By the end of the 2000s, getting number one at the American box office was a valuable marketing commodity. As such, studios pumped more and more money into making sure they at least had a great opening weekend for their product.
The consequence of this was that it was harder and harder for smaller, quirkier films to take a brief spot in the sun. Certainly toward the second half of the decade, it seems that the number one movie each week was pre-ordained in a marketing meeting somewhere.
Still, there were some films that have since fallen out of public view that clawed their way to number one. How many of these do you remember?
Eye of the Beholder
January 2000, One Week
Based on Marc Behm’s book of the same name, Eye of the Beholder starred Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd, in a tale of a British intelligence agent who has to, well, spy on people who take their clothes off. It’s a mix of titillation, murder, and watch-checking, as sadly very few seemed to warm to Stephen Elliott’s (Priscilla: Queen of the Desert) film. It surrendered the top spot after a week to Scream 3.
Rules of Engagement
April 2000, Two Weeks
One of the better known films on this list, Rules of Engagement is from director William Friedkin and stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L Jackson. Traffic writer Stephen Gaghan penned the screenplay. At the time, the film was criticized for its depiction of Arabs, but Friedkin vehemently defended Rules of Engagement against such cricitisms. “The film is anti-terrorist,” he insisted. It didn’t really win over critics, but it found an audience, grossing over $70 million.
September 2000, Two Weeks
A film notorious for claiming it starred Keanu Reeves, when actually Reeves’ role in the film was a very small one. Let’s just say you wouldn’t have guessed that from the poster. As it would turn out, Reeves would argue that he had been forced into doing the film after a friend apparently forged his signature on the contract. We talked about the story in more detail here. Anyway, The Watcher is a thriller primarily headlined by James Spader and Marisa Tomei, and it’s generally regarded as a pretty crappy one. It did passable business, but its two week stint at the top of the U.S. box office was swiftly ended by…
Urban Legends: Final Cut
September 2000, One Week
Call this the tail end of the Scream effect. Teen horror sequel Urban Legends: Final Cut‘s most interesting feature is who directed it. John Ottman is more commonly known as an Oscar winning movie editor and composer. This is his only feature directorial outing. It ain’t great either, and naturally enough it didn’t turn out to be the Final Cut. A future Urban Legend movie would follow in 2005. Now? We just await the (inevitable) reboot…
March 2000, One Week
The last time a Steven Seagal-headlined movie topped the U.S. box office? That’d be the reasonably well received Exit Wounds, which is perhaps just as notable for its co-star, rapper DMX (who was cited at the time as the reason the film did so well, commercially). Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave helmer Andrzej Bartkowiak helmed Exit Wounds, which would prove to be a commercial highpoint in Seagal’s career. It had a week at number one in the U.S.
March 2000, One Week
Director David Mirkin is best known for being showrunner on The Simpsons for a couple of years, and then for helming Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. Heartbreakers, his second film as director, enjoyed a week atop the American box office, and the star power can’t have hurt. Mirkin’s cast included Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee, and Gene Hackman, and the film itself is a fun romantic caper movie. It gets bonus points for including Carrie Fisher and Anne Bancroft in its cast too… This one is definitely worth seeking out if you haven’t, or revisiting if you have.
September 2001, One Week
Every decade has a fresh cinematic take on Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers story, and 2001’s The Musketeer gamely had a go at bringing a fresh take to the screen. Peter Hyams took the helm, and Justin Chambers took on the role of d’Artagnan. “As you’ve never seen it before,” chirped the poster. Hmmm.
The supporting cast lifted this one: Tim Roth, Stephen Rea, and Catherine Deneuve would take top billing in any other production, but in the case of The Musketeer, there was the small matter of Bill Treacher – aka Arthur Fowler in EastEnders – to consider. The film underperformed at the box office in the end, with Keanu Reeves-headlined sports movie Hardball (which very nearly made this list) taking over the top spot after a week.
Don’t Say a Word
September 2001, One Week
A psychological thriller, this one, that sold primarily off the back of Michael Douglas’ star power. That said, Brittany Murphy and Sean Bean proved able support. Douglas plays a child psychiatrist, and inevitably there’s a crime to solve. It plays out reasonably enough, and director Gary Fleder was slowly carving a niche for himself with decent thrillers (Kiss the Girls, and subsequently Runaway Jury). Training Day toppled Don’t Say a Word from the number one position though.
October 2001, One Week
Class this as the kind of film that doesn’t deserve to slip off peoples’ radar, even though K-PAX (and its excellent score) are rarely mentioned. It held number one in the U.S. in advance of Monsters Inc. and Harry Potter‘s arrival, and it’s an intelligent sci-fi film from Backbeat director Iain Softley.
Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges star, with the central conceit being that Spacey’s character is a psychiatric patient who’s claiming to be an alien from the planet K-PAX. Based on the novel by Gene Brewer, K-PAX wasn’t a cheap film to make, but it eventually clawed its way to profit.
February 2002, One Week
A classy performance from Denzel Washington remains the best reason to see Nick Cassavetes’ forgotten John Q. The story of a man whose son is diagnosed with a heart problem and then denied a transplant due to insurance issues, it would be fair to say that John Q does not veer toward the side of subtle. Critics at the time agreed, with only Washington really coming out of the project with much in the way of credit.
John Q did prove to be a box office hit, however. Queen of the Damned would take its place in the number one spot a week later.
The Time Machine
March 2002, One Week
Poor H.G. Wells. His classic 1895 novel deserved a far better treatment than it ultimately got here. Simon Wells directed for the most part, with Gore Verbinski finishing the shoot when Wells suffered from exhaustion. But the decision to bring in fresh story elements, adding a romance and new characters, proved not to be a wise one. The cast, led by Guy Pearce, Mark Addy, Samantha Mumba, Orlando Jones, and Jeremy Irons gamely battled on. But this was not a good adaptation. It was a moderately successful one, mind, grossing $123 million worldwide in the end.
September 2002, One Week
Ah, the bit where the teen horror movie started to meet technology. Swimfan was a passable little jaunt at the time, although we concede we’ve not caught up with it recently. It’s from director John Polson (Hide and Seek), and mixes Fatal Attraction with email. Few people would take a bullet for it and cite it as any kind of classic, but Swimfan certainly found its audience at the time, picking up a tidy $34 million off a low budget. Nowadays, Jason Blum would fund this for half the price. Barbershop knocked Swimfan off the number one spot.
January 2003, One Week
We cite this one, appreciating that it’s reasonably well-known, because it still seems bizarre that it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Kangaroo Jack is utterly crap, of course, being a buddy action film with, er, a kangaroo in it. Jerry O’Connell leads the cast of check collectors, although bizarrely, it’s almost worth seeking out for the fact that Christopher Walken turns up. An animated sequel eventually went straight to DVD.
January 2003, One Week
Director Roger Donaldson knows his way around a good thriller, with the likes of White Sands and No Way Out under his belt. The Recruit isn’t one of his best, but it’s a decent enough evening that’s powered by Al Pacino and Colin Farrell in the lead roles. It eventually grossed just over $100m worldwide, and seems perfect fodder for Netflix and ITV 4 going forward. How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days toppled it after a week on release.
Head of State
March 2003, One Week
Chris Rock’s directorial debut, he also stars as a man who finds himself running to be President of the United States. Bernie Mac co-stars, and Rock co-wrote the script too. There’s a bit more to the film than it’s generally given credit for too, although it struggled to break $40 million at the box office in the end. Its premise of the unlikelihood of an African American president also hasn’t aged the best. Phone Booth, starring Colin Farrell, took the top spot a week later.
Along Came Polly
January 2004, One Week
So: we liked this one. It’s rarely cited when people discuss the cinema of Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, but it’s got a few chuckles to its name. Tonally, it feels quite close to director John Hamburg’s other hit movie, I Love You Man, that would follow in 2009. A sizeable hit on its original release, Along Came Polly nonetheless lasted just one week at number one, before along came The Butterfly Effect instead.
September 2004, One Week
Arf. Couldn’t resist including a film called The Forgotten in a list like this. That said, the Julianne Moore-headlined thriller does seem to fit the template of the hit movie that suddenly disappears into the ether.
It’s from director Joseph Ruben, best known for the tepid Julia Roberts vehicle Sleeping with the Enemy. The central idea is that a woman thinks she’s lost her son in a crash the year before, only to wake up one day and be told she never had a son in the first place. Is she going mad? It takes 91 minutes to find out, but those are about 90 minutes too many for the ultimately inane revelation.
February 2005, One Week
Sam Raimi produced this one, as the advertising at the time was keen to remind us. And Boogeyman took over the number one slot at the U.S. box office from another horror movie, the far more successful Hide and Seek. Boogeyman isn’t without its moments though, playing on the idea of a monster hiding in the wardrobe. Stephen T Kay, who directed the Get Carter remake, helmed the movie, which was headlined by Barry Watson and Emily Deschanel. A tidy profit was made, and two direct-to-DVD sequels followed. Hitch would take its box office top spot.
Diary of a Mad Black Woman
February 2005, One Week
Outside of the U.S., the success of Tyler Perry movies is rarely replicated, and as such Diary of a Mad Black Woman made only $19,000 in total when it left America. Within the States? It coined a cool $50 million. It would be followed at the top of the U.S .box office by – nnngh – Vin Diesel in The Pacifier. We don’t talk about that one though.
When a Stranger Calls
February 2006, One Week
We’re into the second half of the 2000s now, and as such, it was harder and harder for smaller films to climb to number one at the U.S. box office. Horror films still had some success though, and Simon West’s remake of When a Stranger Calls is one example.
Camilla Belle, Tommy Flanagan, and Clark Gregg were in the cast this time. And whilst the 1979 original is hardly regarded as a classic (although it has its moments), Simon West’s take on the material was absolutely slaughtered by critics. By the time it left cinemas, it had nearly $67 million banked. Yet few of those who went to see it ever had the desire to watch it again. No worries though. The Steve Martin-headlined remake of The Pink Panther was released the week after and took over as number one. Er, phew.
September 2006, One Week
In the 1990s, director Renny Harlin was making films such as Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Features that people still like to stream today. In the 2000s? Well, let’s just say things didn’t quite go the same way.
The Covenant followed Driven, Mindhunters, and Exorcist: The Beginning as his fourth movie of the decade. And whilst it nearly doubled its budget, the supernatural thriller was slammed, with some justification, on its original release as a poor man’s Underworld (which isn’t exactly a franchise known for its prestige). No matter: The Rock in Gridiron Gang would relieve it of top spot after one weekend.
February 2007, One Week
Proof again that low-cost horror can generally have some success in climbing the box office. The Pang Brothers directed The Messengers, which starred a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart and Dylan McDermott, with Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures overseeing matters.
You know the template by now too. Critics slammed it, people turned up, a profit was made, the film swiftly left theaters once it had its cash. The laugh marathon that was Norbit knocked it off the top spot the week after. People still chortle about that.
February 2008, One Week
Before Matthew McConaughey started reading scripts again in advance of signing on to making them, he scored another tepid hit with adventure romance Fool’s Gold. Starring alongside Kate Hudson, the movie sees the pair falling in love again whilst on the hunt for treasure. For some reason, Ray Winstone and Donald Sutherland are in the mix too. It’s utterly avoidable, of course, but did take over $110 million worldwide. Doug Liman’s Jumper overtook it the week after.
February 2008, One Week
Director Pete Travis has barely been heard of since his departure from the Dredd movie. It’ll be interesting to hear, one day, his side of that particular story. Still, there’s his Lost-influenced thriller Vantage Point to check out, which enjoyed a brief stay at the top of the American box office before Will Ferrell’s Semi-Pro followed.
The film frames an event from different perspectives, and just to add to the Lost feeling, it cast Matthew Fox in the lead role. It all gets a bit muddled by the end, but there’s a nucleus of a decent idea in Vantage Point. And presumably it was pivotal in landing Travis the Dredd job in the first place.
September 2008, One Week
Neil LaBute’s back catalog of films – if, er, you overlook The Wicker Man remake – shows a willingness to confront not always comfortable material. With Lakeview Terrace, Samuel L Jackson takes on the role of a police officer who causes ongoing problems for his new neighbors, due to the fact that they’re an interracial couple. Jackson is excellent, as you’d expect, and while the film doesn’t quite hit the mark in the way that LaBute’s earlier movies did, Lakeview Terrace is still a compelling drama. Shia LaBeouf’s Eagle Eye defeated it at the box office the week after, mind.