Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cobra! GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra grosses $54 million, Julie & Julia tops $20 million, but Funny People crashes hard. Weekend box office in review.

Despite or perhaps because of a lack of press reviews, an entire summer of negative publicity, and Paramount's somewhat toxic attempt to define the movie by the Red State/Blue State culture war, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra grossed a towering $54.7 million in its debut weekend. Disregarding for a moment the pundits (most of whom have not seen the film) hand-wringing about the end of civilization (it's a fun movie that delivered what it promised, end of story), let's discuss numbers. The film had a decent for its genre multiplier of 2.47x. At a cost of $175 million (which Paramount split with SpyGlass), the film still has a bit to go for profitability. It opened overseas in most of the world as well, and it's looking like overseas numbers added another $43 million to the take. So GI Joe just had an international opening weekend of $97 million. But since I don't know nearly enough about international numbers to calculate long term potential, let's stick to domestic for now.

An opening weekend of $54 million puts GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra in a very tricky position. Because that seems to be a number where a lot of genre pictures end up opening of late, it gives us some precedence to work with. First of all, this film will not act like Watchmen, 8 Mile or The Village. The film may be divisive, but it delivers what it advertises so the dreaded 2.0x weekend-to total multiplier ($110-$115 million) finish is probably not a worst-case scenario even worth discussing. At this point, the logical worst case scenario is a performance reminiscent of The Incredible Hulk (2.43x weekend to total multiplier = $55m/$134m), Van Helsing (2.35x = $51m/$120m), and the Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2.27x = $58m/$131m). But even Sex & The City: The Movie opened to $57 million, crashed and burned in its second weekend, then eventually regained momentum and ended up with $152 million (2.6x its opening number). Heck, the disliked and forgotten Rush Hour 3 opened around this weekend two years ago with $49 million and crawled to $140 million (2.85x). Alas the movie's $150 million price-tag and $258 million international haul did more to kill New Line than the similarly budgeted and far more successful Golden Compass ($372 million worldwide). But the number I'm looking at is the 3.15x multiplier for the equally 'no one saw it coming' success of S.W.A.T. Opening on the same weekend six-years ago, this surprisingly solid action film rode an intense trailer and a few recognizable names (Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farell, LL Cool J, and Michelle Rodriguez) to a $37 million opening weekend and a $116 million finish. If GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra acts like S.W.A.T., it'll end its run with $173 million.

So barring uncommonly strong word of mouth, we're looking at a worst case scenario of about $125 million and a best-case scenario of $175 million. In its favor is the fact that it has the blockbuster field all cleared away, since Star Trek ($255m) is already in second-run theaters, Harry Potter 6 ($273m) is basically playing 95% to its fanbase in an attempt to surpass the $290m of the previous two sequels, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($393m) is just sticking around until it crawls to $400 million. To its detriment is the fact that many kids start going back to school and college in just a few weeks, meaning that it won't have summer weekdays to soak up cash in between the weekends. At this point, the summer season is more or less over, with only geek-centric cult films (District 9, Inglorious Bastards, Shorts) and horror films (Halloween 2 and The Final Destination 3D) left to pick at the pie. Look for GI Joe to become the second-choice for moviegoers for pretty much the rest of the summer.

Coming in second was the Meryl Streep/Amy Adams comedy Julie & Julia. As befitting its nature as an adult-driven film, it had a 3.1x multiplier and ended the weekend with $20 million. This is a solid opening weekend for what will likely be a leggy run (it only opened on about 2300 screens). Everyone and their brother thinks that Meryl Streep will get another Oscar nomination, so that will help the film in the long run (IE - post nominations release in January). The film cost only $40 million to make, so it will do just fine even if it doesn't play like The Devil Wears Prada or Mama Mia. It's worth nothing that Meryl Streep is becoming one of the more reliable openers around. When she does high-profile, commercial movies, a $20 million debuted is now all but guaranteed. Just in the last five years, she's had five $20 million+ openers with The Manchurian Candidate, Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Devil Wears Prada, Mama Mia, and now Julie & Julia). It's also worth noting, ONCE AGAIN, that when studios practice cost control for adult-driven films, they can be quite profitable.

Dropping from first to fifth was Judd Apatow's Funny People, which plunged a shocking 65% for second-weekend gross of $7.9 million and a new total of just $40.5 million. Despite what I said last weekend about Adam Sandler movies and their large second-weekend tumbles, this is far outside the bounds of his performances. Granted, I didn't care much for the movie, but it didn't deserve this and Universal is going to take a hit on this $75 million picture (it should have cost $40 million). In defense of the beleaguered studio, I'm sure this looked like a no-brainer on paper. The other new release of the weekend, the surprisingly well-reviewed A Perfect Getaway, opened like the dump release that it was, grossing just $5.9 million.

The rest of the news is just keeping up with the holdovers. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs ($187 million) will struggle to make it to $200 million domestic. Fox can take some solace in the fact that it's currently the highest-grossing overseas cartoon of all time. Yup, factoring just overseas numbers, it has outgrossed Finding Nemo, Shrek 1, 2, 3, and every other animated picture ever made. It's grossed $548 million outside of the US, which gives it a current worldwide total of $736 million and climbing. In the realm of leggy comedies, The Hangover has grossed $262 million and The Proposal has grossed just under $155 million. As for The Hangover, it is currently the second-highest grossing pure comedy EVER, behind the $285 million of Home Alone. If it can magically scrounge up another $23 million (not likely barring a rerelease), it can also pass the $282 million total of The Matrix Reloaded and take its spot of the number two-grossing R-rated film of all time. Not bad company.

Finally, in limited release land, (500) Days of Summer has grossed $12.3 million and The Hurt Locker has grossed $8.9 million. The former will likely make it to $30 million while the acclaimed Iraq war thriller won't cross $20 million. Frankly, Summit Entertainment made a mistake not just releasing The Hurt Locker as a wide-release after the first weekend of limited play. It's absolutely a mainstream thriller and could have easily been sold as such. For all the screaming about those dumb kids seeing Transformers 2 or GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra instead of The Hurt Locker, the best thing that Summit Entertainment could have done was attach a trailer to either of those films. Or they could have attached a sneak-peak exclusive teaser of The Twilight Saga: New Moon to prints of The Hurt Locker the weekend it went to 500 screens. They didn't, so you can't blame the audience on the studio's missteps. On the plus side, Summit may just be saving its money for the inevitable Oscar campaign, where the increased number of Best Picture nominees all but guarantees the film a shot at the title (if it gets a nomination, it will easily double whatever it ends at in the first release).

Tune in next weekend when District 9 tries to break out of the geek-ghetto, Rachel McAdams returns to mainstream filmmaking in The Time Traveler's Wife, and Ponyo goes limited to add gravy to its current $184 million foreign total. For a look and what happened this weekend last year, a review of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and more, go to Mendelson's Memos.

Scott Mendelson

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