Monday, March 23, 2009

Is Julia Roberts Still a Box Office Star?

This weekend’s pretty terrible opening for Julia Roberts in "Duplicity" raises a couple of good questions. Is she still a box office draw? Was she ever?

The total of $14.4 million for "Duplicity" for an actress who commands $15 million a picture is a scary new fact of life.

The second question is easily answered. For about four years, from 1997 to 2001, Roberts was at her peak. She had a wildly successful run of commercial films beginning with "My Best Friend’s Wedding," and continuing with "Conspiracy Theory," "Stepmom," "Notting Hill," "Runaway Bride," "Erin Brokovich," "The Mexican," and "America’s Sweethearts."

The run sort of unofficially ended in late 2001 with "Ocean’s Eleven," which really can’t be counted as a Julia Roberts movie exclusively — it starred George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon. But you might say it was the culmination of all Roberts’ good will with her audience.

And then, it was over.

Instead of capitalizing on her good fortune and making a run of it in her 30s, Roberts fizzed out. She made four clunkers in a row — appearances in Steven Soderbergh’s self indulgent Full Frontal and George Clooney’s poorly handled Confessions of a Dangerous Mind; starring roles in Mike Nichols’s artsy "Closer" and Mike Newell’s fussy "Mona Lisa Smile" didn’t help.

Either she simply didn’t care or wasn’t getting good advice. But the magic was gone. In most fans’ minds, the Julia Roberts Era ends in 2001. eight years ago.

In fact, Roberts got out of the game around age 33. That’s about ten years earlier than most actresses with star power in the past have shifted downward a bit as roles become harder to find.

Instead of ramping up, looking to develop projects or create a legacy, Roberts went in the other direction. She got married for a second time, in 2002, when she was 35, and ultimately had three children. She tried one comeback in 2007, with "Charlie Wilson’s War," that didn’t amount to much.

Taking the time off didn’t help, plus choosing mediocre material. The answer to the first question is that, with the release of "Duplicity," Roberts is now in a period of re-evaluation. She takes her place in line behind Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, and yes, Jennifer Aniston, as America’s First Lady of the Movies.,2933,510099,00.html

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