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The 2006 Box Office Awards

What was the most successful movie of the year? The least? And who’s the biggest movie star in the world?

Let’s make like Hollywood and cut to the chase.

A total of 172 movies were released at least marginally in 2006 (500+ theaters). How many were any good? If you go by rottentomatoes.com, which ranks films by critical response — 60 percent or better being “fresh” and 59 percent or worse being “rotten” — then you get a very specific answer: 51 of the 172 were fresh films. A .296 batting average. Not bad. Two years ago, Hollywood batted .280 in this department so it seems like an improvement.

Yet when you consider that no one is actually trying to get these filmmakers out, then it doesn’t look so good. Sure, they’re hitting .296, but it’s .296 in batting practice.

Of course rottentomatoes has its problems. Critics don’t vote on a sliding scale, but are merely given a yes or no vote: 100 percent or zero percent. This results in anomalies such as “All the King’s Men” receiving one of the lowest ratings of the year. Yes, the film ultimately failed. But 10 percent? Worse than “Grandma’s Boy” (15 percent), “Little Man” (14) and “Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties” (12)?

Once again, the critics didn’t exactly demonstrate elitist tastes. “Dave Chapelle’s Block Party” received one of the highest ratings of the year: 92 percent. Other fresh films include “Slither” (85 percent), “Invincible” (70), and — surely a sign of the Apocalypse — “Jackass: Number Two” (61).

Those who hate critics — and you know who you are — will argue that putting a bunch of critics together won’t give you a consensus so much as a mess. Maybe. No critic is right all the time. Except for me, of course. And you.

OK, just me.

Still, it’s an attempt to quantify quality. Now let’s see who won.

The Most Successful Movie of the Year

The three most important factors for a truly successful movie are:

  1. Quality: Was it any good?
  2. Availability: How many theaters did it show in?
  3. Reception: Did people turn out?

In this sense, the most successful movie of the year was not “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” which grossed over a billion dollars in global box office but received a mere 54 percent rating on rottentomatoes, nor “The Queen,” which received the site’s highest rating (98 percent) but topped out at 712 theaters.

No, the most successful movie of the year was “Casino Royale.” Critics loved it (95 percent), Sony made it easy to see (3,443 theaters) and people around the world flocked to it ($531 million and counting). Everyone was happy.

Other successful, highly rated movies include “The Departed” (93 percent, 3017 theaters, $237 million), “Borat” (92 percent, 2611 theaters, $240 million) and “Inside Man” (88 percent, 2867 theaters, $183 million).

Quality and financial success are not mutually exclusive.

The Least Successful Movie of the Year

So what’s the least successful movie? Probably one made available to everyone (lots of screens), which no one bothered to see (low box office) because it sucked (low rating).

In 2006, that movie would be “Hoot” — a kid’s movie about saving owls. It opened in May in 3,018 theaters, but it didn’t exactly get high praise from the critics (26 percent), and the audience didn’t show up ($8 million in global box office). During its opening weekend it averaged $1,168 per theater — the lowest per-screen average of all marginal releases.

But I’m about quality more than quantity, so I’m giving the award to “Zoom,” starring Tim Allen and Courteney Cox. It opened in August in 2,501 theaters. The critics slammed it —a rare “0” rating, when not even an Earl Dittman could be called upon to say something positive — and it was gone by September. It did manage to make $11 million during that time, though, and that’s $11 million that could’ve gone to better causes. Please remember, people, a zero rating is a zero rating. You may be able to make lemonade from lemons, but no amount of sugar is going to sweeten crap-ade.

The Biggest Movie Star of the Year

Will Smith. In a walk.

Dude grays up, makes a small, quiet picture about a struggling, single dad, and it goes to number one. Then it drops to number two. And stays there. And stays there. And stays there. It’s already at $124 million domestically. That’s 16th best for the year. After this weekend it’ll probably pass “Mission: Impossible.”

No movie star has been able to compel audiences into theaters this easily since Tom Hanks.

The “Three Strikes and You’re Out” Award

It wasn’t a good year for Tim Allen. In 2006, he gave us the following: “The Shaggy Dog” (28 percent), “Zoom” (0) and “The Santa Clause 3” (13). Each blanketed the country. Each performed below expectations. “Zoom” tanked.

To oblivion and beyond?

The “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am” Award

The days when “Star Wars” would play at the neighborhood theater for a year are gone. These days, movies are more the “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am” type. They swagger into town, perform horribly (artistically and often financially), and then slink away in the middle of the night.

A few of the more egregious examples: “Let’s Go to Prison” garnered a 7 percent rating and lasted only 28 days, “Freedomland,” at 23 percent, roamed free for only 24 days, and “Basic Instinct 2,” at 7 percent, closed its legs after a mere 21 days.

But the winner is Uwe Boll’s “Bloodrayne” (5 percent), which sucked for 21 days in January, and then — poof! — disappeared in a cloud of smoke. This turn of events left Boll so mad he hopped into a boxing ring last summer and took on several scrawny, and generally unknown, movie critics. He pummelled them. I’m sure he’s a better filmmaker now.

The “Slow Love” Award

Some movies, on the other hand, know how to do it right. They don’t smother us. They start out teasing: showing up a little bit here, a little bit there. They build momentum. They develop a rhythm. And they don’t disappear after they’ve peaked, either. They stick around. Seconds and thirds are implied. They’re that good.

Runner up? Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” (92 percent), which opened at the end of May and stayed strong through November.

But the winner is “Little Miss Sunshine” (92 percent). It debuted in July. It’s still in theaters. That’s stamina.

The “Most Isolated Film Critic” Award

While I’m tempted to give this award to me, The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis deserves it more.

Last Sunday, the Times’ critics listed their choices for the Academy Award’s best picture, and Ms. Dargis went with the following:

  • “Letters from Iwo Jima” (94 percent)
  • “Children of Men” (93)
  • “L’Enfant” (86)
  • “Three Times” (85)
  • “Inland Empire” (62)

What do these movies have in common? Nobody saw them. The most widely distributed of the bunch was ”L’Enfant,” which managed to play in a whopping 40 theaters in 2006. Forty! “Children of Men”? 16 theaters. “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Three Times”? Five. “Inland Empire” went as wide as four theaters in December before closing after 12 days. Her five films, combined, made just $1.7 million domestically in 2006.

These numbers will change, and in fact already have changed for “Children,” which widened to over a thousand screens the first weekend of 2007; but the fact remains you would be hard-pressed to find five more isolated films in 2006.

Meanwhile, “Zoom” (0 percent) played in 2,501 theaters, “The Covenant” (3 percent) dominated 2,681 screens, and “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj” (6 percent) besmirched 1,979 screens. The kicker? Nobody saw these movies, either. But at least they were given the chance to be seen.

What kind of industry is it where the worst are given opportunities that the best are not? It’s not really Ms. Dargis, in other words, who’s isolated.

The “David vs. Goliath” Award

To “Borat.”

It debuted the first weekend in November. That same weekend, “Flushed Away” (76 percent) and “The Santa Clause 3” (13) debuted in, respectively, 3,707 and 3,458 theaters. Eleven other movies were showing in the 1,000-3,000-screen range.

“Borat” (92 percent)? 837 theaters.

And it beat them all.

It averaged $31,607 per screen, as opposed to $5,640 for “Santa” and $5,075 for “Flushed,” and trounced everyone.

That’s nice.

The “79th Annual Academy Awards, Live from Ukraine!” Award

I live in Minneapolis, so I’m used to the Oscar contenders playing in New York and L.A. first. But Ukraine?

That’s the case with many late-entry Oscar contenders. “Letters from Iwo Jima,” a U.S. production, opened in Japan in early December. It’s already made $30 million there. “Pan’s Labyrinth,” a joint Mexico/Spain/U.S. production, opened in Mexico and Spain in October. It opened in France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Brazil in November. It’s already made $24 million in those countries. “Children of Men,” a joint British/U.S. production, opened in Britain in September. In the next two months it opened in 30 other countries, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Mexico, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and, yes, the Ukraine. It’s already made $33 million in those countries.

All of this before any of them opened in the U.S.

That’s a bit of a pisser, isn’t it? Why should we get sloppy seconds on our own best movies? So studios can release them in a traffic jam at the end of the year? Because they think Academy voters are doddering old fools who can’t remember two months back? Because they feel they’re building “momentum” this way?

Here’s a reminder to Warner Brothers (“Letters”), Universal (“Children”) and PictureHouse (“Pan’s): There are 51 other weeks in the year.

The Most Criminally Underseen Movie of the Year

First, the blessings. Let’s be thankful that Warner Brothers opened “The Departed” in more than 3,000 theaters, that Fox Searchlight stuck with “Little Miss Sunshine” long enough to get it into 1,602 theaters, and that “An Inconvenient Truth,” a documentary about global warming, actually wound up in more than 500 theaters.

But.

Shouldn’t “The Notorious Bettie Page” (56 percent) have played on more than 73 screens? (PictureHouse, can’t you sell sex?) Shouldn’t “Half Nelson” (91 percent) have played in more than 106 theaters? (ThinkFilm, can’t you sell urban drama?) And what exactly is New Line’s strategy with “Little Children” (83 percent)? After waffling around this fall, they finally expanded the critically acclaimed film last week to...103 screens.

But this award goes to “The History Boys.” It’s a fun, zippy film about possibility, about the intellect, about the sweetness and shortness of youth, and its widest release has been 165 screens. I get the feeling Fox Searchlight isn’t really pushing it this awards season, concentrating, instead, on critical darling “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Shame, too, on the critics, for not liking it more. 61 percent? The same rating as “Jackass”? But as I said at the outset, the critics aren’t always right. Except for me, of course. And you.

OK, just me.

—Erik Lundegaard already has his tickets booked to see next year’s Oscar contenders in Ukraine. This piece was originally published on MSNBC.com.