Looper ($65 million) — Maybe we should be content with $65 million on a $30 million budget for a movie this smart, not to mention the fact that it literally made nearly 20 times more than Rian Johnson’s last movie, The Brothers Bloom. But then again, it was Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Emily Blunt, plus one of the most purely entertaining smart films of the year. It’s the kind of film that deserved to make at least $100 million.
End of Watch ($40 million) — It was perhaps the found-footage angle that turned some away from David Ayer’s exceptional engrossing, harrowing cop film, but it’s not exactly the movie that was advertised. End of Watch was the hardcore version of Southland for the big screen: Heart-pounding, morally complex cinema. Look: Dan Carlson loved it (he called it “a strong, gripping police drama,” and “an inversion of typical cop thrillers”) and it takes a lot to impress Dan, so you know it’s a better movie than you might have expected.
Cabin in the Woods ($42 million) — Given how long it sat on the self, and considering it’s technically a horror movie, maybe we should be happy with the $42 million this film made, too. But I’m not: Cabin in the Woods was the most original horror movie in years, it was wicked smart, and terribly fun. If two warmed over found-footage flicks, The Devil Inside and Paranormal Activity 4 can gross over $50 million, Cabin in the Woods — which starred The Avengers’ Chris Hemsworth, for God’s sake! — deserved at least as much as those films.
Lawless ($37 million) — I don’t know if it was the dark subject material, the period setting, or the fact that director John Hillcoat is not exactly a household name, but with a cast that included Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Shia Labeouf, Jessica Chastain, and Guy Pearce, plus exceptional writing and strong performances, Lawless was the movie that Public Enemies ($97 million) wanted to be, and it deserved the box-office it earned.
Cloud Atlas ($26 million) — I understand, now, the smattering of folks who stood behind the Wachowksi’s earlier box-office failure, Speed Racer, and defended it to all the naysayers. Yes, there was a strong mixed reaction to Cloud Atlas, but it mostly came from critics because audiences didn’t bother to show up for one of the most heartfelt, complex, and ambitious sci-fi films in a long time. It didn’t suit everyone (Dan disliked it, while both Joanna and I adored it, with Joanna calling it a beautiful disaster), but more people should’ve at least seen it so they could make up their own minds about it, rather than let the meager box-office totals speak for it. The movie stuck with me for weeks, and I honestly can’t wait to see it again once its available for home viewing.
Haywire ($18 million) — An action film starring Charming Potato, Ewan McGregor, and Michael Fassbender, plus the amazing Gina Carano’s feature film debut? Sure, the bummer of an ending sank the Cinemascores (I think it fetched a “D”), but Haywire was so much better than the better performing female-leading action flicks, Resident Evil 87 and Underworld: XXXII and it deserves at least the same, or more, box-office recognition.
Seven Psychopaths ($14 million) — Ahead of its release, people were raving about the cast — Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrel, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, and Christopher Walken — so it makes no sense to me why the cool kids didn’t show up in droves for Martin McDonough’s follow-up to In Bruges. The latter found a cult following on DVD, so I figured that the same people who considered In Bruges one of the best movies of the Aughts would come out in support. Apparently not. I think it may ultimately find that cult audience again once it’s released for home viewing.
Dredd ($13 million) — A remake of a 80’s Stallone flick, Dredd 3D was everything that the original was not, namely in that it was good. It was cool, ultra-violent, dark, and geeky. Far better, more violent, and smarter than the original, audiences still thumbed their noses at it, while another action movie remake, Contraband with Mark Wahlberg, was as generic as they come, yet still mustered $66 million at the box office.
Killing Them Softly ($11 million) — The Brad Pitt starrer with James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins likely will barely break even on its $15 million production budget, but like Andrew Dominick’s last film, The Assassination of Jesse James, this one deserved far better than its box office fate. Like many other films on this list, the box-office failure of Killing Them Softly simply proves that audiences don’t want anything that doesn’t leave them with warm, fuzzy satisfying feelings, even if they get to look at Brad Pitt for 90 minutes.
Goon ($4 million) — The thing about Goon is that EVERYONE that’s seen it has loved it, from hockey fans to movie critics to female audiences that typically eschew hockey or violence. It’s a huge crowd pleaser, bloody as hell, and has a ton of heart, and should’ve been the sports movie of the year. Meanwhile, $42 million worth of moviegoers turned out for Kevin James’ Here Comes the Boom. Boo!