Sixth place would see the comedy Wedding Crashers. This starred Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as two divorce mediators who crash weddings so they can hook up with bridesmaids and women. Boy that’s...interesting. The two hit the jackpot when they crash the wedding of the daughter of the United States Secretary of Treasury, and it’s there the two find themselves hooking up with the Secretary’s other daughters. Owen Wilson falls in love with Rachel McAdams, while Vince Vaughn gets forced into a relationship by Isla Fisher. Hi-jinx ensue!
This comedy came from the personal experience of co-producer Andrew Panay. Panay was a wedding crasher in his youth and thought the idea had potential for a movie. And so Panay brought the idea over to writers Steve Faber and Bob Fisher. While the team were unsure about stretching the idea to feature-length, the one thing that helped them with the project was the idea of having Vaughn and Wilson hook up with women born from a political family. Faber and Fisher dreamed about marrying one of the Kennedy girls when they were kids, so the idea was perfect, and the film was made.
Being a movie that features a politician character, a couple interesting cameos emerged. CNN contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville was one, but the late Senator and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain of all people popped up. This saw a lot of criticism, as McCain was very adamantly against films like Wedding Crashers: R-rated movies that marketed themselves to teenagers. Go figure! Will Ferrell got a cameo too.
Speaking of the R rating, that was a contentious part of production. Director David Dobkin felt an R would have made the film limit its box office potential. American Pie aside, PG-13 was the way to go if you wanted to make good money. However, after a consultant gave him a long list of the R-rated elements in the film, Dobkin realized the two funniest scenes would have to be cut. So an R rating it is. And wouldn’t you know it, it panned out beautifully.
Opening on July 15, the film debuted at #2 to $33.9 million. It not only became New Line’s biggest original opening ever, but it actually opened ahead of previous Wilson and Vaughn vehicles like Starsky & Hutch and Dodgeball. So much for that R rating killing its numbers. People loved the concept and its two leads, and the film stood out in a marketplace dominated by action movies and family fare. Thanks to positive reviews, summer weekdays, and strong word-of-mouth, the hits just kept on coming for the movie.
The following weekend only saw the movie drop 19%, generating a $26.2 million second weekend. Weekend 3 was only 22%, with $20.5 million. Next was only a 20% drop, with $16.5 million. Basically, it wasn’t until mid-September there was an above-average drop. All told, the film finished with about 6.17 times its opening weekend for a grand total of $209.2 million domestically. Worldwide amounted to $288.5 million.
The film’s success was a game changer. Not only did it continue the hot streak Wilson and Vaughn were on, but it also reinvigorated interest in R-rated comedies. As it turns out, people like laughs with more raunch, more edge, and more language. This, alongside The 40-Year Old Virgin, would give us future hits like Knocked Up, The Hangover, Bridesmaids, 21 Jump Street, Ted, Neighbors, and more, before inevitably the capitalist hellscapes of all tentpoles all the time sealed their fate and killed R-rated comedies forever..
Regardless, it was a hit, and it’s fair to say the risks paid off. In 2013, Vaughn and Wilson teamed up again in a pseudo sequel The Internship, which saw the pair as interns at Google, though it didn’t come anywhere close to Crashers’ success. In 2016, negotiations were reportedly made for a Wedding Crashers sequel, but nothing else seems to have come out of it.
Seventh domestic, eighth worldwide was Tim Burton’s attempt at adapting Roald Dahl with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Coincidentally, this came out the same day as Wedding Crashers. It follows a dirt poor boy named Charlie Bucket who gets the opportunity of a lifetime when he finds a Golden Ticket in a Wonka bar, the most famous chocolate brand in the world. Along with four other children, Charlie meets the isolated and eccentric owner Willy Wonka, and soon takes a tour of Wonka’s magical chocolate factory.
Most people are familiar with this story with the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, produced by Quaker Oats. Yes really. Despite its cult following and consideration as a family classic, one man who hated the film was Roald Dahl, the author of the 1964 children’s novel. Despite writing the film’s screenplay, it would soon see uncredited rewrites by David Seltzer, who completely reworked the script against Dahl’s wishes, changing the ending and adding musical numbers. Dahl was furious with these changes and disowned the 1971 film entirely.
And so, when it was time for a remake, Warner Bros. personally negotiated with the Dahl estate, specifically Dahl’s widow Felicity and daughter Lucy, to get a new film version made. In 1998, a deal was finalized, which gave the Dahl estate complete creative control on the project. Out of Sight writer Scott Frank was in charge of the screenplay in 1999, while Gary Ross was set to direct, but both men left the project in 2001. Nicolas Cage was also in consideration to play Willy Wonka, which would have been amazing, but he left due to lack of interest.
The next screenwriter was Gwyn Lurie, who also wrote a treatment for The BFG at Paramount that never got made. The directors went in and out over the next couple years. Rob Minkoff and even Martin Scorsese were attached, but both opted for other projects. Warner Bros. president Alan Horn wanted Bruce Almighty director Tom Shadyac to direct with Jim Carrey as Wonka, but Felicity Dahl opposed it.
Finally, Felicity found her match. Tim Burton was hired in May 2003, and was the only director the estate liked. Burton loved both Dahl and the original book, and was not a fan of the 1971 Wonka film for it straying too far away from the storyline, and his imaginative world and style made it seem like he was a good fit. During pre-production, Burton visited Dahl’s former home, and when he saw Dahl’s writing shed, Burton said “This is the Buckets’ house!” It was at that moment Felcitity Dahl knew this was in good hands. Lurie’s screenplay would later be scrapped with John August writing the film all over again.
As for casting, the role of Willy Wonka was crucial, with negotiations or considerations from every A-lister in Hollywood. Nicolas Cage and Jim Carrey were already mentioned. There was also Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Mike Myers, Ben Stiller, Leslie Nielsen, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Patrick Stewart, Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, and Marilyn Manson. Yes, that Marilyn Manson. However, the role was actually given to Johnny Depp, though Dwayne Johnson was considered a runner-up if Depp was unavailable.
Depp and Burton wanted their interpretation of Wonka to be unique and unlike what Gene Wilder created. While comparisons to Michael Jackson were commonly used, the duo mainly derived from children’s television hosts like Bob Keeshan, Fred Rogers, and Al Harris. Depp also noted similarities between Howard Hughes and Charles Foster Kane. Depp also based Wonka’s bob cut and sunglasses on Anna Wintour.
Similar to Narnia, Burton knew there was a limitation when it came to child actors. So when it came to the visual effects, Burton wanted as little digital effects as possible. This meant that forced perspective, oversized props, and scale models were created, allowing the kids to feel as if they really were in a magical chocolate factory. Even the chocolate river Wonka’s boat sails across was 192,000 gallons of faux melted chocolate.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened on July 17. With the legacy of the 1971 film, as well as Johnny Depp fresh off of Pirates, Charlie opened to $56.2 million, becoming Depp’s biggest opening, as well as Burton’s second-biggest opening, only behind Planet of the Apes. That weekend also served as the fifth best for July and the fifth best for Warner Bros. The film would continue to play well in the weeks to come with about $206.5 million domestically and $475 million worldwide.
But despite good reviews, not everybody was impressed. Johnny Depp’s performance garnered heavy criticism for being too weird and annoying, and it’s largely considered that Burton’s film was inferior, though it has its fans. Perhaps its biggest detractor comes in the hands of Gene Wilder. While Wilder is a huge fan of both Burton and Depp, he felt as if remaking Willy Wonka was a cash-grab, and chose not to see the film for years. He saw promotional material of Depp in the role and what he saw made him want to avoid the movie. That musta hurt. In 2013, Wilder mentioned, I’m assuming having seen the movie, he thought the film was an insult and criticized Burton’s direction.
But hey, at least it’s better than when Tom and Jerry remade it (yes, really)
Eighth domestic, ninth worldwide was the beginning of Papa Nolan’s future domination with Batman Begins. When it comes to the fifth Batman movie, it’s been a long time coming. Initially Joel Schumacher was set to direct another Batman film after Batman and Robin inevitably becomes a critical and commercial darling. Titled Batman Unchained, Clooney, O’Donnell and Silverstone were set to reprise their roles, and the villains would include Scarecrow (played by Coolio) and Harley Quinn. Then Batman and Robin came out. I’ll leave it at that.
So in 2000, Warner Bros. was looking at two potential projects. One was a live-action adaptation of the animated series Batman Beyond, but another was Batman: Year One, based on the Frank Miller comic book arc. While Schumacher was interested, Darren Aronofsky was handed over the project, directing and co-writing with Frank Miller. Christain Bale was approached for the role of Batman (hmm...), and Aronofsky really wanted Joaquin Phoenix for the part, though Warner Bros. was gunning for Freddie Prinze, Jr. for some reason. Ultimately, the plan was scrapped in favor of Batman vs. Superman, which did not come to be for...reasons we'll get to when we get to 2016.
In December 2002, Joss Whedon pitched a reboot origin story for Batman, but it was rejected. However, the idea of an origin story lived on when Warner Bros. attached Memento director Christopher Nolan to their next Batman film. Nolan, with writer David S. Goyer, wanted to reinvent the franchise by going back to basics. Specifically, showcase how Bruce Wayne became the Bat we all know and love today, and give him more of a character. Nolan felt the previous Batman adaptations emphasized style over character and put too much attention on the villain than the hero, and wanted to make the Batman film he wanted as a kid.
Nolan’s main inspiration was The Man Who Falls, a short story that saw Bruce Wayne’s travels throughout the world, and was the basis for Nolan’s journey into becoming Batman and training under Ra’s al Ghul. Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Dark Victory, and Batman: Year One were also influences. Another aspect of Nolan’s production was a more realistic take on the Batman myth. While previous interpretations of Gotham City did not exist in the real world, Nolan used exteriors of London, New York, and Chicago to help make the city seem recognizable. The Batmobile was also turned into a Tumbler, and the Batsuit became a lot more comfortable to move around in and fight.
As for the casting of Bruce Wayne himself, actors like Henry Cavill, Billy Crudup, Hugh Dancy, David Boreanaz, Jake Gyllenhaal, Cillian Murphy, and Heath Ledger were considered, but the role was given to Christian Bale, then a relative unknown better known for indie releases. Bale agreed with Nolan that Batman was underutilized in previous adaptations compared to the villains, and both Nolan and Goyer felt Bale captured the perfect balance of darkness and light, as well as selling both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Before production started, Bale lost 62 pounds during the filming of The Machinist, which meant he had to bulk up fast. He hired a personal trainer to help him gain 100 pounds of muscle in the span of a couple months. Going from musclebound to skinny to fat would become a constant for Christain Bale in all future acting gigs.
Batman Begins opened on June 15, with rave reviews citing it as the best Batman movie ever. But when it opened, it only did okay. Its $72.9 million 5-day gross was the biggest opening for a Batman movie ever at the time. But it was still far below all the other Batman releases apart from Batman and Robin in terms of ticket sales, and in a day and age where Spider-Man made over $114 million, X2 did over $85 million, and even Hulk got above $62 million, all of which were three-day releases, it was considered a bit of a disappointment since the last couple Batman movies all broke box office records. I blame Nickelback for this. However, it did see a record IMAX opening with $3.16 million over its first 5 days, and it was still good enough that there was room to grow.
Sure enough, the movie went on to do rather well, racking up $205.3 million domestically and $371.8 million worldwide, which made it the second-biggest Batman film ever up to that point, only behind Burton’s 1989 film. DVD sales were also impressive, racking up $167 million in only a few months of release. While Batman Begins didn’t blow the house down in the same way Spider-Man or X2 did, it’s fair to say Batman Begins did its job as a relaunch of the franchise and rekindled interest in the property. And I’m sure when it comes to a sequel, there’s plenty of potential...I’ll just put a pin on that last part.
Ninth domestic, sixth worldwide was the return of Dreamworks Animation with Madagascar. This animated film follows four zoo animals who lived their whole lives pampered by the employees at the Central Park Zoo. But through a series of wacky shenanigans, the animals find themselves trapped in the jungles of Madagascar, only home to a clan of lemurs and a group of fossa predators. The four zoo animals find themselves having to adjust into living in the wild, with tension and hilarious comedy along the way.
One of the more unique elements of Madagascar is its animation style. At a time when Pixar and other studios were pushing for realism, Madagascar’s designs and direction is much more in line with Warner Bros. cartoons. The cartoonier look and emphasis on slapstick, squash and stretch, and fast-paced animation made it more reminiscent of the works of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, which helped it stand out from the other CGI works at the time. This laid the groundwork for other animated series that emphasize cartoony designs and humor, like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Translyvania.
And like other Dreamworks Animation releases at the time, the celebrity voice cast was a major selling point. Ben Stiller, fresh off his banner 2004 played Alex the Lion, Chris Rock was the zebra Marty, David Schwimmer, fresh off the last season of Friends, played the giraffe Melman, and Jada Pinkett Smith was the hippo Gloria. The character of King Julien, the leader of the lemurs, was supposed to only have two lines in the movie. However, after comedian Sacha Baron Cohen improvised eight minutes of dialogue in an Indian accent during the audition, the filmmakers loved him so much they decided to expand King Julien’s role in the movie.
But of course, the characters most people remember and would define the series were the penguins, a quartet of birds that act like commando units and break out of the zoo in an attempt to head to Antarctica. Their dynamics, characters, and comedy result in some of the best laughs and most entertaining moments. Long before Madagascar went into production, Dreamworks was developing an animated film titled Rockumentary, which was an animated Beatles parody with a penguin rock band. Despite the project being scrapped, director Eric Darnell brought the penguins over to Madagascar with a different theme.
Released on May 27, Memorial Day weekend, Madagascar saw an impressive second place debut with $61 million over its first four days, and a three-day of $47.2 million, putting it just below Shark Tale. The film would then hit first place in weekend two, earning $28.1 million, and with little in the way of animated competition, Madagascar would go on to generate $193.6 million domestically and $542 million worldwide, making it Dreamworks’ biggest non-Shrek movie ever at that time.
And that initial success would lead to one of the biggest animated film franchises ever. Sure enough, Madagascar would see two sequels, both of which we’ll definitely talk about in the future, a spin-off film of the penguins, two television series, with a third one set to debut on Hulu and Peacock this year, several short films and television specials, theme park rides, live shows, and more.
Tenth domestic, seventh worldwide featured the Jolie-Pitt dream team in Mr. & Mrs. Smith. This stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as a bored married couple going through counseling. What they both don’t know about each other is that they are secret assassins belonging to competing agencies, and as luck would have it, they have been assigned to kill each other. Hi-jinx ensue!
The idea came about from the personal experience of writer Simon Kinberg. Kinberg’s friends were going through marriage therapy and upon learning the descriptions his friends made felt there was potential in there for an action film...okay. And sure enough, this would lead to plenty of talent on board with the project. Doug Liman would direct, while Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, two of the biggest movie stars ever, both at the time and still today, would sign on. Vince Vaughn, Adam Brody, Kerry Washington, and Michelle Monaghan (love you @Plain Old Tele) would fill out the supporting cast.
Released on June 10, Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a perfect example of the good ol’ days when all you needed was a clever hook and some major starpower. It debuted to $50.3 million, becoming the biggest opening in both Pitt and Jolie’s careers. And with the film standing out in the marketplace between all the franchise offerings, Mr. & Mrs. Smith legged itself out to $186.3 million domestically and $487.3 million worldwide. This would be the biggest films ever for both Pitt and Jolie, until World War Z and Maleficent respectively.
But despite that success, not everybody was fans, especially the Colombian government. The film’s depiction of the country and the city of Bogota was criticized by the government, especially for showcasing Bogota as a tiny village in the middle of the jungle. Mayor Luis Eduardo Garzon and President Alvaro Uribe Velez invited Pitt, Jolie and the producers to Bogota to make them realize their mistake and learn the city is in fact a bustling metropolis.
But of course, the movie’s biggest claim to fame is how it kick started Brangelina. Rumors circulated that Pitt was romantically involved with Jolie despite being married to Jennifer Aniston, with gossip sites arguing their time on set led to Pitt and Aniston’s messy divorce, though Jolie denies such a thing.
Yet sure enough, the two actors would become an item together, becoming media darlings and growing their family together, both through adoption and through pregnancy. They would become the Hollywood supercouple for about a decade, before filing for divorce in 2016, which is something I’m still not over by the way.