Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Final Destination 3D defeats Halloween II in the year's dumbest showdown. Weekend box office in review (08/30/09)

As expected, The Final Destination's franchise longevity, audience goodwill, and 3D gimmick overpowered the grim, painful, and much-distrusted Halloween II. Both had rock-solid openings and both lost out on about $7 million apiece by choosing to open on the same day. The Final Destination opened to $28.3 million, but surely could have reached $35 million without the direct competition. Halloween II pulled in $17.4 million but could have easily approached $25 million on a different weekend. I've heard any number of excuses (Warner scheduled early to reserve 3D theaters, Weinstein didn't want to delay in case Inglourious Basterds bombed and the company went under), but this is one of the stupidest scheduling jobs that I've ever witnessed. But I digress...

The Final Destination not only opened at about 25% higher than the last film in the series, but it had a shockingly solid (for a horror film) multiplier of 2.6x. Chalk this up somewhat to the 3D gimmick, which created additional interest and slightly higher ticket prices on the 1600+ theaters utilizing the extra technology. Other than that is the simple fact that this is a trusted franchise that delivers a specific ingredient (grotesque, Rube Goldberg-style death traps) and thus is comfort food for horror film fans. Frankly, the quick and over-the-top executions are safer and more enjoyable for many than the slow, painful deaths found in a Rob Zombie film or the later Wes Craven remakes. This is perfect junk for the horror fans who don't want to actually be disturbed on unhinged by the violence that they witness onscreen. They just want to gasp, jump in their seat, and laugh about it. Longterm prospects are up in the air at the moment, but a total of about $65 million feels about right.

Second-place went not to Halloween II but to Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. The much-talked about revisionist history action thriller dropped a moderate 47% to end its tenth-day with a new total of $73.7 million. At this rate, it will easily surpass Pulp Fiction as QT's highest-grossing film and will end up the top-grosser in The Weinstein Company's four-year history. And, right or wrong, this will likely squeeze into the expanded Best Picture category should the fall lineup disappoint (Christoph Waltz is now a front-runner for Best Supporting Actor). But in terms of pure dollars, it's actually running neck and neck with District 9, which crossed the $90 million mark at the end of weekend three (by the end of last weekend, it was at $72.8 million). With a moderate 41% drop, this will also share that $120 million milestone with IG. It doesn't have the pedigree for major Oscar nominations, but a few deserving technical nods would not surprise me.

In third place, Halloween II had a more normal horror film multiplier, opening with $7.6 million and pulling a 2.3x of $17.4 million. Ironically, the reviews were surprisingly not super-duper rancid, with some critics giving Zombie credit for at least trying to make a real movie with actual ideas. This remake franchise is playing almost identical to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre redos. That franchise original opened with $26.5 million and closed with $80.5 million. The sequel (the surprisingly good Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) opened with $18 million and closed with $40 million. This new Halloween franchise opened two years ago with a $26.3 million three-day opening ($30.5 million over Labor Day weekend) and ended with a more moderate $58.2 million finish (chalk it up to word of mouth and the more frontloaded nature of the business in general). So now this sequel, which is certainly a more ambitious picture, has opened to an almost identical-to-Chainsaw 2-weekend of $17 million. So expect Halloween II to finish at around $40 million.

In case you're wondering, this is the first time in just under two years that the top-four has comprised of four or more R-rated films. It happened in 2007 on September 7th to September 9th, and then again (with the top FIVE spots) on September 21st to September 23rd (thank you Hot Blog commenter 'Mysteryperfecta' for doing the research on that one). Next on the list was GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, which dropped a comparatively small 34% to end the weekend with $132 million. I have no way to quantify this, but I'm all-but sure that the small drop for this and other non-R-rated movies was due to the large number of youth-skewing R-rated films in the marketplace. For a hearty laugh, check out the weekend that Eight Mile opened in November, 2002. Draw your own conclusions, but all of the non-R-rated films all experienced inexplicably small percentage drops.

Speaking of Julie & Julia, that one dropped 15% ending for a $71 million total. This one might not make it to $100 million, but the inevitable Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep will put it over the top during the awards seasons. The Time Traveler's Wife benefited from the lack of romantic drama in the marketplace, dropping 37% from last weekend. It's new total is a solid $48 million. Also benefiting from kids theater hopping to restricted attractions was Shorts, which dropped just 24% from its underwhelming debut last weekend (new total - $13.5 million). The only other new opening was Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock. It grossed just $3.7 million, meaning that the $30 million production will be a financial bath for whomever was dumb enough to spend $30 million on this niche title. Once again, just because Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain grossed $80 million and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon made $128 million doesn't mean that every Ang Lee movie is going to be a breakout hit.

There's not much else to report. At $294 million, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is now the highest-grossing sequel in the Harry Potter series. It will cross $300 million by the end of this coming weekend or the weekend after. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is oh so close ($399.6 million) to becoming the worst movie ever to gross $400 million. The Ugly Truth crossed $85 million, (500) Days of Summer crossed $25 million, and Ponyo edges ever closer to a $200 million international take (at $11 million, it's now the highest grossing US total for a Hayao Miyazaki import). Join us next weekend when Sandra Bullock stalks Bradley Cooper in All About Steve (it's cute and romantic because it's a girl stalking a guy), Mike Judge finally makes a movie for someone other than Fox with Extract, and Gerald Butler discovers that he's merely a character in a video game in Gamer. Yup, summer is officially over, long live the awards season. Now we can get to what's really important... trying to keep up with the dozen or so new Oscar-bait releases each week and overestimating the box office potential of James Cameron's Avatar. Fun fun.

For reviews of The Final Destination (in 3D and D-Box mode) and Halloween II, trailer news, commentary, and much more, go to Mendelson's Memos.

Scott Mendelson

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