So, what's happening? Yeah, listen, I'm gonna need you to go ahead and face your own mortality. If you could just acknowledge that Office Space came out 15 years ago this week, and that this means You're Old? That'd be great, thanks.
Office Space isn't just a cult classic, it might be the quintessential cult classic of the '90s. Look at the criteria: it had origins in something cool and offbeat (the "Milton" animated shorts had played on MTV's Liquid Television and later Saturday Night Live); it tanked in theaters but found an audience through TV and home video; and it's now frequently quoted and referenced by people who may not have actually watched it in years. Red staplers, TPS reports, and that no-talent ass-clown Michael Bolton know what I'm talking about.
It should have been a blockbuster, too. Writer-director Mike Judge was a counterculture superstar thanks to Beavis and Butt-head, the seminal (huh-huh) animated series that helped define MTV in the '90s, and which had spawned a successful movie in 1996. Judge's next toon series, King of the Hill, had been a mainstream hit on Fox since January 1997. Judge's live-action bona fides hadn't been established yet, but Office Space had an anticorporate-B.S. hook that should have resonated with cubicle-based, predotcom-bubble white-collar workers of the late '90s (of which there were many). Plus: Jennifer Aniston!
Yet despite everything that would seem to work in its favor (including a release date with very little competition), Office Space flopped. Its total U.S. gross of $10.8 million barely covered production costs. Other R-rated comedies made plenty of money in 1999, including American Pie, Analyze This, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo -- freakin' Deuce Bigalow made $65 million! -- but for some reason Office Space didn't join them.
Judge loathed the film's advertising, from the TV commercials to the poster, which failed to capture the movie's angry yet good-natured sense of humor. Whatever harm was done by poor marketing wasn't helped by the reviews, which were only so-so. Salvation came when the film arrived on home video (it sold 2.6 million copies in the first few years) and, perhaps more critically, on Comedy Central. After its debut on that channel in August 2001 -- when it scored 1.4 million viewers, almost as many people as had watched it in theaters -- it went into heavy rotation, appearing incessantly. What Shawshank Redemption was to TNT in the late '90s, Office Space was to Comedy Central in the early '00s.
Mike Judge's next movie, 2006's Idiocracy, had a similar life cycle: bad marketing, lousy box office, poor treatment by the studio, and eventual cult status. The one after that, Extract (2009), had a similar box office: $10.8 million (which was even worse in 2009 then it was in 1999). Clearly Judge is not meant to experience box office success.
Yet after Beavis and Butt-head, King of the Hill and Idiocracy had their moments in the sun and faded away, it's Office Space that's still on our minds, decked out in flair and smashing a printer with a baseball bat. Changing technology and a shifting job market mean today's twentysomethings are less likely to have worked in an office, but everyone has dealt with needless bureaucracy and pointless protocols. Those things are what separate us from the animals. They're universal.
When Office Space was released, on February 19, 1999:
- It was a dud, opening in eighth place with just $4.2 million (about $6.9 million at today's ticket prices). The other new wide release that weekend, October Sky, made $5.9 million -- enough for fourth place -- despite being on fewer screens. The top films were holdovers from previous weekends: Payback, Message in a Bottle and My Favorite Martian. Blast from the Past, She's All That, Shakespeare in Love, Rushmore and Saving Private Ryan rounded out the top 10.
- If you listened to the radio on your way to the movie theater, you might have heard Monica's "Angel of Mine," which was starting a four-week run at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Other big hits that week included: Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time," Goo Goo Dolls' "Slide," Sarah McLachlan's "Angel," and Cher's "Believe" -- which was the first time most of us ever heard (or noticed) Autotune, by the way. Yes, we have Cher to thank for that.
- Beloved film critic Gene Siskel had taken a leave of absence a few weeks earlier, planning to return to work when he recovered from his illness. Sadly, he died on February 20.
- On TV, Family Guy and The Sopranos had recently aired their first episodes. Futurama would debut in another month. Meanwhile, after five years, The Nanny had just brayed its last Drescherian guffaw, never to be spoken of again.
- As for nonentertainment news, President Bill Clinton had one week earlier been acquitted in the impeachment proceedings proceedings against him. And it was never spoken of again.
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