The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Salt' vs. 'Wanted': Angelina's action heat cools off the second time around

July 26, 2010 | 12:04 pm

Angelina_jolie I don't know about you, but like so many other moviegoers, when I was trying to figure out if I really needed to rush out and see "Salt" right away, I checked out the trailers for the Angelina Jolie action thriller and basically said -- does this really look better than "Wanted?" And like millions of other moviegoers, I suspect I reached the same conclusion, "Ah, no." As you may remember, "Wanted," which came out in the summer of 2008, was another special-effects and over-the-top stunts-studded thriller that not only gave Jolie lots of action heroics but surrounded her with classy (but non-threatening) male actors (in "Salt," it's Liev Schreiber and Ejiofor Chiwetel, in "Wanted," it's James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman).  

Sony has been trying to put as positive as possible a spin on the opening weekend box-office equation, but if you compared the two movies -- since they are so eminently comparable -- you'd have to say that this is yet another example in which trying to recapture the same excitement and revitalize the same action beats doesn't inspire an overwhelmingly positive audience response. You just can't go back to the well that many times. According to CinemaScore, fans gave the film a B-plus, which is a solid grade, but not one that guarantees great second or third weekend legs at the box office.

"Wanted," which cost roughly $75 million, had a $50.9-million opening weekend. It ended up making $134 million in the U.S. and another $206 million overseas. Pretty impressive stuff. But "Salt" cost considerably more to make -- roughly $130 million, according to my colleague Ben Fritz, roughly $100 million according to Variety -- and opened to only $36.5 million. That gives it a long, uphill climb to get into "Wanted" territory, especially with "Inception" siphoning off huge chunks of younger, thriller-oriented moviegoers.

The lesson? If you're going the genre route, and you're spending more dough to bring the movie to market, you're trapped in an arms race where you have to deliver more thrills and more spectacular stunts each time out -- or you're looking at a diminishing series of returns. This will be especially true if Universal ends up making "Wanted 2," which will really have to deliver some serious goods to triumph over what is beginning to look a little like Jolie action fatigue.

Photo: Angelina Jolie in Moscow at the Russian premiere of "Salt."

Credit: Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters