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No friends at the box office?

By Breeanna Hare, Special to CNN
"The Bounty Hunter's" opening weekend was just short of expectations, with Jennifer Aniston still being unproven as a box office draw.
"The Bounty Hunter's" opening weekend was just short of expectations, with Jennifer Aniston still being unproven as a box office draw.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jennifer Aniston's "Bounty Hunter" performed just shy of expectations
  • "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" took the No. 2 spot without any star power
  • "Bounty" received poor reviews; Aniston not proving to be a box office draw yet
  • Audiences seem more interested in a fresh concept with unknowns

(CNN) -- Cliché trailers and unimpressed movie reviews aside, "The Bounty Hunter" was still expected to perform decently at the box office last weekend, some guessing a gross in the neighborhood of $25 million.

In reality, the predictions weren't far off -- the actual box office gross came in at nearly $21 million, which BoxOffice.com editor Phil Contrino described as a solid opening weekend, if a little on the low side.

The true surprise, Contrino said, was Twentieth Century Fox's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" coming out of nowhere and edging past it with an opening weekend gross of $22 million. "It's a situation where there's a movie with no stars aimed at a very specific age group -- teenage boys -- and it beat a movie with two stars," he said.

Yet, Contrino added, Aniston has never been really reliable to open a movie on her own, and she was the bigger star in "Bounty." Gerard Butler, her co-star, is gaining prominence but doesn't have the years of recognition that Aniston has.

Jennifer Aniston by the box office numbers
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The actress was nearly inescapable in 2005 as the media tracked her divorce from actor Brad Pitt, but her thriller "Derailed" and romantic comedy "Rumor Has It" performed modestly at the box office.

Aniston then came back with a hit in 2006 with "The Break-Up," co-starring Vince Vaughn, himself riding a wave of popularity from "Wedding Crashers."

That success -- $39 million opening weekend and $118 million grossed domestically overall -- was immediately followed by "Marley & Me," which grossed $36 million its first weekend, and "He's Just Not That Into You," which Aniston starred in along with a number of other A-List actors.

Yet 2009 brought the flop "Love Happens," which grossed $8 million when it opened in little more than 1,500 theaters in 2009. By all accounts, "Bounty Hunter," beaten by a movie about middle school kids or not, is a step in the right direction.

Judging from her ups and downs at the box office, she's been "far too hit or miss" to be a safe bet at the box office, Contrino said. "The moral of the story is that you can't bank on her."

Yet Aniston's public perception would lead one to believe otherwise, said film critic Nick Schager.

"In general, there's a disconnect between Jennifer Aniston's cultural popularity and her movie star popularity," Schager said. "There are certain people -- and you could make the case for Angelina Jolie as well -- given how rampant tabloid culture has become who are much more famous for that stuff than they are for the actual movies or TV shows."

If anything, said US Weekly's Senior Movie Editor Bradley Jacobs, Aniston's cultural popularity is the reason "Bounty Hunter" got the dollars that it did, despite its current 8 percent fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com.

"Despite terrible reviews, people still wanted to go," Jacobs said. "Jennifer is still a movie star."

Aniston is one of the top celebrities that US Weekly covers, Jacobs said, and while her press attention may have something to do with her box office draw, Jacobs doesn't think it's the total sum.

"Jessica Simpson is covered a lot but she doesn't have box office power. Cameron Diaz, we cover her a fair amount and her movies have a spottier track," Jacobs said. "There's something about Jennifer -- they love the hair, the body, the clothes and they've shown that they're willing to pay money."

Aniston, Schager believes, is indeed capable of carrying a movie. She just hasn't shown it yet.

"Aniston hasn't proven herself to be a reliable box office draw on her own, but she is a huge star. I think people like Jennifer Aniston, and if there's a movie that looks appealing, it'll do well," Schager said. "But, she's been a bit overrated in the public conscious because of the extracurricular stuff, and that doesn't necessarily translate to her wanting to see her trade barbs with Gerard Butler."

Which, Schager adds, is really the more pressing point: "Bounty Hunter" wasn't great, and not even the brightest star can mask that.

"I think she's chosen poorly for the past few years," said Movieline.com senior editor Kyle Buchanan. "If you look back before that she had 'Marley and Me' and 'The Break Up,' and her indie at that point was 'Friends With Money,' which was a critical success."

"Bounty Hunter," on the other hand, "seems like a retread of 'The Ugly Truth' from last year. Audiences didn't really care," Buchanan said.

He added that while "the amount of hype that we get for Jennifer Aniston is always going to exceed the amount of box office she's going to bring," she's still one of the Top 10 actresses. "She can command an audience, but she has to be in the right vehicle."

The other industry reality to consider, BoxOffice.com's Contrino said, is that none of the A-list actors, save for a few, are consistently opening with huge numbers anymore.

"I think there's a misconception that for a movie to open, it has to have major stars -- nothing could be further from the truth," Contrino said. "If you look at 2009, some of the biggest hits of the year didn't have major names -- with 'The Hangover,' character actors opened the movie based on the concept. It was the same with 'District 9' and 'Paranormal Activity,' which is the golden standard of this argument."

Buchanan agreed that these days, audiences care more about the content than which actor is headlining.

"In the '80s and '90s, there were a dozen stars you could count on to open a movie," Buchanan said. "The days for any actor, male or female, opening a movie based on their name alone are numbered."

 
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