The Annual Box-Office Lament, 2011 edition

We live in a country where:

  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked made more money on its first day than A Dangerous Method has made in four weeks
  • Mars Needs Moms made more money than The Tree of Life (and I’m not a Malick fan, but c’mon)
  • I Don’t Know How She Does It made more money than Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  • Conan the Barbarian made more money than The Rum Diary
  • Sherlock Holmes 2: Sherlock Holmesier, or whatever the fuck it’s called, has made more money on its opening weekend than The Descendants has made so far in 33 days
  • Even Atlas Shrugged Part I made more money than Melancholia.

Of the top ten moneymakers, eight were sequels — straight-up, the top seven were sequels. The two exceptions were based on Marvel comic books. This is the list as it stands now, though latecomers like Mission Impossible 4: Mission Impossibler might supplant a few.

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
  4. The Hangover Part II
  5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  6. Fast Five
  7. Cars 2
  8. Thor
  9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  10. Captain America: The First Avenger

Now let’s take our annual look at the top ten from twenty years ago:

  1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  2. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
  3. Beauty and the Beast
  4. The Silence of the Lambs
  5. City Slickers
  6. Hook
  7. The Addams Family
  8. Sleeping with the Enemy
  9. Father of the Bride
  10. The Naked Gun 2 1/2

There’s a good deal of family/kiddie/fanboy pap on there, yes. But at #4 is the year’s eventual Best Picture winner, The Silence of the Lambs, recognized then and now as a modern classic. Not that it matters much, but how many times since then has a top-ten-of-the-year breadwinner also been a Best Picture winner? Exactly five times: Forrest Gump, Titanic, Gladiator, Chicago, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Which means we haven’t had a top ten Best Picture winner in eight years.

Let’s flip back ten years. 2001 looks like 2011 in a lot of ways. A Harry Potter film sits at #1, just as in 2011. There’s also a Michael Bay film (Pearl Harbor), a Joe Johnston film (Jurassic Park III), and a Planet of the Apes film. The rest of the list is clotted with kiddie flicks, sequels, and movies based on previously popular properties. Then there’s Ocean’s Eleven, which itself would become a franchise (and was also a remake, though higher in tone than most). Note the lack of comic-book films: even though the previous year’s X-Men had made the top ten, and Spider-Man would dominate a year later, Marvel and DC hadn’t quite gotten Hollywood in a stranglehold yet. Since 2000, there have been only two years when no comic-book flicks appeared on the year-end top-ten list at all: 2001 and 2009. (2009 was a relatively light year for the subgenre; the double-whammy success of The Dark Knight and Iron Man in ’08 led to a new boom in superhero films being greenlighted, but they wouldn’t actually hit theaters until 2010 and thereafter.)

So what films might make the list of 2012’s top-ten grossers? The Hunger Games might be the new Twilight. The old Twilight still has one more film to go. Comic books will rule again: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man. Peter Jackson is revisiting Middle-Earth, and 3D isn’t going away. And possibly a few surprises. They still happen. The Help just missed a spot on the top ten, and Bridesmaids wasn’t far behind. And even the execrable Bad Teacher cracked $100 million. That means more non-rom-coms made for females who aren’t fourteen. It won’t happen in 2012, though; you’ll start seeing the Bridesmaids wannabes in 2013. That’s if we’re still here, of course. Remember, the world’s supposed to end December 12, 2012, just like Roland Emmerich said. This means the last big-budget movie you’ll ever see is Les Miserables with Hugh Jackman on December 7. As for The Hobbit (scheduled for release December 14) and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (December 25), well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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