How the Grinch Saved Christmas
It took a grouch to cheer up Hollywood after a year where some riskier films sizzled and many of the so-called sure things fizzled
These days Hollywood’s looking a lot like Whoville at the end of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Everyone’s loving the Green Guy.
”The Grinch helped jump-start the box office,” understates DreamWorks’ distribution chief, Jim Tharp. ”Movies that gross this much get people going to other movies.” Translation: The Grinch not only redeemed December 25, but he rescued the other 365 days, too.
And just in time. The year in grosses was filled with more twists, turns, and downhill skids than the Grinch’s bumpy ride from Mount Crumpit. February’s Scream 3 started the year off loudly, followed by March’s Erin Brockovich, which led an otherwise quiet spring. Summer seemed front-loaded for success with Gladiator and M:I-2 in May, while June saw disappointments in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Titan A.E. ”We were concerned early this summer that it was going to be a problem delivering the numbers of last year,” recalls Universal distribution head Nikki Rocco. The season soon rebounded with The Perfect Storm, What Lies Beneath, and the surprise smash Scary Movie. But after that, things looked bleak. With the Olympics stealing attention, the usually slow late summer/early fall period was certifiably dead until Remember the Titans and Meet the Parents saved the day, paving the way for the holiday hits Charlie’s Angels, What Women Want, and Cast Away.
But the gold medalist of 2000 has to be The Grinch. A generation-spanning blockbuster that showed long (if spindly) legs, it had by year’s end crossed the $250 million mark and should soon earn a place as the 13th-highest U.S. grosser of all time. That’s only the tip of the mountain. The Universal film, from Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, has already earned an extra $74.3 million from its overseas launch, as well as another reported $60 million from ABC and the Disney Channel for 10 years of TV rights. And one can only (continued on p. 52) imagine the number of Christmas stockings that will be stuffed with the video next December.
But did the Grinch turn 2000 into the biggest movie year ever? That depends on whom you ask. ”You can answer that question either way you’d like to have it answered,” says Buena Vista distribution chief Chuck Viane. ”You could say yes by dollars, or no by attendance.” He’s right: According to Exhibitor Relations, though overall receipts hit a record $7.7 billion (up 2.9 percent from last year), actual ticket sales amounted to 1.43 billion, down 2.5 percent from 1999, which itself was down from 1998. In other words, the real savior this year was a different green monster: inflation, which brought the average ticket price up to $5.35.
Of course, the studios aren’t complaining. ”Even if it wasn’t the best year ever,” says Viane, ”at worst, the glass is full.”
Not for everyone, though. For every holiday winner, there was another movie for whom the audience was three sizes too small:
WINNER Jim Carrey After his mid-’90s stretch of six $100-million-plus grossers in five years, the elastic man faltered recently with two films in a row: 1999’s Man on the Moon, which earned a paltry $34.2 million, and last summer’s Me, Myself & Irene, which stalled at an atypically non-sssmokin’ $90.6 million. With The Grinch, however, he returned to the benignly goofy comedy he does best, and scored the biggest smash of his career.