Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Ten Most Impressive Box Office Runs of 2000s (No. 1)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

  - The biggest romantic comedy ever with $241.4m, 32.1% better than the previous record holder What Women Want
  - The biggest film to never win any single weekend during its run
  - Made its total while never having its weekend's per-theater-average higher than $6,856
  - Had no drop over 23% until its 34th weekend and had 20 weekends where it increased from the previous frame

Even as Avatar's run grew more impressive with each passing week, I knew it's going to take a Herculean type of effort to supplant My Big Fat Greek Wedding as the film to have the most impressive box office run of the last decade.  The decade was filled with magnificent achievements and gigantic raw numbers, but to me, MBFGW has always been the clear-cut choice to be ranked No. 1.  There is simply not another performance like it.  All other films on the list started out strong: all but one had an opening per-theater-average of over $10,000, and The Ring got its $7,579 PTA while playing in close to 2,000 theaters.  MBFGW began with a $5,531 PTA in just 108 theaters for a weekend total of $597,362.  Few films could gross even $20m from such innocuous opening, but somehow, it kept hanging around and never went away.  Its weekend average never dipped below $3,800 until its 27th weekend, by when it already gradually expanded to 2,016 theaters, and its biggest PTA came on its 20th weekend when it was in 1,619 locations.  It ended up playing for an entire year, and in 39 of those 52 weekends, it grossed over $1m.  Even Titanic had only 30 weekends of $1m+ gross.  It had 11 weekends where both its theater count and PTA increased at the same time.  The way the run defied gravity and any logical pattern we know of is very much one of the kind.

Furthermore, the performance is as inexplicable as it is inconceivable.  Romantic comedy has seen its share of success over the years, but outside My Big Fat Greek Wedding, none has broken $200m, and that includes films starring Will Smith, Julia Roberts, or Mel Gibson.  MBFGW has no such star power.  The only noticeable film John Corbett had done at that point was Serendipity, which made $50.3m total, and Nia Vardalos was basically an unknown to the audience.  Joel Zwick is mainly an episode TV director, while the distributor IFC had not seen any of its films cross $5m (Y Tu Mama Tambien was just about to at the time).  The only one with name recognition is Tom Hanks as the producer, but that itself could not account for the success the film experienced, especially considering the best any romantic comedy starring Hanks has done is Sleepless in Seattle's $126.7m.  There is no question the film enjoyed good word-of-mouth, but was it really better than say There's Something About Mary or As Good as It Gets, the two WOM hits of the late 90s which MBFGW still beats even adjusting to inflation? I doubt many would rank it that high in terms of the best romantic comedies of the last 20 years. It also did not benefit from any awards buzz; instead, the box office is essentially the only reason it received a screenplay nomination.

Of all the runs we have seen and discussed, I am certain My Big Fat Greek Wedding's one is the hardest to duplicate. It is very probable that we will never see one like it again, and having it happening on a film with no star power or big push behind it means it will always stand the test of time and be fondly remembered for its uniqueness and inexplicablility. Such reasons make the film stand at the top in a memorable decade for us box office lovers.

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