This past weekend saw the nation's top box-office spots filled by "The Whole Nine Yards" and "Hanging Up" -- two films starring two, yes, "Friends." ("Yards," with Matthew Perry, took in a strong $15.9 million; "Hanging Up," with Lisa Kudrow, $15.7 million.)
For a time, box-office analysts found themselves pondering if the six primary cast members of the popular sitcom might not have some type of hideous spell cast upon them, at least when it came to their big-screen forays. Alone, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston headlined such notable (or perhaps not-so notable) flops as "Commandments" (Cox's $488,000 box-office dud), "Three to Tango" (Perry's $10.5 million dud), "Ed" (Le Blanc's $6.2 million underperformer) and "Kissing a Fooll" (Schwimmer's $4 million loser). (Remaining friend Kudrow has mainly -- and smartly? -- stuck to supporting roles in high-stakes studio films and lead roles in low-pressure indie films.)
But now with Perry and Kudrow's twin successes, can we finally call the "curse" off? Maybe, maybe not. After all, Kudrow's accomplishment came in an ensemble piece, didn't it? (In "Hanging Up," she takes third billing after Meg Ryan and Diane Keaton.) And wasn't Bruce Willis the real star of "Whole Nine Yards," not Perry?
"I think if you look at any of [the successful films starring 'Friends' members], the ones that have done well have been ensemble pieces," says Paul Dergarabedian, of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. "However, if you look at 'The Whole Nine Yards' -- which isn't an ensemble -- a lot of women followed Matt from 'Friends' to the theater. Women cannot be underestimated in terms of their box-office draw."
Dergarabedian believes the "Friends" friends' historic lack of B.O. power -- the Cox-equipped "Scream" franchise, aside -- has more to do with choices and options, or lack thereof, than curses.
"I don't think [the poor box office performances] are necessarily their fault," Dergarabedian explains. "In the past, they didn't really have the clout to elicit a good script. They were basically using 'Friends' to get into theatrical films. Their choices are getting better and the material they are getting is better than it was."
And while David ("The Pallbearer") Schwimmer and Matt ("Ed") LeBlanc are still searching for that elusive mega-hit, a noted expert offers some promising news. Hollywood-based professional psychic Madame Hart scoffs at the notion that our dear "Friends" were ever cursed at all.
"That doesn't really sound like a curse," Hart says. "It just sounds like they were in bad movies. If they were really cursed, then they would have experienced some serious problems, like loss of their careers, loss of property, their relationships could be destroyed, even death."
Apparently dying at the box office does not count.