Adam McKay’s Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens on Wednesday and looks to become the eighth live-action comedy of 2013 to gross over $100 million in its domestic run. That’s a significant jump from only three comedies in 2012 which made that benchmark—a doubling in margin that suggests, by all conventional accounts, that it was a “good” year for comedies. Yet, upon further inspection, we find the titles of these moneymakers to be Bad Grandpa, Grown Ups 2, The Heat, and The Hangover Part III, which are among the laziest, if not the worst, Hollywood films of the year. Instead of “good,” we should say it was a profitable year for comedies and leave any such evaluative adjectives out of box-office summations.
If live-action comedy hits were aplenty, so were their animated counterparts, with Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, The Croods, Frozen, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 all meeting or exceeding financial expectations. The same could certainly be said for nearly every endeavor into superhero territory, as audiences still prefer cinema that transports them from the confines of reality and into a playground of fantasy-infused triviality, with a treatment of characters that ranged from tongue in cheek (Iron Man 3) to bombastic (Man of Steel) to hopelessly imitable (The Great Gatsby).
Neglected were the latest films from some of the most distinctive American filmmakers in recent years. Audiences preferred the trite and derivative stylings of James Wan’s The Conjuring over the hilariously tense reflexivity of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. Instead of seeking out the corner art house for Noah Baumbach’s gorgeous and oft challenging Frances Ha, moviegoers stuck to the multiplexes for sub-sitcom fare like We’re the Millers and Identity Thief. And, when it came to the smart and visually impressive revisionism of Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, younger audiences opted for the next chapter in what they already knew: Thor, Katniss, and Adam Sandler.
The international box office came to the rescue for numerous films and franchises, often counting for nearly three quarters of their worldwide gross; although touted stateside as a financial disaster, After Earth made a respectable $243 million worldwide, with 75% coming from territories outside the U.S. Pacific Rim saw a sequel greenlit, but not because of the paltry $101 million from North American audiences—rather, the $306 million the rest of the world paid to see Guillermo del Toro’s spectacular juvenilia. However, taking the crown on this front is A Good Day to Die Hard, with almost 78% of its worldwide haul coming internationally.
Reflecting on the ways Americans choose to entertain themselves often yields troubling and even disturbing results, as shown by several of the “success” stories above. Audiences continue to indulge and endorse cynical studio execs insistent upon greenlighting repetitive nonsense above thoughtful and more daring filmmaking, which remains a steadfast component of both the industry and its consumption. Culturally, we’re told that the end of a given year is meant to be a time for taking stock of what has happened, what we have learned, and what may be improved upon going forward. With box office, that approach is laughable at best, hopelessly naïve at worst, since the release calendar is chock-full of mega-budget productions as far as the digital eye can see. Yet, what we must remained attuned to is what Fredric Jameson calls “the political content of daily life,” which weekly box-office results help to track. Remaining conscious of these matters, rather than hoping The Avengers 2 outgrosses Batman vs. Superman because “MARVEL RULES!” keeps us classy—and we must stay classy, folks.
Box Office Weekend Predictions
1. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: $43.7 NEW
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: $30.9 -58%
3. American Hustle: $27.5 NEW
4. Frozen: $15.1 -33%
5. Saving Mr. Banks: $13.6 NEW
6. Walking with Dinosaurs: $8.2 NEW
7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: $7.6 -44%
8. A Madea Christmas: $6.1 -62%
9. Dhoom 3: $2.1 NEW
10. Thor: The Dark World: $1.6 -43%