Monday, October 5, 2009

Zombieland kills, Whip It flops, and Surrogates cost too much. Half-hearted weekend box office in review (10/04/09)

I couldn't summon the enthusiasm for a full-on box office roundup this weekend. Short version - the well-reviewed, well-liked, and well-marketed Zombieland was a hit, Whip It inexplicably flopped, Capitalism: A Love Story did about as well as expected, and Toy Story 3D double feature proved the unbeatable allure of a 3-hour babysitter. But for the moment, let's just play box office free-association.

I have no real thesis on why Whip It made only $4.8 million this weekend. The trailers were appealing, the reviews were solid, and the national sneak surely helped build word of mouth. The disappointment of this film will have serious consequences for female-driven films that are financed by the studios. This coupled with the relative box office disappointment of Jennifer's Body will likely lead to the further ghettoizing of female-driven films into the genre of bubble-gum romantic comedy. It's not fair. It's not fair that women should have to support a movie like this out of some kind of gender-based patriotism. It's not fair that every female-driven film is judged merely on the box office of the last one, while male-dominated genres face no such 'paycheck to paycheck' existence. But it remains the case. And, it is still true that women moviegoers, at least the women who constantly (correctly) complain about the lack of female-driven movies that aren't romantic in nature, really need to try to support the few diamonds in the rough such as this. And heck, so do male moviegoers for that matter.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs is showing Pixar-like legs. Since it opened without about 50% of Pixar's normal opening weekend, it can expect to finish with a still rock-solid $130 million. This is the first Sony animated film that will top $100 million. And considering how surprisingly good the film is, the next Sony Animation film, Planet 51 will get probably an uptick on opening weekend based on the goodwill of this current effort. As for me, since my wife loves the book and hates 3D, I'm just waiting a few weeks until second-run so I can drag the whole family along.

Surrogates was a darn good sci-fi film, but it shouldn't have cost $80 million. Like other grown-up dramas this year, such as Duplicity and State of Play, Surrogates performed like a 1990s grown-up hit but was budgeted at 2009-blockbuster levels. At $40 million, the Bruce Willis vehicle would have been a long-term profiteer. But now the Jonathan Mostow film won't come close to making its money back. Ironically, the film doesn't feel like a big-budget project. I don't mean that as an insult. The film feels cheaper than it was because it's rooted in character and plot rather than non-stop action and spectacle. Maybe in today's market, $80 million IS cheap for a professional big-studio science-fiction film. That's a scary thought.

In its first weekend of wide release, Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story has already become the highest-grossing documentary of 2009. With $5.2 million in the bank, it has outgrossed the $4.3 million take of (the vastly superior) Food Inc. Moore's goal at this point is getting his fourth film into the top-ten list for top-grossing documentaries. I sincerely wish it were a better film, but any successful documentary only helps everyone else in the field. Lionsgate's Lebron James doc More Than A Game (ie - Hoop Dreams with a happy ending) did a solid $13,000 per screen in 14 theaters this weekend. Paranormal Activity, Paramount's 'see it before your friends do' zero-budget horror flick, did about $500,000 on just 33 screens. It rolls out relatively wide this weekend, so it will be interesting to see if this can break out amongst the current horror glut.

And that's all for now. After weeks of several new releases in a given weekend, this coming weekend brings only one major film, the critically reviled Couples Retreat. The rest is just expansion, as More Than A Game, Paranormal Activity, and the Coen Bros' A Serious Man expand beyond their super-limited initial releases.

Scott Mendelson

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