Monday, January 5, 2009

In defense of Nicole Kidman...

No star has faced more wrongheaded attacks over the last few years than Nicole Kidman. For years, she's been chased by the label of 'box office poison', and further cries for her to be tarred and feathered have arisen after the expensive and artsy period picture Australia somehow didn't equal its $130 million budget at the domestic box office (shocker!). The label makes no sense when you look at the facts.

The biggest problem with Nicole Kidman's PR-problems (to the extent to which they concern her at all) is that journalists and pundits lump her artsy movies (Fur, Birth, The Human Stain, etc) with her more commercial choices (The Golden Compass, Bewitched, The Interpreter, etc). Of course Fur wasn't going to make $50 million. Birth, a dark, quiet drama about a woman who believes that her dead husband has been reincarnated in the form of a very young boy, was certainly not made with blockbuster dollars in mind. That would be like saying that Tom Cruise's 90s hot streak ended with Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia, which 'only' made about $60 million and $28 million respectively in domestic theaters after a solid 8 years of straight $100 million performers.

The other issue is that said people don't realize that a star's job is to open a movie, not make the movie into a long-range hit. Kidman's purely commercial films over the last few years usually opened to a bit over $20 million (Bewitched, The Golden Compass, The Stepford Wives, The Interpreter). They all had mixed to negative reviews but none of them absolutely collapsed in the long run anyway. Their final grosses are anywhere from $60 million to $72 million. Ladies and gents, in this day and age, anything over a 3x multiplier for the opening weekend-to-final gross ratio is considered having legs. Australia opened over a super-crowded Thanksgiving weekend, which it was forced into when Quantum of Solace took over its original and more optimal November 14th release date (another aftershock of Warner Bros's Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince date change). It opened to a decent $14.5 million and has so far tripled its opening weekend gross. If it can make it to $60 million (possible, but not probable), it will have quadrupled its opening weekend numbers, which is a rare feat in any season.

It is not Kidman's responsibility that Australia cost $130 million, and it sure as hell isn't Nicole Kidman's fault that The Golden Compass cost $180 million (although should we give her equal credit for the $300 million that The Golden Compass made overseas?). And this goes for any actor in question. Unless they are producers and/or somehow contributed to cost overruns, actors are not responsible for the budgets of their films. Kidman would have given the same performance and pulled in the same opening weekend no matter what Australia cost. Is she more to blame because director Baz Luhrmann spent $130 million instead of $60 million?

We don't know how much she was paid for said films, I can guess that it wasn't her normal asking fee (if I'm wrong about that, well, that's what the comments section is for). So if we look at it objectively, we'll notice that at $47 million thus far, the film will make about as much in the US as Moulin Rouge and has already out-grossed The Hours ($41 million). Heck, most of Kidman's pure commercial ventures have averaged between $50-70 million, which is just fine if they aren't costing more than $100 million. Not counting Batman Forever or Happy Feat, her highest grossing films were Cold Mountain and The Others, which made $97 and $96 million respectively. So why did anyone expect Australia to magically gross a third more than any Kidman-headlined film has ever grossed before?

Nicole Kidman does not star in blockbusters and thus her films should not be held to blockbuster standards. In fact, she is a rare actress of her fame who fills her career with challenging, artistically worthwhile endeavors as opposed to trying to make money through various overtly commercial ventures. Not all of these artistic gambles are good movies, but she should be applauded for trying to use her star power to make interesting films. Instead she is criticized by unknowing pundits and gossip rags who expect every Nicole Kidman art house project to make Batman Forever level numbers.

And finally, how do we not cry some form of latent sexism when Kidman gets blamed for Australia's failure while Hugh Jackman gets to host the Oscars and emerges completely unscathed? I like Jackman a lot as an actor, and I find his choices interesting (The Prestige, The Fountain, etc), but why was he not equally tarred and feathered when Australia allegedly flopped? Was he labeled 'box-office poison' when The Fountain flopped last Thanksgiving? Was Brad Pitt labeled 'box office poison' after such artsy films as Seven Years In Tibet or Snatch? And how come Daniel Craig didn't get ripped to shreds over the domestic failures of The Invasion and The Golden Compass (he co-starred with Kidman in both)?

As for the article at Reuters that is linked above? Um... Crocodile Dundee's last movie only made $25 million, and it opened to less than $8 million. I bet no one ever calls him 'box office poison'.

Scott Mendelson

7 comments:

Jess said...

Great post. I've often felt this was unfair criticism but couldn't articulate this well. Thanks for putting into words for us.

Sarah said...

Seriously, I love ya, but where do you find the time? :)

RMR said...

Maybe it has something to do with the fact she can no longer MOVE HER FACE! Seriously, watch her earlier films, and watch Australia again. Her appeal as a box office draw is directly related her to public persona. Her excessive use of Botox to freeze her face and then repeatedly LYING about it really does nothing to endear her to her public. Phony.

Eagle said...

not that there had been a lot of propaganda against nicole, I think nicole is herself responsible too! I watched a very few of her movies and her character was un-understandable!!! for example in the golden compass...

Eagle.

Eagle said...

not that there had been a lot of propaganda against nicole, I think nicole is herself responsible too! I watched a very few of her movies and her character was un-understandable!!! for example in the golden compass...

Eagle.

Jess said...

Great post. I've often felt this was unfair criticism but couldn't articulate this well. Thanks for putting into words for us.

Collin said...

Well Said! Nicole is one of the greatest living screen actors of our time! she makes choices no on else will because she cares about art.

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