Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weekend Box Office in review (03/07/10): Alice scores $116m, Avatar still lives on.

Despite his reputation as the mainstream representation of the outcast, Tim Burton is no stranger to box office records. He more or less invented the modern opening weekend when Batman shattered all short-term records with $40.4 million in its opening sprint. He broke his own record three years later with Batman Returns, which opened with $45.6 million. At the time of its release (November 1999), Sleepy Hollow's $30 million debut was one of the largest R-rated openings on record. Two and a half years later, he would score $68.5 million with Planet of the Apes, which was the second-highest opening weekend at the time. Oh, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened with $56.1 million in summer 2005. No records were broken, but at the time it was the fourth-biggest July debut and the second-biggest non-Harry Potter debut in Warner Bros history, behind The Matrix Reloaded ($91.7 million). Point being, when Burton makes something that people want to see, he's the most bankable director outside of the holy trinity of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and James Cameron.

This weekend was another trip to the record books as Alice in Wonderland propelled to $116.1 million over its debut weekend. That's the sixth-biggest start ever, the biggest non-sequel ever (beating Spider-Man, which debuted to $114 million in 2002). It's the biggest 3D debut (besting Avatar's $77 million opening). Plus, it's the second-biggest non-summer opening of all time behind the $142 million debut of Twilight Saga: New Moon. With a surprisingly strong 2.85x multiplier, the picture debuted with a $40.8 million Friday and a $44.2 million Saturday (up 8%). finishing off with a 29% drop to $31 million on Sunday. For Mr. Burton, this is the third time in just under twenty-one years that his film has broken the record for a non-sequel opening weekend (Batman, Planet of the Apes, and Alice in Wonderland).

This was the biggest debut of every actor involved saved for Mr. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp now holds all three of the Mouse House's biggest opening weekends, with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($135.6 million), Alice in Wonderland ($116.1 million), and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($114.7 million). The collaboration between Depp and Burton has certainly been a fruitful one. While Burton once had to beg the studios to let him cast his favorite actor, post-Curse of the Black Pearl the studios have been all-but demanding that the two of them work together. And, counting the $19 million wide-release debut of The Corpse Bride, four of Depp's ten best opening weekends have been Burton/Depp collaborations. For what it's worth, this is also Anne Hathaway's second $50 million+ debut in just three weeks.

Where the picture goes from here is anybody's guess. It's no secret that I rather disliked the film, and this massive debut certainly won't be good news to those who want Burton to make more original and/or just-plain better movies as his career enters its third act. Ironically, it certainly seems that, post-Sleepy Hallow (the beginning of Burton's second-act, recovering from the twin financial flops Ed Wood and Mars Attacks!), Tim Burton's opening weekends are inversely proportional to the quality of the respective film. Regardless, this will surely be Burton's third $200 million+ picture. It will likely out-gross Batman, which remains his top-grossing picture at $251.1 million (it only needs to do 2.17x its opening weekend to match that). $300 million is more of a question mark. I doubt that the general word-of-mouth will be as venomous as the harsher pans like mine, but I can't imagine that general audiences are going to be all-that enchanted beyond the surface level. Besides, it only keeps those precious 3D screens for three weeks, until Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon steals most of them away. As always, next weekend will tell the tale.

There isn't much other box office news, but let's press on regardless. Antoine Fuqua's gritty cop drama, Brooklyn's Finest, debuted with a strong second-place take of $13.3 million (the not-too-bad B-movie cost just $25 million). Antoine Fuqua is quickly becoming a consistent opener. His last several pictures all opened between $13 million and $17 million. Sure, sometimes they cost too much (King Arthur, Shooter), but if studios budget within expectations, Fuqua delivers the B-movie goods on a regular basis. Shooter has a special place in my heart for Danny Glover's inexplicable vocals alone. Ethan Hawke has just scored two of the three best openings of his career in just two months. I mentioned last weekend that Overture is quickly making itself into a studio to be reckoned with, and this is no exception. Oddly enough, this is the last release scheduled for the studio until the October release of Let Me In, which is the much-feared remake of Let the Right One In.

Overture is succeeding of late because they are offering adult-driven genre pictures, starring grownups and aimed at grownups, at a reasonable cost that belies the expectations of such fare. You won't find me defending Law-Abiding Citizen (and certainly not Righteous Kill) as great cinema, but there is a 'niche' market for old-fashioned genre movies (not films) starring adults and not aimed at fourteen-year old boys/girls. We all act amazed when Vantage Point or Lakeview Terrace (two Sony pictures) open well, but such pulpy fare is rare enough in this marketplace that they usually have the demos all to themselves on opening weekend. Most importantly, producers of said movies don't spend $80 million (cough-State of Play-cough) on these pictures and act SHOCKED when they only do about $40-60 million domestic. Adult, star-driven thrillers aren't dead, they just can't be budgeted like comic-book sequels.

Shutter Island fell another 41% in its third weekend, pulling in $13.1 million and ending its third weekend with $95 million. Cop Out became Kevin Smith's highest-grossing picture, with a whole $32.5 million by weekend three. Too bad no one likes it, but sometimes you hold your nose and do one 'for them'. Better luck next time. Avatar weathered the loss of its IMAX and 3D screens, as it dropped a sizable but survivable 40% in weekend 12. Still, the picture pulled in $8 million and now sits with $720.6 million. Earlier reports of its death were obviously exaggerated. The 3D version of the film could very well become a staple in theaters with multiple 3D auditoriums for a month or longer, especially if it triumphs at tonight's Academy Awards. Point being, I was wrong and Avatar's box office story is far from finished.

Crazy Heart
banked on pre-Oscar hype and jumped 34% and it now sits at $29.5 million. If Jeff Bridges wins the Oscar, this thing could top $40 million. The Crazies fell an ok-for-horror 55% in weekend two. Valentine's Day now sits at $106 million. The Blind Side crossed the $250 million-mark. If Bullock wins an Oscar tonight (mazel tov on accepting that Razzie for All About Steve in person, by the way), it'll likely surpass Star Trek. Percy Jackson and the... this movie is too terrible to justify typing out the whole bloody title is at $78 million while The Wolfman just crossed $60 million.

Oh, and Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer inches closer to the top-ten, as it grossed $1.28 million for thirteenth place. The Summit acquisition has now grossed $2.6 million. It makes me wish it were a better movie. Polanski, Scorsese, and Burton all whiffed this year. So far, only Martin Campbell delivered the promised goods. Edge of Darkness was at least a rock-solid B-genre picture with the maturity and seriousness of purpose (IE - the violence has weight and the characters act like adults) that makes me a fan. Let's hope that Chris Nolan also beats the current odds or all hope may be lost.

Anyway, join us next weekend for Paul Greengrass's The Green Zone (an Iraq-war thriller that's being sold like it's The Bourne Redundancy). Plus Paramount tries to convince us that Alice Eve is hotter and sexier than Krysten Ritter (HA!) with She's Out of My League. Lance Gross (who held his own against Angela Bassett in Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns) marries America Ferrera in Our Family Wedding. Oh, and Robert Pattinson tests his non-Twilight box office pull with the romantic drama, Remember Me. Until then, take care.

Scott Mendelson

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