Being a professional watcher of the film industry as I am, I was asked what I thought it meant that Mel Gibson’s latest film Apocalypto opened at #1 at the box office, and my answer is: Not a whole lot. The film grossed $14 million over the weekend, which makes one of the least highest-grossing films to open at #1 this year. $14 million is nothing to get too excited about — although it does mean that at the end of the day Gibson is going to make money of the film, which cost only $40 million, that money coming from his own production company and his own pocket. Other than that, anyone trying to read the box office entrails to see whether that gross represents a confirmation of Gibson’s star power or a repudiation of his box office prowess is mostly just going to end up staring at a mess of entrails.
As for my own entrail-viewing, personally speaking, Apocalypto’s first weekend gross is pretty much where I expected to be even before Gibson’s troubles. When Gibson first announced the project, my internal gross estimator did the math (obscure subject + foreign language + Mel Gibson’s fame + Mel Gibson’s directorial reputation for cinematically artistic violence = $????) and came up with a range of $10 million and $20 million for the opening weekend, which is to say I would have been surprised if it had been more or less than those amounts. $14 is right in the middle of that range, so naturally I’m pleased to see that my own gross estimating skills are still functional. I also do think it means that as regards to Gibson’s incident, it didn’t do much one way or another to the gross of the film. This film is going to make what it was always going to make, basically.
Where Gibson’s outburst is going to hurt him is in the award nominations. Prior to his stupidity, it’s possible that Gibson would have been considered for a Best Director Oscar, depending on the general strength of the end of the year movies.* As it stands now I don’t think he has much chance for Oscar consideration, because too many folks are still angry with him for being a drunken anti-Semite. I think it’s possible he could get nominated for a Golden Globe, because the Golden Globes are decided on by a weird little group of foreign journalists, as opposed to members of Hollywood’s power structure. But as for the Oscars, I think the only major award Apocalypto is likely to be in the running for is cinematography (by Dean Semler, who previously won the award for Dances With Wolves). It might also pick up a makeup nod and possibly some nominations in technical categories. Basically the same sort of nomination loadout The Passion of the Christ got. But as for Gibson, I’ll be very surprised if he or the movie gets an Oscar nod.
To be honest, the film gross this weekend that I was surprised about was not Apocalypto but The Holiday, which I expected to gross in the $15-$18 million range, given its stars and the fact that there’s not much going on in the romantic comedy genre right now. But I do expect Holiday will have pretty good legs — and indeed, here’s a prediction you can quote me on, which is that I expect The Holiday to end up making more domestically than Apocalypto. I see the latter ending up in the $40-$60 million range, with the former in the $60-$80 million range, and possibly getting more. I suspect in the long run more people want to see Cameron Diaz canoodle with Jude Law than see a Mayan get his face gnawed off by a jaguar. Although: Jude Law’s face gnawed off by a jaguar? $100 million, easy.
* (I should note that I think it would have been a tough year for Gibson anyway, because there is some strong competition for the director nomination this year: Clint Eastwood (for either Flags of Our Fathers or Letters from Iwo Jima), Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), Martin Scorsese (The Departed), Stephen Frears (The Queen), Steven Soderburgh (The Good German) and Pedro Almodóvar (Volver) being the other directors that come to mind right off the top of my head. But he still may have been in the running, and now I’m pretty sure he’s not.)