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'Gone Girl' and 'The Judge' put popcorn spin on adult drama

'Gone Girl' and 'The Judge' put popcorn spin on adult drama
Robert Downey Jr., left, and Robert Duvall in "The Judge." (Claire Folger / Warner Bros.)

Two of the movies likely to make noise at the box office this weekend are David Fincher's marital murder mystery "Gone Girl," which hit theaters last Friday, and David Dobkin's father-son legal yarn "The Judge," which opened this Friday.

After a summer of spectacle-driven tent-pole movies, and amid the onset of annual holiday fluff, Hollywood usually offers an antidote — or at least an alternative — in the form of weighty, prestigious drama — films like "12 Years a Slave" and "The King's Speech," to name some recent examples. But "Gone Girl" and "The Judge" take a different tack with adult audiences, offering serious themes in populist clothing.

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The two films have significant similarities. Boil them down and you'll find each to be a big-studio picture with a familiar genre and an A-list movie star: Fox's "Gone Girl" is, in many ways, a date-movie thriller with Ben Affleck, the guy set to play the next big-screen Batman. And Warner Bros.' "Judge" is a courtroom drama with some tear-jerking familial pyrotechnics, courtesy of Robert Downey Jr., the highest-paid actor in Hollywood (and a fellow superhero actor).

For all their audience-friendly elements, though, these are still movies aimed squarely at grown-ups, as is demonstrated by both their R ratings and their explorations of themes like love, fidelity, sexual politics, filial duty and the tribulations of aging.

With regard to their directors and source material, "Gone Girl" and "The Judge" come from opposite angles, but they wind up in the same place.

"Gone Girl" is a case of a highbrow filmmaker known for his precise craftsmanship — Fincher — classing up a pulp entertainment, namely, Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel. So far, at least, it's been a savvy combination — the film has taken in $51 million coming into the weekend.

Dobkin made his name with broad comedies like "Wedding Crashers" and "Shanghai Knights." With "The Judge," which is based on an original script, we find a filmmaker who has made commercial hits now trying to tackle something more substantial.

The result in both cases is the type of film many people complain Hollywood doesn't make enough of anymore — a popcorn movie that grown-up audiences can enjoy, without deafening explosions and 3-D pageantry. As for whether others will follow in "The Judge's" footsteps, well, the jury's still out.

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