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Ben Affleck’s box office takes off with Argo

Ben Affleck’s switch to the director’s chair has brought steadily increasing gains at the global box office. Ian Sandwell assesses his appeal.

A lot can change in a decade - just ask Ben Affleck: 2003 marked the release of arguably the lowest point in his acting career in the form of Gigli, Martin Brest’s critically mauled romantic comedy, which also starred Jennifer Lopez and managed to earn just $7.3m worldwide.

Flash forward to 2013 and Argo has become Affleck’s most successful film as director with $171.6m to date at the global box office, as well as being the eighth most successful film in which he has starred. It also won the Golden Globe for best motion picture - drama, while Affleck picked up the best director Globe. Argo also has seven nominations each at the Baftas and the Oscars, though he missed out on a best director nod at the Oscars.

Critics have warmed to Affleck as director from his debut, 2007’s child abduction drama Gone Baby Gone. But that film’s $34.6m global box office suggests audiences were slower to catch on, although that could perhaps be explained by Gone Baby Gone’s difficult subject matter. Outside of its $20.3m domestic return, the UK, France and Australia led the international field with $3.6m, $2.8m and $1.3m, respectively. And they have continued to prove fruitful territories for Affleck’s two other directorial efforts.

Crime thriller The Town, which also starred Affleck, saw grosses of $7.5m in the UK and $7.4m in Australia in 2010, with France delivering the highest tally outside of the US at $8.9m. A few other European territories seemed to be warming up as well: Spain delivered $5.1m, Italy $3.2m and Germany $2.8m. There were $1.9m grosses from Russia and from outside Europe as well in Japan and Mexico.

The best was yet to come. For Affleck’s first time as director, the 10 highest grossing international territories for Argo all recorded takes of more than $1m. This time around, it was Australia’s turn to lead the field at $11.5m, with France and the UK close behind with $9.1m and $8.7m, respectively. Russia ($1.7m), Spain ($4.5m) and Germany ($1.3m) dipped from The Town’s result, but Italy and Mexico enjoyed slight rises at $3.8m and $2.2m, respectively. The healthiest boosts, outside of the leading three international markets, came from Brazil (up by more than $1m from $814,562 for The Town to $1.9m for Argo) and Japan (up from $1.9m for The Town to $3.2m for Argo).

Domestically, The Town edged Affleck towards $100m at $92.2m, and Argo saw him break the $100m barrier for the first time as a director with the tally standing at $111.7m as of Jan 13. It is nudging towards $200m globally too, with $171.6m corralled so far, yet with no notable openings to come and runs generally drawing to a close in the territories released to date, it is unlikely to reach that landmark. A theatrical boost as a result of awards attention, especially in the US, could change that, however.

Not that healthy grosses are a new thing to Affleck. As an actor, nine of his films have taken more than $100m globally, yet it is worth bearing in mind that until the $100m combo of The Town and Argo, 2003 marked the last time Affleck led a film that took more than $100m globally in the form of comic-book adaptation Daredevil. Ensemble piece He’s Just Not That Into You did, however, manage $178.8m in 2009.

Commercial success is instead weighted towards the earlier roles in Affleck’s career. Breakout hit Good Will Hunting (which he co-wrote) grossed $225.9m in 1997-98, before 1998’s Armageddon hurtled its way to $553.7m worldwide and currently remains Affleck’s highest grossing film, as well as being his only one to cross $200m domestically. Oscar winner Shakespeare in Love followed with a sturdy $289.3m worldwide in 1998 and in 2001 Pearl Harbor became Affleck’s second biggest hit with $449.2m globally.

And then came a somewhat sticky patch. Only two of Affleck’s next 12 films (The Sum of All Fears and Daredevil) managed to gross more than $100m, a run that included two outings for Kevin Smith - Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back ($33.8m) and Jersey Girl ($37.1m), albeit as a cameo in the former - and two high-concept actioners: Paycheck ($96.3m) and Smokin’ Aces ($57.1m).

Affleck’s switch to the director’s chair has put a shinier outlook on his recent career - if you look past the independent efforts The Company Men ($4.6m) and Extract ($10.8m). With Argo resulting in territory-best results for his directorial outings, it looks like the only way is up for Affleck.

Box office for selected films starring Ben Affleck

TitleYearDomesticGlobal
Argo2012$110.3m$170.2m
The Town2010$92.2m$156.8m
State Of Play2009$37m$91.4m
He’s Just Not That Into You2009$94m$178.8m
Smokin’ Aces2007$35.8m$57.1m
Jersey Girl2004$25.3m$37.1m
Paycheck2003$53.8m$96.3m
Daredevil2003$102.5m$182.8m
The Sum Of All Fears2002$118.9m$193.9m
Changing Lanes2002$66.8m$94.9m
Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back2001$30.1m$33.8m
Pearl Harbor2001$198.5m$449.2m
Bounce2000$36.8m$53.4m
Reindeer Games2000$23.4m$32.2m
Boiler Room2000$17m$28.8m
Dogma1999$30.7m$43.9m
Forces Of Nature1999$52.9m$94m
Shakespeare In Love1998$100.3m$289.3m
Armageddon1998$201.6m$553.7m
Good Will Hunting1997$138.4m$225.9m

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