Four Christmases defies critics at the box office

When Reese Witherspoon's new comedy Four Christmases lined up against Nicole Kidman's eagerly-awaited epic Australia at the Thanksgiving holiday weekend box office, virtually every critic in America predicted a bloodbath.



Witherspoon's flick, co-starring Vince Vaughn, had been dubbed the biggest turkey this side of your family dinner table. Kidman, by contrast, was riding high on a wave of Oscar expectation, in critically-acclaimed director Baz Luhrmann's stylish history of her mother country.



Then, America's cinema-goers had their say. And in one of those upsets that makes you simultaneously rejoice that anything is still possible in Hollywood - yet wonder if the nation has somehow taken collective leave of its senses - Four Christmases beat its highbrow rival out of sight.



The film, about a young couple from San Francisco who are forced to spend the festive season visiting each of their divorced parents, topped the weekend charts, taking $31.7 million. Australia, by contrast, came fifth after a disastrous opening that saw it generate just $14.8 million.



Not only has the result re-drawn the map for Hollywood's impending awards season - giving Kidman a mountain to climb if she is to now add to her Oscar collection - it also underlined Witherspoon's status as America's most bankable modern sweetheart.



The film managed to succeed despite some of the worst write-ups of the year. The Chicago Tribune dubbed it "acrid and wince-worthy" and "eerily unfunny." The Washington Post said it was "several maraschino cherries short of a fruitcake." The Associated Press review, syndicated to almost every regional paper in the land, bore the ominous headline: "Four Christmases is zero fun."



Yet family audiences turned up in droves, buying into the reputation for wholesome comedy that Witherspoon has cultivated since her breakthrough in Legally Blonde more than seven years ago, and underlining the dearth of other movies on the market with a seasonal twist.



"It was the perfect time. It's the only movie out there that deals with Christmas," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros, who distributed the title. "In tough times, people are looking for comic relief and that's what we gave them. We just hit everybody. People wanted to laugh."



Witherspoon boasts a solid CV, and won an Oscar for her role in Walk the Line two years ago. But to ensure success for Four Christmases, she hit the publicity circuit for all its worth, appearing on the cover of last month's Vogue, before doing the rounds of magazine and newspaper interviews, together with a host of late-night chat-shows.



The 32 year-old actress also pandered to the public's interest in her somewhat troubled private life by discussing the breakdown of her marriage to actor Ryan Phillipe - father of her two children - and the state of her current romance with Jake Gyllenhall.



Kidman, by contrast, has seemed conspicuous by her absence from the news pages in recent weeks. The makers of Australia, which had an estimated budget of $130 million, are now hoping to recoup their outlay by turning the film into a slow-burning word-of-mouth hit.



Cynics, meanwhile, will conclude that the success of Four Christmases, which had a budget of $80 million, goes to show that, recession or otherwise, people will spend money on any old rubbish at this time of year - especially a turkey.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas