You'd never know it, what with Ben Affleck hot off "Argo" and the Oscars, but Thursday is the 10th anniversary of the end of his career. You'd never know it because, as things turned out, the box-office bomb that was "Gigli" only ended the first part of Affleck's career.
Opening in theaters on Aug. 1, 2003, "Gigli" was the story of a macho gangster (Affleck), his lesbian minder (Jennifer Lopez), and a young man the mob wants under wraps (a pre-"Hangover" Justin Bartha doing a "Rainman"-era Dustin Hoffman).
To look at the film with 2013 eyes is to see something that's overlong, overly steeped in goombah-isms, and seriously under-funny for a movie billed as a romantic-comedy. Another thing those eyes — and ears — tell you: Affleck just isn't very good (or, alternately, is terribly miscast).
But "an unreleasable piece of sh--?" "The worst film ever?"
To understand those blurb lines, then you need to see "Gigli" as 2003 saw it: as a disaster waiting to happen.
The movie's backstory more or less begins in 2001 when it was reported Lopez had signed to costar opposite Affleck. At the time, Lopez was fresh off "The Wedding Planner," a box-office hit, and "J.Lo.," a platinum-selling smash. As for Affleck, an Oscar-winner for "Good Will Hunting" at age 25, he was Teflon. Though critics had been gunning for him, he'd emerged unscathed and, in fact, a success in "Pearl Harbor" and "Armageddon." For his reward, Affleck had been tapped to inherit the Jack Ryan franchise from Harrison Ford in "The Sum of All Fears."
Add in writer-director Martin Brest and his credentials ("Scent of a Woman," "Beverly Hills Cop"), and things didn't look bad at all for "Gigli."
Then came Bennifer.
The first time audiences outside of Hollywood proper heard of "Gigli" was the summer of 2002. That's when Lopez split from dancer-husband Cris Judd, and rumors of a Lopez-Affleck romance surfaced. The tabloid-reported tale had it that the two stars met on "Gigli," and then became involved while making a second film together, Kevin Smith's "Jersey Girl," shot that same year.
By November 2002, Affleck and Lopez were announcing their engagement in that most intimate of settings: a primetime news special. A couple of weeks later, People named Affleck the "Sexiest Man Alive," and even those who weren't sick and tired of the actor were now sick and tired of the actor — even perhaps the actor himself.
"I'm marketable right now and that means as an actor you sell your life along with the movies you make," Affleck would say. "Hopefully one day soon it will all go away. I definitely would like to be working without being in the eye of the tornado."
There would be no such reprieve for Affleck, not in 2003, or as USA Today would go on to call it, "the worst year of his life."
The bad times actually started near the end of 2002 when "Gigli" was test-screened, and promptly branded "the worst film ever" by an early-bird reviewer on Ain't It Cool News.
Then, instead of walking "Gigli" down the red carpet (at one time, the movie had been slated to hit theaters in the fall of 2002), Affleck and Lopez were back on the set for reshoots. While scrapped release dates and reshoots are not uncommon, they're rarely viewed as promising signs.
By early 2003, as Affleck was getting killed by critics (again) for "Daredevil," "Gigli," which briefly had gone through a title change to "Tough Love," was being noted outside of the fanboy press and by the Chicago Sun-Times as the film with "mixed buzz," and the film in which Affleck's and Lopez's real-life chemistry "apparently did not translate to the screen."
Then came yet another devastating advance review on Ain't It Cool — the one that branded "Gigli" as "an unreleasable piece of sh--."
Watch the 'Gigli' Trailer:
In truth, many, many, many more strikes followed — Affleck got nailed by the press for hanging out at a strip club, "Gigli" racked up, if that's the word, a single-digit approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and the bad buzz kept on keeping on.
And then the movie opened ... and closed.
Made for a reported $54 million ($12.5 million of which went to Affleck, and $12 million of which went to Lopez), "Gigli" opened in eighth place, with a three-day gross of $3.8 million.
In its second weekend, it made less than $700,000 — a week-to-week drop of 82 percent, the worst plummet of its kind for the time (and still the third-worst ever, per BoxOfficeMojo.com stats).
In its third weekend, it scraped together about $18,000, and after that its studio stopped reporting numbers, such as they were.
In all, "Gigli" grossed $7.3 million worldwide, won seven Razzies (including a special mention, in 2005, as worst comedy of the past quarter-century) and gave "Ishtar" company in the land of infamous flops.
Today, one of the most impressive things about "Gigli" is how radioactive it was: It didn't just bomb (and it did), it didn't just destroy Affleck's career (and it did — within months of its demise, Disney pulled the plug on Affleck's next project, "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," which would go on to star Matthew McConaughey), it blew up Bennifer — on screen and off. (Ben's strip clubbing didn't help much in that department, either.)
A month after "Gigli" opened (and closed, naturally), Affleck and Lopez called off their planned wedding, and later called off their relationship. After, Smith's "Jersey Girl" was rejiggered: An Affleck-Lopez wedding scene was omitted and the Affleck-Lopez connection was downplayed in marketing. (It was a lost cause: While "Jersey Girl" made a lot more money than "Gigli," it barely broke even at the worldwide box office, and did nothing to right Affleck's trajectory.)
Yet another casualty of the "Gigli"/Bennifer disaster: an Affleck project that, back in 2003, was reported to have Lopez set for the lead.
The project did eventually become a movie, although Lopez, whose career was less dependent on box-office returns and therefore less damaged than Affleck's by "Gigli," wasn't in it. Affleck, who was done as an "Armageddon"-sized leading man, wasn't in it, either — instead, he stayed out of the spotlight, and behind the camera.
The movie was "Gone Baby Gone." Affleck wrote and directed. It was a modest box-office hit, and an Oscar-nominated critical favorite. "The Town," "Argo," the Academy Awards, and the all-new Ben Affleck followed.
See, we told you "Gigli" wasn't so bad after all.
Ben Affleck's Awards Show Notes From Home: