J.J. Abrams has Greg Grunberg, Pixar has John Ratzenberger, Rian Johnson has Noah Segan, frankly most filmmakers or studios in Hollywood have a lucky charm. You wouldn't think that with the success that these directors and production houses have had, but it remains a tradition for their productions and has been for years. Even The Dark Knight's Christopher Nolan has one and it's none other than actor Michael Caine. Though the esteemed British actor wouldn't appear in one of Nolan's movies until his fourth film, Batman Begins, he would go on to appear in every single movie since.
“All the films I have made with him have raked in over a billion dollars," Caine said in an interview with The Hindu about his "lucky charm" status. "So he has to have me in a film even if he has no part for me. In Dunkirk, I was only a voice-over and I got billing in the credit title.”
So how does Nolan's filmography both with and without Caine stack? Is he actually a lucky charm? Let's crunch the numbers below and figure it out!
The "No Caine" Years
Nolan's first feature film Following was released in 1999 in just two movie theaters in the United States and grossed just $48,482 at the domestic box office and $240,495 worldwide. An indie darling, the film was a critical hit but lacked Michael Caine in the cast.
Though Nolan's sophomore effort Memento featured the likes of Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano, it didn't have Michael Caine. Even though that's true, the movie still managed to be a major hit for Nolan and Newmarket Films, bringing in $39.7 million worldwide from a $9 million production budget.
Nolan's 2002 film Insomnia featured an even bigger ensemble cast including Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, and Martin Donovan with the trend of bigger budget and bigger box office continuing. The remake of the 1997 Norwegian film was produced for $46 million and brought in $113.7 million worldwide. Notably there was no Michael Caine in the movie though.
In the end, the success of these three movies lends perhaps a little bit of credence to the lucky charm theory as they mark three of the lowest grossing films in Nolan's career. It's worth remembering though that these movies were all produced as independent films and Nolan's billion dollar grosses only began when he started getting the backing of Warner Bros. Or was it because he started hiring Michael Caine?
The Caine Begins
Batman Begins marked the first movie where Christopher Nolan hired Michael Caine to appear and it quickly became his highest grossing movie of all time upon release. The 2005 reboot of brought in$360.65 million worldwide, more than triple the box office total of Insomnia. It would be easy to say that Michael Caine's presence is what propelled the movie to such heights, but it marked the first time in eight years that Batman (one of the most popular superheroes of all time) had appeared on the big screen.
Next was the main outlier of the "Caine is Nolan's lucky charm" argument with the magic-themed psychological thriller The Prestige. Caine would have a co-starring role in the movie alongside Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, but the film failed to find an audience. Produced on a budget of $40 million, the film brought in just $53 million domestically and $104 million worldwide. Perhaps the dense subject matter, and the lack of Batman, contributed.
Two years later would come Nolan's first $1 billion movie in his Batman sequel, The Dark Knight. Caine would return once again as Alfred and the movie would quickly become a staple of comic book movies, bringing in $535.2 million in the US alone. It would become the highest grossing movie of the year for 2008.
The Caine Charm Rises
In 2010 Nolan would debut his sci-fi action film Inception which not only had Michael Caine in its cast but playing the secret linchpin of the entire movie. Though it didn't go on to gross a billion dollars, the film would bring in a respectable $292.5 million in the US. Worldwide the film would bring in $833.8 million, making it the fourth highest grossing movie of the year.
Four years after The Dark Knight, Nolan and Caine would return to Gotham with The Dark Knight Rises, which would outgross its predecessor to the tune of $1.084 billion worldwide. The sequel would become the third highest grossing movie of the year, beat out only by The Avengers and Skyfall.
Nolan's 2014 film Interstellar would feature Caine in another supporting role playing the father of Anne Hathaway's Amelia Brand. The movie would go on to be a success for the studio but still failed to find the kind of box office Nolan's blockbusters were used to. The film brought in $188 million domestically and $665 million worldwide, making it the #10 movie for the year where it was beaten out by films like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Transformers: Age of Extinction.
The anomaly of Dunkirk
In 2017 Christopher Nolan's passion project Dunkirk would be released, but unlike his preceding six movies would not feature Michael Caine in a credited role. Caine would still make an "appearance" however, providing the uncredited voice of the Fortis Leader. Here's where things get tricky, technically Caine was used in the film despite not being credited for it in the end titles, but the movie did go on to earn respectable box office. Domestically the film brought in $190 million and $527 million worldwide. Of note is that it's the lowest grossing of Nolan's films since The Prestige, could the audience be reacted to a lack of Caine?
This summer is scheduled to see the release of Nolan's latest film Tenet, an action thriller which we know very little about. One thing we DO know about the movie though is the cast which includes John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and of course, Michael Caine.
It's worth noting that the film currently remains on the release schedule from Warner Bros. Pictures but due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus could move to a different release date rather than this July. Should the film be moved, it's possible that its box office could also be effected by its new date. Given the subject matter and Caine's involvement though, it seems like a hit in the making.
Crunch the numbers
So the average worldwide box office for Christopher Nolan's films that do not include Michael Caine in any way is $51.2 million; whereas the movies that do include Caine have a worldwide box office average of $654.2 million with two billion dollar movies included. To Caine's quote earlier, technically not all of the films he has made with Christopher Nolan have "raked in over a billion dollars" but the ones that he did make did include Caine in a supporting role.
Lucky Charm Status Confirmed
As noted earlier, we could attribute the success of Nolan's movies to the casting of Michael Caine but truly his success stems from more resources as a filmmaker and the backing of a major movie studio helping to sell the films to a worldwide audience. Nolan's ability to cast his movies as well as he has is perhaps one of his strongest unsung qualities, with the addition of Michael Caine being one of his secret weapons. In the end, Nolan makes his own luck.
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