he Great Gatsby didn't win the box office in its opening weekend, finishing second behind the profit juggernaut known as Iron Man 3. Still, Gatsby posted an impressive $51 million take, exceeding some Hollywood predictions by upwards of $20 million. It's a promising start for Baz Luhrmann's lavish 3D version of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, which Hollywood has been failing to successfully adapt for nearly a century. But how does Gatsby's box-office haul compare to other recent film adaptations of literary classics? A brief look back...
Pride and Prejudice
Keira Knightley starred in this 2005 adaptation of the Jane Austen classic about love and conflict between social classes. The movie scored $121 million worldwide — but only $38 million of that came domestically, and less than $3 million was pulled down during a limited-release opening weekend. Still, the movie impressed critics, if not mainstream American audiences. "For all its romantic gloss and finery, the film still reflects Austen's keen scrutiny of social mobility and the Darwinian struggle of the hungriest to advance by wielding whatever leverage is at hand," wrote Stephen Holden in The New York Times.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The first part of the Narnia series took in over $745 million worldwide, making it one of the 50 highest-grossing movies ever. And Wardrobe got off to a fast start, driving $65 million in sales in the first weekend. Even though C.S. Lewis had publicly stated that he never wanted the books to be turned into movies, fans of the children's classic were clearly to eager to see at least this story on the big screen. (The subsequent two films in the series didn't match Lion's fortune, and, as a result, plans to turn the rest of C.S. Lewis' franchise into movies were scrapped.)
A Christmas Carol
2009 saw an animated retelling of Charles Dickens' classic novel, starring Jim Carrey. It paid off for Disney, as the movie brought in $325 million worldwide. A Christmas Carol bagged $30 million in the first weekend, tops for the week. (Some Hollywood insiders claimed that this amounted to a big loss for such a big-budget film, but studio executives fought back that they had made a profit.) What's perhaps most noteworthy about this movie's financial success is that for Dickens, the novel was "a grave financial disappointment," according to The Guardian. Despite good sales, the book cost so much to produce that Dickens didn't walk away with much at all. But he couldn't blame anyone but himself, as Dickens insisted on selling A Christmas Carol with a fancy binding and gold lettering on the spine and front cover.
The 2011 version of the Charlotte Bronte novel — unbelievably, the 19th Jane Eyre movie — cleared just $32 million at the box office. Besides potential audience fatigue, the film may have been plagued by its lack of a recognizable star. Mia Wasikowska isn't exactly a household name.
Last year, Keira Knightley starred as the lead in Tolstoy's tale of an aristocrat who has a life-altering affair with Count Vronsky. The film brought in $69 million worldwide, but failed to impressed American viewers. It registered just $320,690 in its limited-run opening weekend, and a paltry total of $12 million in this country overall. Besides failing to woo mainstream audiences, Anna Karenina also failed to delight literary buffs. "It's a cinematic Cliff's Notes," said The New Yorker's Richard Brody, "a tricked-up borrowing of Tolstoy's plot and characters, by way of which filmmakers adorn themselves with literary laurels despite showing, in their film, none of the inspiration, insight, originality, or depth of character of the novel they digest."
Les Miserables pocketed $400 million worldwide this past winter, and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning three. The film was surely boosted more by its Broadway fame than its renown as a 19th-century French novel, but either way, Les Mis scored the second highest grossing holiday debut in Hollywood history. It's also the second highest-grossing musical of all time, behind Mamma Mia! On just its opening day, a Tuesday, Les Mis generated $18 million domestically.
At the same time Les Mis was storming the box office, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was delighting fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy classic. The Hobbit made $84.7 million on its opening weekend in the U.S. In total, the film has grossed over $1 billion at the box office worldwide, and was nominated for three Academy Awards. And two more Hobbit films are on the way...
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- Why is American internet so slow?
- Don't worry: World War III will almost certainly never happen
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Religious liberty should be a liberal value, too
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- 10 things you need to know today: March 7, 2014
- Watch The Daily Show mock Fox News' confused man-crush on Vladimir Putin
- The Daily Show explains Hamid Karzai's 'Afghan Hustle'
- Russia's Ukraine invasion is a moral crisis
Subscribe to the Week