Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Ben Is Back, But Julia Roberts Wasn’t: Former Queen of the Box Office Scores Career Low Despite Good Notices

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Ben is back, but Julia Roberts isn’t.

After 17 days, Peter Hedges’s extremely well-directed, well-written drama “Ben Is Back” is DOA at the box office.

Not only that: its $950K take is heading star Julia Roberts to her lowest box office ever. You’d have to go back to the ill-conceived “Full Frontal” in 2002, which made a total of $2.5 million.

The “Ben is Back” box office failure hurts more because Roberts– who can be strident in films–gives one of her best, warmest, and most direct performances ever. She is matched by Lucas Hedges, who plays her late teen/adult son, and is the toast of the town these days. Lucas’s talented filmmaker dad, Peter, wrote and directed the movie. Rotten Tomatoes scored it a very favorable 81%.

If “Ben is Back” had been released by a real indie distributor, or Fox Searchlight or Focus, it might have had a chance. But Roadside Attractions, the poor cousin of Lions Gate, is famous for botching its releases. Their only¬† hit this year was a Christian film, assigned to them by Lions Gate. “I Can Only Imagine” came with its own faith-based marketing.

The rest of Roadside’s 2018 list consisted of the much-reviled “Forever My Girl,” which made $16 million, and “Viper Club,” which took in just $60,000. Without “I Can Only Imagine,” Roadside would have barely existed this year.

“Ben Is Back” might have had a chance if there’d been some awards buzz. But Hedges was already tied up with “Boy Erased,” an indie hit with $6.5 million in the till– and also a competitor in the demographic of troubled young men and their parents. The other similar film, “Beautiful Boy,” struggled to scare up $7 million with Hedges’s best known “rival” Timothee Chalamet– also an excellent film with very strong performers.

As for Roberts, she may have been busy with her Amazon series, “Homecoming.” Roberts certainly doesn’t need the money from “Ben.” She’s got cosmetics commercials running everywhere. And at 51 years old, she’s had an exciting run of hits from “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1997) to “America’s Sweethearts” (2001). Plus she starred in the iconic “Pretty Woman” (1990). Her Oscar is from “Erin Brockovich” (2000).

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedmanhttps://www.showbiz411.com
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
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