Box Office Round Up – December 23 – 25, 2016


Get behind the numbers of last week’s box office! This week, Chris Neumer investigates, for the last time, why there are no A-list stars anymore. You can call Passengers’ stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence anything you want, but try not to refer to them as box office draws.

by Chris Neumer

One of my favorite writers to read is sportswriter Joe Posnanski. I cannot speak highly enough about his prose and his ever-so-different perspective on things. While most sportswriters are content to simply create winners and losers and write about whatever will keep them on the good side of the mob (ahem, Peter King), Posnanski follows his interests and pulls on threads to see where they go. He is a master storyteller, often weaving in wonderful stories into articles about statistics, somehow managing to convince the reader that a childhood story about a hall-of-famer player fits in an article about batters getting hit-by-pitches.

My favorite baseball story of all time is one courtesy of Posnanski. It is funny and wonderful and warm, despite the threats of physical violence, retaliation and mayhem that are included in it. I have no doubt that the actual version of this is nowhere near as funny as Posnanski makes it, but therein lies his genius.

One of my least favorite sports writing conceits is the way that many writers will often recycle the exact same arguments with different players. When Duke’s Grayson Allen purposely tripped an opponent a week or so back, I braced for the onslaught of sportswriters who were disgusted and shocked—Shocked!—that someone could do something like that. The articles basically read like articles on Demarcus Cousins, just with the names changed.

You don’t have to read these articles, because you’ve already read them previously. Yes, it’s hard to consistently write new material when you’re on deadline and your feelings on things don’t really vary that much from month to month, but it is possible. Posnanski is proof.

When I began writing my box office column, I vowed steadfastly that I was not going to fall into this trap; I wanted something new and fresh each week. Granted, it’s a lot harder than it sounds; there is only so much insight you can provide into the numbers themselves without branching out into topics like the presidential election, why we’re all depressed and how race impacts the way films are released.

One topic I have returned to a time or two that I am almost ready to put to bed is my belief that there are not any A-list stars in today’s Hollywood (as historically defined). Just actors who happen to appear in successful movies.

In the 1980s, actors actually got people to the theaters, regardless of the genre of movie or whether Marvel was behind it. Arnold Schwarzenegger especially drew people in; it didn’t matter whether he was hunting aliens (Predator), keeping the truth from Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies) or dealing with a pregnancy (Junior). In the present day, however, best case scenario, the existence of an actor like this is a myth or, worst case scenario, an out-and-out lie perpetuated by entities—like tabloid magazines, for example—that benefit from the American public still believing that A-list stars exist.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the film Passengers since mid-June of 2015. It probably makes me look like a dick, but the reason for this has nothing to do with the film itself, but rather with its release, I’d finally have vindication that my rantings and ravings about Chris Pratt not being an A-list star were valid and spot on.*

* Maybe that just makes me look like an egotistical douche, I’m not sure.

In June of 2015, Jurassic World hit theaters and blew up. I mean, it was unreal. Box office pundits expected it to have a $100 – $115 million opening weekend and it pulled in more than $200 million.

With that enormous and completely unexpected windfall, writers were tripping over themselves to lavish credit and praise onto Jurassic World star, Pratt. They gave him credit for bringing people to see Jurassic World, they anointed him the biggest star on the planet and Entertainment Weekly went so far as to intuit that Pratt would not fall prey to the fall-off that “stars” like Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp experienced when they stepped outside the confines of the franchise characters that they were known for playing, Iron Man and Jack Sparrow respectively.

These stories were positively infuriating to read because there were metric tons of statements in them that wouldn’t be able to be proved one way or the other until Pratt’s next film came out… and that wasn’t due to hit theaters for a year and a half! It was like the perfect storm for hack entertainment writers. Write whatever you wanted to about Pratt and no one, save for incredibly rare assholes like me, would make a mental note to check their work when the time came.

Well, that time came this last weekend.  That’s when Pratt’s Jurassic World follow-up, Passengers, hit theaters.

That’s when the biggest star on the planet, Pratt, teamed up with the biggest female star on the planet, Jennifer Lawrence, in a huge budget film released right before Christmas… and the movie took in an estimated $32 million in its first week of release.

Let me repeat: Passengers took in an estimated $32 million during its first seven days of release.

You know what else took in $32 million during its first seven days? London Has Fallen.

London Has Fallen!

Starring Gerard Butler.

Released in early March.

Owner of a 26% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

That brought in an identical amount of money in its first week as Passengers.

And, just because it’s funny, do you know how much money The Purge: Election Year made over the course of its first week? $46 million. But of course, The Purge: Election Year had the star power of someone named Frank Grillo propelling it forward.*

* I have no idea who Grillo is. I’ve actually seen numerous films that he’s been in like Pride and Glory, The Grey, Zero Dark Thirty and Captain America and I still don’t know who he is. I’m looking at a picture of him right now and don’t recognize him. And that guy—that fucking guy!—headlined a movie that earned more in its first week than the movie headlined by the biggest male and female star on the planet.

I will grant you, it does seem like there should be actors who bring audiences to the theaters, but this belief is not upheld by any manner or shape of statistical evidence. Pratt is a charismatic lead and someone I would not mind seeing in Indiana Jones’ fedora should the reboot occur, but for the love of all things holy, let’s stop referring to him as an A-list star and huge box office draw. Unless, you know, we designate Grillo as the bar by which all other star power should be measured.

And that’s the last that I have to say about that.





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