In the turbulent months that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11, domestic audiences needed some escapism at the box office. In the Christmas season of 2001, they found it with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
By summer 2002, moviegoers turned out in record-setting droves for the first big screen treatment of an iconic superhero.
20 years later, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed as Spidey continues to dominate the charts. It all started with a memorable upside down kiss. Before we go there, there’s plenty more to discuss for the cinematic summer of two decades past.
As I do every season on the blog, I’m recounting the top 10 hits, other notable features, and flops from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. If you missed my post covering 1992, it’s right here:
Let’s begin with that top 10!
10. Mr. Deeds
Domestic Gross: $126 million
When Adam Sandler remade Frank Capra, the result was another blockbuster for the star and a needed one after his previous pic Little Nicky was a rare commercial flop.
9. Minority Report
Domestic Gross: $132 million
The first and still only collaboration between Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg is a prescient sci-fi tale and its reputation has grown since its release. It’s my personal favorite film of 2002.
Domestic Gross: 142 million
Riding high off the success of the previous summer’s The Fast and the Furious, Rob Cohen and Vin Diesel reunited for this over the top action flick. A sequel would follow three years later without Diesel’s involvement (Ice Cube starred instead), but Vin would return to the role in 2017.
7. Lilo & Stitch
Domestic Gross: $145 million
This Disney animated effort performed just fine (if not in the stratosphere of some 90s gems) and spawned numerous direct-to-video follow-ups. A live-action version is being planned.
Domestic Gross: $153 million
Critics might have thought it was a dog, but crowds lapped up this live-action/animated hybrid based on the very 1970s cartoon. Scoob and the gang would return two years later for part 2. Fun fact: James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy fame wrote the script.
5. Men in Black II
Domestic Gross: $190 million
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones teamed up again for the sci-fi comedic spectacle from Barry Sonnenfeld. This fell short of the original’s $250 million domestic haul and the reviewers weren’t impressed, but that didn’t prevent a third offering that will be discussed in my summer of 2012 post.
4. Austin Powers in Goldmember
Domestic Gross: $213 million
Mike Myers continued to flex his box office mojo alongside Beyonce, Michael Caine, and Mini-Me in this threequel that I believe surpassed the quality of predecessor The Spy Who Shagged Me.
Domestic Gross: $227 million
After the more mixed reaction that Unbreakable garnered, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs with Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix was more of a return to crowd favorite status. What followed was several pics from him that drew considerably more ambivalent to negative vibes.
2. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Domestic Gross: $302 million
$302 million is just dandy for nearly any movie, but this second prequel from George Lucas fell well short of the $431 million achieved by The Phantom Menace three summers prior. Many consider this the worst of the nine officials episodes. I’m one of them.
Domestic Gross: $403 million
When Sam Raimi’s spin on the webslinger kicked off the summer, it did so with the largest opening weekend of all time at $114 million (breaking a record that had just been set by the first Potter). Two sequels followed for the Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst trilogy and, as we all know, the character has never left us. Spider-Man: No Way Home recently brought all 3 Spideys (Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland) into its MCU Multiverse.
Now let’s move to some other notable titles from the season:
The Bourne Identity
Domestic Gross: $121 million
While outside the top ten, Paul Greengrass’s action thriller with Matt Damon as an amnesiac spy is more influential than the bulk of the flicks above it. Damon would return to the role three times.
The Sum of All Fears
Domestic Gross: $118 million
Right behind Damon is his buddy Ben Affleck who took over the role of Jack Ryan (previously played by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford) in the Tom Clancy adapted hit.
Road to Perdition
Domestic Gross: $104 million
His follow-up to Best Picture winner American Beauty, the Depression era crime drama from Sam Mendes cast Tom Hanks against type as a hitman with Paul Newman as his underworld boss. This only nabbed a Cinematography Oscar, but reviews were mostly strong. It also provides a juicy role for pre-007 Daniel Craig.
Domestic Gross: $67 million
Hanks wasn’t the only legend stretching in a villainous turn. Robin Williams memorably did the same as he was pitted against Al Pacino’s detective in this chilly thriller from Christopher Nolan (three years before Batman Begins).
Domestic Gross: $52 million
Adrian Lyne made a movie about another fatal attraction and Unfaithful earned Diane Lane an Oscar nomination as the cheating wife of Richard Gere.
And now for some movies that didn’t perform so well…
Reign of Fire
Domestic Gross: $43 million
This dragon centered fantasy arrived before Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale would be Oscar winners a few years later. Critics weren’t kind and the box office failed to generate much fire.
Domestic Gross: $40 million
John Woo’s financial win streak blew over with this World War II action drama headlined by Nicolas Cage that only managed 32% on Rotten Tomatoes.
K-19: The Widowmaker
Domestic Gross: $35 million
Seven years before her Oscar winning The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s 1960s set submarine thriller with Harrison Ford was a pricey disappointment.
Domestic Gross: $30 million
Michael Myers and Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode are about to team up for the final (?) time in Halloween Ends in October. In 2002, this was the sequel to the successful Halloween H20 from 1998. This one was not so successful and it’s considered by many aficionados as the weakest of the whole franchise.
Domestic Gross: $30 million
One is a double Oscar winner and the other is one of greatest stand-ups of all time, but this cinematic pairing of Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock in Joel Schumacher’s action comedy was met with a shrug.
Domestic Gross: $26 million
Ten years after Unforgiven won Best Picture after its summer release, Clint Eastwood’s mystery didn’t work for critics or crowds.
The Adventures of Pluto Nash
Domestic Gross: $4 million
Speaking of legendary stand-ups, Eddie Murphy reached a career low point as sci-fi comedy Nash stands as one of cinema’s most notorious flops. Its budget was a reported $100 million and that’s not a misprint above… it made an embarrassing $4 million.
2012 is up next!