Majority Report: The Top Grossing Movies of Summer 2002

By Collin Souter
Posted 08/31/02 02:58:55

Hi there. My name is Collin Souter and I used to work for the Department of Pre-Movie Crime. Our organization—once a federal subsidiary—worked for the entertainment benefit of our fellow man. When we heard about a movie going into production that would bring down our cinematic culture as we know it, we would rush into action and arrest those who would eventually be responsible. We refused to adhere to the systematic Dumbing Down of America. We made it our goal to bring cinema back to the Common Man, to present America with films that would not conform to the dwindling attention spans of the masses, but to treat people fairly, as though they had a brain. We heard about Nicholas Cage playing Superman. We stopped it. We heard about Damon and Affleck as Batman and Robin. We killed it. This was our job. This was what we did. Every day. Our system was flawless.

Well, okay, we arrived a little late more often than not. Our system had to be shut down thanks to the release of “The Country Bears,” but I hardly think that’s our fault. We almost always got prank leads and we thought for sure that movie was one of them. I mean, come on. Who would believe such a horrific idea? Yet, it happened, and now we find ourselves looking for work and dreaming of what could have been. We also let “Scooby-Doo” loose and I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since. We made it our goal to stop it and we didn’t act fast enough. Now, I lay here in my Saigon hotel room staring at the ceiling fan and smoking my last cigarettes with the weight of the world’s eternal pain and regret on my shoulders. The horror. The horror. “The Country Bears.”

Okay, okay, let’s cheer this bit up a little. We did have a better summer than last. With “About A Boy” and the simultaneous release of Spielberg’s “Minority Report” and Disney’s “Lilo & Stitch,” it seemed as though the woes of summer’s past would be forgotten. The slate would be wiped clean in one fell swoop. For the most part, the glow lasted. “About A Boy” didn’t last as long as it should have, but “Minority Report” and “Lilo & Stitch” hung around long enough for me to keep recommending them to people who couldn’t find anything they felt would be worth seeing. A few other spurts of near-greatness also deserved notice:

“Road To perdition” gave audiences at the Cineplex a moody and complex Tom Hanks in a movie with dark atmosphere to spare; “The PowerPuff Girls Movie” invited the non-initiated viewer in on the fun instead of alienating them (most declined the invitation); art house fare such as “Fast Runner,” “Lovely and Amazing,” “Late Marriage,” “13 Conversations About One Thing”, “Read My Lips” and my personal favorite “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” gave the coffee house crowd enough food for thought to choke a hundred Fat Bastards; and “Eight Legged Freaks” gave audiences what they wanted in the first place but didn’t get from “Men In Black II” or “Reign of Fire,” but by the time it came out, people just grew tired of being swindled. Pity. “Freaks” had all the fun.

Greeks also had some fun over the summer with what has to be the real success story of the year: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” a movie that refuses to die an incestuous death. When it does fade, it’ll be anything by tragic. This movie hung around the bottom of the weekly Top 10 for 19 weeks, only to shoot straight to the #4 spot at the end of August. The movie came out in April. By the end of the summer, it grossed upwards of $65 million. Not bad for a film that had a tiny budget, no big name stars and a wee advertising campaign. Not a bad film, not a great film (Not as good as “Monsoon Wedding”), but not a bad way to kill 90 minutes in an air-conditioned auditorium, either. My prediction: This will receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture, Comedy or Musical. They eat this stuff up like Gyros.

“Muriel’s Big Fat Monsoon Wedding Planner,” or whatever it’s called, may have had the best per-screen average all summer, but the following Top 10 list will determine the course of the next few summers. I’m sure the sadistic powers-that-be have TV spin-offs, sequels and sequels to sequels in the works as we speak. There goes our culture again. “Muuuur-derrrrr…”

The Top-grossing Films of Summer 2002 (5/3/02 – 8/25/02… I would have waited until Labor Day weekend, but I didn’t want to take the chance of XXX making it in.)

1. SPIDER-MAN ($403 MILLION) One of the most eagerly anticipated movies of all time! A high-flying record-breaker on every level! Lines around the blocks for weeks and weeks! It’s…it’s…it’s okay. Yeah, it’s kinda fun. Somehow, Sam Raimi, creator of the legendary “Evil Dead” franchise, managed to create one of the lamest villains in the history of cinema with the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). Still, that didn’t stop people from coming back for more and more, though I didn’t hear anybody muttering any catch-phrases normally associated with $300+million grossing movies, which should always be viewed as a good thing. So, I guess people just liked it. The Geek (Tobey Maguire) grew big and strong and sorta got The Girl (Kirsten Dunst) and The Girl almost—almost!—got the Strong, Sensitive Man. Yeah, I guess I can like that, but something tells me I’ll enjoy the sequel even more.
My Rating (out of 4): ***
Last year’s # 1: “Shrek” ($261 million… Another freakish outcast makes good. Always encouraging.)

2. STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES ($299 MILLION) Aaaaaawwww, whussa mattuh, Georgie-porgie? Nobody wanna succumb to your gazillion-dollar Digital Projector plan? Nobody wanna give you advice on how to create real drama with real characters? Did you lose half your audience again? Now, you shape up mister and you pull yourself together. Nobody likes a Moping Milton. Or, maybe you’re laughing your ass off because you suckered us simpletons yet again. Yeah, I figured. Still, it looks as though “Phantom Menace” dampened the enthusiasm for this franchise. Suddenly, people found it hard to settle for wooden performances, bad dialogue and an over-abundance of special effects.

Although, I say that and then you look at some of the other titles on this list. Really, who knows what people want? Certainly, not George Lucas. Sure, people want a new “Star Wars” movie, but the kind that would be worth sitting through more than once just out of obligation would be even better. Knowing Lucas’s penchant for cheesy titles, I will now predict the title of Episode III: “Big Scary Guy Gets Mean.”
My Rating: **
Last year’s # 2: “The Mummy Returns”($202 million… Another Part 2, but this one captures the spirit of the first “Star Wars” movie than the actual “Star Wars” movie that came out this year. I have a bed feeling about that.)

3. AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER ($194 MILLION) While I will certainly admit to some huge guilty laughs, I certainly won’t deny that the series has run its course. Oh, but I’m sure those in charge at New Line won’t admit to that. To them, “Goldmember” will be more of a “Part 2” than a “Part 3,” seeing as the original only took in a measly $50 million, if that. I guess it helps to dumb down the sequels so that kids will show up to admire the Benny Hill humor, but as for myself, I miss the satire of the first installment. Ask everyone who paid a ticket for this movie and I’ll bet 85% of them couldn’t tell you the meaning of the word “satire.” But, hey, they paid, they laughed, then paid again. Mike Myers’ detractors, a group that has been growing in gigantic numbers, will be the ones paying when a great script gets passed over for an obligatory fourth installment. Oh, come on. Look at those numbers. You know it’s coming.
My Rating: **1/2, and I’m being very, very kind there.
Last Years# 3: “Pearl Harbor” ($195 million. I still can’t decide which was funnier.)

4. MEN IN BLACK II ($190 MILLION) I’m pretty surprised by this. Call me naïve, but this sequel to the action sci-fi buddy comedy that broke box office records back in 1997 really shouldn’t have done this well. Okay, maybe for the first weekend when the whole country, out of some unspoken contractual obligation with The Devil, decides to kill 88 minutes the easy way…but to have the momentum keep going until it reaches this Ungodly amount seems baffling. I couldn’t find one person who had anything good to say about it. Chase scenes exist for no reason, Tommy Lee Jones occasionally wakes up to say his lines, the plot…whatever that is.

The movie, if you can call it that, only lasts about 84 minutes (if you leave once the first credit rolls, which most people do). Some prints had an animated short attached to make up for the shortcomings and it pretty much received the same ratings. I can’t help but think of Dennis Miller’s bit about K-Mart’s 2-for-1 sales: “Hey, people, two of shit is shit! If they really wanna fuck you, they’ll give you three!” Consider our country well-fucked.
My rating: *
Last Years #4: “Rush Hour 2” ($183 million. Hey, when is “Still More 48 Hrs” coming out? Or “Lethal Weapon 8”? “Collision Course: The Director’s Cut”?)

5. SIGNS ($173 MILLION) This may have been this summer’s most heavily debated film. Shyamalan’s fourth film (Doesn’t anybody remember “Wide Awake”? Didn’t think so) divided its audience evenly between those who loved it and those who hated it. I, for the most part, hated it. I even went back after seeing the film again and amended my original review of it with a footnote saying that I may have been too kind. I wanted to throw water on all the prints. By its third week, “Signs” reached $150 million. Unlike the success of “The Sixth Sense,” people didn’t go back again after they realized the ending.

Perhaps people went back again for the same reason I did. Perhaps they missed an important piece of information that would make the sci-fi angle of the story make sense and they went back again to see if they could spot it. Surely, Shaymalan couldn’t have made a movie that stupid. Well, yes he can and he did. Still, sci-fi + Mel Gibson = Hit, which makes its placing in this list something of a no-brainer. And yet, I’m utterly baffled by its staying power. Hasn’t the word gotten out yet that this crap circle rips off its audience ten-fold? Did Shaymalan put Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix under hypnosis to do this movie? Judging from their light-as-a-feather/stiff-as-a-board performances, I would say yes.

And normally I wouldn’t say this, but if the Wayans Brothers ever wanted to make a movie entitled “The Sixth Unbreakable Signs,” I would have no problem with that.
My Rating: *1/2
Last Year’s # 5: “Jurassic Park 3” ($173 million. Dinosaurs coming back to form crop circles so that they would have somewhere to shit would have made more sense than the ending Shyamalan actually filmed.)

6. SCOOBY-DOO ($151 MILLION) No excuse. I’ve already said all that I can say in my review of this movie, so… Shit sandwich.
My Rating: ZERO STARS, and I’m being very, very kind there.
Last Year’s # 6: “Planet of the Apes” ($168 million. I call upon every extra in every ape costume to fling their glorious turds at the Warner Brothers lot.)

7. LILO & STITCH ($140 MILLION) God bless the world, we have a four-star movie! For the past few years, the folks a Disney (hand-drawn division) have been in a state of re-invention and transition. The unexpectedly hilarious “The Emperor’s New Groove” had been a nightmare to market seeing as it had no soundtrack to back it up and it basically returned to animation’s roots with references to Tex Avery and Warner Brothers. Last year’s “Atlantis: The Lost Continent” looked great, but failed to connect with an audience, just as Fox’s animated “Titan A.E.” failed to generate much enthusiasm. (As we also learned from last year’s “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” futuristic animated movies just don’t cut it with the mainstream.)

Finally, with “Lilo & Stitch,” everything fell into place. Two great lead characters, a weird sense of humor, an all-Elvis soundtrack and a welcome message about family ties helped make this offering the best hand-drawn animated movie since “The Iron Giant” and Disney’s best since “The Lion King.” It held steady in the Top 5 for many weeks. After sitting through “Scooby-Doo,” parents didn’t seem to mind returning to this one again, if only to help wipe the scum off their eyes.
My Rating: ****
Last years # 7: “The Fast and the Furious” ($141 million. One is about an animated, indecipherable alien who is a menace to society. The other is from Disney.)

8. MINORITY REPORT ($130 MILLION) What is this movie doing way down here? Why doesn’t it say 200+ million instead of 100+? I thought people wanted escapist entertainment during the summertime. Didn’t the awesome trailer make people sit up and take notice? This beautiful sci-fi film from two of Hollywood’s biggest icons has a great story, interesting characters, fantastic action sequences, eye candy to spare, some scary moments, some moving ones and it makes you think. Oooo, I may have just hit the brick wall there. Can’t have the “T” word in the synopsis, now can I? Consider that and the fact that it didn’t open on as many screens as “Austin Powers” or “Spider-Man.” And it opened the same weekend as “Lilo & Stitch,” both of which managed about a $35 million opening.

Also, there’s that title. “Minority Report.” It doesn’t say much, does it? It tells the audience nothing. It doesn’t exactly scream “Great action sci-fi that you didn’t get with the ‘Star Wars’ movie.” I guess we should be glad that it has a place here at all, but come on. We shouldn’t be closing this chapter with the realization that the American movie-going public prefers to be ripped off by a movie such as “Signs” to getting their money’s worth with a movie as good as “Minority Report.” To me, this may be the chilling sci-fi nightmare Phillip K. Dick never wrote.
My Rating: ****
Last year’s # 8: “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” ($130 million. A perfect do-and-don’t pair of movies if there ever was one.)

9. MR. DEEDS ($124 MILLION) Looks as though Adam Sandler has been forgiven for “Little Nicky.” Many critics walked into this one with their knives sharpened, as if nobody had ever dared do a remake of Frank Capra’s “Mr. Deeds Goes To Town.” Apparently, they forgot the Coen Brothers’ “Hudsucker Proxy,” which came pretty damn close. As a former detractor of Sandler, I must say I prefer this type of film to, say, “The Waterboy.” Sandler’s characters just don’t make me laugh, but when he plays just a nice guy, I kinda like him, even though he still doesn’t make me laugh that much. “Mr. Deeds” is harmless, sometimes funny and completely forgettable, but Sandler makes films for his fans, and I’m guessing the lot of them felt pleased as Punch about this one. At least, that’s what the numbers tell me.
My Rating: **1/2
Last Year’s # 9: “Dr. Dolittle 2” ($111 million. I suppose, what, that next year will be “Mrs. Doubtfire 2” just to keep the pattern going?)

10. THE SUM OF ALL FEARS ($118 MILLION) In Joe Dante’s “Matinee,” John Goodman plays Lawrence Woolsey, a filmmaker who wants to release his new scary monster movie during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Of course, some of the locals find it in bad taste. Woolsey just looks at it as great showmanship. People love to be scared. That theory certainly proved to be true when this new Tom Clancy offering hit the screens. The story: America faces nuclear annihilation. The headlines that week: India and Pakistan have nukes pointed at one another ready for annihilation. “The Sum of All Fears,” on its own, could be described as the Tom Clancy movie for people who don’t like Tom Clancy movies. That would be me. This one, thanks to director Phil Alden Robinson, felt far more compelling and interesting than the others. I didn’t care that they made Jack Ryan younger or that Ben Affleck may have been mis-cast. It worked for me, but then, I’m not a fan. I must say, though, that I did enjoy being freaked out for a little while.
Last Year’s # 10: “American Pie 2” ($109 million. You know, America getting hit by a missile does somewhat resemble an American apple Pie getting hit with a… missile.)

Which pair of movies had the longest legs at our multiplexes this summer?

a. “Juwanna Man” & “The PowerPuff Girls Movie”
b. “Windtalkers” & “The Crocodile Hunter”
c. “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” & “Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys”
d. “Eight Legged Freaks” & “The Country Bears”

Answer: B! “Windtalkers” and “Crocodile Hunter”! Who says MGM has been having a bad year?

Well, that’s it for me. I’ll be taking the month of September off again, just as I did last year. However, unlike last year I am walking away somewhat pleased. I’m happy to be a film reviewer, and I see great films on the horizon to round out this generous year. “Punch Drunk Love,” “The Two Towers,” “Tuck Everlasting,” “Gangs of New York” and new films from Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Demme and Todd Haynes. And, of course, I can’t wait for “Swimfan.”

Finally, my mid-year Top 10:

1.Last Orders
2.I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
3.Minority Report
4.About A Boy
5.Lilo & Stitch
6.Y Tu Mama Tambien
8.Fast Runner
10.One Hour Photo

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