This is the weekend of movies about men stepping up and fulfilling their responsibilities. Ryan Gosling does it in Drive, James Marsden does it in Straw Dogs, and a cartoon lion does it in The Lion King 3D. There's also I Don't Know How She Does It, but I didn't include that because it doesn't fit the pattern, and because I'm taking prescription drugs to help me forget it exists.
With all this manly excitement (and Sarah Jessica Parker), it's easy to forget how different things were a year ago. Let's literally get in a time machine and literally go back and examine what opened in theaters 365 days ago!
The weekend of Sept. 17-19, 2010
Starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall.
Here's the film that demonstrated Gone Baby Gone had not been just a Ben Affleck fluke (or a Ben Afluke, as the kids call it). Once a punchline, the actor-turned-director surprised everybody again with The Town, a Boston-set crime drama about, uh, Boston things. You know, the Red Sox, baked beans, Paul Revere, all that. Reviews were overwhelmingly favorable: 94% on Rotten Tomatoes (and one of the naysayers was stand-up comedian Armond White, which as you know doesn't count). It opened with a healthy $23.8 million, on its way to $92.2 million in the U.S. and another $61.8 million foreign. Now that the Oscars were giving out ten best picture nominees, there was even talk that The Town might be one of them. That didn't happen, but the film was a success by every other reasonable standard, including the standard of Does The Poster Have Criminals Dressed Like Nuns In Scary Masks?
Affleck's next project, as both director and star, is Argo, a political thriller set during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. Set to open in 2012, it also stars Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Kyle Chandler, i.e., the dads from Malcolm in the Middle, Roseanne, and Friday Night Lights. And Jeremy Renner, who got an Oscar nomination for The Town, is going to play Hawkeye in The Avengers, a character that I'm told is not the same as the one played by Alan Alda on M*A*S*H.
Starring Emma Stone.
Come on, people. It's time to make Emma Stone an A-list comic actress. She has the talent for it, and semi-successful comedies like Easy A and this year's Friends with Benefits keep almost putting her there, but not quite. She's FUNNY, you guys! Seriously!
Easy A, a good-not-great teen satire about a girl whose reputation is improved when people think she's slutty, opened to positive reviews (86% at Rotten Tomatoes) and a good-not-great box office of $17.7 million. It eventually earned a healthy $58.4 million in the U.S. -- not bad at all for a budget of $8 million, but not blockbuster material, either. Now you see people mention it occasionally as one of those "I missed this when it came out, but it's pretty funny!" movies, like Hot Rod, or Sophie's Choice.
Emma Stone had Friends with Benefits, Crazy Stupid Love, and The Help all in the summer of 2011 alone. Her biggest upcoming project is The Amazing Spider-Man, in which she'll play the girlfriend who isn't Mary Jane but the other one.
Starring M. Night Shyamalan's name.
Now, there's nothing wrong with the premise here. Several strangers are trapped in an elevator together; one of them might be Satan; hilarity ensues. You hear that and you think: This could be good. The trouble, as you may recall, is that Universal plastered M. Night Shyamalan's name all over the advertising. He only conceived the story and served as producer, but for some reason Universal thought his name would be a selling point rather than the liability it actually was. I have to assume Shyamalan's contract required this, as the only other possibility is that the Universal marketing department is staffed by people who were in comas between Signs and The Happening.
Devil opened without being screened for critics, which is usually a bad sign, but it wound up getting decent reviews -- 51% positive at Rotten Tomatoes. Audience response was tepid, with an opening weekend of $12.3 million and an eventual U.S. total of $33.6 million. Another $29 million came in from the foreign markets, though, so for as notorious as this thing was, its worldwide box office haul of $62.7 million makes it a bona fide success. Talk about your twist endings!
Alpha and Omega
I'm not entirely convinced that this was a real movie. Alpha and Omega? Doesn't ring a bell. Only 16% positive reviews. Came from Lionsgate, which is more skilled with Saw, Tyler Perry, and other torture franchises than it is with animation. It opened to $9.1 million, on its way to $25 million here and another $25 million overseas. So I guess somebody saw it. What's it about? Wolves falling in love? Nope. That does not sound familiar at all. Forget I brought it up.
Hey, look what else opened a year ago!
Catfish, the documentary (possibly fake) about an online relationship, opened on 12 screens. It ultimately only made about $250,000, but it spurred conversations about how real it was, how much the filmmakers already knew, and why that dude had a tramp stamp.
Never Let Me Go opened on four screens, a typical strategy for something expected to be an awards-season contender. It got good reviews, it was based on a popular novel, it had a buzzy young cast (Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley), it premiered at Telluride -- all good signs. Yet despite favorable reviews, it never gelled with audiences. Its total U.S. gross was just $2.4 million, and the awards consideration never materialized.
And what about FIVE years ago??
Wow, look at this motley crew from Sept. 15, 2006: Gridiron Gang, an inspiring sports movie assembled from the spare parts of other sports movies and led by The Rock (aka "Dwayne Johnson," aka "Vin Diesel"); The Black Dahlia, a characteristically nutty effort from Brian De Palma (aka "Wishes He Were Hitchcock"); Everyone's Hero, a cartoon about -- what? -- a talking baseball? That can't be right; and The Last Kiss, starring Zach Braff, because in 2006 that sort of thing was still OK.
(All box office figures are from Box Office Mojo.)