Everyone we’ve talked to seems to agree: It was an exceptionally weak Christmas season for movies. Normally, this would’ve been the time for studios to break out the big guns, but not this year. Benjamin Button was just a Forrest Gump remake — not surprising since both were written by Bernie Madoff-victim Eric Roth. Then there were the widely-panned Seven Pounds and Valkyrie.
The champion of the weak field was Marley & Me, the Jen Aniston flick which has already booked about $100 million in box office receipts. It’s a nice score for Aniston, whose career seems a bit wobbly due to her inability to shake the label of “the one that Brad Pitt dumped for Angelina Jolie” as well as the dubious decision to pose naked on GQ.
But does Jen deserve an aseterisk next to this one? After all, she starred next to a cute puppie and people love puppies (see: the puppycam). Could it be that what looks like a solid Aniston hit was actually a hit for the dog (we’re guessing his name in the movie was Marley, but we haven’t seen it so maybe that’s someone else).
Grady Smith, who writes the excellent blog The Box Office Junkie takes a stap at answering the question, starting off with the all-time box office receipts for dog movies*.
Bottom line: As much as people love dogs, dog movies tend not to be huge smash hits. Already, Marley is the 5th of all time.
As for Jen, she has a pretty good track record:
She was on one of the most popular television shows of all time, she’s a total babe, and she already has some box office success under her belt with Bruce Almighty ($242 million), Along Came Polly ($88 million), and The Break Up ($118 million). Of course, one could point to The Good Girl ($24 million), Derailed ($36 million), or rumour Has It ($42 million) as signs of her inconsistency, but I think that these are simply examples of the Sandler-Effect, which is when an actor plays outside his/her main genre and sees limited box office results. Clearly, she’s an actress that audiences prefer to see opposite a leading man in comedies, and so Marley And Me was a wise choice of role. Thus, because of her proven marketability, and the so-so popularity of dogs, I’m saying that Jennifer Aniston deserves more credit than Marley. Q.E.D.
QED might be a little strong here. For one thing, we noted that it was up against a weak field. Due to the winner-take-all nature of weekend box office receipts, the paucity of good competition was important. The movie was also based on a best-selling book from 2005, so it had built-in advantages for which Aniston can’t claim credit. Audiences already indicated interest in this story three years ago, and it might’ve done just as well had, say, Sandra Bullock played the role (maybe). The success might just owe to a specific chemistry between Jennifer Aniston and the dog for which neither can claim credit for — synergies, if you will. Fundamentally, the success of a movie ends up owing to several x-factors (marketing, word of mouth, timing, quality and on and on) and ex post facto analysis only goes so far.
But because Aniston does have a pretty good track record with the inoffensive rom-coms (as noted above), and since this was solidly in her wheelhouse, she should get credit for bringing some alpha to the table. It can’t all be the dog.
*The above chart does not inclue numbers for Old Yeller.