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Issue: "Year in Review 2003," Dec. 27, 2003

The year of Nemo

Hollywood appears finally to be catching on to what research has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt: R-rated flicks tend to lose money, while family fare tends to be profitable. Indeed, 2003 should have been called "Year of Nemo," since the G-rated fish story was the most successful movie of them all by far.

Less than half of 2003 movies (42 percent) were rated R. That's a significant drop from previous years. In 2001, two-thirds of all movies earned an R rating, but earned only 28 percent of the dollars spent at the box office. Last year, 58 percent of the new movies were R rated, but not a single one was a top 20 moneymaker.

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Hopes were high that R-rated movies might be set for a comeback. Newsweek's beginning-of-the-year issue declared that 2003 would be the "Year of the Matrix," with two R-rated sequels to the blockbuster virtual-reality mind-bender set to come out in the same year. But while Matrix Reloaded did make more than any other R-rated movie in history, interest waned, until the finale Matrix Revolutions ended the franchise not with a bang but a whimper, making money but not much profit considering how expensive it was to make.

Though four movies in the year's top 10 were R-rated-in addition to the Matrix movies, there was the Will Smith buddy-cop movie Bad Boys and Terminator 3 featuring Gov. Schwarzenegger-family fare still came out on top.

Ted Baehr, the Christian movie watchdog and publisher of Movieguide, said that 45 percent of the year's movies had some positive moral and even Christian content.

Although 2003 gave us Kill Bill, which has been called the most violent movie ever made, explicitly Christian movies, such as Luther, were also being made (though finding distributors that could get them into lots of theaters was sometimes a problem). This was progress.

Bombs and rockets

A candidate for the worst film ever made also surfaced in 2003. Gigli, featuring superstars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, opened to universal hoots of derision.

Another embarrassing money-loser was The Hulk (previewed by Newsweek ahead of time in a piece called "Behind a Blockbuster," true only in the sense that it was a block that went bust). Another failure was the star-studded sequel to Charlie's Angels. And there were lots more.

Large-scale epics drawn from classic fiction, with the help of special-effects technology that can now render on screen what used to be possible only to the imagination, showed more promise.

Master and Commander, based on Patrick O'Brian's heroic sea captain, was one of the more satisfying movies of the year, which would culminate in its last few days with the one ring that would bring them all in: the climax of Tolkien's trilogy, The Return of the King.

The Passion

The most controversial film of the year was not a gory slasher movie or a salacious sex flick-those passed without notice-but a movie about Jesus. Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ was not even released, but an alliance of Jewish activists and liberal theologians condemned the project as anti-Semitic, sight unseen, just because it promised to portray the death of Christ in a way rigorously faithful to what the Bible says.

Jews and Christians have been getting along quite well in America, despite the resurgent anti-Semitism among Muslim terrorists and their European allies. To attack what is for Christians the central event in their faith-and misreading the cross as a horrible evil rather than as what Christians believe it to be, the basis of their salvation-was a huge blunder, as other Jewish groups are realizing.

But those who have screened the film, to be released around Easter 2004, testify to the film's overwhelming power. The movie may help introduce Christ to a Christophobic age.

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