Sometimes Web traffic is a long walk from box office. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Pitt are among the most Googled, blogged, tweeted and clicked-on couples in the world. But they could only muster $95,000 when their new movie, "By The Sea" — which Jolie Pitt wrote and directed and the couple produced and starred in — opened in 10 theaters last weekend.
The dismal U.S. opening is as much a function of genre — the romantic melodrama hasn't exactly been burning up multiplexes in recent years — and dismissive reviews as it is star power.
Which leads to a natural question: How much box-office clout do Pitt and Jolie Pitt each still have on their own, and in what sorts of films? We decided to go back to all the live-action movies in the decade since they became a super-couple (also, incidentally, their last time on-screen together, in 2005's "Mr. and Mrs. Smith") to see just how much sway they had to draw American audiences.
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Star power is of course hard to measure — part of being a top name means you're often trying to get more difficult movies made, and those difficult movies inherently draw fewer people. (That phenomenon is also known as Clooney-ing.) So we rated the movies based on overperformance and underperformance — that is, how did each do compared to how a film of its kind could be expected to do, also factoring in how much of a role the actors played in the film's outcome.
Scoring is simple. We broke down their movies into four categories — minor underperformers, major underperformers, minor overperformers and major overperformers. We credited or debited 10 points for the majors and five for the minors. Then we tallied them up.
Their careers, it turns out, actually have a lot of balance — and a few surprises. Here's how it breaks down:
"Burn After Reading" — The Coen brothers don't typically go over huge with the mainstream, and Pitt was a supporting player. Still, you might have expected more than $60 million from a caper-y movie with a Pitt-led ensemble like this.
"The Tree of Life" — It's an epic, and you don't have to convince us of its importance. Still, it's hard to call any movie with this much hype taking in $13 million an overperformer.
"Babel" — Like "Tree," a difficult one to assess. It didn't do badly, considering its sprawling canvas and complex themes. But for all the hype and awards attention, it might have been expected to squeeze out more than $34 million.
"The Counselor" — We don't need to expound on this one, do we?
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" — A great movie. How on Earth did it only make $3 million?
"Killing Them Softly" — You forgot about this one, didn't you?
"12 Years A Slave" — Only a supporting role, but it's a key one, and he was front and center as a producer, helping a very difficult movie get to $56 million.
"Inglourious Basterds" — Yes, the $120 million is a massive success. Pitt had something to do with it, but not everything. So, minor.
"Ocean's Thirteen" and "Ocean's Twelve" — Yeah, we'll count them as one. They each made around the same (about $120 million), a good number but not up there with Pitt's highest totals, and not as nearly as much as "Ocean's 11."
"Moneyball" — It's a baseball movie that's also an awards movie, and one without an easy arc. The $76 million is a big victory.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" — Looking back at it, we're still bowled over that a movie of such leisurely pacing and a certain kind of melancholy took in $128 million. Maybe the possibility of seeing Pitt get younger before our eyes helped.
"Fury" — By any standard, a war movie landing $86 million in the modern day is a major success. And it didn't even have the easy uplift of many war movies — this one was as gritty and anti-narrative as it gets.
"World War Z" — The most major of the overperformers. After all the trouble during production — a rewritten third act, e.g. — it took in $202 million, the highest unadjusted total of Pitt's career.
Total: Four Major Overperformers (40), Three Minor Overperformers (15), Three Minor
Underperformers (-15), Three Major Overperformers (-30).
Score (55-45) = 10
"A Mighty Heart" — It's Jolie Pitt's "The Tree of Life." An ambitious passion project, it was never going to make a ton of money. But it still could have expected to do a little better than the $9 million that it ended up bringing in.
"Changeling" — It grossed $34 million and quickly went away, more wasn't the pity.
"The Tourist" — Er...
"The Good Shepherd" — This semi-forgotten Cold War history piece actually was a nice movie, with Jolie in a supporting role opposite Matt Damon's conflicted spy. It took in $59 million with little buzz.
"Wanted" — Its $134 million was strong, though given the unique style and the push, could it have taken in even more?
"Maleficent" — A reboot of "Sleeping Beauty" from a first-time director, in a time when fairy-tales are a shaky genre. And it grossed a whopping $241 million, the highest unadjusted amount in Jolie's career. That's a home run even without the extra half a billion it grossed around the world.
"Salt" — A troubled development process to parallel hubby's "World War Z." The writers strike-era script went from Tom Cruise to Jolie, and the story took on the unexpected villain of Russian operatives. Yet Phillip Noyce's movie managed to rack up $118 million and become an unlikely blockbuster in the summer of 2010.
Totals: Two Minor Overperformers (10), Two Major Overperformers (20), two Minor Underperformers (-10), one major Underperformer (-10)
Score (30-20)= 10.
A few lessons emerge. One: Brad Pitt makes a lot of movies. Second, each of the actors' hit rates are good, if not spectacular — a little better than .500. It's stronger than plenty of Hollywood actors, if not quite money-in-the-bank reliable.