The Fix

A look back at the pundits who predicted box office woe for "Brokeback." Plus: Bye-bye, "West Wing." Hello, baby J.Lo?

Published January 23, 2006 2:27PM (EST)

Morning Briefing:
Revisiting "Brokeback" predictions: It's fun when blowhard pundits are wrong. It's especially satisfying when the ones who claim to speak for all of America are wrong, because it usually means that the world is not quite the grim, retrograde place they want us to believe it is. Take, for example, claims that, as Bill O'Reilly told his viewers back in December, the mass public would not go see "Brokeback Mountain" because it shows two men getting it on. As O'Reilly put it: "They're not going to go see the gay cowboys in Montana. I'm sorry. They're not going to do it."

But they are (even, reportedly, in Missoula, Mont.). The greater public, it turns out, is not as freaked out about boys kissing boys as O'Reilly or his colleagues at Fox are, and has made the film a qualified hit. This past weekend, according to reports, "Brokeback" finished at No. 5, despite still appearing in only 1,196 theaters -- twice as many as the week before, though still a modest number. The week's top-grossing "Underworld: Evolution," for example, debuted in more than 3,000 theaters. "Brokeback" also leapt ahead of the season's two big blockbusters, "The Chronicles of Narnia" (No. 7) and "King Kong" (No. 11), both of which have grossed far more since their release, but have also had long runs in many more theaters (2,757 and 2,205 last week, respectively). And while "Brokeback" will surely never approach either of those films' box office numbers, its profit margin looks awfully good; "Brokeback" has so far grossed $42 million, but was made for just $14 million. ("Narnia" has grossed a remarkable $271 million, but cost $180 million; "King Kong" has brought in $209 million, but was made for a whopping $207 million.) Should "Brokeback" get the expected Oscar attention, its numbers could swell bigger than O'Reilly's giant head.

Looking back at the following bold predictions that "Brokeback" would bomb, you see not just wishful thinking - and a paranoid fear that it's a gay marriage treatise in shepherd's clothing -- but also the attempt by political pundits to create a conventional wisdom out of whole cloth. (See also: WMD, Swift Boat Veterans and the "war" on Christmas.) At least it failed this time. Here's a sampling of the best of the bad calls:

"But I don't care about the movie. I'm going to make the prediction. The movie will get a lot of Academy Awards, because again Hollywood is very sympathetic to the gay movement ... But I will submit to you this movie does not do big box office outside the big cities. It won't. They're not going to go see the gay cowboys in Montana. I'm sorry. They're not going to do it."

-- Bill O'Reilly, "The O'Reilly Factor," Dec. 20, 2005

"Take a look at 'Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.' That film made more in its first week than 'Brokeback Mountain' will make in its entire run."

-- Michael Medved, film "critic" and conservative pundit, "The O'Reilly Factor," Dec. 20, 2005. ["Narnia" grossed nearly $82 million in its first week; it's quite likely "Brokeback" will top that not long after it opens in wider release.]

"So, one of the big movies [at the Golden Globes] is 'Brokeback Mountain.' Now, I believe this is a Hollywood favorite even though it may not be a box office favorite. Are they going to just lavish this movie with awards?"

-- John Gibson, "The Big Story With John Gibson," Jan. 16, 2006

"I've been getting no small amount of grief about the fact that I've been making fun of 'Brokeback Mountain,' the gay cowboy movie. I've been making fun of it because it seems to me to be a movie in defiance of its audience. I don't think it's going to be a box office hit. It will make no money at least in Hollywood terms. I'm sure it will be a critical hit. Hollywood may, in fact, want to give every Oscar it can find to the first gay cowboy movie. But I think most people do not want to go into a darkened room with a tub of popcorn and munch away watching two guys get it on. I just don't ... I still think it's a gay agenda movie and as such it might sweep the Oscars. I just have my doubts about whether America will make it an actual box office hit."

-- Gibson, "The Big Story With John Gibson," Jan. 2, 2006

[Responding to the question: "Will America embrace this theme of Romeo and Romeo, Michael?"] "I don't think so. I think it will be very much embraced by critics and by liberal Hollywood. And of course, there is an attempt to create controversy about it."

-- Medved, "Paula Zahn Now," Dec. 13, 2005

"'Brokeback Mountain' will have been seen in the theaters by 18 people, but the right 18 and will win the Academy Award."

-- Charles Krauthammer, "Fox Special Report With Brit Hume," Jan. 2, 2006

"I mean, look, 'Alexander' was doomed when word got around that it had a bisexual aspect to it. People don't want to see that. They don't want to see two guys going at it. It's that simple ... I think Ang Lee is off his rocker if he thinks he can have the same commercial success with two cowboys instead of a cowboy and a cowgirl, as other movies do."

-- Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America, in Salon, Dec. 7, 2005

"'Brokeback Mountain,' starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as gay cowboys, will be a critical favorite but a box office dud."

-- Ben Shapiro, baby pundit and "syndicated columnist," Dec. 1, 2004

--Kerry Lauerman

Also: The new, forthcoming biography of Marlon Brando, "Brando Unzipped" by Darwin Porter, reportedly includes a picture of Brando engaged in oral sex with another man. The book's tag line is: "From Rock Hudson to Vivien Leigh, from Bette Davis to Cary Grant, Brando slept around, even managing to seduce two of America's First Ladies." (ContactMusic) ... After seven seasons, NBC has announced that it's canceling "The West Wing" in May. (Associated Press) ... Rumors that J. Lo is pregnant are flaring up again after her hubby, Marc Anthony, was spotted buying a pricey diaper bag at Fred Segal in Los Angeles. A source tells MSNBC's Scoop: "He said something that made it pretty clear that it wasn't a gift -- that he intended to use it -- but I don't want to repeat it or he'll know who talked to you." (The Scoop) ... Bon Jovi's plane skidded off the runway at a Canadian airport over the weekend. No one was hurt. (Associated Press via Access Hollywood) ... Oddly, Peaches Honeyblossom Michelle Charlotte Angel Vanessa Geldof -- the daughter of Bob Geldof and Paula Yates -- doesn't seem to like her name. "I hate ridiculous names," the 16-year-old told the Daily Mail. "My weird name has haunted me all my life." (Daily Mail)

Money Quotes:
"Underworld: Evolution" star Kate Beckinsale shares her thoughts on bringing Islamic fashion to Hollywood: "Actually, I'm surprised there aren't more celebrities in burkhas. You wouldn't have to work out. You could let yourself go. We should design a non-religious celebrity burkha with a floral print." (Page Six, final item)

Turn on:
It's the series debut for both "Courting Alex" (CBS, 9:30 p.m. EST), starring Jenna Elfman, and "Style Me With Rachel Hunter" (WE, 10 p.m. EST), with, um, Rachel Hunter. On PBS, American Experience presents "John & Abigail Adams" (check local listings).

-- Scott Lamb

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By Salon Staff

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