As the latest round of would-be blockbusters packs ’em in at a theater near you, Popdose looks back at the box office totals of yesteryear. This week we revisit the top ten films of December 12, 2002!

10. The Ring (distributor: DreamWorks; release date: 10/18/02; final domestic gross: $129.0 million)

It’s not easy being a supernatural demon. Not only do you have to maintain your wicked ways 24-7, you have to keep up with the rapidly changing world of technology. In The Ring, a creepy-crawly remake of 1998’s highest-grossing film in Japan, reporter Rachel Embry (Naomi Watts) hunts down a videotape that allegedly kills people seven days after they watch it. No, the tape in question isn’t 2002’s The Adventures of Pluto Nash, one of the biggest money-losing flops of all time and presumably a killer of several studio executives’ careers. But if The Ring were to receive its own remake today, how would its antagonist reach viewers? If you don’t mind me offering some advice, diabolical one, demonically possessing a YouTube parody of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video couldn’t hurt. Or is Black’s video itself deadly enough?

9. 8 Mile (Universal; 11/8/02; $116.7 million)

Premiere magazine predicted a $53.5 million final gross for Eminem’s acting debut in its December ’02 issue, based on calculations such as “average box office gross of a movie featuring a rapper in his/her first starring role” — $20.6 million — and “average gross when the rapper is white” — $7.5 million. But Eminem is no Vanilla Ice, and 8 Mile found a much bigger audience than 1991’s Cool as Ice ($1.1 million), earning more than double what Premiere guesstimated. Oscar winner Kim Basinger reunited with L.A. Confidential director Curtis Hanson to play Eminem’s trailer-park mom (“She almost pulls it off,” says my girlfriend), while the late Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer, Anthony Mackie, and Michael Shannon round out the cast.

Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Song, but he was reportedly so convinced it would lose that he skipped the ceremony. In the category of inspirational movie anthems it’s right up there with Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now,” from Rocky, but as Box Office Flashback VIP Kurt Collins told me earlier this year, “The JV girls’ soccer team I coach was looking up songs to play before games, and one of the girls said, ‘What is “Lose Yourself” by Eminem?’ Another one replied, ‘I don’t know. I know it’s really old.'” I didn’t bother to ask Kurt if his players know what videotapes look like.

8. Friday After Next (New Line; 11/22/02; $33.2 million)

Eminem hasn’t made another movie since 8 Mile, but following an impressive debut in John Singleton’s Oscar-nominated drama Boyz N the Hood (1991), Ice Cube branched out into comedy, starring with Chris Tucker in the 1995 cult classic Friday, which he also cowrote and coproduced. Then after headlining David O. Russell’s Three Kings (1999) with George Clooney and fellow rapper-turned-actor Mark Wahlberg, Cube made Next Friday (2000), but without the assistance of Tucker, whose supporting role in Russell’s current film, Silver Linings Playbook, marks his first appearance since 1997 in a movie that doesn’t begin with the words Rush Hour. For Next Friday and Friday After Next Mike Epps filled Tucker’s “buddy” role, and in 2007 Ice Cube extended the franchise to the small screen with MTV2’s short-lived Friday: The Animated Series.

A fourth and final Friday is allegedly in the works. Will Cube and Epps reprise the holiday setting of Friday After Next by having their characters fend for their lives in a pile of Black Friday shoppers? Will they find Chris Tucker at the bottom of the pile? And will Rebecca Black make a cameo as the succubus who causes normally rational adults to trample each other in their quest for discounted plasma TVs? Just kidding on that last one, of course — we all know adults don’t need any push from Satan to behave badly on Black Friday.

7. Eight Crazy Nights (Columbia; 11/27/02; $23.5 million)

Last month J.R. Jones compiled a list of the ten biggest turkeys he’s seen since he started reviewing movies for the Chicago Reader in 2002, and the oldest movie on the list was Eight Crazy Nights. It must’ve really made an impression. Just as Ice Cube went family friendly in ’05 with Are We There Yet?, leading to a 2007 sequel and a TBS sitcom of the same name, Adam Sandler tried to broaden his viewer base with this animated comedy in which he plays, well, an animated version of the same character he plays in most of his non-animated comedies. On the one hand it’s not like Hollywood has a long history of Hanukkah movies — which is perfectly understandable since no Jews have ever worked in that town, right? — but on the other hand I doubt Jewish parents were thrilled about the idea of “a holiday film for the whole family, provided the whole family is obsessed with human waste,” as Jones put it in his review.

Eight Crazy Nights bombed, but Sandler’s recent return to animation, Hotel Transylvania, met with success, having grossed nearly $144 million since its release in October. As for his traditional live-action audience, next summer’s Grown Ups 2, a seemingly safe bet for a star who’s thus far avoided sequels, will determine whether he can win back the fans he lost over the past year — and the standard $100 million grosses he may have grown accustomed to — with Jack and Jill ($74.1 million) and That’s My Boy ($36.9 million).

6. The Santa Clause 2 (Walt Disney; 11/1/02; $139.2 million)

Speaking of sequels, The Santa Clause 2 was almost as successful as its predecessor, a $144 million triumph, despite an eight-year gap between films. Say, what’s the comic premise that sets up the series? Well, when I checked Wikipedia last week I was informed that Tim Allen plays “an ordinary man who develops a severe thyroid problem which causes his family to desert him, resulting in him murdering and becoming Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.” Not true, but it made me laugh, and just like Santa himself it was gone in a flash. The Santa Clause 2 and its 2006 follow-up, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, were both helmed by Michael Lembeck, a sitcom veteran whose most recent feature-film assignment was the 2010 kids’ movie Tooth Fairy. I wonder if he was sad that he didn’t get to direct last year’s Easter Bunny hit, Hop. Or the one about the Easter Zombie that Mel Gibson directed in ’04.

5. Treasure Planet (Disney; 11/27/02; $38.1 million)

Treasure Planet cost $140 million to produce but earned only $109 million in worldwide ticket sales, so Disney could at least take comfort in knowing it hadn’t spent a dime acquiring the rights to the source material, the public-domain classic Treasure Island. In this animated update of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure tale, the action is transplanted to outer space, except the pirate ships look like 18th-century pirate ships instead of like space pirate Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon in the Star Wars movies. Treasure Planet‘s box office failure didn’t prevent Disney from taking a similar tack a decade later with John Carter, another public-domain plundering — and an eventual $200 million loss for the studio — in which a 19th-century Civil War hero somehow ends up on Mars battling natives who fly around in wooden vessels. (Moonshine’s a hell of a drug.)

But when Disney keeps its swashbuckling and its sci-fi separate, its quarterly results show dramatic improvement. Seven months after Treasure Planet tanked, the Mouse House released Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, directed by The Ring‘s Gore Verbinski (screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio also worked on Treasure Planet); nine years and three sequels later, the Pirates series has grossed a remarkable $3.7 billion across the globe, with a fifth film on the way. Plus, Disney’s October purchase of Lucasfilm Ltd. means new Star Wars movies will be headed to theaters starting in 2015, proving that when you wish upon a star anything your heart desires will come to you as long as you’re willing to shell out $4 billion for it.

4. Empire (Universal; 12/6/02; $17.5 million)

How often do you think people walk up to John Leguizamo on the street and yell “Benny Blanco from the Bronx!” And do you think he prefers that to “Sid the Sloth from those Ice Age movies my kids won’t let me take out of the DVD player, which is a shame, because if they’d just give Treasure Planet a chance I think they’d really like it!”

In any case, the actor who made a big impression as Benny Blanco in Carlito’s Way received top billing in a gangster movie of his own nine years later, and in his entertaining 2006 autobiography, Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas, and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends, Leguizamo reminisces about his early days: “You’d see the same guys at every audition: me, Benicio del Toro, Benjamin Bratt, Luis Guzmán, and lots of other Latin brothers who never made it … Of course what we all wanted was to make it in movies. We traded tips about how to make it, like any of us knew at the time. One bit of wisdom we all accepted as gospel was, ‘If you’re ever in a movie poster, don’t smile with your mouth open.’ Cuz if you did, some wise guy down in the subway would always draw a dick going into your mouth. To this day, you’ll never see my teeth in a movie poster.”

3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner Bros.; 11/15/02; $261.9 million)

I was working for Cartoon Network’s website in 2001 when the first Harry Potter movie came out, and because my employer was part of the same AOL-stained conglomerate as Warner Bros., our office took a field trip to the multiplex on opening day. I mean, I thought that was the reason, but six months later the office took another field trip to see Sony’s Spider-Man, which I silently protested by staying behind and stealing office supplies. Anyway, my point is that I fell asleep during Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I didn’t think it was bad by any means; it just wasn’t for me. Even as a kid I wasn’t drawn to adventure movies starring actual kids, which is probably why I didn’t see The Goonies until I was 28. (I don’t recommend that strategy. I spent the second half praying the entire cast would come down with laryngitis.)

Chris Columbus wrote the screenplay for that 1985 endurance test, and he directed the initial pair of Potter movies, the second of which, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, costars Kenneth Branagh as Hogwarts professor Gilderoy Lockhart. According to Premiere‘s 2002 “Ultimate Fall Movie Preview,” Branagh expressed an interest in directing the third installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), an assignment that eventually went to Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También). But in 2011 Branagh’s big-budget franchise dreams came true when he directed Thor, and next year he’ll be at the helm of Paramount’s new Jack Ryan movie, starring Chris Pine as the Tom Clancy hero played by both Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford in the ’90s before Ben Affleck took over the role in 2002 for The Sum of All Fears.

2. Analyze That (Warner Bros.; 12/6/02; $32.1 million)

The Sopranos, one of the greatest TV series of all time, started out in creator David Chase’s head as an idea for a feature-length comedy about a mobster whose panic attacks force him into therapy. The idea evolved from there, but Harold Ramis’s Analyze This, which just so happens to be a feature-length comedy, has the same basic setup, and Chase didn’t know anything about it until he was already in production on the show’s first season. “And so for a year I thought, If this movie comes out first we’re finished,” he explained to superfan Alec Baldwin in an interview found on the series’s DVD box set. “We would have been just the derivative TV version.”

As fate would have it, The Sopranos debuted on HBO in January of ’99, almost two months before Analyze This opened, but the latter wasn’t hurt by the former’s success, as evidenced by its $106 million box office tally. It was also referenced in the second-season premiere of The Sopranos when series protagonist Tony (James Gandolfini) seeks out a new therapist to replace Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), only to be told, “I know who you are, and I saw Analyze This,” to which he responds, “Analyze This? C’mon, that’s a fuckin’ comedy.” Fate wasn’t as kind to the sequel, Analyze That, a flop with both audiences and critics compared to the original film, but it featured its own nod to HBO’s crown jewel in the form of a Sopranos-like TV show that hires in-treatment gangster Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) as a technical adviser. The show’s star, Anthony Bella, is played by Anthony LaPaglia, who met with David Chase in 1997 to discuss the role of Tony Soprano. Meanwhile, his brother Jonathan went “meta” to play himself on The Sopranos in 2007 as the lead in a slasher movie produced by Tony’s “nephew” Christopher (Michael Imperioli). LaPaglia’s costar in Cleaver? Alec Baldwin’s brother Daniel. The Sopranos, after all, was a show about family.

1. Die Another Day (MGM; 11/22/02; $160.9 million)

“Analyze the Other” will probably never get a green light, but James Bond sequels are forever. (You know, like diamonds. Or back pain.) The series based on author Ian Fleming’s most famous creation celebrated its 50th anniversary this year with the release of its 23rd film, Skyfall; after just one month in theaters it’s made $262 million, almost $100 million more than Daniel Craig’s two previous outings as British secret agent 007, Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008), which up until now were the top-grossing Bond movies in the U.S. When the series’s ticket sales are adjusted for inflation, 1965’s Thunderball is the most successful of the bunch with a gross of $593 million, and 1964’s Goldfinger comes in second at $526 million, but Skyfall will soon hurdle past the $285 million haul of 1967’s You Only Live Twice, ensuring that James Bond will have many more lives to come.

Sean Connery stars in those three films from the ’60s, and he’s still considered by most fans to be the best Bond. But when Pierce Brosnan debuted as 007 in 1995’s GoldenEye, he was quickly accepted as an excellent runner-up. Die Another Day was his fourth and — much to his surprise, reportedly — last film as Bond, but he went out with a bang: the 40th-anniversary installment is sixth on that adjusted-for-inflation list, right behind 1979’s Moonraker. Die Another Day was the first Bond movie I saw in the theater, but that’s because I didn’t like Bond movies in general until Craig humanized the character in Casino Royale and Skyfall, making him sweat for his victories and even shed a few tears, a sign that spiritual protégés Indiana Jones and John McClane had influenced Bond’s creators just as much as he had influenced theirs.

If you ask me, the most memorable thing about Die Another Day was the sight of Halle Berry emerging from the Atlantic in an orange bikini à la Ursula Andress in 1962’s Dr. No, the very first Bond film. I’m not saying the Oscar winner’s swimwear was the reason why ticket sales reached an all-time high of 1.57 billion in 2002 — a number that hasn’t been matched since — but seeing as how 2012 has also brought about the return of Class of ’02 alumni Spider-Man, Gandalf the Grey, the Men in Black, and Jason Bourne (his “legacy,” anyway), would it have killed the makers of Cloud Atlas to include a gratuitous montage of Berry’s various “souls” learning how to bodysurf?

Box-office tallies and release-date information provided by Box Office Mojo, IMDb, and The Numbers.

About the Author

Robert Cass

Robert Cass lives in Chicago. For Popdose he's written under the Sugar Water, Bootleg City, and Box Office Flashback banners and collaborated on the series 'Face Time with Jeff Giles and Mike Heyliger.

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