Joseph Gordon-Levitt took the increasingly common step of segueing from actor to director this weekend with Relativity Media’s release of “Don Jon.” After years of playing the likable hero in movies such as “50/50” and “(500) Days of Summer,” Gordon got behind the camera for this story of a working-class type who finds his new girlfriend and his old love of porn at cross-purposes. (He also wrote the script and stars in the film.)
Though it delighted many critics (an 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes), the movie didn’t exactly set the film world on fire, grossing only about $9 million at the box office, good enough for just fourth place.
But the numbers aren’t the only metric, or at least the film should be graded on a curve. As Relativity distribution president Kyle Davies told my colleague Amy Kaufman, “I think the most important result from the weekend is that this is the debut of a new filmmaker. He was already a successful actor and now he’s added director to his resume. It’s the start of an interesting and exciting career for him.”
How true is Davies’ statement? Here's a look back at a half-dozen other actors who made the jump to directing to see how “Don Jon” compares. It turns out the first time is rarely the charm.
Jon Favreau -- After being told how money he was in 1996’s “Swingers,” Favreau's directorial debut didn't earn that much of it. The actor took his first turn behind the camera in 2001 with the crime comedy "Made." Though it reunited Favreau with his “Swingers” co-star Vince Vaughn, the film totaled just $7 million at the box office, adjusting for inflation, and garnered a 71% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Both numbers are lower than what "Don Jon" has already done. Favreau went on to much greater success: Two years later, his “Elf” became a holiday hit that exceeded $170 million in domestic box office receipts.
Mel Gibson -- Gibson made his debut with “The Man Without a Face,” a 1993 drama about a disfigured man who moves to a remote locale in Maine. Gordon-Levitt could take heart from this too -- he surpassed Gibson’s first film, which received more mixed reviews than "Don Jon" (67% on Rotten Tomatoes) and a lower opening ($6.5 million in today’s dollars). And things went on to work out pretty well for director Gibson (professionally, anyway).
Seth Rogen -- If Gordon-Levitt is looking for an actor-turned-director model to follow, this would be it. Rogen is a man who can play on both sides of the camera, particularly in comedies. After years of being the stoner sidekick in Judd Apatow movies (and a mixed career as a writer, “Pineapple Express” but also “The Green Hornet”), Rogen took his first trip to the director’s chair earlier this year with the apocalyptic meta-comedy “This Is the End.” The movie was of course a huge hit, surpassing $100 million in domestic box office receipts. Unfortunately for Gordon-Levitt, he’s not yet heading in a Rogen-ish direction. “End” opened to $20 million, more than twice the “Don Jon” figure. And though the Rotten Tomatoes score is comparable, “This Is The End” had a CinemaScore that, at B+, was a full grade higher than “Don Jon’s” C+.
Clint Eastwood -- Yeah, Gordon-Levitt isn’t likely to turn into Eastwood any time soon. For the record, though, Eastwood defied the rookie curse and had a pretty strong start -- his psychological thriller “Play Misty For Me” grossed $60 million in today’s dollars when it came out in 1971 and drew solid reviews.
George Clooney -- The man who's become one of the preeminent hyphenates didn’t get off to a great start in 2002, with his ”Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” taking in $22 million in today’s dollars at the domestic box office, and a Rotten Tomatoes score a few points lower than “Don Jon.” Gordon-Levitt, take heart.
Ben Affleck -- A porn-themed comedy doesn’t have much in common with a gritty Boston kidnapping story, as Affleck’s 2007 debut “Gone Baby Gone” was. Still, Gordon-Levitt can similarly take solace in the fact that the man who went on to win a best picture Oscar last year for "Argo" had a similar start at the box office -- Affleck’s first movie grossed $23 million adjusting for inflation, which is right about where “Don Jon” will likely end up. Not exactly in the same ballpark review-wise, though. “Gone” on Rotten Tomatoes notched a remarkable 94%.