15 years ago, a movie starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts would have been automatic box office gold -- a guaranteed $35 million opening weekend. This weekend, however, the pair's "Money Monster" opened in third place, with an estimated $15.0 million, and even that was better than analysts predicted.

Because it came behind "Captain America: Civil War" (which held the top spot for the second week in a row) and Disney's "The Jungle Book," "Money Monster" will probably engender a lot of hand-wringing about how original movies and old-fashioned star power no longer attract audiences like they once did. Even though the film earned a modest $3 million more than expected.
There was similar discussion this time last year, when Clooney's "Tormorrowland" flopped, followed by the failure of Cameron Crowe's "Aloha," despite the presence of Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone. Many observers saw those failures as a death knell for both original screenplays and star power at the box office. What was overlooked was that neither of those movies turned out to be very good. Plus, they were followed almost immediately by original-screenplay hits that were either a testament to the stars who brought them to life (Dwayne Johnson in "San Andreas," Melissa McCarthy in "Spy") or to stellar execution ("Inside Out.")

But the truth is, the right star in the right role-- in the right movie -- can still sell tickets. Clooney's earlier 2016 movie, "Hail, Caesar!", featured him as a pampered-doofus 1950s Hollywood star, a role with limited appeal to most Clooney fans, which is why the movie topped out at $30.1 million. On the other hand, it's not that long since Clooney appeared in "Gravity," an enormous ($274 million) hit based on an original idea (and also a triumph of digital filmmaking and 3D spectacle). Of course, the star whose appeal really sold that movie was Sandra Bullock, but Clooney helped.

Other recent Clooney pictures, such as "The Monuments Men" and "The Descendants," aren't generally thought of as huge hits, but they did both gross about $80 million. "Tomorrowland," considered an even bigger flop because of its failure to recoup its massive budget, still earned $93 million in North America. None of these movies would have approached $100 million with a lesser star. "Money Monster" will definitely struggle to reach that height, but at least it will help that Clooney plays a familiar part in it, that of a smug professional who's brought low, then struggles toward redemption.
Roberts, too, is considered a waning star, but she has two films right now in the top five. "Mother's Day" opened modestly but held on well enough to add 150 more screens in its third weekend and managed a fifth-place take of $3.3 million. If anything, "Money Monster," which opened with nearly twice the sales that "Mother's Day" did, should do even better over the long run.

In any case, summer is generally a bad time to test star-drawing power at the box office, since it's the time when concept, brand, and spectacle define movies more than stars do.

This weekend, however, we'll see whether Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have enough combined star power to sell "The Nice Guys," a period buddy-sleuth action-comedy whose original concept is hard to summarize on a poster.

Next month, Andy Samberg stars in the pop-documentary spoof "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" and Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart headline the action-comedy "Central Intelligence." In July, we'll see Matt Damon return to his tailor-made starring role in "Jason Bourne." That's a familiar franchise, but it wouldn't do as well without Damon (as "The Bourne Legacy" demonstrated).

Should these prove a hit with audiences, it's further proof that all you need is the right star, in the right role, in the right movie.

Money Monster
Based on 44 critics

A disgruntled investor holds a Wall Street guru and a producer hostage on live television. Read More

categories Movies, Box Office