Fans of Jennifer Lawrence, the Academy Award-winning 23-year-old starlet whose down-to-Earth charm has made her the latest iteration of America’s Sweetheart, are watching closely to see if her current film, American Hustle, goes boom or bust at the box office.
The movie will be looked on as a test of Lawrence’s box-office power. American Hustle is a quirky, 1970s-set comedy/drama fictionalizing events in the Abscam scandal, an FBI sting operation that nabbed seven U.S. congressmen and several other politicians accepting bribes from agents posing as an Arab oil sheik in 1979 and 1980. The Daily Beast online magazine recently offered a comparison between the film and the true story that inspired it, calling the movie “a very loose version of the Abscam caper.”
Not exactly the crowd-pleasing stuff of Lawrence’s other current film, the post-apocalyptic science fiction fantasy The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. That popcorn action flick, based on the second in the bestselling Hunger Games series of young adult novels, hit theatres on November 22 and has already raked in more than $365 million at the United States box office alone, according to the industry-tracking online publication Box Office Mojo.
American Hustle was released on December 13 in just a few theatres, going “wide” a week later on 2,507 screens. As of Dec. 20, the movie had taken in just over $7.4 million, less than a quarter of its reported $40 million budget.
The film’s director, David O. Russell, is know for making smaller character-based films, not big box-office blockbusters. Last year, Russell’s film Silver Linings Playbook, a story of a romance between two emotionally disturbed people, also starring Lawrence, pulled in more than $130 million against a budget of just $21 million — and won an Oscar for its young female lead.
In 2010, Russell had another hit with The Fighter, a biopic about boxer Mickey Ward that co-starred Christian Bale, best-known for his portrayal of comic book hero Batman in three films. Bale is also a co-star of American Hustle.
Hollywood observers are keeping a close eye, as well, on American Hustle not only to see how it reflects on the star power of Jennifer Lawrence, but as an experiment in whether American audiences are ready to flock in droves to movies not based on comic books and other forms of fantasy.
“The stakes are more than just a matter whether a director can match his recent successes,” writes industry analyst Steven Zeitchik in The Los Angeles Times. “They go to the question of how deep the appetite for smarter entertainment is, and how much Hollywood feels it should produce for us in the first place.”