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Why do so many George Clooney fans love him but dislike his movies?

September 7, 2010 |  9:01 am

Few actors inspire swooning devotion the way George Clooney does. It's not just "I'm going to check out something he does because I find him interesting" but also full-on, follow-every-last-detail-in-his-life obsession. Even though -- or maybe because -- the actor's personal life is shrouded in such mystery, these fans take a fervent interest in all that Clooney does. A friend who is one such Clooneyist demands, upon our return from a film festival, that we share with her even the smallest Clooney tidbit. (This applies even when neither Clooney nor one of his films are at the festival.)

Clooney's box-office problem, we've been told over the years, is that there simply are not enough of these devotees. Which is why so many of his starring vehicles have wound up performing modestly. Those who turn out to see them do so with gusto. But box-office totals aren't measured by desire, and so the movies take in only middling amounts.

That explanation is fine, as far it goes, and in a way was proven again this weekend when Clooney's latest, the dark spy film "The American," opened to $13.1 million over the standard three-day weekend, $16.4 million if you toss in Labor Day. Those numbers are in line with his last few wide openings, whose three-day totals clocked in at $12.7 million ("The Men Who Stare at Goats"), $12.7 million again ("Leatherheads") and $12.5 million ("Intolerable Cruelty.") (Ensemble films, such as "Burn After Reading" and the "Ocean's Eleven" pictures, have opened stronger, though those are buoyed, of course, by the presence of many other stars. And limited releases, such as "Up in the Air" and "Good Night and Good Luck," are different animals entirely.)

What continues to baffle, however, is something that goes beyond the dollar totals. It turns out that the hard-core cadre of Clooney fans who reliably turn out to these films on opening weekend don't especially like what they see. Their love of the man may draw them to theaters, but once they get there, they're not particularly happy they came.

That trend was brutally on display with "The American," which drew a pitiful CinemaScore of D-, one of the lowest of the year for any wide opener not named "Splice." (Actually, that's not true either -- "Splice" at least pulled a D.) And the grade for "The American" is hardly an anomaly: Over the last few years, Clooney's wide openers -- the best test for a megastar -- have routinely been handed poor marks by audiences. Clooney's screwball football comedy "Leatherheads" managed just a C from CinemaScore voters. In 2002, Clooney's "Solaris" remake earned a rare CinemaScore distinction, the kind you don't want: an F. And it's not just those surveyed by the research firm: Last year's military spoof "The Men Who Stare at Goats" drew just a C+ from Box Office Mojo readers.

It would be one thing if Clooney's movies were grossing $50 million or $60 million over their opening weekends and landing these bad grades; that would mean they're catching a lot of non-Clooney fans in their nets, and so mediocre marks would be understandable. But these movies are attracting not the masses but the the small group that loves him. So why do so many of them dislike what they see?

Clooney and his reps might argue that these tough marks are a function of the actor's adventurous choices. Do what Adam Sandler does, and you'll never disappoint your fan base, because you're never really challenging them.  But take some chances, and fans, at least a certain percentage of them, will be confounded. They want the light, charming Clooney of late-night talk shows, not the dark antiheroes of "The American" or "Michael Clayton" (the latter of which garnered a decent but not overwheming B grade from Box Office Mojo readers). When they don't get it, they give a movie a weak grade. (Of course, the simpler explanation is that the choices are not so much adventurous as wobbly; a number of these films received poor-to-middling critical responses too.)

But there may be something subtler at work here. The CinemaScore system is a strange beast. Even in the overall grade, it asks respondents to grade what they just watched, sure. But since many filmgoers are coming to a movie because of a given actor, it also implicitly asks them to determine whether their motivation was valid. And it's here that Clooney runs into trouble.The actor may inspire devotion -- too much devotion -- so that the Clooney on the screen never matches up to the Clooney in filmgoers' minds. Audiences urgently want to know more about the man, but his film roles never give it to them. He is a victim, essentially, of his own high Q Score.

What's remarkable is that even though audiences don't as a rule like Clooney's films, they continue to love him. You'd think that after being disappointed by one of his movies too many times, they'd turn on the actor. But he continues to score high in popularity tests, coming in close behind the beloved Tom Hanks and running neck and neck with much bigger box-office performers such as Sandler and Will Smith, even as his movies generate much less appeal. Which we suppose is liberating for Clooney, even if the studios who collaborate with him may feel less enthused.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: George Clooney in "The American." Credit: Focus Features


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These (types of questions) are phenoma not easily answered. I believe if Clooney played a philandering romancer (ala Javier Bardem in VIckyCristina Barcelona but in a "bigger" movie) audiences would eat it up, they would flock to it and end all speculation, but he chooses to play "against type." Brad Pitt similarly I think, is not the box office star that his "star wattage" would suggest, so Clooney is not alone by any means. Additionally, his age is a factor, he is not as popular with the key 18-24 demo that often buy tickets to make or break a movie. I think he's a strong actor, great guy, who makes questionable choices for films, but that doesnt equal box office success.
The Rake

and so the bottom line of this article is: that most of Clooney fans are idiots who probably liked the Peacemaker and Batman and Robin then any of his other films?
sadly I agree. but then again it is not only most of Clooney fans who are like that. artistic smart movies (the kind Clooney does) tend to do poorly in the box office while stupide movies like Superbud and Transformers tend to bring in the money.

the thing is, in 50 even 15 years from now nobody would even remember and would talk about Superbud and Transformers, while Clooney Movies tend to be talked about years after their making. Out of Sight though it did poorly when it was released is considered one the of finest movies to be made in the 90's.

as for me... I have long ago stopped loving Clooney solely for his looks and that has happened solely because of his amazing movies range and his activism.
I am more them proud to call myself a George Clooney fan. not because he is hot (which he is) but because of his work and heart.

and as for his work: Solaris is, to this day, my favorite Clooney movie. Leatherheads was an hilarious movie, The good German was simply breathtaking and intriguing, a true master piece in my eyes.
and that's what I like about George: his movies forces me to think! how great is that!? in this day and age when dumb movies rule the box office to have a movie which forces you to think.

See, I'm different. I love his movies but I don't love him. He's a movie star. I'm not into movie stars. But I am into intelligent films made for adults. And those are what he generally makes.

Since teenagers rule the box office, I can see why his films suffer in popularity. But I hope he keeps making them!

Well, if you're a person who likes Clooney and doesn't care for his movies but still goes to them, then perhaps it's because you know his movies will be sincere efforts. They might fail from time to time, but they're never idiot fare. And so you show up the next time in the hopes that this time it might work. The amazing thing is that they always do end up pleasing some section of those core Clooney viewers for purely cinematical reasons rather than his looks or brand loyalty. Whatever the scores might say, Leatherheads is the only movie of his that I saw get universally trashed, post-Batman. Even Solaris has its defenders.

i loved solaris. clooney's other movies ive been blase about. he always plays it too cool. and the material he picks is sort of a downer. unlike tom cruise who brings you into what his characters are feeling, clooney keeps you at arm's length.

I'm not sure where I fall. I find Mr. Clooney fantastic, and am a fan of quite a few of his movies (Syriana, Michael Clayton, O Brother Where Art Thou, Men Who Stare at Goats, even Intolerable Cruelty). And yeah, the Ocean's movies are alright. I think he's a multi-dimensional actor who doesn't get the credit he deserves because of his real-life persona (women, politics, humor, sarcastic wit, etc).

Well, it's nice when a "star" is willing to take chances instead of making all the formulaic crap everybody else is complaining about. I commend him for that and I for one am much more willing to give his movie a go since I know the odds are I'm going to be treated with an intelligent movie.......not always, but better that than another Sherlock Holmes POS

No actor can guarantee box office gold every time out - not even Will Smith witness the lackluster b.o. for "Seven Pounds."

We simply live in different times, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Clooney makes challenging fare, and movie fans should applaud him for daring to be different.

That said, I want my 2 hours back from "The American."

It seems the author had a hypothesis and he chose films (from different parts of Mr. Clooney's career) to fit his assessment.

Nothing to dislike about "The American". After watching "The Road" and "The Messenger" earlier in the weekend, George's film was a breeze to sit through. The European pacing in this movie may have frustrated viewers here in the U.S., who seem to need things happening constantly on screen. And - he wears short hair better than anyone since Steve McQueen. Keep doing what you do George.

Clooney is cursed by his early success, just like Orson Wells. When one of your first movie roles is in the classic Return of the Killer Tomatoes, playing with such big names John Aston and Teri Weigel and that cute animatronic tomato, you've just made the mistake of peaking too early. Much like James Cameron did with Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.

Sometimes the art overwhelms the creator's whole life and audiences just have to expect to be disappointed with every subsequent "not quite adequate" effort.

The answer is pretty simple, many of the movies he chooses to make stink. They aren't commercial and have no broad appeal. And, as many people there are that like the guy, there are quite a few more who don't like him, personally speaking. Conservatives especially have no desire to spend their money on him.

The American is a real stinker, without any semblance of a script, but George cannot be totally blamed for that....Intolerable Cruelty and Michael Clayton are both gems......and the lame Ocean's series aside, he must be commended for avoiding the cornball blockbuster stuff....all in all, Clooney probably has as good a batting average as any star you could name, and has certainly done better than Brad Pitt, who has yet to star in a movie worth watching (save for Spy Game).....

The American was gorgeously shot, but slow and completely nonsensical as far a plot goes. The end makes absolutely no sense, and so all the build-up to it feels like a bad tease. His other starring roles are similarly script-challenged. For such a clearly intelligent guy, you'd think he could chose some stories that actually added up to something.

It seems to me that Clooney,"the actor", has been sold to the public for a very long time,with lots of People magazine covers and publicity,telling us, the public ,that George Clooney is a movie star.Because of that he is a well known name and face to a great many people. However the movies he makes often don't have wide appeal and box office is modest.Actually those damn silly weekend box office races to the finish don't show that his movies do rent well,a wider audience eventually does see them as they do see many other films that don't win their BO races. As it stands now alomost everything that has to do with actors and the box office is obsessed over.Why is that? Shouldn't the movie industry be focused on encouraging original material so guys like Clooney who do have public recognition can capitalize on said recognition and make successful movies? The way things are going now the movie industry is going to be making more animated feature films,yet more comic book,super hero stuff.In fact there are more kiddie, tweener, teen movies available in 2010 then there were when I was a kid. Back then the movies were aimed at adults.Clooney is an adult making adult films,isn't that what he is supposed to be doing?

maybe it was just a crap movie. where are the good movies? maybe people are sick of actors that don't appreciate the people that give them their hard earned money.

I agree with the statement that Clooney off screen is much more appealing than Clooney on screen. It seems like his off screen persona overshadows his performances. That's why, very often the best actors are those who seem a little bit impersonal off screen (and they are able to play different roles). And to be honest, I can't say Clooney is an outstanding performer. He is charming, goodlooking, witty but I can't picture him playing a more challenging role.

Clooney's movies don't make money because his running off at the mouth about politics has alienated more people than his dreamy eyes attract.

For every post menopausal women who swoons over him and buys a ticket there are three people like me who will never pay to see anything that Clooney is in because of who he is.

"Do what Adam Sandler does, and you'll never disappoint your fan base, because you're never really challenging them."

Because, you know what. That's the job of entertainment. To "challenge" the people you want to pony up the bucks to see your product.

And we see how well that strategy works with all those Hollycrud anti-war movies which sink faster than a submarine on dive dive dive.

You guy's bare all wrong...It is his off sceen life that has turned most people off. He is outspoken in his views about political issues and that is what has hurt him. Out side of Hollywood and Manhattan most of America don't agree with his views. Throw in that all his movies make America or Americans look evil or like idiots....it's pretty obvious why his movies tank.

People want to come out of a movie feeling better than when they walked in. His movies just don't do that. Sending out the message that America is the bad guy just doesn't work....not just in Hollywood either,George's good buddy Obama is finding this out as well.

It's Too bad... I actually think Greorge is a hell of a good actor. But I'm not going to spend any more money on him.

George Clooney does not have a lot of fans. That's the truth. Most of his fans are in hollywood. He got where he is by kissing a lot of tail and making connections, so hollywood shoves him down our throat as a movie star when he really isn't one. He's constantly compared to Cary Grant or Clark Gable when those men were true movie stars who drew the public. He is the most overrated man in hollywood. Just because he plays the game well doesn't mean he's a true movie star. Unless you could looking and living one.

I've had enough of the George Clooney favoritism in the media and throughout hollywood. The man is not a movie star. George Clooney is the modern Warren Beatty. A man who is only worshipped in hollywood circles and blown up by the media as the epitome of a movie star mainly because of his connections and calculations.

I respect George Clooney for taking risks and getting involved with projects that are smart and off the beaten path. He could do more commercial block buster type films if he wanted to, but he keeps it diverse and keeps challenging himself as an actor and a director. It's a shame that box office returns are what drives the machine, but he seems to navigate the business and keep his artistic integrity at the same time. He's a smart and likeable man as well as a talented artist.

I like Clooney and go to his films. They tend to be intelligent and well made.

That said, it's funny, though, when the disappointing b.o. is for a film that features a woman -- it's her fault, loser should go back to tv, realize her appeal is gone, who can explain her terrible choices?, etc.

For pal George, there's a lot of mystique, unpredictability in this outcome...but probably it's the audience's fault...for liking the guy too much. His over-appeal, in other words. O Brother.

Clooney gives the impression of being a straightforward guy. and he might be. then again, when looking beyond superficiailities, like a lot of people, maybe there're complexities there. and like all complex people, it doesn't benefit them to be exposed in fine detail for all and sundry to pick at.
is it really healthy for a person for the world to know who you are and what you are about?
if the film business were to churn out the same film type by the same film star season in season out is that likely to be an astute business strategy? i dunno, doesn't sound like it to me.
do any of us work at anything, just for the money? it might seem like that in the movies because the rewards are so high, apparently. God only knows who's earning what - especially these days.
business people make money. the rest of us get lumbered with whatever work we have the willingness to do.
if George Clooney wanted a different job, he probably would have done it. his whole life is about mega-acting, and he's good at it.
and he stuck with it no matter what the odds.

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