2013 at the movies: The highs and lows
05:00 AM, Dec 27, 2013
Hollywood is popping Champagne corks to celebrate a potentially record-setting year at the box office and an awards season brimming with unusually strong contenders. The good fortune domestic revenues are poised to hit $11 billion for the first time helps ease the pain of the flops (Lone Ranger,you weren’t alone). USA TODAY’s Bryan Alexander assesses some of the highs and lows of 2013.
Theme of the year: Civil rights
A handful of critically lauded films that explored the black struggle in America succeeded at the box office and are doing well as the awards season gets underway. In April, at the start of baseball season, 42 explored the breakthrough of Jackie Robinson (played wonderfully by Chadwick Boseman) into the major leagues. Late summer brought Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which traced the 20th-century civil rights era through the eyes of a White House butler (Forest Whitaker) who served eight presidents.
In between, Fruitvale Station won raves on the film-festival circuit with its retelling of the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) by police. And in November, 12 Years a Slave became a top Oscar contender with its unflinching true-life story of a free man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) forced into slavery in the pre-Civil War South.
Menace of the year: Floating junk
Floating debris might not evoke the sense of dread that a shark caused in Jaws, but it sure wreaked havoc in the skies and seas on-screen in 2013. Hurtling space junk nearly led to the demise of Sandra Bullock’s astronaut in Gravity and Captain Kirk and Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. Down below, Robert Redford’s yacht takes on water after colliding with a shipping container in All Is Lost.
Living large: Leonardo DiCaprio
The 39-year-old actor acquired a taste for the trappings of filthy rich dudes. In May, he played Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby,frolicking in a mansion amid free-flowing booze, jazz orchestras and women swinging on trapezes. He has just followed up with a starring role as billionaire stockbroker Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. The decadent high point comes when Belfort hires a plane for his bachelor party in Las Vegas and stuffs it with hookers and cocaine.
Golden touch: Jennifer Lawrence
The white-hot 23-year-old Kentuckian kicked off the year by winning the best-actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook in February. She continued her climb by earning raves for reprising her role as Katniss Everdeen in box-office titan The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in November. She has followed that up with another strong performance in the critically acclaimed awards-season bait American Hustle.
Still going stronger: Matthew McConaughey
The 44-year-old star continued the career resurgence he started with Mud and Magic Mike in 2012 with two more stellar roles. The Texas-born actor lost 47 pounds to portray an AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club, a performance that has propelled him into the Oscars race. McConaughey also steals the show as quirky stockbroker Mark Hanna in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
‘Before’ and after the roller coaster: Ethan Hawke
Reality definitely did not bite for Hawke in 2013 as he brought forth Before Midnight, the long-awaited third chapter of his film series with Julie Delpy and director Richard Linklater. The film, which earned a 98% critical approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com, follows the lovers featured in Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). In June, Hawke hit pay dirt as a father protecting his family from futuristic madness in The Purge, which shocked with a box-office-topping $34 million in its opening weekend.
Of course, there was also the deplorable Getaway alongside Selena Gomez, which crashed spectacularly, pulling in just $10 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo, and earning a 2% critical approval rating on RottenTomatoes. On the plus side, it’s bound to earn a few Razzie nominations.
’80s icons: The last stand?
Aging action heroes Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered from box-office arthritis this year. In January, Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand opened to just $6.3 million; a few weeks later, Bullet to the Head was dead on arrival for Stallone with a $4.5 million opening weekend. And in October, the duo teamed up for the poorly conceived Escape Plan, which opened at No. 4 with $9.9 million. Stallone had no more magic pairing with Robert De Niro in the geezer-boxing bout Grudge Match, which was floored to ninth place after its Christmas opening, according to Rentrak.
Box-office champs: Superheroes
Characters from comics flexed their box-office muscle throughout the year. Iron Man 3, starring Robert Downey Jr., was 2013’s top-grossing movie, earning $1.2 billion worldwide. Thor: The Dark World, with Chris Hemsworth, earned $627 million; Henry Cavill rode Superman’s cape to $662 million in Man of Steel; and The Wolverine with Hugh Jackman took in $415 million.
Box-office chumps: ‘Fifth Estate,’ ‘Lone Ranger’
Industry observers couldn’t agree on which film was the year’s worst financial flop. Forbes magazine declared it to be WikiLeaks saga The Fifth Estate, which had an estimated $28 million production budget and earned just $8.5 million worldwide. Other analysts argued that The Lone Ranger made a louder thud. The retro adventure, starring Armie Hammer in the title role and Johnny Depp as Tonto, cost upward of $225 million to make and took in $261 million worldwide.
Animation: Back to the drawing board
Even though animated films generally fared well financially Despicable Me 2 led the category with $918 million worldwide originality seemed to be lacking. Before Frozen broke through to dominate the November box office, the genre was mostly about extending franchises, including Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Smurfs 2. DisneyToon’s Planes closely resembled the Pixar juggernaut Cars. And Pixar’s only offering was the prequel to Monsters Inc., bringing Sully and Mike to their college days in Monsters University.
Sweet scent of success: Woody Allen
The late-career resurgence continued for the 78-year-old director. Fresh off the success of the 2011 box-office hit Midnight in Paris and last year’s solid performer To Rome With Love, he delivered Blue Jasmine in August. The biting portrait of a dethroned New York socialite earned Allen some of his most glowing reviews and thrust star Cate Blanchett into the Oscars race.