2002 was one long year in film. The highs were epic. The lows were epic. It didn’t feel at all the same at the end as the beginning. Let’s see why.
The Bottom 25 Grossers of 2002
#76. K-19: The Widowmaker. This is why I love doing this column. This was a notorious box office disaster for director Kathryn Bigelow. By contrast The Hurt Locker was considered a huge win for her. This made $15 million more. The difference? It cost $85 million more. And The Hurt Locker is a brilliant film while this is atrocious.
#77. The Hot Chick. Only thing of note about this film: The girl Rob Schneider switches places with is Rachel McAdams who thankfully would go on to much, much, much better things. Schneider, I’m happy to just forget ever existed. Sadly I’ll be crossing paths with him again for this column.
#78. I Spy. Eddie Murphy finally pops up on the radar! I really won’t have very many nice things to say about him going forward aside from his great work in Shrek. This was at the end of Murphy’s days as a draw. The Haunted Mansion landed in the middle in 2003 while this couldn’t even spark that.
#79. Friday After Next. I find it pretty telling this second sequel tanked while the first film is still revered. Opening this next to Harry Potter was the equivalent of suicide. Absolute worst time to release it. I know it’s a holiday film and look I have questions about A Very Friday Christmas. Not a great concept.
#80. The Pianist. Look, I’m enraged this film exists but I won’t lie and say I didn’t contribute to this gross. I wanted to pay for another film out of protest but the theater was too small and weirdly intense to pull it off. (This is true.) This is a thundering, great film that absolutely should not exist because the director is a criminal. I’d lose this profound art for Polanski to have served his time. NEXT.
#81. Analyze That. I like Billy Crystal but nope, this was never going to be a film I watched. Robert De Niro’s comedy run in this period is kind of agonizing. He’s a great comic actor but he rarely had the material worthy of him. So yeah… Moving on.
#82. Murder by Numbers. Not a film I can say I saw or remember much about except it’s the first time Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling popped up on peoples’ radars. Two strong careers that got going here. Can’t knock that.
#83. One Hour Photo. Robin Williams went hard into darkness in 2002 between this and Insomnia and it was a damn good look on him. Williams battled internal demons throughout his life which fueled his genius. These two great turns showed that fight full blast.
#84. Halloween: Resurrection. The end of the original Halloween continuity with Rob Zombie doing two remakes and David Gordon Green retconning all but the first film. Um, yeah, this is atrocious. The way they killed off Laurie Strode unceremoniously just to use Jamie Lee Curtis’ contract was abysmal as a swan song for the character. Again, she gets a better outing ahead.
#85. Queen of the Damned. Hey, Hollywood? If you’re at the end of the rights to material and you cobble something together to hold onto it, we’ll ALWAYS see it. Compare this to the lavish Interview With The Vampire and it’s amazing WB tried to pass this off as an actual film.
#86. Dragonfly. A wild thought: does my generation even remember when Kevin Costner was in hit films? We know he was but they’re all before us save for Waterworld. This was a huge dud. $60 million on production budget for this.
#87. The Banger Sisters. This probably did exactly as well as could be expected. It’s a film about former groupies that came out in the wake of Almost Famous, the clear progenitor of this down to casting that film’s star Kate Hudson’s mom Goldie Hawn in a lead role. It did ok. I’ve only ever heard it was OK.
#88. Bad Company. Chris Rock wasn’t cut out to be an actor. He’s a killer standup but his film career is painful. Joel Schumacher got to rebound from this with Phone Booth the next year but Rock’s career? Write it off.
#89. Ghost Ship. I ain’t mourning Dark Castle. They were like an anti-Blumhouse. Giant budgets, unnotable directors aside from Jaume Collet-Serra, and pretty bad films. This has a great opening and beyond that who cares? It does start Emily Browning’s odd tendency to never go near anything good until American Gods!
#90. The New Guy. There’s a bubble of teen movies that started in about 1998 and utterly died in 2002. Lazy movies like this are why. DJ Qualls wasn’t a lead and I really don’t like to be mean to an actor but Eliza Dushku is so bad she really makes Buffy quite hard to watch. This was definitely a film trying to ride Bring It On’s success.
#91. Swimfan. This one too since it has Jesse Bradford from that film. This, um, it’s a thing. I never saw it. I know it’s teen Fatal Attraction. Nope. Don’t care now. Didn’t care then.
#92. The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. Another one I didn’t see but I probably should double back to watch this one. The late Steve Irwin was a model of how to be a good man in pop culture. Loved nature, loved his family. He’s sorely missed.
#93. Brown Sugar. Oh this is by Rick Famuyiwa! I’m overdue to watch the rest of his films since I loved Dope. I’ll observe this about the low dwelling romantic comedies: They’re built for longterm video play. I suspect this one has played for a lot longer than say Ghost Sip.
#94. Blood Work. Clint Eastwood’s last film before Mystic River put him back on the radar as a “respectable” filmmaker. Personally I probably enjoy his minor key films more than his major key stuff. This is just a solid, respectable little thriller that was made for TNT on Sunday afternoons, a granddad film. Cool.
#95. All About the Benjamins. Ice Cube hasn’t ever really been a leading man aside from the first Friday and Boyz in the Hood (and Are We There Yet) but I’ll say I’ve always enjoyed him. This was a film he wrote.
#96. Frida. Julie Taymor deserves a hell of a lot more respect than she gets. I’m firmly convinced of this. Mock the Spider-Man musical all you want but it was an artist’s idea. She does her thing and I admire that. This was a modest performer but it did well with critics.
#97. Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. The 2000s wave of Christian cinema was a lot weirder than the modern one. This was a kids Christian film, a CGI animated kids film based on a biblical story. And honestly since VeggieTales is one of very few franchises in that realm not to anger me I’m cool with this existing. It even spawned a sequel!
#98. Beauty and the Beast IMAX. Seriously, IMAX films used to play forever. They actually pop up on these lists more than you’d expect. This is one I kinda wish I’d seen though I was lucky enough to see it in 3D during that release.
#99. The Transporter. It fascinates me that a film can dwell this low and yet still spawn two sequels and a reboot. I’ve seen it and I have no idea how. It’s not a bad film, a nice sleeper even, but I’m at a loss as to why this became a franchise. I can’t even point to international box office, which was worse than domestic. It just…happened.
#100. The Sweetest Thing. Women doing raunchy comedy is nothing new. It just couldn’t click with audiences. Then again I’ve never heard this was even watchable. Comedy Central ran it into the ground, I remember.
The Top 25 Grossers of 2002
#25. Panic Room. I know this is seen as minor David Fincher but this thing just plain hums to me. A cracking script executed by a master director with a stellar cast giving 100%. If you hate Jared Leto, this is probably the most fun you’ll ever have watching him. It’s one of all too few major Dwight Yoakum roles and he’s incredible here. Nothing bad to say about an awesome, awesome film.
#24. Road to Perdition. Given that this feels like failed Oscar bait, I’m tempted to say it’s shocking it did solid box office. Nah, that just means it’s a good film viewers found. Another film where every element sparks.
#23. 8 Mile. RIP Curtis Hanson. We’re so far from who Eminem was in 2002, it’s hard to remember there was a moment he was THE voice of the moment. It’s hard to understand why too when you look at the work. Eh, another solid film.
#22. The Sum of All Fears. Man Hollywood wanted to make Jack Ryan work after three hit films based on the books. (Amazon finally cracked it.) I think this is only on this list because Ben Affleck had a very brief moment. It’s definitely forgotten.
#21. The Bourne Identity. By contrast, there’s this modest performer that basically altered the landscape for modern action. This movie was seismic, though arguably the sequel was even more so. Modern action got a lot less silly. I’ve praised the other two films as I passed them on the column. I’ll do the same here. Awesome film.
#20. Mr. Deeds. Adam Sandler movie. Didn’t see it. Adam Sandler movies all made about the same amount of money in this age and were all about as good. And really were all about the same movie.
#19. Sweet Home Alabama. What keeps this from the other list? Star power. Reese Witherspoon was in a moment and this was a perfect vehicle for that moment. That said it’s a ghastly motion picture with a script that just does not work. The charm of the cast is about all that makes this effective.
#18. The Ring. And thus we come to patient zero for the plague of Asian horror remakes that infested cinema for 6 years afterwards. This is honestly not much better than the rest of them. It just came first and had novelty.
#17. Minority Report. Man I love 2/3 of this film. It’s a great looking film and the way it deals with the modern lack of privacy is rather prescient. But the script? It builds to nothing. The climax is completely underwhelming and mysteries have to end well. It’s got so much good that I hate watching it limp to a close.
#16. The Santa Clause 2. This number is entirely because after 8 years the first was a certified classic. People weren’t missing the sequel. They liked it too.
#15. XXX. Oh I’ve been waiting to get to this one! If 2002 had a symbol it’s this. Loud, aggressive, self absorbed. Everything about this movie was focus grouped to ensure it was dated by September. Yet this was treated as the future of action movies or some reason. Nope. I’m glad this was swiftly forgotten. Still no idea why it got two sequels.
#14. Lilo and Stitch. I shouldn’t feel sad passing this one but I do. This was the last 2D animated hit for Disney. It’s a perfect farewell though. What a bold, imaginative, great film. It’s not one I need to say much on. It’s just what it is.
#13. Scooby-Doo. Roger Ebert nailed it in his review when he said the internet exists for you to find an expert’s opinion on the film. I’m not a Scooby-Doo fan. I respect the effort the cast gave, with Matthew Lillard’s so precise you can’t tell it’s not the original Shaggy a highlight, but not my cup of tea. That said, of course this was a hit. It played to two generations.
#12. Die Another Day. OK, this is an objectively awful film. I love it anyway. It’s so unrelentingly goofy and I think that’s why it was this big. Audiences liked the silliness of the series in this age. That said, everybody knew James Bond had gone too far to the extreme. Time to reel it in and they did.
#11. Catch Me If You Can. This movie makes way more sense as a light Lasse Hallstrom film like it was planned as. That’s how it feels and that’s how it should be taken. It’s a Steven Spielberg film which means it’s weirdly elevated in our eyes. But anyway, it’s still an utter blast of a film. A murderer’s row of talent from DiCaprio, Hanks and Walken to a fresh Amy Adams destroys on an airtight script.
#10. Chicago. In 2003, this was considered a terrible Best Picture winner, too light and fluffy to deserve the win. 15 years later, I think it’s as great a choice as any from this year. This thing stays with you. It’s an intense sensory experience, a film that like a musical plays to the rafters. The satire in the script, which it should be stressed heavily rebuilt the book, is vicious. A film people love.
#9. Ice Age. Eh. Like really, eh. This isn’t a great film. It’s not bad but meh. I don’t get why this was this big. Only answer is no competition in the spring.
#8. Men in Black II. What a weird franchise. The first film is an all time great without one wasted frame. The third film is a boldly imaginative journey with genuine emotion. Then there’s the second film which amounts to 90 minutes of desperately writing their way out of a hole. There is nothing about this film worth noting. It’s just a long slog.
#7. Austin Powers in Goldmember. Remember that trilogy structure I just noted with a perfect first film, an awful second film, and a wild third film? Same structure here! And thankfully we’re on that third film. I actually really love this film. It’s just so utterly bold. It tries everything it can. It’s hilarious too.
#6. Signs. M. Night Shyamalan’s devastating blow. One of the scariest films of the decade easily. It’s a master class in the jump scare. Every beat stings you. That the plot has logic issues…look I don’t care. It’s meant to scare the everloving hell out of you and it’s proof Shyamalan is as great at it as any filmmaker ever.
#5. My Big Fat Greek Wedding. $241 MILLION. There is no universe in which I can make that make sense. It’s not a movie people remember. It’s not a cultural touchstone. Nia Vardalos tried desperately but couldn’t ever recreate it. It’s nothing now. But in 2002, this occupied the same tier as the next 4 films. I have no answer.
#4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Funny to think about given how epic this series was but there was a 40 million dip between 1 & 2 and that’s not inconsequential. When the third failed to reach these standards, it was even seen as a bit of a letdown. My guess on why it dipped? This is the second worst film in the whole series behind Order of the Phoenix which makes sense as it’s the second worst book behind Order of the Phoenix. That said, it’s still a fun movie, just not up to the others.
#3. Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones. To date the only Episode not to crack the top spot at the end of the year. This makes sense when you see the top 2. As for this film itself? I kinda love it like the rest. It’s not as forcefully imaginative as Episode I or as poignant as III but it’s still a blast. It has its weaknesses but Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi is an iconic action star turn. The film looks great. Lucas shoots action like few ever have. It’s still Star Wars to me.
#2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. There was a modest jump in box office between the first and second films. That’s all video along with the hype for the battle of Helm’s Deep. That battle scene was hyped as THE ultimate battle scene. Speaking as someone who hates giant fight scenes, yes, this is the greatest ever though the third film is achingly close. This is what epic should be.
#1. Spider-Man. When this movie crossed the 100 million mark in one weekend, it was all over from there. The age of the modern blockbuster was on. And what a deserving start. This is how big blockbusters should feel. It’s flawed–a bit atonal in places–but so much fun. Spider-Man was done such justice here. Nuff said.