When Top Gun: Maverick broke the £65 million ($128m) barrier at the UK and Irish box office last night, it also shattered any residual doubt that cinema – or at least a certain kind of it – is back. Yes, smaller and more serious works are still struggling, but the recovery now happily extends beyond sequels and reboots: it was also announced that Baz Luhrmann's Elvis had brought in £7.2m ($14.2m) during its first week on release.
This is the strongest opening for any film this year which didn't spring from an existing film franchise, comic book or video game series – and one which nearly, if you pull down the rose-tinted lenses for a moment, looks like it could have almost occurred pre-Covid.
So which other original film did Luhrmann's manage to usurp? The answer might not be obvious: it's The Lost City, the romantic action-comedy with Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, which was released in April but felt (in the very best way) like it had been found in a cupboard that had been boarded up since the late 1990s. It was silly and colourful, let its stars play to their most loveable strengths, and allowed itself to be raunchy without plumbing the pits of gross-out.
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It's sobering to think that this particular style of studio comedy has been so out of fashion for so long that if The Lost City had been made in the 90s, Bullock would have probably still starred in it. (Chillingly, Tatum would have been at high school.) Anyway, cinema-goers had clearly missed this sort of thing, and were delighted to have it back. Yet Bullock's recent announcement that she plans to step away from acting indefinitely leaves an urgent vacancy in the field.
Who else has the skillset for this kind of material? You won't find out by going to the cinema: the summer used to teem with studio comedies, but this year there isn't one to be seen. Over the last decade or so, comic stardom as we knew it has been replaced with franchise smart-aleckry. So is there anyone out there who can make Hollywood funny – and filthy – again?
As of yesterday, there is. Step forward Cameron Diaz, whose own retirement came to an abrupt end this week when it was revealed she was about to embark on – yes! – a romantic action-comedy with Jamie Foxx, which will go into production at Netflix later this year. Aptly called Back in Action, it will be directed by none other than The Lost City's Seth Gordon, and probably owes its existence to that film's success.
Diaz's last role before her eight-year absence was as the monstrous Miss Hannigan in the unloved 2014 remake of Annie – also opposite Jamie Foxx – but that was a child-friendly variant of the sort of roles that had sustained her stardom over the two preceding decades.
The Mask, There's Something About Mary, Charlie's Angels, Bad Teacher, Sex Tape: some of those films were funnier than others, but Diaz brought a spiky, mad-eyed energy to them all, playing off her own obvious beauty and sex appeal in the same way Marilyn Monroe had, so iconically, in the 1950s.
It would have been fascinating to see what Diaz might have done with a role as comedically fruitful as Monroe's in How to Marry a Millionaire, or Some Like it Hot. (As The Mask's femme fatale Tina Carlyle – Diaz's debut screen role – the Monroe parallels are pantingly played up by the camera in a way that today would get someone cancelled.)
Instead, she did her best with the above, which were collectively enough to turn her into the highest-paid Hollywood actress over 40 as soon as she turned that age in 2013. Now – on the cusp of her sixth decade – perhaps we've never needed her more.