Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nikki Finke wrong yet again on box office. Jennifer Aniston/Gerard Butler rom-com Bounty Hunter grosses $7.6 million in one day, called a failure.

"This is an embarrassingly soft opening considering the tabloid celebpower (Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler) and the wide release and omnipresent marketing. Maybe audiences are tiring of these imbecilic romantic comedies? Or these flack-phonied romances between stars leading up to the films' opening? Stop the stupidity, Hollywood."

Nikki Finke was referring to the opening day gross for The Bounty Hunter, which pulled in $7.65 million for second place, with a likely weekend take of $21-23 million. Embarrassingly soft opening? Based on what? $21 million will be just fine for a romantic caper picture, especially one that cost just under $50 million. This will easily be Jeniffer Aniston's sixth-biggest opening weekend, and her biggest that didn't feature more famous co-stars and/or cute puppies. If the film gets even to $22 million by tomorrow, it will be Gerard Butler's third-biggest opening weekend, fourth if you count his cameo appearance in Tomorrow Never Dies. It will also be his third of four $21 million+ opening in the last eight months (The Ugly Truth at $27.6 million and Law-Abiding Citizen at $21 million and next weekend's How to Train Your Dragon, which will probably top $21 million in one day). This is easily Finke's biggest 'pull random expectations out of my ass to make the stars look bad' bit since she kept hammering at Michael Jackson's This is It for merely making $100 million worldwide in five days.

What were the expectations anyway? Well, I don't do box office bingo type columns anymore, but if I did I would have bet on about $21 million. Now since I didn't write anything ahead of time, let's ask those who still do the prediction game. Box Office Mojo's derby game had an average prediction of $23 million. Gitesh Pandya at Box Office Guru predicted $22 million. Kim Hollis at Box Office Prophets pegged the opening at $24 million. And even Nicole Sperling at Entertainment Weekly guessed $22 million. So on what planet is an expected $21-23 million opening weekend a disappointment, let alone an 'embarrassingly soft' opening for The Bounty Hunter? Well, since Finke obviously guessed wrong (assuming she had a number in her head in the first place), it's plainly the fault of stars Jeniffer Aniston and Gerard Butler, rather than Finke's own unrealistic expectations. Looking at the situation realistically, one could easily claim that the film looks so generically terrible (it's at 8% on Rotten Tomatoes) and the marketing campaign was so off-putting (I can't imagine many feminists were thrilled with the poster art of a handcuff-weilding Gerard Butler literally pinning Aniston to the ground with his butt) that a $20 million+ opening is a sign of pure star-power, as anyone who went this weekend went purely for one of the two leads.

Look, one of the reasons I don't do box office predictions anymore is that what was once just a fun game of educated guessing amongst film nerds has become a mainstream media blood sport. I don't want to be among those responsible for unrealistic predictions that set films up for the fall when they open to what otherwise would be considered reasonable numbers. I'm the idiot who predicted that High School Musical 3: Senior Year would open to $85 million back in October 2008. But you know what? When the film opened to 'just' $42 million, I didn't blame the movie for not living up to my bad math. I wrote a full column blaming myself for blowing the call. That's the difference. Too many box office pundits, Nikki Finke chief amongst them, refuse to admit error when they overestimate an opening weekend prediction. It can never be their fault, so it must be the fault of the movie. Sometimes, to paraphrase the Bard, the fault lies not with the movie, but with ourselves.

Scott Mendelson

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