Lastly, although a more accurate reflection of a film’s popularity (i.e., its number of tickets sold), inflation-adjusted estimates should be taken with extreme caution. For instance, they’re based on average domestic ticket prices (via the National Association of Theater Owners, unless otherwise noted) whereas numerous major releases scored a large chunk of their box office gross at top-priced theaters.

Russell Crowe American Gangster image: Universal Pictures.

Keira Knightley and James McAvoy Atonement movie image: Universal Pictures.

Tasha Smith and Michael Jai White Why Did I Get Married? movie image: Lionsgate.

Milla Jovovich Resident Evil: Extinction image: Screen Gems | Sony Pictures.

“Fall Box Office: Crime & Fantasy Among Top Hits” last updated in April 2022.

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