Enough Already: The Wonderful, Horrible Reception of Nancy Meyers

By Wiggers, Darryl | CineAction, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Enough Already: The Wonderful, Horrible Reception of Nancy Meyers


Wiggers, Darryl, CineAction


She is the most successful woman filmmaker since Mary Pickford. (1) Her films sell more tickets than those of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Her track record is so solid she now earns upwards of $12 million a picture (not including her gross percentage) and is one of a handful of Hollywood directors who has final cut approval on her films. (2) The major studios are happy to hand over this autonomy because every film she's produced has made them money. Yet the name Nancy Meyers remains relatively unknown outside the Hollywood community. Film literature almost never mention her, critics frequently dismiss her films, and the few flattering media accounts consider Meyers as little else than an accomplished "chick flick" filmmaker, or "rom-com queen." (3)

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While her success lacks the magnitude of James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and such, she's not producing big-budgeted action epics either. She tells relationship stories that outperform popular stylists like Scorsese and Tarantino. In that context, clearly there is an art to her craft that warrants attention. Besides, after 30 years as a Hollywood player, surely it's time more people realize who she is, why she is so successful, and why it matters.

Star power, marketing and publicity are all elements that help make popular cinema happen, but at its core it's about telling a story that large numbers of people want to see. More significantly, their success helps guide the filmmaking process. What movies are produced in the future depends a great deal on which ones draw audiences today. This is why the citing of box office statistics is crucial to this discussion, and will be stressed throughout. However, the predominant perception in media reports is that the films of Nancy Meyers only cater to a particular audience, especially older women. (4) Yet her box office success is so pronounced and consistent, is it really possible that only frustrated spinsters and bored housewives are flocking to her films? This writer certainly considers himself an exception.

Nancy Meyers, by the numbers

The numbers below are based on estimated number of tickets sold for each film. (5) Because of inflation (some of the films date back to the 1970s when ticket prices were as little as $2) instead of simply listing dollar amounts, the box office totals were divided by average ticket prices for each year. (6) This comparison will focus on each filmmaker's top five, including those they have written or co-written (to match the five total directed by Meyers) as some--Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen for instance--have as many as 40 films to their credit, spanning a career of nearly half a century. In Nancy Meyer's case, including her co-writing credits, her top five prove to be:

Something's Gotta Give (2003)       20,684,700
What Women Want (2000)              33,916,829
Father of the Bride Part II (1995)  17,607,841
Father of the Bride (1991)          21,217,525
Private Benjamin (1980)             25,965,557

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD                  119,392,452

If, however, we only list those she has directed, the total still easily exceeds many of the others in this comparison:

It's Complicated (2009)        14,941,866
The Holiday (2006)             9,652,648
Something's Gotta Give (2003)  20,684,700
What Women Want (2000)         33,916,829
The Parent Trap (1998)         10,300,054

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD             89,496,097

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Compare this with Judd Apatow, who has become renowned as one of the hottest comedy filmmakers of the last decade. He has only directed three features--40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Knocked Up (2007) and Funny People (2009)--so his top five films (including those he has co-written) prove to be:

Pineapple Express (2008)              12,164,538
You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008)  13,930,201
Knocked Up (2007)                     21,623,390
Fun with Dick and Jane (2005)         17,212,596
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)         17,074,764

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD                    82,005,489

Woody Allen is arguably the most well known filmmaker of relationship comedies of all time. …

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