Box Office Flashback: End of summer 2002

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Fifteen years ago, things were a lot less complicated. Or were they? Seven of the films on our list this week featured some sort of societal upheaval — whether it was brought on by aliens, criminals, or a haunted website. One thing is certain, though: Sequels were already very much in vogue, with the Spy Kids, Austin Powers, and Men in Black franchises all trying to recreate prior magic. Let’s take a look back at the box office for the weekend of Sept. 6-8, 2002.

1. SWIMFAN

Directed by John Polson

Weekend gross (weeks in theaters): $11,326,601 (1)

Refresher: Jesse Bradford, master of the loose-lipped smolerding look, was hot AF back in 2002 (fresh from a jovial turn in Bring It On), and he more than meets his match in Erika Christensen in this Fatal Attraction knockoff for the Gen X set. 

What we said then: Swimfan is proof that a thriller can be sleekly shot, expertly cast, paced with crisp professionalism … and still be a letdown if its twists and turns hold no more surprise than yesterday’s weather report.” C+

Final gross: $28,564,995

Where to stream: Google Play, Vudu, PlayStation, Fandango Now, iTunes (all for purchase)

2. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING

Directed by Joel Zwick

Weekend gross (weeks in theaters)$10,372,316 (21)

Refresher: What a phenomenon this movie was. Just think of it — an original screenplay, without major movie stars or special effects, without gore or sex, bagging almost $250 million at the box office and eventually spawning a sequel? Unheard of. But this loud and funny family gem, which spent most of 2002 building steady buzz in limited release, eventually blew up into a blockbuster, while also scoring an Oscar nomination for Nia Vardalos’ script.

What we said then: “The film is meant to be an ugly-duckling fairy tale in which Toula (Nia Vardalos), at 30, goes to computer college but still needs permission from her dad (Michael Constantine, speaking in theeck funny Gdeek accent, no?) to stop working at his restaurant, Dancing Zorba’s. Can she get away with marrying Ian (John Corbett), a WASPy vegetarian high school teacher? Their courtship is like something out of a makin’-whoopee comedy from 1962.” D

Final gross: $241,438,208

Where to stream: HBO

3. CITY BY THE SEA

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones

Weekend gross (weeks in theaters)$8,935,426 (1)

Refresher: James Franco was in the process of exploding onto the scene in 2002, after making a mark playing James Dean in a not-terrible biopic and landing the role of Harry Osborn in the first Spider-Man movie (back when comic book movies weren’t always such a safe bet). Here, he did wonders as a would-be thug with a cop father, played by some actor named Robert De Niro.

What we said then: City by the Sea is like something you happen to stumble across on late-night television, and it’s earnest and square and a little nondescript, but your thumb never quite hits the zap button, and slowly, almost in spite of yourself, you realize that you’ve been drawn in, hooked by the urgency of a heartfelt mediocre movie. Or maybe it’s just the performers that get you.” B

Final gross: $22,448,879

Where to stream: Google Play, Vudu, Fandango Now, iTunes (all for purchase)

4. SIGNS

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Weekend gross (weeks in theaters): $7,851,871 (6)

Refresher: After The Sixth Sense, everyone in Hollywood (and the world?) actively wondered what M. Night Shyamalan would do next. Following Unbreakable (which is due for a curious resurgence thanks to the upcoming sequel Glass), Shyamalan’s third film was the more straightforward alien invasion movie Signs, which featured surprisingly good performances in a movie that may feel, especially now, slightly been-there-done-that.

What we said then: “Written, produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it’s a high-octane doomsday vision built almost entirely around our sense of anticipation, and that’s both its strength and its weakness. Set in the clear-skied American Gothic farmlands of Pennsylvania, the movie is all tricks and premonitions; it plays on our primitive desire to see what’s coming next in a way that proves a lot more compelling than what actually comes next.” B-

Final gross: $227,966,634

Where to stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, PlayStation (all for purchase)

5. XXX

Directed by Rob Cohen

Weekend gross (weeks in theaters): $5,206,740 (5)

Refresher: Vin Diesel was already on the map in a big way in 2002, after appearing in the well-done films Pitch Black and Boiler Room in 2000 and helping to launch what would become a mega-franchise with The Fast and the Furious in 2001. But the question on everyone’s mind was, Could Diesel carry his own film? The answer, for better or worse, came in the form of XXX.

What we said then: “It doesn’t matter in the least what [Diesel’s character] is assigned to accomplish in this grinding movie — let’s just say it has something to do with keeping mad, unwashed, Eastern European anarchists with access to weapons of bioterrorism from world domination and destruction. (Let’s pause to add that the spy meets his romantic match in a skinny, skeevy, pouty Eastern European anarchist’s moll played with an air of irritability by Asia Argento. And that watching the two lip-lock is not a selling point.)” D

Final gross: $142,109,382

Where to stream: Netflix

6. SPY KIDS 2

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Weekend gross (weeks in theaters): $3,020,007 (5)

Refresher: It’s rare that a sequel can surprise, but this imaginative retread of writer-director Robert Rodriguez’s 2001 vehicle Spy Kids managed to pull off a 74 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This was surely thanks to help from some franchise add-ons, dependable players like Steve Buscemi, Bill Paxton, and Holland Taylor.

What we said then: “The antics are a tad more frantic, and the gizmos work overtime, as if … Robert Rodriguez felt the hot breath of el diablo on his neck. On the other hand, the inventiveness is still superior and the network of fiends and family is extended.” B

Final gross: $85,846,429

Where to stream: Starz

7. AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER

Directed by Jay Roach

Weekend gross (weeks in theaters): $2,721,316 (7)

Refresher: Danger is whose middle name? This third go-round for the International Man of Mystery was meant to be forgettable, but there were a few too many jokes that were undeniably side-splitting (usually having to do with Mini-Me and Fat Bastard, it must be said). We also have Goldmember to thank for Beyonce Knowles’ film career.

What we said then: “Immediately following the glorious curtain-raiser, when the usual rhythms of Dr. Evil’s conference room set in, the energy drops precipitously, like blood sugar once a Snickers high has worn off. And you may find yourself thinking ‘Here comes that costumed midget again.’ Or musing ‘What ever happened to that Elizabeth Hurley?’” B

Final gross: $213,307,889

Where to stream: Fandango, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, PlayStation (all for purchase)

8. FearDotCom

Directed by William Malone

Weekend gross (weeks in theaters): $2,352,359 (2)

Refresher: This overly stylish doozy of a horror movie was made at a time when the internet was newfangled and mysterious enough to house a good thriller premise — victims die within 48 hours after visiting an ominous website — or so the filmmakers thought. FearDotCom went on to earn a lousy 3 percent “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

What we said then: “What could have been a pointed little chiller about the frightening seductiveness of new technology loses faith in its own viability and succumbs to joyless special-effects excess.” D

Final gross: $13,258,249

Where to stream: Google Play, Fandango (for purchase)

9. SPIDER-MAN/MEN IN BLACK II

Directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) / Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black II)

Weekend gross (weeks in theaters): $2,111,862 (1)

Refresher: This special end-of-summer encore double feature played like a morality tale for filmmakers: Your movie is only as good as your villain. This was expertly demonstrated by Willem Dafoe, who helped Spider-Man rise above the fodder that came before it to herald the current era of cash-cow comic book tentpoles we find ourselves in, and by Lara Flynn Boyle, whose undercooked and oversexed alien baddie in MIB II abetted its fizzle and flop.

What we said then: Spider-Man — “A superhero demands a supervillain, of course, and Willem Dafoe, as the Green Goblin, a former tech-industry entrepreneur gone mad with evil, injects his scenes with jaunty mischief, especially when he’s surfing through the air to taunt Spider-Man. Dafoe, with his skinny cheeks and Klaus Kinski mouth, already looks a bit like a creature (Cobra-Man?), and his distinctive snaky rasp comes in handy when he’s hidden behind the Goblin’s golden-green armor and frozen cackle of a mask.B

Men in Black IIHere’s Lara Flynn Boyle, her pinchy features highlighted by ruby lips and bloodless skin, sneering with bored nonchalance as a creature who takes the form of a Victoria’s Secret model and shoots Medusa snakes out of her fingers. … In Men in Black II, the world is at stake, and nothing is at stake. Is it any wonder that the two stars look like they’re just going through the motions?” C+

Final gross: $6,632,970

Where to stream: Google Play (Spider-Man) / Starz (Men in Black II)

10. BLUE CRUSH

Directed by John Stockwell

Weekend gross (weeks in theaters): $1,878,325 (4)

Refresher: Curiously, this surfer movie was the other 2002 film based on an article by the gifted journalist Susan Orlean. Adaptation, released for awards consideration later that year, also stemmed from a story originally penned by the magazine writer. Blue Crush, the (far) more literal of the two films, helped launch Kate Bosworth’s Hollywood career, and stands up surprisingly well 15 years later.

What we said then: “Blue Crush, an end-of-the-summer revel in beach, sun, surf, pretty faces, and buff bods (hey, there aren’t even any serious bad guys — just a few bad bellies), is an engaging, formulaic sports drama that carries a charge of genuine excitement.B+

Final gross: $40,390,647

Where to stream: Showtime

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