Meryl Streep & Sandra Bullock (& James Cameron) have great year at domestic box office; Rob Marshall & Daniel Day-Lewis not so much
Featuring its lead actors – Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver – at least some of time hidden under blue digital make-up, James Cameron’s global blockbuster Avatar has passed the $1 billion box office milestone worldwide.
Screenwriter-director James Cameron’s mix of action, adventure, and fantasy – with a soupçon of environmental conscience – is the box office story of late 2009/early 2010; yet let’s not forget another good story about last year’s hits: The remarkable appeal of no less than five movies centered on women. A rarity these days – and, really, most days in the last four decades or so.
Most notably, four of these five releases feature middle-aged female characters in key roles: Julie & Julia (Meryl Streep [along with the younger Amy Adams]), It’s Complicated (Streep again), The Proposal (Sandra Bullock), and The Blind Side (Bullock again). The first three titles, by the way, were also directed by women: Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, and Anne Fletcher, respectively.
The fifth female-centered title is, of course, Chris Weitz’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon, starring teenager Kristen Stewart. Its unexpected box office prowess – current cume: $288 million – has already been discussed on this site.
The impressive grosses of both It’s Complicated and The Blind Side – two of the Top Five movies this past weekend, Jan. 1–3, are briefly contextualized further below. And so is the box office failure of one of the most anticipated releases of the (by now past) year: Rob Marshall’s costly all-star musical Nine, with Daniel Day-Lewis at its center.
Sherlock Holmes barely ahead of The Squeakquel
On the first weekend of 2010, Avatar comfortably held on to the top spot at the North American (U.S. and Canada) box office, collecting $68.5 million (cume: $352.1 million) as per studio figures found at boxofficemojo.com.
At no. 2, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the old Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce roles, brought in $36.6. million (cume: $138.7 million). Rachel McAdams is the London-set period actioner’s nominal leading woman.
Gnawing on Sherlock Holmes’ heels, Betty Thomas’ Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel took in $35.2 million (cume: $155.9 million). For comparison’s sake, Thomas’ Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) finished its domestic run with $217.3 million. Ultimately, the sequel should be able to squeak past its predecessor (bad pun intended).
And at no. 4 we get to Meryl Streep and Nancy Meyers (the second woman director among the weekend’s Top Five domestic hits).
It’s Complicated to become one of Meryl Streep’s biggest hits
An adult-oriented Hollywood comedy – in that regard, about as rare as live-action, female-centered domestic box office hits – It’s Complicated took in $18.8 million this past weekend. Total to date: $59.2 million.
Screenwriter-director Nancy Meyers’ movie is, for all purposes, an acting ensemble: Academy Award nominee Alec Baldwin (The Cooler, 2003), Steve Martin, Lake Bell, Mary Kay Place, John Krasinski, Hunter Parrish, Rita Wilson, et al. But at its core, It’s Complicated belongs to one cast member: Two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; Sophie’s Choice, 1982), who just happens to be 60 years old.
Even though it won’t be breaking any domestic box office records, It’s Complicated is bound to pass the $100 million mark, thus becoming one of Streep’s top three star vehicles ever, trailing only Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia! ($144.1 million, 2008) and David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada ($124.7 million, 2006).
When adjusting for inflation – the more accurate/honest way of comparing box office grosses from different years/decades – Streep’s most popular star vehicle in the domestic market easily remains Sydney Pollack’s 1985 Best Picture Oscar winner Out of Africa ($87 million at the time; approx. $176 million today), co-starring Robert Redford.
Along the same inflation-adjusted lines, the most successful film featuring Meryl Streep is Robert Benton’s 1979 Best Picture winner Kramer vs. Kramer, a Dustin Hoffman star vehicle with Streep in a key supporting role ($106.3 million domestically; approx. $322 million today).
Now, what makes It’s Complicated even more noteworthy is that, as mentioned further up, it’s Meryl Streep’s second 2009 release to become a sizable box office hit. Back in the summer, Julie & Julia grossed $94.1 million in the U.S. and Canada.
Update: It’s Complicated ultimately scored $112.7 million domestically.
The Blind Side breaks Sandra Bullock’s box office record
Trailing It’s Complicated this past weekend was another movie revolving around a middle-aged female character. Starring Sandra Bullock, 45, John Lee Hancock’s sleeper blockbuster The Blind Side added $11.9 million, reaching $208.5 million – and thus passing the $200 million mark after 43 days (on Friday, Jan. 1, it reached $201.1 million).
The Blind Side has yet to open internationally, but on the domestic front it has already “officially” broken box office records as far as Sandra Bullock is concerned: Not adjusting for inflation, the “inspirational” family drama – a major draw in American small towns and in “conservative” suburban areas – has become Bullock’s biggest box office hit ever.
Adjusted for inflation, Jan de Bont’s 1994 action thriller Speed, in which Bullock got paired up with Keanu Reeves, remains her biggest domestic blockbuster: $121.2 million at the time of its release, or approx. $217 million today. But keep your eyes open, as the fast-moving The Blind Side will surely be surpassing the inflation-adjusted Speed in the next few days.
Besides Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side features the following: Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Jae Head, Lily Collins, and Oscar winner Kathy Bates (Misery, 1990).
Update: The Blind Side ultimately took in $256 million at the U.S. and Canada box office, thus becoming Sandra Bullock’s de facto biggest domestic hit ever.
Nine is no. 10 on domestic chart
One of this awards season’s great – dashed – hopes, The Weinstein Company’s Rob Marshall-directed Nine won’t be shattering any box office records. After earning only $3.9 million in the no. 10 slot this past weekend, the star-studded musical with Daniel Day-Lewis at its center has reached a paltry $13.7 million in North America.
Less-than-enthusiastic reviews certainly haven’t helped this $80 million big-screen adaptation of Mario Fratti, Mary Weston, and Arthur Kopit’s 1982 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical (729 performances), itself a musicalized adaptation of Federico Fellini’s 1963 film classic 8½. Daniel Day-Lewis has the old Marcello Mastroianni role (Raul Julia – and, more recently, Antonio Banderas – on stage).
Nine has received a number of mentions and nominations this awards season, but so far they haven’t made much (any?) of a difference to its commercial prospects. Having said that, if this Marshall/Day-Lewis collaboration manages to win the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical (not all that likely) or if it receives multiple Oscar nominations (a possibility), box office returns may get a – however moderate – boost in the coming weeks.
In the Oscar-pedigreed Nine cast:
The aforementioned Daniel Day-Lewis, a two-time Best Actor winner (My Left Foot, 1989; There Will Be Blood, 2007).
Best Actress winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, 2007).
Best Actress winner Sophia Loren (Two Women / La ciociara, 1961).
Best Supporting Actress winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, 1998).
Best Supporting Actress nominee Kate Hudson (Almost Famous, 2000).
In addition to:
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammy nominee Fergie (“Big Girls Don’t Cry,” 2008).
Berlin Film Festival Best Director Silver Bear co-winner Ricky Tognazzi (Ultrà, 1991; tied with Jonathan Demme for The Silence of the Lambs).
Best Actor David di Donatello winner Elio Germano (My Brother Is an Only Child / Mio fratello è figlio unico, 2007).
“Streep & Bullock” endnotes
Unless otherwise noted, “Streep & Bullock Hit Box Office Gold” 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.
Meryl Streep It’s Complicated movie image: Melinda Sue Gordon | Universal Pictures.
Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock The Blind Side movie image: Ralph Nelson | Warner Bros.
“Streep & Bullock Hit Box Office Gold” last updated in April 2022.