Is it just me, or has Matt Damon really made all the right moves as an actor? Coming into this weekend, he was already riding the reasonable critical and box-office success of Ocean’s 13. Prior to that, he had terrific success in The Departed, and his tightly-wound and intense performance there juxtaposed nicely with his stoic and largely internal performance in the less successful The Good Shepherd. That achieved about the same level of success as Syriana, another intelligent thriller that was more admired than loved, and reached about the same box office level (Syriana did $50 million, Shepherd about $60 million).
But his best decision, arguably in both conflicting realms of critical and commercial success, was committing to play Jason Bourne in a series of films that have become better received, and made more money, with each successive sequel.
The latest of these, The Bourne Ultimatum, dominated the weekend box office, bringing in $70 million from 3,660 theatres for a $19k average and managing an astonishing 94% positive rating on rottentomaoes.com.
Well played, Damon. Well played.It seems to me that there are two factors in Damon’s post-Good Will Hunting success that should be recognized, and, if at all possible, emulated by every actor emerging as “The Next Big Thing” (if only I’d written this piece in time to save Matthew McConaughey). The first is trying to work with good people instead of chasing sure-fire box office success. Just look at the directors he’s worked with in the last ten years: Paul Greengrass (who garnered his first- I assume there will be more- Oscar nod for United 93 in between Bourne films), Martin Scorcese, Robert de Niro, Steven Soderberg, Stephen Gaghan (who was coming off a screenplay Oscar for Traffic), Terry Gilliam, Robert Redford, Anthony Minghella… these are all people with track records for quality rather than huge success, and for many of them their work with Damon provided the best box office receipts of their careers. Of all these films, only Gilliam’s Brother’s Grimm and Redford’s The Legend of Bagger Vance were total misfires. That’s not to say there weren’t other misfires (Stuck on You springs immediately to mind, although I quite enjoy Damon’s comic timing with Greg Kinnear), but I don’t think there’s one film in his filmography that I look at and ask, “What was he thinking?”
And how many other actors can you say that about?
The second factor that I think makes Damon so successful is an utter lack of pretension and a willingness to poke fun at himself. You need look no further than his hysterical cameo in the otherwise lackluster Eurotrip, in which he portrays a punked-out lead singer who has been sleeping with the girlfriend of the main character, Scotty. He adds insult to injury by playing a quite catchy tune at a graduation party called ‘Scotty Doesn’t Know.’ Everything else about that movie is forgettable, but Damon belting out the chorus while making out with Scotty’s girlfriend on stage is awesome. He also took an amusing turn as a bachelor on The Dating Game in George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and I’ve heard him speak with good humor about the mocking marionette Matt Damon in Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police.
As long as he doesn’t take himself too seriously, even in some very serious roles (his next project is a drama called Margaret from indie-minded writer/director Kenneth Lonergan), I’d say the future looks pretty bright for that kid.
The future does not look quite as bright for The Simpsons Movie, which crashed 65% this weekend to $25 million and a $125 million total. This means all the ardent fans turned out the first weekend, and aren’t providing much in the way of repeat business. Still, the good news for Fox is that it’s playing much better overseas than I would have expected, bringing in a little over $100 million already. Opening about as well as it possibly could have in the third spot was the Disney comedy Underdog with $12 million from 4,013 theatres for a decent $3.9k average. A movie like this will do most of its business on video, anyway.
Falling to fourth after a 45% drop was I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry with $10.5 million and a $91 million total. It’ll finish up on the low end of expectations for a Sandler comedy, but Kevin James will be riding high off of Hitch and now this. Look for a solo project before too long.
Hairspray continues to hold up well, and could be called a bona fide hit after falling 41% to $9 million and raising it’s total to $78 million, the best numbers Travolta’s seen in a long time. I’d actually like to see him do more musicals, which he seems better suited for than action movies and thrillers. Harry Potter continues to fall fast, dropping 47% to $9 million and a $260 million total. However, with the phenomenal overseas success ($510 million so far), it doesn’t matter if it drops out of North American theatres tomorrow.
No Reservations held up reasonably well, slipping 42% to $6.5 million and a $24 million total, but with a price tag almost certainly in the neighborhood of $50 million, Scott Hicks romantic comedy (and remake of the German hit Mostly Martha) can only be looked at as a disappointment. In eighth place, Transformers fell 48% to $5.9 million and a $296 million total.
Hot Rod opened poorly in ninth place with $5 million from 2,607 theatres for a $1.9k average. Lorne Michaels has had a tough time making stars out of his post-Will Ferrel Saturday Night Live cast members, with Andy Samberg now joining a list that includes Jimmy Fallon, Tim Meadows, and Chris Kattan. Of course, opening even worse in tenth place was BRATZ with $4.3 million from 1,509 theatres and a $2.8k average. I have to confess, I know absolutely nothing about this movie, and therefore have no comment to make on it’s opening. Sorry.
So, it feels good to be back on track this weekend, especially after a very sad week in which we lost both Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonionni. Then again, I’m not sure they would have wanted to see the tsunami of cash that Rush Hour 3 is sure to make next weekend. I’m tempted to say that Daddy Day Camp(directed by Fred Savage!?) will fare much worse, but I would have said the same thing about Daddy Day Care two years ago, so who knows what that’ll do. And sure to be lost in the shuffle are the fantasy film Stardust and the werewolf film Skinwalkers. See you then.