by John S.
Cinema Jackpots is a series that reviews films with uncertain origins which ultimately became popular smash hits. Everyone loves a good success story. Join us as we explore how these movies caught lightning in a bottle and triumphed.
THE CONTESTANT: Four Weddings And A Funeral
THE ODDS: The eternally boyish Hugh Grant is so strongly associated with the Comedy genre it’s hard to imagine him ever being in any other kinds of movies. Yet prior to 1994, most of Grant’s body of work was focused mostly on period dramas (Maurice, Impromptu), arty thrillers (Night Train to Venice, Bitter Moon), and one enjoyably bizarro horror flick (The Lair of the White Worm). Yet, in 1993 he was tapped to be the male lead of a relatively low-budget British romantic comedy about a charming perennial bachelor who is forced to re-think his ways when he is dazzled by an enigmatic American temptress.
Titled Four Weddings and a Funeral, the film was based on screenwriter Richard’s Curtis extensive experience attending weddings – and his missed opportunity with one beautiful wedding guest AKA The One Who Got Away. Director Mike Newell (The Awakening, Enchanted April) had chosen Jeanne Tripplehorn, fresh from the back-to-back successes of Basic Instinct and The Firm, to play Grant’s elusive romantic foil. Unfortunately, as Tripplehorn was preparing to leave the States for England, her mother unexpectedly passed away. Understandably, she had to drop out. With the start of filming just weeks away, Newell had to scramble to find a new leading lady.
Marisa Tomei, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Brooke Shields were reportedly considered to replace Tripplehorn. However, it was Andie MacDowell, coming off Groundhog Day, who finally landed the part. MacDowell is said to have willingly taken a large pay cut because she loved the script so much, and turned down other much more lucrative offers to be part of the film. With the leads locked in, production on Four Weddings and a Funeral commenced. Still, it wasn’t all smooth sailing: the small budget was reduced even more to around $4 million which led to a tight shooting schedule. Set for a limited release in March of 1994 in North America, time would tell if MacDowell’s faith would be justified.
THE GAME: Four Weddings and a Funeral was released on March 15, 1994 on just 5 screens – but pulled in an excellent take just over $138,000 that first weekend. Reviews and word of mouth were terrific, mostly centered on the vibrant Grant, his colorful supporting cast, and the sharply funny and intelligent script. The movie expanded onto more screens in the following weeks until it opened wide and landed in the number one spot at the North American box office. By the time it finished its domestic run, Four Weddings and a Funeral had raked in a total gross of just over $52 million.
However, that was just half the story. Overseas, the flick also performed like gangbusters – making a remarkable exception to the adage that comedy doesn’t translate across oceans and borders. In this case, it most definitely did. Four Weddings and a Funeral was not only a hit in its native Britain, but also all around the world. It ended up grossing an additional $193 million for a total global gross of about $245 million. At the end of the day, it ended up becoming the highest-grossing British film up until that point in time.
But that’s not all. So big a splash did the movie make that it received two Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay for the 1995 Academy Awards. Not to mention a Golden Globe win for Hugh Grant as Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical. Not bad for the little English movie with the strange title and a bumpy start. Andie MacDowell’s belief in Four Weddings and a Funeral proved 100% correct.
THE VICTORY: At a time when American romantic comedies were somewhat bland and neutered, Four Weddings and a Funeral was a blast of fresh air. Deftly combining irreverent humor, biting wit, and genuine emotion, the movie showcased just how innovative our buddies across the pond could be with the standard “boy-meets-girl” formula. The screenplay is a thing of beauty and is a must-read for anyone serious about comedy writing – or just a fan of well-written films. Its success single-handedly established the Glossy British Rom-Com sub-genre that now includes Sliding Doors, the Bridget Jones trilogy, Notting Hill, Imagine You & Me, Crush, Love Actually, and About Time, just to mention a few.
The film made a star out of Grant and led him to being typecast as The Witty & Skittish British Charmer. As for MacDowell, she was already a star and her presence likely helped the movie’s overall success. She sometimes gets unfairly knocked as being too cool and reserved in the part. However, she’s only playing the role as written. Tripplehorn would have likely done the same. The character was meant to be a seductive paradox: friendly, approachable, open – but also somewhat distant and aloof. Which makes Grant’s character’s attraction to her logical: some guys are happiest chasing someone they can’t quite catch. In any case, MacDowell has just as many defenders and her subtle, quietly sexy performance is just as crucial to Four Weddings and a Funeral as Grant’s less restrained one.
NEXT CONTESTANT: Iron Man – “I am Iron Man…”
With Avengers: Endgame set to drop this coming summer to usher in the final movement of the decade-long Marvel Epic Orchestra, let’s look back at the film that started it all in 2008. It’s easy to say now that Iron Man was a guaranteed hit. The reality: it was not a sure thing. A film about a Marvel superhero more familiar to comic book fans than to mainstream audiences, an actor-turned-director with no experience in the superhero genre, and a lead with a troubled past gambling on a comeback: it all could have turned out very differently. But Iron Man’s success became the strong foundation upon which successive Marvel films would build on to create a remarkable (and very influential) universe.
John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.