10 June 2008

NZ directors climb the Hollywood honour roll

Movie business website Box Office Mojo collects data on motion picture grosses and the performance of individual directors and actors. As a New Zealander it's particularly pleasing to note the rise of directors like Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, King Kong) and Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek 2, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian) to the higher ranks of successful directors, with each having helmed blockbusters that have brought in over US$1 billion at the box office. These returns place Jackson and Adamson amongst the most famous names of contemporary movie-making - not bad for two chaps from Pukerua Bay and the City of Sails.

Here's a run-down of the top 20 directors in terms of total box-office grosses in US dollars, as at 9 June 2008. The directors' names are followed by their total gross figure and their highest grossing film.

1. Steven Spielberg ($3701m; E.T.)
2. Robert Zemeckis ($1802m; Forrest Gump)
3. George Lucas ($1700m; Star Wars)
4. Ron Howard ($1606m; The Grinch)
5. Chris Columbus ($1567m; Harry Potter/Sorcerer's Stone)
6. Gore Verbinski ($1308m; PotC/Dead Man's Chest)
7. Tim Burton ($1289m; Batman)
8. Peter Jackson ($1271m; LotR/Return of the King)
9. Sam Raimi ($1249m; Spider-Man)
10. James Cameron ($1146m; Titanic)
11. Michael Bay ($1093m; Transformers)
12. Clint Eastwood ($1002m; Unforgiven)
13. Andrew Adamson ($1000m; Shrek 2)
14. Ivan Reitman ($996m; Ghostbusters)
15. Ridley Scott ($980m; Gladiator)
16. Brett Ratner ($980m; X-Men/The Last Stand)
17. Joel Schumacher ($962m; Batman Forever)
18. Roland Emmerich ($945m; Independence Day)
19. Tony Scott ($942m; Top Gun)
20. Jay Roach ($927m; Meet The Fockers)

Movie grosses aren't necessarily the mark of a legendary directorial talent: Sydney Pollack only managed 28th place on the list, Steven Soderbergh is 30th, Martin Scorsese 32nd, Woody Allen 72nd and Ang Lee is only 75th. And monetary success aside, Ron Howard, Chris Columbus and Gore Verbinski haven't exactly helped to raise the standards of motion pictures or create great works of cinematic art.

But big numbers definitely help a director stay in the business of making movies and allow them greater freedom in selecting their projects. Jackson has a higher total gross than establishment figures like Titanic director James Cameron and Clint Eastwood, and this influence enabled him to tackle his lifelong ambition, an expensive modern remake of King Kong, while his box-office clout has meant a green light for The Lovely Bones with a reported budget only one-third the size of King Kong's and with no big name drawcard actors on the cast list (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon).

Adamson outranks the famed Ridley Scott on the list. Indeed, he will likely leapfrog Eastwood into 12th place as the returns from Prince Caspian mount up - it's taken $125m so far.

One thing that marks out the best way for a director to stamp their authority in Hollywood - get themselves attached to a dead-cert blockbuster franchise: Lord of the Rings, Shrek, Narnia, Spider-Man. Which is why Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg are so interested in making the Tintin films!

Screen Directors Guild of NZ
NZ Film Commission
NZ Film Archive
Film NZ
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