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Steven Spielberg's 10 Biggest Box Office Hits and Is There a Spielberg Bias Among Critics?

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | June 12, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | June 12, 2011 |

As I suggested in my not terribly flattering review of J.J. Abrams Super 8, I admired that the director, along with producer Steven Spielberg, sought to make a film this summer that was neither a remake, a reboot, or a sequel (even if the general vibe felt remade). Audiences rewarded the effort, giving Super 8 the top spot of the weekend with around a $37 million weekend. What’s unusual about the opening was that the box office on Saturday night was better than Friday, suggesting a strong word of mouth, although audience scores also show that those under 25 liked it much better than those over 25. That distinction is notable here because the audience with whom Abrams/Spielberg were playing the nostalgia card didn’t care for the film as much as the audience that was coming in new to the Amblin vibe. Will “Mint” be this generation’s “Goonies Never Say Die!”

For such a benign family film, Super 8 was also — from accounts across the Internet — a divisive movie, one that inspired opinions largely on both extremes. There weren’t a lot of “I liked it OK,” opinions, even though that’s precisely what I thought Super 8 warranted. But, many of the people who “liked it OK” expected more Abrams/Spielberg, felt manipulated by the nostalgia, and a little cheated by the marketing campaign. I didn’t experience much of the marketing campaign myself. As I had written earlier, I had anticipated that Super 8 would be the Inception of the summer and avoided all the ads I could, including everything beyond the initial teaser trailer. That Super 8 didn’t live up anywhere near the level of Inception kind of broke my heart.

Of course, according to Rotten Tomatoes, Super 8 scored only four points less than Inception’s 86 percent, which raises the question: Is there a Spielberg bias? Look at the RT ratings of Spielberg’s films this century:

A.I. Artificial Intelligence 73 percent

Catch Me If You Can: 96 percent

Minority Report: 92 percent

The Terminal: 60 percent

Munich: 78 percent

War of the Worlds: 74 percent

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 77 percent

As you can see, there was a massive initial deference toward Spielberg’s Indy IV, and I’m guessing that 65 percent of those critics who gave the film a favorable score are regretting it. I think we can all agree, even those who didn’t care for Super 8, tht it was better than Crystal Skull, and by far more than 5 percent. You can also see that, where Spielberg diverts from his expected subject material (The Terminal) he is not greeted with as much enthusiasm by critics although I found that The Terminal was, to a similar degree, nearly as good as the solid but unexceptional films, Catch Me If You Can and Minority Report. I found all three to be incredibly well made but conservative features, well acted, slick and kind of forgettable (Munich is Spielberg’s best of the last decade, and A.I., another Spielberg film that got the benefit of the doubt from critics, was the second worst, behind Indy IV).

Moving on, X-Men: First Class put up another $25 million this weekend, a decent but spectacular hold. It’ll pass $100 million by the end of today, and is well on its way to $150 - $160 million, good enough to recoup its domestic budget. It’s performing well enough ($124 million) overseas that it’s likely enough there will be a sequel to the prequel. Hangover 2, meanwhile, is holding even better. After its 3rd weekend, it’s now at $216 million overall, good for the biggest money maker of 2011 so far. It may hold that for a few more weeks, until Transformers: Dark of the Moon arrives over the 4th of July holiday.

At four, five, and six were summer mainstays, Kung Fu Panda, Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides and Bridesmaids, which have hit $126 million, $208 million, and $123 million respectively. In 7th place was the weekend’s other opening, Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer, which bummed out at only $6.2 million.

Six million dollars is bad for Judy Moody, but it was great for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which added 800 theaters around the country over the weekend. It was also the first Woody Allen film I’d seen in a theater in years (I enjoyed it very much). Now with $14 million, Midnight in Paris has a decent shot at being Allen’s biggest box-office grosser of his career. Tree of Life also continues to roll out very slowly, but so far so good, as Malick’s film added another $18,000 per screen in 47 outlets. Those per screen averages are going to hit a huge tipping point soon, and my guess is that the tipping point will be around 100 theaters. There’s not a lot of enthusiasm for Terrence Malick in Topeka.

And finally, in honor of J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 and its attempt to rekindle Spielberg’s old Amblin magic, I give you Spielberg’s 10 Best Box Office Performances.

10. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: $179 million

9. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: $197 million

8. Saving Private Ryan: $216 million

7. The Lost World: Jurassic Park: $229 million

6. War of the Worlds: $234 million

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark: $242 million

4. Jaws: $260 million

3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: $317 million

2. Jurassic Park: $357 million

1. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial : $435 million

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.