Denzel Washington has been Mr. Dependable at the box office for years, but lately, he's really been on a roll — and with the sub-$100 million budget movies that the studios have de-emphasized in favor of summer tentpoles.
All indications are that Friday's action buddy comedy movie “2 Guns” will keep the streak alive.
Since “Remember the Titans” in 2000, Washington’s wide release movies have on average opened to $22.1 million, and taken in $85 million domestically. That sort of reliable bankability is rare, particularly when you maintain it for two decades, as Washington has.
He had a significant career before that, of course, dating back to his breakout 1984 hit “Soldier’s Story,” and including 1989's "Glory" and “The Pelican Brief” and “Philadelphia,” both from 1993.
But he’s never had a box office run like the current one. His last four movies – “The Book of Eli,” “Unstoppable,” “Safe House” and “Flight,” for which he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination – have opened to an average of $30 million and taken in an average of nearly $100 million each.
Universal’s “2 Guns” is expected to land in that range or do even better this weekend, analysts say.
It should edge out Sony’s kids film “The Smurfs 2,” a live-action/ animated mash-up, which opens Wednesday and is also expected to wind up north of $30 million by Sunday.
“He’s the type of actor that even people who don’t normally think about acting say, 'that’s guy’s really good,' ” BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino said Wednesday. “People are comfortable with him, whether he’s playing a villain or a good guy, or a guy with moral issues.”
Over his career, his movies have taken in more than $3.1 billion worldwide, and he’s done it largely without a blockbuster hit or a huge bomb, according to Box Office Mojo.
A lot of that has to do with the sort of movies he’s chosen, Contrino said.
“He doesn’t do the franchise movies. He’s consistently chosen intelligent, complicated movies that play to adults," Contrino said. "There’s a market for those kinds of films, and he’s proving it.”
Washington has found a niche making mid-sized movies, with production budgets that don't require blockbusters box-office returns to be profitable. "The Book of Eli" cost $80 million, "Safe House" had an $85 million budget and "Flight" cost just $31 million.
Only four of his movies have surpassed $100 million domestically, topped by 2007’s “American Gangster” ($130 million) and last year’s “Safe House” ($126 million). But he’s been remarkably misfire-free, too: the 2003 thriller crime thriller “Out of Time” opened to $16 million and brought in $41 million for MGM, and that’s as bad as it gets.
With the roller-coaster ride that the tentpole game has become, Hollywood should be happy that someone still knows how to crank out sure-fire hits.