Career Arcs: Woody Allen

Woody Allen movies don`t make for quite as apples to apples comparisons as Bertie and Jeeves novels or Aubrey and Maturin novels, since some are intentionally serious and unappealing. But they are still worth plotting out inflation-adjusted domestic box office over time (data from BoxOfficeMojo). 

The Gross column is in millions of today`s dollars. The Versus Mean column compares box office to Woody`s mean box office (a little under $30 million current dollars). Thus, Annie Hall`s $133 million in today` dollars is 350% more than (or 4.5 times) his $30 million mean. 

Title Release  Age  Gross V. Mean Rank
Everything You Always … 1972  36 82 178 4
Sleeper 1973  37 81 172 5
Love and Death 1975  39 76 157 6
Annie Hall 1977  41 133 350 1
Interiors 1978  42 35 17 9
Manhattan 1979  43 124 317 2
Stardust Memories 1980  44 30 1 10
A Midsummer Night`s Sex Comedy 1982  46 24 (19) 18
Zelig 1983  47 29 (2) 12
Broadway Danny Rose 1984  48 25 (17) 17
The Purple Rose of Cairo 1985  49 23 (22) 19
Hannah and Her Sisters 1986  50 84 181 3
Radio Days 1987  51 29 (1) 11
September 1987  51 1 (97) 39
Another Woman 1988  52 3 (90) 37
Crimes and Misdemeanors 1989  53 36 21 8
Alice 1990  54 14 (54) 25
Shadows and Fog 1992  56 5 (83) 33
Husbands and Wives 1992  56 20 (33) 21
Manhattan Murder Mystery 1993  57 21 (28) 20
Bullets Over Broadway 1994  58 25 (16) 16
Mighty Aphrodite 1995  59 12 (61) 27
Everyone Says I Love You 1996  60 17 (44) 24
Deconstructing Harry 1997  61 18 (40) 22
Celebrity 1998  62 8 (72) 29
Sweet and Lowdown 1999  63 6 (79) 31
Small Time Crooks 2000  64 25 (16) 15
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion 2001  65 10 (65) 28
Hollywood Ending 2002  66 6 (78) 30
Anything Else 2003  67 4 (86) 35
Melinda and Melinda 2005  69 5 (84) 34
Match Point 2005  69 28 (7) 13
Scoop 2006  70 13 (58) 26
Cassandra`s Dream 2008  72 1 (96) 38
Vicky Cristina Barcelona 2008  72 25 (15) 14
Whatever Works 2009  73 6 (81) 32
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 2010  74 3 (89) 36
Midnight in Paris 2011  75 55 86 7
To Rome with Love 2012  76 17 (44) 23

 

We are missing box office data for his early comedies like Take the Money and Run.

Before those, he was a joke-writing prodigy making thousands of dollars per week as a teenager in the mid-1950s. It took him longer to develop as a stand-up comic, then as a movie star and director, getting started in movies just before turning 30.

His comedies in the first half of the 1970s like Sleeper did consistently well, then he peaked with Annie Hall and Manhattan in the late 1970s when he was in his early 40s.

True fact: as originally filmed, Annie Hall was a two hour and 20 minute murder mystery. Allen`s editor, Ralph Rosenblum, convinced him to dump the entire crime plot (which was resurrected years later in Manhattan Murder Mystery), add some voice-over, and voila, he had a short romantic comedy. Although Annie Hall won the Oscar for Best Picture, Rosenblum wasn`t even nominated for Best Editing. (Granted, Star Wars won, and deserved to win, Best Editing, but still …)

Hannah and Her Sisters in 1986 was a big peak, followed by Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1991. Then he made 21 straight movies that failed to reach his mean, which has to be some kind of record.

My impression is that Allen doesn`t run over budget, so his financial backers know that although they will probably lose money, their losses will be limited. So, they are more patrons than investors, but they also have a chance of making a profit. So, funding a Woody Allen movie is like buying a ticket in a charity raffle. And, Allen`s prestige and popularity with Oscar voters means that big movie stars will work in his films cheap, so his patrons get extra vicarious glamor from dropping a quite finite amount of money on his projects.

And then, just when it seemed completely hopeless, at age 75 he made 2011`s very entertaining Midnight in Paris.