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Michael Clayton's Boxoffice and George Clooney's Stardom

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 18, 2007 at 6:41AM

Reading this thread on Hollywood Elsewhere responding to Kim Masters' Slate story on George Clooney and the boxoffice fate of Michael Clayton depressed me.

ClatyonReading this thread on Hollywood Elsewhere responding to Kim Masters' Slate story on George Clooney and the boxoffice fate of Michael Clayton depressed me.

George Clooney is the model of a modern movie star. His accountant told him one day he never had to work another day in his life and he decided to use that "fuck you" money to make good movies. (Solaris and The Good German were both noble Steven Soderbergh failures.) I understand that Clooney signed off on Warner Bros.' stupid distribution decision to go wide with Michael Clayton on the second weekend.

What makes me crazy is that the studio had a well-reviewed, smart-house, classy movie that played well for the Academy and cost only $22 million. That's peanuts to a studio like Warners and there was no earthly reason to go wide! They could have let those per-screen averages play out slowly over time, kept the movie simmering in a successful mode, and widened gradually, keeping the Oscar race in mind. This is the kind of movie that builds and finds an audience. As long as it's successful, all well and good. But taint it with a 4th-place weekend and you've got the perception of damaged goods.

As to whether George Clooney is a star: if he gets paid $20 million, does he open the movie? Well, the guy doesn't get paid that much. He'd rather get his money in back-end gross. If he chooses to topline big commercial ensembles like the Oceans series or star opposite a giant wave, that's fine. If he makes overtly uncommercial movies that still do business, because they're Oscar-worthy, like Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck, that few other actors would have risked, that's fine too.

Look at someone like Harrison Ford, who's too scared to star in Traffic or Syriana. Is that who we want Clooney to be? There is value in a movie star like Jodie Foster (The Brave One aside, a violent action movie nobody wanted to see her in) or Clooney who represents quality. When the adult audience believes that their movies will be good, they will come--but not necessarily all at once on one weekend.

With all due respect to my colleague Brian Lowry, who correctly called Michael Clayton a tricky sell because the movie lacked car chases and the usual formulaic thrills and chills--that's exactly why the movie is so good, and why it's ranked at 82 on Metacritic.

[Originally appeared on]

This article is related to: Box Office, Headliners, Awards, Oscars, George Clooney

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.