Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mendelson's Memos weekend box office rundown (04/19/09)

Well, it looks like Zac Efron may just be a movie star. On nearly the same weekend where, five years ago, Jennifer Garner broke out with an ironically opposite premise, the High School Musical/Hairspray teen idol has claimed his first 'all by myself' hit film. Aided by a simple premise, surprisingly good reviews, and a buzz-building appearance on Saturday Night Live the weekend before, 17 Again opened to $23.7 million. That's certainly comparable to the $21 million opening for Garner's 13 Going On 30, which also opened two weekends before the summer season back in 2004 (it had to settle for number two, losing a close race to Denzel Washington's Man On Fire). That underrated romantic comedy cashed out relatively quickly, ending its run with $57 million. On the other hand, the 'all by myself' breakout for Efron's relative contemporary, Shia LaBeouf's Disturbia, opened to $22 million on the exact same weekend two years ago and parlayed it into a shockingly leggy run, ending with $88 million (we'll see if Efron follows suit and takes the lead role in Michael Bay's Thundercats). We'll of course know which path 17 Again will venture come Saturday morning.

Apparently Efron's decision to drop out of the Footloose remake was a wise one, as he can now claim a solid opening weekend that doesn't explicitly involve singing and dancing. Of course, he doesn't have Steven Spielberg personally steering him into surefire hit projects. Where the kid goes from here is a terrific question. Doing a bunch of romantic comedies turns him into Freddie Prinze Jr. Enemy Of The State/Eagle Eye type thrillers are a good bet, since they allow him to dip his toe into the action genre without having to convince anyone that he is a bad ass. But mainstream big budget thrillers are a dying breed (more on that below). The Johnny Quest update with Dwayne Johnson sounds smart. The (probably false) rumor about him wanting to remake Back to the Future is a way to get burned in effigy.

Second place goes this weekend to the terrific grown-up thriller State of Play. Pundits will whine that the $14 million opening weekend, along with the similar opening to Duplicity, signals the death knell for the grown up movie. While adult, star-driven suspense pictures are an inexplicably dying breed, movies of this nature have rarely opened particularly large. The only issue with movies like this is that studios continue to budget these films so that they absolutely have to open to $20 million+ in order to turn a profit. State of Play should have cost $40 million, instead of $60 million. Same goes for Duplicity. How they trim said budgets in the future is up to them, but something needs to give if this genre is to survive. Of course, Universal could be using shifty accounting to take money from an over budget tent pole (think Public Enemies or The Wolfman) and shift it to these mid range pictures to make the former look cheaper.

Not every thriller can be expected to open like The Fugitive, especially if they lack a mega star like Harrison Ford or Denzel Washington. And, sorry folks, but Russell Crowe is not a mega star. He's had a few big openers - Gladiator (would have opened huge with any number of actors), Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World, and American Gangster (aided by Denzel), but his vehicles have otherwise opened around the $15 million mark. The good ones (3:10 To Yuma) hang around for awhile and make it to $55 million. The bad ones (Body Of Lies) crash quickly and fail to reach $40 million.

The other major opening, Crank 2: High Voltage, effectively ended Lionsgates's 2009 hot streak. Failing to even match the $10.4 million opening weekend of the original, this second entry opened to a meager $6.9 million. Obviously the real money for this was always going to be DVD-related, but I'm a little surprised by the under performance. Factor this with the barely acceptable performance of the stunningly boring Transporter 3, and Jason Statham has to take a serious look in the mirror and see where he wants to go from here. It's terrific that someone is filling the low-budget, down-and dirty action star label, but I sincerely wish his films were just a little better. I know hoping for something as good as The Bank Job every time out is silly, but at least as good as Transporter 2 shouldn't be too much to ask.

All three openers from last weekend absolutely collapsed. The Hannah Montana Movie plunged 58% to end day ten with $57 million. It's trailing High School Musical 3: Senior Year by about $5 million at this point, although the second weekend drop was 4% lower and the Cyrus picture's opening was about ten million lower. So Hannah Montana's latest vehicle may just end up with an identical $90 million final gross. Observe and Report plunged 62%, thus ending its chances at getting to $30 million. The controversy over an alleged date-rape scene and countless moronic movie goers not being able to understand a sledge-hammer subtle trailer ("what, this is a dark comedy... who knew?") led to a quick demise for this sure to be cult classic. Dragonball: Evolution dropped 64% to end its second weekend with $8 million. I've heard rumblings that this one somehow cost Fox $150 million. I'm sure they'll deny it till the end of time, but if it's true, this will be one of the biggest money losers in Hollywood history. So if all of Fox's tent poles seem a little bit more expensive than you'd think, then you can be sure there was some shifty accounting going on to cover for Dragonball: Evolution.

And that's all the important news that's fit to print. Next weekend is relatively light, as the much delayed The Soloist squares off against the Fatal Attraction-wannabe Obsessed, Disney's nature documentary Earth, and the imaginatively titled Fighting. Yup, it's a pre-summer dump week.

Scott Mendelson

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