After a summer of movies that didn’t live up to expectations, Unforgiven, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, has startled Hollywood out of its dog-day lethargy with a bang. In its first two weekends, the revisionist Western earned ticket sales of $33.8 million. In its opening weekend, Unforgiven wound up with $15 million, making it the biggest August opening in history. But aren’t Westerns supposed to be dead? And isn’t the former mayor of Carmel, 62, supposed to be on his way to dignified semiretirement?
Eastwood, after all, hasn’t had respectable ticket sales since 1986’s Heartbreak Ridge ($42 million). Furthermore, everybody knows that men of a certain age—think Robert Redford, Paul Newman—are struggling for roles in the ’90s. How did Unforgiven and its quirky quartet of grizzled vets—Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, and Eastwood-succeed?
Warner Bros. refused to offer its opinion, but the word is buzz. John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks national box office revenues, credits a strong trailer. And despite the fact that other studios assumed the movie was a prairie dog—”because Warner was releasing it in August,” as a competing studio’s publicity executive put it-the timing was surefire.
And somehow, Clint seems to make a cool silver fox. ”Every man should be able to stand in front of his mirror and see Clint Eastwood staring back at him,” says Mark Canton, chairman of Columbia Pictures, for which Eastwood will make his next movie, his first outside of Warner in 17 years. In In the Line of Fire, he’ll play a veteran Secret Service agent who must outwit would-be presidential assassin John Malkovich. Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot) will direct.
More proof that old can be cool? For its 1993 edition of The Films of Clint Eastwood, Citadel Press plans to replace the cover art of the younger Eastwood as Dirty Harry (from 1976’s The Enforcer) with a shot of Unforgiven‘s aging star.