In the winter of 1990, audiences had all kinds of acclaimed, or at least halfway decent, movies to choose from. Yet when all the smoke cleared, it was Home Alone that had captured the box office. What's more, it kept on capturing the box office, for months. The wags of the time wrote hundreds of column inches trying to figure out why such an obviously horrible movie had caught the public's fancy. Perhaps it was because of the Gulf War, the columns guessed, and people wanted pure escapism. (A scene in Kevin Smith's Dogma suggested that its success was a result of a deal with the devil.) The most likely excuse, however, is the fact that the kids were home from school and it was the only family-friendly movie playing at the time. The Godfather Part III opening on Christmas Day may have seemed like a big event to most movie buffs, but not to an eight year-old.
This phenomenon has more or less repeated itself year after year. We critics tend to shrug off movies like Night at the Museum, National Treasure: Book of Secrets and Alvin and the Chipmunks while we're busy devouring the high-protein items that will make our ten-best lists. Excepting those three examples, two of which are still doing boffo box office and the third of which is in DVD oblivion, I thought it might be fun to evaluate some of the current below-400-screen family movies and consider their fates. Mainly, I wanted to concentrate on the differences between Fred Claus (240 screens) and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (248 screens). Mr. Magorium has a devastating 34% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 48% on Metacritic, while Fred Claus is even lower with a 23% on RT and 42% on Metacritic. But Fred Claus has outgrossed Mr. Magorium more than twice over, earning $71 million to Mr. Magorium's $31 million.