Kevin Costner in 'Dances with Wolves'
I’m not Batman

Here I am talking about box office again.

The buzz among box office types this morning is that, despite coming in #2 on Friday, The Dark Knight edged ahead of The Mummy: Tomb of Dragon Emperor in the final stretch to claim the #1 spot for the third weekend in a row, $44.8 million vs. $42.5 million.

Meanwhile, all the weirdoes who sent hate mail to all the anti-Dark Knight critics are taking time out from speculating over ***SPOILER*** the true fate of Maggie Gyllenhaal in the film and whether she might return as Cat Woman in the inevitable-but-unofficial sequel that may or may not have Cat Woman in it ***END SPOILER*** to masturbate furiously in celebration because, you know, movies are a competition not an art form and Batfans are winners.

Don’t lose any sleep over The Mummy, however. Perhaps buoyed by international stars Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li, the sequel is doing quite well overseas and you can probably count on a fourth installment whether you want one or not.

To all that I say, “Yeah, whatever, but what the hell happened to Kevin Costner?”

It turns out that Costner’s latest film Swing Vote didn’t even crack the top 5, bringing in just over $6 million. For a little perspective, Brendan Fraser had two films that grossed more: The Mummy and Journey to the Center of the Earth in its 4th week. Of course, they weren’t really Brendan Fraser films; they were special effects that happened to have Brendan Fraser standing in front of them waving his arms and shouting.

If we can’t credit Fraser for the success of his films, is it fair to blame Costner for the failure of his? Granted, Costner was once a bigger star than Fraser has ever been, he’s got producing and directing Oscars for crapsakes, but was he ever a Will Smith type where people turned out just because he was in the movie? Perhaps briefly in a two-year window after Dances With Wolves (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, JFK and The Bodyguard), but for the most part I don’t think he was.

So, if people don’t show up for movies because Costner is in them, they don’t stay away because of him either. Therefore, I think this snarkily dismissive charge by Nikki Finke that Costner is “box office poison” isn’t really fair. It’s simplistic thinking that makes for juicier blogging, and nothing more. What do you think? Is Costner box office poison for you? Where did he go wrong? Will he bounce back?

Sidenote: Midnight Meat Train, the film that was dumped in 102 bargain theaters by distributor Lionsgate Films, managed only an estimated $32,000. That’s a lowly $313 per theater.

26 Responses to “Dark Nights for Kevin Costner”

  1. I’d say Costner, like so many other has-been, gonna-be and wannabe stars, is box office poison so long as he’s in something that looks as crappy as Swing Vote did.

    Fascinatingly, I was just having a long discussion yesterday on the drive to Mountain View to see The Scorpions and Sammy Hagar yesterday about how few “true movie stars” there are, people who can truly open a film in a manner that is more or less guaranteed. Will Smith seems to be the king of the draws today.

    Maggie Gyllenhaal as Catwoman? Why? If the fanboy nerds ***SPOILER*** are arguing that Harvey Dent is still alive at the end of The Dark Knight (and most of them are), ***SPOILER*** then having Gyllenhaal show up to play a different character doesn’t make sense since so many will be confused by it and/or say she’s Rachel reincarnated.

  2. The only stinker I could find in Smith’s post ID4 filmography was Legend of Bagger Vance at 30 million. Ali didn’t crack 60 either which is a little surprising. Even Wild Wild West made over $113 million, though it probably cost twice that, that’s not Smith’s fault.

    Costner’s biggest draws: Wolves, Robin Hood and The Bodyguard, aren’t his best movies in my opinion. I’m partial to Bull Durham, Untouchables and Field of Dreams. Bull Durham is his best performance overall.

  3. Most of it has to do with what is marketable, and a fit for the “star.” A golfing film with Will Smith–I believe released in the fall?–and a biopic on Ali released on Christmas are difficult sells. It’s a tired cliche at this point but Smith definitely owns Fourth of July high-concept blockbusters, and judging by The Pursuit of Happyness, a “straight” drama released in the Oscar season and the next year’s December release of I Am Legend shows that is easily transferred to other times of the year.

    I’m not much of a fan of Dances With Wolves (though I hardly detest it) and especially Robin Hood and The Bodyguard (or even Field of Dreams). After finally seeing it over a year ago, I agree with you, Craig, that Bull Durham is Costner’s best overall performance.

  4. “Of course, they weren’t really Brendan Fraser films; they were special effects that happened to have Brendan Fraser standing in front of them waving his arms and shouting.”

    You took me to my happy place for the day with that quip, Craig.

  5. haha! Craig. Brilliant photo caption, and love the line about Brendon Fraser waving his arms and shouting in front of a special effects backdrop.

    I haven’t seen a Costner movie since Open Range, but that’s not gonna stop me from having a theory about him:

    Watching Fraser ‘waving his arms and shouting’ sounds a lot more appealing than seeing Costner waving his semi and slouching. Once famous for playing reluctant heroes with a streak of lone wolf individuality, Costner turned his back on his inner hero and gradually became the go-to guy for playing dozey ol’ reluctant loners. Playing against type is cool, until you do it so often that it becomes your new type.

    And yeah, you’d need to hitch me to all the horses in Open Range before I could be dragged to see a politically themed movie starring Republican butt-boys Kelsey Grammer and Kevin Costner. An election outcome that hinges on the vote of “an apathetic, beer slinging, lovable loser”? Just what we need to reaffirm America’s reverence for the apathetic, beer slinging, lovable loser mentality that got Bush elected twice.

  6. On an unrelated note, I like the blue background, Craig.

  7. As do I

  8. deep cerulean, some might say.
    including Miranda Priestly.
    but if that’s too gay we can call it denim.

  9. Some would say being able to differentiate those two colors would actually be the gay thing, Ryan.

    But not me. I say it’s smoke blue.

    I’m surprised no one is linking Costner’s downfall to 1995’s Waterworld. Doesn’t this discussion start and end there? He was at least respected before it, even popping up in smaller-budget films like The War. Once everybody realized Costner couldn’t make up for Waterworld’s budget mess, it was curtains. His work on The Postman didn’t help, either.

    Too bad he almost killed Jeanne Tripplehorn’s career with Waterworld, too. I see she’s going to be Jackie Onassis in Grey Gardens. Wow, that is a perfect fit. I’m serious.

    I never saw Open Range but was quietly curious about it.

  10. I like the concept of “Swing Vote,” but the trailers just really didn’t do much for me.

    Think what you will of Costner but he’s had a fascinating career — cut out of all but the opening credits of “The Big Chill,” gambling on a three hour Western heavy on the subtitles, fighting with Kevin Reynolds on “Robin Hood,” then making up with him, then fighting again and splitting permanently during “Waterworld.”

    For my money, Costner’s first collaboration with Reynolds — the absolutely wonderful “Fandango” — forever forgives him for some of his goofier later missteps. It’s a terrific, free, endlessly charming performance and although “Bull Durham” comes closer, I don’t think he was ever better.

  11. Hah, I was waiting for Waterworld to come up but happy to see The Postman mentioned as well. I admit with a straight face that were aspects of Waterworld I kinda liked (as silly as it all was) but the real nail in the coffin was the virtual remake of Waterworld, set on land, with Costner attempting to graft some of his Wolves-period popularity onto yet another post-apocalyptic action yarn. One debacle was not enough for Sir Kevin and it was with The Postman that his career officially launched straight into the crapper (Tin Cup was just greasing the rails).

    Course, that awful turn in Robin Hood playing endlessly on cable during the same period wasn’t helping.

    Box office poison maybe. It’s curious that Coster’s strongest shots at a come-back (Open Range and Thirteen Days) both failed to do much for his career. I kinda feel sorry for the guy, then I remember how big his ego was back in his heyday, and I get over my sympathy.

  12. Blue backgrounds are the new black.

  13. Smoke blue AND cerulean are both perfect expressions of this brilliant new colour lighting up the LiC environment.

    I know a lot about colour. So trust me on this, boys…

    Some of this is kind of before my time. But I catch up quickly.

    When I was growing up, I thought Kevin was a pretty compelling looker. There are days now when the most exciting thing about him is that beautiful green limestone bathtub I saw in his house in that IN STYLE spread. I really, really WANT that bathtub. Or a reasonable facsimile.

    I’ve always gone back and forth on him. He has a certain amount of charm and charisma. But he DOES NOT use it very effectively.

    Plus the way he talked about women in some of those old interviews that I found when I dug around turned my stomach. Was he misquoted. Did he even say those things? Who the hell knows? But any guy who says that he couldn’t get a date in high school – so as a natural consequence of that “always preferred sluts” until he met his wife. You know, you don’t have to “date” women like that.

    Classy, pal. VERY CLASSY.

    Then he became a big star and got divorced amidst rumours of rampant infidelity. No kidding. I do know he almost punched a photographer out up here when he wanted to take pics of him and his family when they were eating dinner at one of the luxe restaurants near the harbour.

    But I digress…

    He certainly was the weakest link in THE UNTOUCHABLES. His line readings were as flat as a plate of piss.

    DANCE WITH WOLVES was a joke. Loathed it to an extreme. How in the hell did this EVER beat GOODFELLAS and THE GODFATHER PART III for BP? It’s beautifully shot, reasonably well directed and has some fine acting. (But not his perfomance, of course.) But it just seems so blatantly ridiculous that this film made money and actually walked away with the big prize.

    In ROBIN HOOD he didn’t even attempt an English accent.

    He was good in BULL DURHAM and FIELD OF DREAMS. But kind of too little too late.

    I had pretty much forgotten about him. I had long given up. Then I saw him opposite JOAN ALLEN in THE UPSIDE OF ANGER. She was brilliant in that and Kevin actually matched her passion and precision in every scene they were in. He was FANTASTIC. At the end of the year, he was STILL in my Supporting Actor Top 5. JOAN was my #1 BEST ACTRESS pick.


    That was NOT a fluke. He did some excellent comedic work up against some pros like SHIRLEY MacLAINE and JENNIFER ANISTON in RUMOR HAS IT.

    So the man DEFINITELY has it in him. He has the chops. I just wish he would use them to their full advantage now and again.

  14. Oh, about the BATMAN thing…

    Maggie Gyllenhaal is a fine actor. But if she plays CATWOMAN I will vomit profusely every hour on the hour for the next two weeks. She would be a HORRIBLE choice.

    If I were going to masturbate furiously over ANYTHING (and fortunately there’s generally someone around to take good care of me), it would not be that.


  15. Dude, some of these Batman fans have vigilante tendencies.

  16. Fandango is actually a pretty good movie, Harvey, and I agree 100% that the only time he got close to that on-screen again was Bull Durham. But I will also admit the man has his charms and before he became a household name, he had some moments. I think some of that shines through in Untouchables and Field of Dreams, fleeting moments though they may be where he has that everyman-vulnerability that was verging on Harrison Ford’s charms (in Ford’s heyday).

    Too bad Costner became a victim of his own skyrocketing success.

  17. Open Range is a pretty good movie, but I don’t think it’s Costner’s fault that an under-marketed movie without a clear angle would flop.

    What bugs me more is this obsessiveness that the fanboys have to keep the worlds of their fantasies so small and insular. Isn’t it so much more satisfying for a future Catwoman to be played by a new, different actor with a unique backstory instead of just having everybody in Batman’s life popping up over and over again wanting to kill him? It’s literally small-mindedness. That’s the same reason that I think that the upcoming Star Trek movie, where every character is going to Starfleet Academy at the same time, is such a stupid idea, but that’s my own fanboyishness shining through.

  18. I haven’t seen Fandango in a million years, but Open Range was pretty terrific.

    Waterworld is better than its reputation, but The Postman is as bad as advertised. Still, neither movie should be enough to kill a career.

    Jeff, what irritates me about the bat rumors is the need to know everything before the movie even officially exists. Factor in the inability of fanboys to see outside of their strange narrow world view (eg Angelina in every hot female action role) and I want to start punching necks.

    KB. I stand by my 4-star review. I should be safe.

    Uh…Miranda, what’s your beef with Maggie?

    Evan, I live to bring people to their happy places.

  19. I agree that Waterworld, despite its obvious flaws, is not as bad as it has long been derided as being (a good deal of which now stems from the insane production costs). The Postman, as Craig notes, is that bad. Truthfully, though, I fell asleep on it, but I’ve never wished to take another look.

    Jeff, I couldn’t agree more. It seems like what a lot of these slobbering Batman fanboys want is a Star Wars Prequel-ized Batman universe where every character in Gotham knows each other (like Yoda and Chewbacca!), and characters keep coming back. I suppose part of it is because of their devotion to those comic staples of endlessly threatening villains.

    Open Range was a strong film. Costner, Duvall Bening… Well-directed. Flawed but an honorable effort all the way around.

  20. I was about to mention The Upside of Anger, but Miranda beat me to it. He’s great in that, even if he IS playing his new type, aka. a slob and a drunk.

    And in defense of Brendan Fraser: I think it takes a certain amount of skill to make green-screen things word, and he has it. He had a recent interview with the Onion A.V. Club: he’s as sorry as anyone that he isn’t getting meatier roles, but he really tries to make something out of the green screen thing as well. And well, for Gods and Monsters alone, I’ll always think highly of him.

  21. Thanks, Hedwig.

    Craig, my darling, do I REALLY have to explain this…?

    All right. I’ve gone on about this (AT GREAT LENGTH) at my site. Plus I’ve discussed this with Danny. There are two big points here – and then there’s a personal thing.

    I’ll just try to cut to the chase so that I’m not here all day.

    Danny (and a few other people that discussed TDK with me over at CP) said that they thought that Maggie was a very effective RACHEL DAWES. I completely disagree on that point. I’ve seen all of the BATMAN movies and I feel strongly that Maggie was the WORST love interest out of all of the women in every single film. I didn’t like her take on Rachel – too smug and aggressive.

    Is she a better actor than Katie Holmes? ABSOLUTELY. But I still liked Katie’s RACHEL better. I thought she was more believable as a character and certainly much more accessible.

    For that reason specifically, I don’t need to see Maggie in the next BATMAN movie – and DEFINITELY not as another character.

    The other thing is: stuff like this has always annoyed me. But even more so now because I’m beginning to get serious about my artistic ambitions.

    For example: when MARCIA GAY HARDEN got picked to play AVA GARDNER in that SINATRA miniseries I thought she would be fantastic… AND SHE WAS. When Marty chose Kate Beckinsale to portray AVA in The Aviator I was choked. I thought he should have begged CATHERINE ZETA JONES. But Kate actually turned out to be surprisingly good. She looked nothing like AVA. But she had her spirit and her substance down cold.

    For that, she gets a big gold star from moi.

    CATWOMAN for me is the same deal. If they pick the wrong woman for this I’ll never forgive them.

    Seeing as the perfect woman will never be cast anyway. *Ahem*

    But if they’re going to go with name actors, Maggie is TOTALLY WRONG. CATWOMAN HAS to be beautiful in the CORRECT WAY. She also has to have the kind of smoldering sensuality that makes men weak. But it only has so much to do with looks and talent per se.


    So who is there currently working (out of the top level actors) who could do it up in magnificent fashion?

    Only four that I can think of off the top of my head: ANGELINA JOLIE, CATHERINE ZETA JONES, JENNIFER CONNOLLY and LENA OLIN.

    No one else even comes close….

  22. Yeah, I’m not one to feel the need to defend Encino Man but Gods and Monsters was pretty good, although Frasier had the good luck to be playing off Ian McKellen.

    As for fanboys, Batman, and Star Trek, I’ve covered this territory before numerous times but far be it from me to not take the time to deride the group think once again. Whatever the fanboys say now, if the casting, costume, concept, etc works in the finished product then they will be slobbering all over it in talkbacks for years to come. I trust Nolan (and the studio) not to simply let the hordes do the casting or screenwriting for him. Whether it actually works though, is another matter entirely.

  23. Truly Hedwig, I mean no real criticism of Fraser. I like the guy, but I have zero interest in Mummy 3 or that 3-D thing he was in.

    Miranda, you clearly have strong feelings about Cat Woman, and that’s cool. I was just asking. Considering we don’t even know if the character is going to be in the next movie, I don’t have an official opinion.

  24. I don’t like Fraser, I’m afraid to say, I don’t really even know why he is still working today. That might be harsh, but it’s how I feel.

  25. My favorite Fraser performance is The Quiet American. True, much like in Gods and Monsters he was given a tremendous, old British actor to play off of (Michael Caine, who was brilliant in that film), but I still consider it Fraser’s best turn. I keep hoping he’ll make more films like those, but as Hedwig and others note, he has a certain talent, particularly with making green-screen things believable with his acting, so good for him.

  26. Good call on Quiet American, Alexander.

    Nick, is it because he’s been in so many lame movies? Check him out in Gods and Monsters and, as Alexander says Quiet American. You may change your opinion….or you may not.

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