Star Wars slips back down the charts.

Given all the prequels, sequels and merchandising it has engendered, it is sometimes a bit strange to realize that Star Wars (1977) has been the #2 movie of all time, rather than the #1 movie of all time, for most of its existence. And today, it will lose even that distinction, as it becomes the latest film to fall behind The Dark Knight‘s record-setting run at the box office.

A bit of history:

At the time Star Wars came out, the #1 movie of all time was Jaws (1975), directed only a couple years earlier by George Lucas’s friend, Steven Spielberg. Jaws is now estimated to have earned about $260 million, but Star Wars quickly passed that amount, grossing about $323 million over its first five years; not only was it a smash in its initial release, but it kept drawing audiences as the sequels came out and the original film was re-issued to keep the back-story fresh in audiences’ minds. (This was before home video had really taken off; Star Wars itself did not come out on VHS until 1982.)

Star Wars was itself surpassed only a few years later, though, by another Spielberg film, E.T. the Extra-terrestrial (1982), which grossed $359 million in its initial release and another $40 million when it was re-issued in 1985. (That film did not come out on VHS until 1988.)

For the next decade or so, that was how things remained at the top of the chart: E.T. at #1, Star Wars at #2.

Then, in the 1990s, a couple films came between them. First, Jurassic Park (1993), also directed by Spielberg, gave audiences their first taste of sustained digital creature animation, and grossed a handy $357 million as a result. Then, Forrest Gump (1994) — directed by a former protege of Spielberg’s named Robert Zemeckis — inserted Tom Hanks into archival news footage and rode a wave of Baby Boomer nostalgia to $329 million.

So now Star Wars was down at #4. But in January 1997, it rebounded. After more than a decade without any new Star Wars films, and after an entire generation had grown up watching the original trilogy on the small screen, Lucas spiffed up the special effects and re-issued the original trilogy on the big screen. The “special edition” of Star Wars alone grossed $138 million, making it the 8th-biggest hit of 1997; and, combined with the film’s earlier earnings, the new earnings gave the film a new total of $461 million, vaulting it right back to the top of the list.

It didn’t stay at the top for long, though. At the end of the year, James Cameron released Titanic (1997), which didn’t have a particularly strong opening weekend, but it did stay at the top of the weekly box-office charts for a whopping fifteen weeks, and when all was said and done, the film had grossed an unprecedented $600 million. And so Star Wars was back down at #2.

And there it has stayed — until now.

Can Star Wars rise to the top again some day? I’m not so sure.

The 20th anniversary re-issue in 1997 was fueled, in part, by a hunger for the franchise which was, itself, motivated by the fact that Star Wars had been relatively inaccessible for so long. Yes, everyone had the original trilogy on VHS, but home-entertainment systems weren’t very impressive in those days. Plus, of course, there was an entire generation of Echo Boomers — the people who made Home Alone (1990) a hit when they were kids, the people who made Scream (1996) and Titanic hits when they were teens — who had never experienced these movies on the big screen in the first place.

But the potential, I suspect, just isn’t there for anything similar to happen for, say, the film’s 40th anniversary in 2017, and not just because the demographics and the home-video options have changed so dramatically in the intervening years. Over the past decade, Lucas has released four new Star Wars movies — including this weekend’s widely-panned The Clone Wars — and he has tampered with the original trilogy repeatedly. What’s more, he has promised to keep on releasing new material on TV, and the overall effect of all this revisionism and overexposure has been to drain Star Wars fans of their enthusiasm for the franchise.

So, Star Wars has slipped back down to #3. And it will probably not rise back up the chart this time.

Still, who could have imagined that the day would come when neither of the top two films of all time would have Lucas or Spielberg at the helm? Star Wars is now down at #3, E.T. is down at #5 (despite earning an extra $35 million when it was re-issued in 2002; otherwise it would be down at #8), Jurassic Park is down at #13, Forrest Gump is down at #17, and Jaws is down at #42. Life goes on, ticket prices rise, and milestones that once seemed impressive are now just better business than usual.

Incidentally, all of these figures relate to the domestic chart, and none of them take inflation into account.

When you look at the worldwide chart, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) is Lucas’s biggest hit of all time, at #8, and Jurassic Park is Spielberg’s biggest hit, at #10. The rest of the worldwide top ten is occupied by two Lord of the Rings films, two Harry Potter films, two Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, Shrek 2 and Titanic.

And when you adjust the domestic chart for inflation, Star Wars is #2 again — behind Gone with the Wind (1939).

DC Comics and the movies, redux.

Variety has another article up tonight on Warner Brothers’ plans to go ahead with a series of movies based on the DC Comics superheroes — or, rather, as one of their bloggers puts it, Warner has “plans to make plans.”

The phenomenal success of The Dark Knight, after a summer that had already seemed to be glutted with comic-book movies from Marvel and others, has apparently convinced the folks at Warner that they really need to do something with the rest of the DC stable, which is owned by Time-Warner.

But, paradoxically, the phenomenal success of The Dark Knight also means that Warner dare not go ahead with that rumoured Justice League movie — which would have included Batman among its many characters — for fear of offending the people who are currently responsible for the Batman franchise and have not yet decided whether to go ahead with a third movie.

So what should Warner do? Start cultivating other superheroes, perhaps, and stop worrying about how to team them up, for now.

To that end, reported this week that it had landed a copy of Greg Berlanti’s script for Green Lantern, and their review of it sure seems to indicate that Berlanti “gets” what that series is all about. One slight problem: “in scale it’s big, VERY big, and we are hearing rumors that it may be too big for the director currently attached, Greg Berlanti.” So naturally, the newest rumour is that Warner might hand the film over to George Miller, as a consolation prize for pulling the plug on Justice League.

On a related note, MTV Splash Page has asked a few comic-book writers how the Superman franchise might be rebooted — and some of the things they discuss, regarding the origins of the character and whether it was appropriate to focus on the “weakness” of this “American Christ figure” in Superman Returns (2006), rather than on his ability to fight, are very interesting.

Incidentally, in my previous posts on DC Comics and the movies thereof, I neglected to mention that Nikki Finke claimed back in June that DC Comics itself might be facing some major changes in the near future. I haven’t collected comics in over a decade, so I’m out of the loop on the latest comings and goings, but apparently it’s not only the movie studio that can’t get a handle on these characters, or on what to do with them.

Maybe some day we’ll get to the Moon.

Fly Me to the Moon, the latest film to be produced in the digital 3-D format known as Real-D, was originally supposed to open August 8. Then it was delayed to August 15. And then, last Monday, the Canadian distributor suddenly announced that the film would only be opening in Toronto for now; all other Canadian cities will have to wait.

Why is this? My theory: Journey to the Center of the Earth, which was also released in Real-D way back on July 11, has turned out to be a fair bit more successful than anyone expected. And the Real-D format was very late in coming to Canada, so there are only so many screens available. And as Journey to the Center of the Earth enters its sixth week, the film is still too much of a sure thing to toss aside for some badly-reviewed insect cartoon from a studio with no box-office track record, at least not in this genre.

For what it’s worth, I have not yet seen Fly Me to the Moon for myself. The first press screening was cancelled at the last minute — so last-minute, in fact, that I had already bought my return ticket and made the trek downtown when the people at the theatre told me that there had been a problem of some sort. And I was not well on the day of the second screening. I have not yet decided whether I should make a point of seeing this, if and when it does come to Vancouver, but I might; I do like space travel, especially if it has a quasi-historical element, and I do like the 3-D format, even if the film has nothing else going for it.

AUG 26 UPDATE: The publicists just sent out a press release saying the film will “open” in Vancouver September 5. But, as Mark McLeod noted in the comments below, the film is already playing here at the CN IMAX theatre. None of the press releases sent my way have mentioned this, but that might be because this theatre specializes in educational and concert films and is sort of out of the loop when it comes to “regular” commercial releases.

Which films have had the best “legs” this year?

It’s too early to say anything about the films released in August, of course, but the box-office trajectories of the films released between January and July seem pretty clear. So, depending on how you count these things, we can safely say that there are only a few wide releases from that period that have had such strong “legs” that their final box-office totals will be at least four times what they made in their opening weekends:

  1. The Bucket List ($20 million by the end of its first wide weekend January 11, closed with $93 million)
  2. The Bank Job ($6 million when it opened March 7, closed with $30 million)
  3. Journey to the Center of the Earth ($21 million when it opened July 11, still going strong with $84 million so far)
  4. Mamma Mia! ($27 million when it opened July 18, still going strong with $110 million so far)

In the more debatable or wait-and-see file we have:

  1. What Happens in Vegas ($20.2 million when it opened May 9, has $80.2 million so far)
  2. Space Chimps ($7.2 million when it opened July 18, has $26.8 million so far)
  3. Kit Kittredge: An American Girl ($3.3 million in its first wide weekend July 4, has $17.1 million so far, but it was in limited release for two weekends prior to that, and it went wide on a Wednesday, so it had $5.8 million by the end of its first weekend, and it has not quite tripled that)

And then there are the even more unusual examples of Atonement and There Will Be Blood, which opened in limited release in December and gradually expanded and made about half of their final box-office totals before they went into wide release in January — so their first weekends in wide release do represent a small portion of the total, but the overall momentum of their releases was in a whole other category from these other films.

Touch of Evil times three on DVD.

Good news for Touch of Evil fans. Jonathan Rosenbaum hinted at this in a footnote to his recent post on director’s cuts, but today Universal put out the official press release announcing that a new, two-disc set will be released October 7 including not only the 1998 re-edited version of the film, but, for the first time ever on DVD, the original 1958 version which, for all the compromises it endured, was still the version that won decades of critical acclaim and attention. The set will also include a third, more obscure version of the film, as well as various commentaries, featurettes and the complete 58-page memo that director-star Orson Welles gave the studio after seeing a rough cut of the film in 1957. And all for only $27 — or $20 if you pre-order it at

This movie is noteworthy for all sorts of movie-buffish reasons. It was the last movie Welles directed for a Hollywood studio, and it is widely regarded as the last major film of the classic film noir era. It is also probably the most significant film Charlton Heston made between The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben-Hur (1959), and it features Janet Leigh being terrorized in a motel two years before her more infamous motel experience in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). It also features Mercedes McCambridge as a menacing gang leader, a decade and a half before she provided the voice of the demon in The Exorcist (1973), and it gives Marlene Dietrich a small but significant part in one of her last performances ever.

Final note for Vancouverites: The 1998 version is returning to the VanCity Theatre for two nights at the end of August, where it will be introduced by Rick Schmidlin, a film historian and archivist who supervised the editing of this version. Sounds like fun.

Harry Potter and the Longest Gap Between Movies in the Franchise’s History to Date.

Nikki Finke reports that the release date for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been postponed by a factor of eight months, from its original release date on November 21, 2008 to July 17, 2009.

That means this film, the sixth in the series, will be coming out two years and six days after the previous film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — easily the longest gap between Harry Potter movies to date. The second movie came out only one year after the first movie, and each movie since then has been released after intervals of roughly one year and a half.

However, the intervals promise to get shorter again, after that. The seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is being split into two films, with release dates currently planned for November 2010 and May 2011 — and Finke says the change in release date for Half-Blood Prince “does not alter the production schedule” for Deathly Hallows.

The change in release date also means that 2008 will be only the second year since 1996 in which there was no new Harry Potter book or movie — unless we count the 800-word prequel that J.K. Rowling dashed off for a charity auction earlier this year, or the upcoming re-packaging of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a handwritten copy of which was auctioned off in 2007. The other year without any new Harry Potter product was 2006.

Not coincidentally, I assume, the new release date is also almost exactly one year after the release date for The Dark Knight, and the Batman movies, like the Harry Potter movies, are produced by Warner Brothers. Releasing these mega-sequels in mid-July is working out very well for them, isn’t it?