erik lundegaard

The History of Clint Eastwood's Box Office

Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks

Harry and Woody make a movie.

The new Clint Eastwood movie, “Sully,” starring Tom Hanks, grossed $12 mil domestically on Friday and is heading for a $34 million opening, according to Box Office Mojo. That would make it the fourth-best open of Tom Hanks' career, unadjusted.

And Eastwood's?

It would be his biggest opening ever. By almost double.

Really? But what about as an actor? A star.

The same. By almost double.

This should've been a trivia question, really. Before “Sully,” the biggest opener of Clint Eastwood's career, as both actor and director, was ... wait for it ... “Space Cowboys,” which grossed $18 mil in 2000. Second as actor is “In the Line of Fire,” with $15.2 in 1993. Second as director (and third as actor) is “Unforgiven,” which opened to $15 mil in 1992.

It's all a little scrimpy and stunning. That's his best? Clint Eastwood? 

But when you step back a bit, it makes sense. 

Eastwood's heyday as a box office star really occurred in the 1970s (and a bit in the early 1990s), when ticket prices were a fraction of what they are now, and opening weekend wasn't the thing it is now. Meanwhile, in the 21st century, he's made more prestige pictures, which open in a handful of theaters in NY and LA and then build and find an audience. Even “Gran Torino,” which grossed a total of $148 mil in 2008, and was, by all accounts, a classic revenge flick (Dirty Harry's “get off my lawn” movie), opened in only six theaters before finally expanding.

So if you look at total gross, I'm sure you'll find some bigger numbers. 

Not really. As an actor, Eastwood's biggest box office hit is that same old “Gran Torino” and its $148 mil. Which is “Kung Fu Panda 3” territory. 

Right. Unadjusted. But if you adjust for inflation, I'm sure it'll be something huge. 

Yes and no. Even when you adjust for inflation, Eastwood's biggest hit as an actor is “Every Which Way But Loose,” his first orangutan movie, which made $85 mil in '78 or $315 today. And $315 is about what “Suicide Squad” will end up making this year. So Eastwood's biggest hit is on par with a very, very lame superhero flick. I thought he was way bigger than that. But I guess he just kept going. And he had a loyal audience. They just kept returning. 

Here are his top 10 highest-grossing movies as an actor, adjusted for inflation: 

Rank Movie Studio Adjusted Gross Unadjusted Gross Release
1 Every Which Way But Loose WB $315,299,800 $85,196,485 12/20/78
2 Any Which Way You Can WB $227,565,900 $70,687,344 12/17/80
3 In the Line of Fire Col. $214,020,900 $102,314,823 7/9/93
4 Unforgiven WB $211,221,800 $101,157,447 8/7/92
5 Magnum Force WB $194,571,100 $39,768,000 12/25/73
6 Dirty Harry WB $188,819,500 $35,976,000 12/22/71
7 The Enforcer WB $187,983,000 $46,236,000 12/22/76
8 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly UA $181,138,300 $25,100,000 12/29/67
9 Sudden Impact WB $180,201,300 $67,642,693 12/9/83
10 Gran Torino WB $172,003,500 $148,095,302 12/12/08

As director, his biggest hit is a little more recent: “American Sniper,” which opened in four theaters in late December 2014 before absolutely killing it at the box office, and suprassing the last “Hunger Games” to become the biggest movie of 2014: $350 million. It's the only movie Eastwood has directed or starred in that was the No. 1 movie of the year.  

That was at age 84. And “Sully” is at age 86. To me, that makes Clint Eastwood more of a hero than anything he ever did as Dirty Harry.

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Posted at 11:24 AM on Sat. Sep 10, 2016 in category Movies - Box Office  

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