This summer’s biggest box office loser (hint, it’s not LAND OF THE LOST)
Just yesterday, Wilhem informed us of the blockbuster (snicker) summer season for the box office – revenues at $4.17 billion, the biggest season ever, and still with the Labor Day weekend to look forward to. Recession, be damned! But there have to be some losers in this summer of scrilla, right? Right. And I think I might just have found the biggest loser of all.
Her name is Nia Vardalos. In 2002, she was the hottest indie commodity around. She wrote and starred in MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, marking her first screenplay and first feature role. GREEK WEDDING made a staggering $241,438,208 in domestic box office returns. Worldwide, it has grossed $368,744,044. On Box Office Mojo’s all-time domestic chart, it sits at number 59. Number 58 is TWISTER, number 60 is GHOSTBUSTERS. Heard of them? Yup. The film is the highest-grossing romantic comedy in box office history. It also has the fun distinction of being the highest-grossing film to have never been number 1 at the North American box office. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.
It cost five million dollars to make and starred an unknown actress. By all accounts, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING is not only a success story for indie movies, for writers, for unknown actors, for romantic comedies, it’s a success story that nearly verges on the fairy tale for anyone who has ever dreamed of making it big in Hollywood.
Which brings me to seven years later, and to our 2009 summer season. I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY. Heard of it? No? That’s probably because it only opened on three screens in the U.S. Three theaters is a fine limited opening. But the film was pulled after two weeks. In a foreign market dominated by showings in Brazil, I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY made almost one million dollars. Promising, right? I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY grossed just over eleven thousand dollars in its U.S. run. Eleven thousand dollars, people.
The estimated budget for I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY was three million dollars. Nia Vardalos wrote, directed, and starred in I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY. The film, which revolved around a romantically unlucky florist, reunited her with her GREEK WEDDING love interest, John Corbett. It had a supporting cast that included such comedic favorites as Rachel Dratch and Judah Friedlander. It opened on July 3, just in time for a holiday weekend. I will reiterate. The film made eleven thousand dollars domestically. You probably could have made more money selling popcorn at one day’s showings of MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING during its heyday.
Obviously, it could be worse. Katherine Heigl starred in the notorious ZYZZYX ROAD, which made thirty dollars domestically. That’s not a typo. I made more money doing circus tricks in my backyard at age seven. However, that film showed in one theater, and was pulled after six days. And it was only released due to a technical necessity to comply with Screen Actors Guild's regulations. On the all-time domestic chart, ZYZZYX ROAD is number 9,837, and it’s considered to be the lowest-grossing released film of all time. For a little perspective on the matter at hand, I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY is rated number 9,162. Ouch.
Vardalos’ losing summer is not just limited to the VALENTINE’S DAY debacle, however. One month earlier, her first feature film since 2004’s CONNIE AND CARLA opened – MY LIFE IN RUINS. She starred as a romantically unlucky travel guide (sensing a trend?). Though RUINS fared better than VALENTINE’S DAY in terms of revenue – it’s made over $8.6 million domestically, with an estimated $17 million budget – it still doesn’t even remotely touch what GREEK WEDDING did just seven years ago.
Both VALENTINE’S DAY and RUINS were critically panned. VALENTINE’S DAY has a 17% rating on the Tomatometer, and its page is worth a viewing, if only for the laughs. My personal favorite review is from Elle Taylor of Village Voice, who calls out Vardalos for her “ham-fisted pacing, writing, and acting.” RUINS somehow fares even worse, with an 11% rating, and garnered reviews that consistently gasp at the boredom its cookie cutter style inspired in its viewers.
So what of it? Vardalos’ career is not dead yet. She is currently developing two projects – a writing gig for TALK OF THE TOWN, and a writing and acting attachment to A WILDERNESS OF MONKEYS, both being produced by Tom Hanks’ Playtone Productions (who also produced MY LIFE IN RUINS). Apparently, despite not even remotely living up to her initial promise, Vardalos’ relationship is still strong with Hanks who, along with his wife Rita Wilson, produced GREEK WEDDING and helped bring it (and her) to Hollywood. Is there hope? Eleven thousand dollars. That’s all I’ve got on the subject.