Creating an account with gives you access to more features and services, like our weekly newsletter and other special features just for the film community.

Large moulin rouge

Looking Back: Movies in Theaters when 'Moulin Rouge!' Premiered

On the occasion of Baz Luhrmann's latest, we're taking a look at what the movie landscape looked like when his 'Moulin Rouge!' first hit theaters.

The Movie: Moulin Rouge!

Premiere Date: May 18, 2001

Baz Luhrmann had been making movies — big, lavish spectacle movies — since well before 2001's Moulin Rouge!. But his latest big, lavish spectacle, The Great Gatsby (no exclamation point, unfortunately), is about to hit theaters almost twelve years to the day after he opened Moulin Rouge! It's tough not to think about how the cinematic landscape was before any of us knew how well Jim Broadbent could bust out "Like a Virgin."

The two films' circumstances are wildly different. Gatsby is opening in theaters across America, one of the year's most loudly anticipated movies. Moulin Rouge! had its share of fanfare as well, but it was opening incredibly small, on only two screens, in order to build up the kind of buzz it would need to attract mainstream audiences. The gambit worked, of course, but upon its first peek into theaters, the multiplexes were busy with a whole different set of films. How much has changed in the last twelve years? Take a look at what was hot in May of 2001:

The #1 Movie in America: As hard as it is to believe, we once lived in a world where Shrek was not yet a thing. That world came to an end on May 18, 2001, as Mike Meyers birthed his jolly green ogre into the world, trailing pop culture references wherever he went. The $42 million opening weekend would end up being by far the smallest opening for any Shrek film, as the sequels all opened to at least $70 mil. The film would go on to be the third biggest hit of 2001, and remains one of only 7 films since 2001 to finish in the Top 3 that wasn't based off a previous film/comic book/TV show/toy line (an odd group of films that includes Finding Nemo, Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Night at the Museum, Avatar, and The Passion of the Christ).

In Leading Lady News: In the more-fraught-than-it-should-be box-office history of films with female leads, we always seem to be in a battle against the idea that audiences won't support these films. The box-office in May of 2001 is an interesting case in that regard, as two-thirds of the Top 5 films featured protagonists who were unambiguously and unmistakably ... women. Rene Zellweger was hitting the prime of her career as Bridget Jones's Diary hung around in the Top 5 in its sixth week of release. She'd ultimately nab her first Oscar nomination for it. Elsewhere, at #4, was the Jennifer Lopez vehicle Angel Eyes, wherein she ... had angel eyes. The film was considered a disappointment all around, but it's instructive to remember that there was a time when Jennifer Lopez (still only a few years removed from her Out of Sight raves) was given the opportunity to take a chance on a romantic thriller that actually got a studio push.

The Stars of Tomorrow ... Yesterday: It's funny to remember the ascendant stars of yesterday and how much expectation was place on their shoulders. A Knight's Tale successfully launched Heath Ledger into legit stardom (as ill-fated as it would turn out to be), but it was also intended to launch Shannyn Sossamon. Drive was not only a chance for legends of the '70s and '80s like Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds to ride high again, but it was also supposed to be the springboard for Kip Pardue and Estella Warren to take over Hollywood. J-Lo's Angel Eyes co-star Jim Caviezel was on some kind of leading-man track, but aside from his blood-soaked Passion of the Christ performance, that never quite happened, either. Sometimes, however ... well, sometimes it work. Case in point ...

An Action Star Is Born: The Mummy Returns hit all the right franchise buttons. It gave fans of the series more of the same while being forward-looking enough to plant the seeds for its own future. Those seeds were in the form of The Rock, who made his feature-film debut as The Scorpion King. One year later, he'd spin that role off into an eponymous film that was his first leading role, and now, a mere twelve years later, he's in the middle of a year that has him headlining four separate blockbusters.

Out of Oscar Season: In one of those odd box-office confluences, future Best Picture nominee Moulin Rouge ended up crossing paths with a trio of 2000 Oscar favorites — Traffic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Chocolat — that were still lingering in theaters months after the ceremony had come and gone.

This Was Happening in 2001: Finishing just outside the Top 10 this week, in its fifth week of release: Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. Yes, we were still experiencing Crocodile Dundee movies in the 21st century.

First-Billed Stars of the Box-Office Top 10 in 2001: Mike Meyers, Brendan Fraser, Heath Ledger, Jennifer Lopez, Renee Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Sylvester Stallone, Johnny Depp, Antonio Banderas, Guy Pearce.

First-Billed Stars of the Box-Office Top 10 in 2013: Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Chadwick Bozeman, Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage, Robert DeNiro, Matthew McConaughey, James Franco, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Ryan Gosling.


What you need to know today