By the end of business today, Avatar will have passed Titanic to become the highest-grossing film in the history of the world. Sensible people like you and I can certainly be cynical about that milestone, and point out things like “inflation” and “3-D surcharges”, but you know who doesn’t care? 20th Century Fox.
Anyway, to celebrate this massive orgasm of spending, I have prepared a list of films that, like Avatar, I enjoyed, and, like Avatar, made ungodly pots of money. This list was very difficult to put together.
Great Good Movies To Pass $500 Million at the World-Wide Box-Office [Not including re-releases]
The companion piece to “Ten Awful Movies to Pass $200 Million at the Domestic Box-Office”
The Dark Knight (2008, $1,001,921,825, #5)
Wasn’t it just a week ago that I said something like, “I feel kind of gross with myself for liking it”? Aye, well, I am large, I contain multitudes. The film still has a good kick to it, even if it’s not quite the feline nightwear that it seemed in the first flush of that summer. And there will always be a part of me giddy as a schoolgirl to see something this unapologetically grim do so very well with audiences.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009, $$933,959,197, #9)
I couldn’t do this list without at least one Harry Potter film. No, I mean, I literally couldn’t – it turns out I don’t really like box-office hits all that much, who knew? And this one – another holdover from last week’s list, and ain’t it telling that my “hugely successful films that I like” and “films that I don’t like as much as I thought I did” lists have overlap? – remains my favorite of the Potter films: maybe not the strongest screenplay (that honor belongs to Goblet of Fire), but perhaps the best-acted across the board and unquestionably the prettiest.
Jurassic Park (1993, $914,691,118, #13)
There are fewer Spielberg films that crossed the $500 million mark than you’d think. But it is well that the finest director of popcorn movies in history should have a perch on this list, and better still that this perch should be for the film that turned CGI from a tetchy, interesting way to add some creative juice to a film, into a must-have tool for everybody making a film with a price tag north of $30 million. Not that I admire that trend, but when the CGI is used to such perfect effect, you have to respect it. And despite trafficking here in some of his worst habits, Spielberg absolutely knows exactly how to showcase his marvelous digital beasties for maximum awe.
Spider-Man (2002, $821,708,551, #22)
Yeah, I’m the jackass who likes the first one better. A lot of that has to do with the villain (or rather, with Willem Dafoe), some of it has to do with my appreciation that Sam Raimi saw fit to produce a summer tentpole movie shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and not the much more common, dreadfully inelegant 2.35:1. And some of it has to do with primacy: maybe Spider-Man 2 perfected the mold, but Spider-Man got there first, showcasing things that we’d never, ever seen before, and I persist in believing that it was this film, and not X-Men, that proved comic book adaptations could still work as genuinely great crowd-pleasing spectacle.
The Sixth Sense (1999, $672,806,292, #39)
I’m never going to have another shot at putting a film by M. Night Shyamalan on any kind of “good” list again, so let me do it while I can. Remember when he wasn’t a flailing ass-clown? It was only a decade ago, but what a torturous decade. Anyway, this is when he was still a boy genius, aping Spielberg and Hitchcock to outstanding effect in the creation of a ghost story that was more moody and creepy than any paranormal horror film had been in years at that point.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003, $654,264,015, #41)
Two horrible sequels have dinged its charms a bit, but if you were there when this one was new! There was no reason to expect anything at all from the project, not until several minutes when all of a sudden Johnny Depp sashayed on-screen, becoming one of our biggest movie stars in the blink of an eye and turning a bloated summer programmer into the strangest, zaniest, most deliciously anarchic live-action cartoon of the decade. Amply demonstrates that every now and then, even the most zealous executives can’t stamp out the creativity of one determined madman, and thank God for that.
Casino Royale (2006, $594,239,066, #51)
Nothing says “hidebound” like a 44-year-old franchise whose appeal – appeal, mind you – was situated in its sexist playboy fantasies. Never was a reboot more necessary or more impeccably played than for James Bond, of Her Majesty’s secret service: Quantum of Solace fucked things up badly, and I can’t imagine that anybody is any more excited than I am to hear that Sam Mendes, poet of suburban hellscapes, is taking over for the next one, but workaday action director Martin Campbell, and a trio of writers including the ordinarily dire Paul Haggis, had exactly the right sense of how to play this material for the 21st Century, bringing Bond up to date without leaving too much of his Bondisheness on the floor. It’s looking more and more like a one-off masterpiece, but that’s better than Die Another Day promised.
Iron Man (2008, $585,133,287, #56)
A mere 6 years after Spider-Man made the comic book movie sparkle with life, and a damn tidal wave of the things had long since made it seem as though superhero cinema had well and truly run its course as anything but the stuff of shrill idiocy. Let us never stop being grateful, thus, for the unexpected Jon Favreau, who made the subgenre fun again, if only for a brief moment, with the great and abiding aid of Robert Downey, Jr., giving one of the all-time great comic book movie performances. “Dark and edgy” may be the new watchwords in summer entertainment, but Iron Man is a potent reminder that “fun and peppy” can do just fine, thank you very much.
WALL·E (2008, $521,268,237, #66)
There were six Pixar movies eligible for this list; part of me wanted to include all six. But no, I can be good and limit myself to just my favorite, and I don’t imagine that anybody really wants to hear me run off the mouth again about how intensely I love this film (the Top 100 of the Decade is just in the wings, recall), so let me just sum up the many reasons why this film own me body and soul by saying, “Dancing: a series of movements involving two partners, where speed and rhythm match harmoniously with music”.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, $519,843,345, #67)
A reminder of the days when a high gross meant something. In this case, it meant that James Cameron is a goddamn ATM, who might indeed spend piles of cash on effects, but it’s only so he can give the studio back mountains. Sci-fi action at its best, and even if I will always like The Terminator better, it’s hard to knock this one: it has all the flaws of every shitty summer movie to come out in its wake, and yet somehow it suffers from not a single one of them. This is what popcorn cinema looks like when it’s made by a true, passionate, enthusiastic genius. He may be an absolute shit, but you can’t argue that Cameron doesn’t deserve his unprecedented, incomparable success.