What’s In A title? And What Does Age Have To Do With It?


What’s In A Title? And What Does Age Have To Do With It?

What’s In A Title?
The late John Krier, who ran the box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations during the pre-Internet era and, to my thinking, was one of the savvier Hollywood minds of his day, used to say that studios and independents would stand a better chance at the box office if they spent a little more time coming up with catchy titles for their films. I am reminded of John’s wisdom when I look back at the crop of movies that came out in 2009 and match them up with their domestic box office grosses.

How could films titled “The Hangover,” “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” miss when the titles alone are enough to lure audiences into buying tickets?

Similarly, does anyone really want to spend $10 a ticket to see a film called “The International” or “The Soloist” or “Love Happens”? I can’t help but think that these movies could have racked up better box office had they just been re-titled. Instead of “The International,” how about “Bankers Vs. Aliens”? Instead of “The Soloist,” how about “Nathaniel Ayers: Homeless Violinist”? Instead of “Love Happens,” why not “Cloudy with a Chance of Love”?

Okay, so they’re not perfect titles, either. But you get the point. Films called “Australia” or “Swing Vote” or “?88 Minutes” are guaranteed box office losers!

Of course, I still have no idea what “Quantum of Solace” means and it raked in $168 million in 2008 in North America alone.

What Does Age Have to do with It?
Speaking of box office, how about Hollywood’s 40-and-over crowd? Sure, they sometimes get hammered at the box office (so does Will Ferrell, for that matter), but they keep coming back like the Energizer bunny to our delight.

Take Sandra Bullock. The 45-year-old Bullock is laying waste to the conventional wisdom that actresses are box office poison once they cross into their 40’s. “The Blind Side” is at $184 million and climbing, while her summer romantic comedy “The Proposal” raked in $164 million. Sandra is back! Sure, “Al About Steve” was a box office disappointment ($34 million), but 2009 has been good to Sandra because she was good to us.

They should build a statue to 44-year-old Robert Downey, Jr. Preferably of cast iron. A few years back, Downey was the poster boy for bad behavior, but he’s turned his life and career around and now is a hit with younger moviegoers. “Sherlock Holmes” opened to $65 million in North America over the Christmas weekend and while “The Soloist” ($32 million) was a bump in the road, Downey proved the perfect fit for “Iron Man” ($318 million) and also stole scenes in his comic supporting role in “Tropic Thunder” ($110.5 million).

Here’s some other performers over 40 who delivered in 2009:
Liam Neeson: Don’t mess with this 57-year-old. “Taken” grossed $145 million domestically largely on the strength of Neeson’s vengeful yet sympathetic characterization of a father who’s daughter is kidnapped.

Meryl Streep: She’s now 60 but age doesn’t diminish her ability to instill each role with qualities that define the word actor. Audiences of all ages love her. Last year, it was “Mamma Mia!” ($144 million). This year, it was “Julie & Julia” ($94 million) and “It?s Complicated,” which had a decent Christmas opening weekend of $22 million doing up against “Avatar” and “Sherlock Holmes.”

John Cusack:The stealth star! It only seems that Cusack has been around forever. He’s actually only 43 but everything he does catches our attention. His latest film, the doomsday thriller “2012,” grossed $161 million domestically.

Morgan Freeman: The 62-year-old actor is winning praise for his role as Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus,” but he’s also a familiar figure on screen in a string of hits like “The Dark Knight,” “Wanted” and “The Bucket List.”

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Hard to believe they’re 51 years old! In 2007, the movie “Alvin and the Chipmunks” grossed $217 million in the U.S. And this Christmas, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” opened with a weekend gross of $50 million. When they reach senior citizen status, maybe they can star in another film called “Grumpy Old Chipmunks.”

About Robert W. Welkos

Executive Editor: Robert W. Welkos is an award-winning journalist who covered the entertainment industry for 15 years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. During this span, he wrote extensively about the movie industry from turmoil in the executive suites, the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and box office hits and bombs to visits to movie sets as well as profiles of top stars and A-list directors, cutting edge features on the newest indie films and visits to famous film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Prior to entertainment, Welkos worked as a reporter and assistant city editor in The Times’ Metro section where he undertook major investigations for the paper as well as covering breaking news and writing in-depth features. Before joining The Times, he worked for the Associated Press in Reno, Nevada, and City News Service in Los Angeles.

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