Initially released on November 17, 2000, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas went on to earn $260M at the box office and was the top drawer that year (two other 2000 releases ended up with a gross of $200M or greater, Cast Away and Mission: Impossible II). At the time, critics hated it. Historically, it was among the last of Jim Carrey's last big hits (Bruce Almighty followed).
So how does a movie go from being extremely popular to a cultural afterthought?
Being a Christmas movie, The Grinch (as it's sometimes called) is bound to have more seasonal appeal than something you'd watch at any other point in the year. Some people like to watch the same movie obsessively, which is part of how any movie gains traction. There are plenty of demands on your attention at the holidays, which limits how often you'll watch any one movie during that time.
Beyond that, The Grinch has two big draws (other than director Ron Howard): Jim Carrey and Dr. Seuss. If The Grinch proved hard to remember fondly, The Cat and the Hat, released in 2003, proved the limits of live action Seuss, especially storytelling that adapted freely from the source material, was reliably hard to please. In short, Seuss has proven, in recent years, to be a truly sacred cow. Later animated adaptations Horton Hears a Who! (featuring the voice of Jim Carrey) and The Lorax, had far less trouble finding sympathetic viewers.
Jim Carry built a career on outsize characters. On the surface, The Grinch was a natural vehicle, and for the first time, Carrey even had a shot at being lost in the character. Whether the end results describe a failure on that front or not, it's hard to deny that later films allowed Carrey less experimentation than what he'd done before The Grinch.
realm of mugging, or overacting. Carrey had grown increasingly comfortable in his career. He
There's a curious line all actors face, whether or not their faces contort to the extremes Carrey's can. At some point, they reach the even floated with full respectability in the dramatic turn he took for The Truman Show. And while the later Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is considered a career-best for him by critics, audiences largely stayed away, and both did for The Majestic.
It could be very well that it was Carrey performing a familiar character. Previously, for the most part, he'd been creating them, with the exception of The Riddler in Batman Forever. For The Mask, you'd have to be a comic book geek to know its printed origins. Critics were again impressed with his Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, but audiences seemed less confused than intrigued by his stepping into a real-life figure who famously blurred the lines.
For The Grinch, he was stepping into the green fur of an icon. Maybe it was simply that it looked like, finally, it looked like we'd seen all his tricks.
Jim Carrey remains one of my absolute favorites, and The Grinch is for me a fascinating experience. I like seeing new versions of familiar stories. Not everyone does. In the end, maybe that's it.