Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kick-Ass duels How to Train Your Dragon in photo-finish. Death at a Funeral opens well, Avatar still around. Weekend box office review (04/18/10)

To the surprise of many who obviously had no idea how the movie business works, Kick-Ass did not in fact set the movie-going world on fire this weekend. Despite all the foaming at the mouth by geeks for the last year and the wagging fingers of moral indignation over the picture's somewhat taboo content, the movie performed like a high-end Lionsgate release with a $19.8 million first-place finish. As I wrote yesterday when discussing the $7.5 million opening day, Lionsgate films generally have a ceiling at this point in time. Sure the Tyler Perry films and the Saw sequels can and often do open above $30 million. Madea Goes to Jail cracked $41 million last year. But if you take out the Saw sequels and the Tyler Perry melodramas, Lionsgate's highest-grossing opening was the $23.9 million debut of Fahrenheit 9/11. After that, you have last year's surprising $23 million debut of the PG-13 horror drama The Haunting in Connecticut. After that, it's all $21 million and downward. The critically-acclaimed Russell Crowe/Christan Bale western 3:10 to Yuma couldn't crack $15 million. The much buzzed-about return of Stallone's Rambo couldn't break $19 million. So anyone who thought that a Lionsgate-distributed, original, R-rated action comedy based on a generally unknown property and aimed at a specific audience (young, comic book-worshiping males) would somehow open to $30 or $40 million just wasn't doing the math.

While Lionsgate deserves much artistic credit for its diverse and sometimes challenging line-up (the same studio that release Saw and Madea's Family Reunion also released the masterpieces Away From Her and Akeelah and the Bee), it is not quite a major studio yet. It does not have the marketing might of Warner Bros or Disney. Lionsgate paid $50 million to acquire, distribute, and advertise Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass partially as a call to arms that they could play in the big-budget genre sandbox too. Unfortunately, they picked a film that was inherently limited in its break-out potential. Unless you were predisposed to like the picture on principal, the marketing materials looked crass, stupid, and very much aimed at the lowest common denominator. That the movie is smarter and more thoughtful than the controversial trailers is beside the point. Opening weekend is all about quality of marketing and the trailers made the movie look like a cheap-looking, overly smug, adolescent male fantasy in the worst sense of the phrase ("Ooh, we've got a ninja 11-year old girl who swears and kills people!" "Relax nerds, just put on tights and Lyndsey Fonseca will bang you outside of your favorite comic book store too!"). There was little-to-no crossover potential for older males or any females who weren't already nerds. The film was specifically targeted at young males, many of whom were too young to get in due to the R-rating. Point being, if you didn't already love the film after hearing about it last year, the previews were not likely to inspire you to check it out.

This opening, disappointing relative to inflated expectations but perfectly fine in hindsight, brings to mind the 2006 $13.8 million debut of Snakes on a Plane. Viewed objectively, a $13 million debut for a $30 million comic thriller about well, snakes on a plane, was a pretty solid result. But, endlessly pumped up by internet nerds who had not even seen the film, the hype caught on in the mainstream media and expectations were through the roof. As the Tea Partiers of the movie business, the geek demo makes a lot of noise and gets a lot of attention, and the media often tries to sell their opinions as mainstream buzz. But those opinions are meaningless when it comes to making a film into a mainstream success. Look, a $50 million acquisition just opened to $19 million. It likely won't have legs due to the PG-13 action picture The Losers opening this coming weekend and the far-more mainstream R-rated Nightmare on Elm Street remake the weekend after that. But the film should crawl to $55 million and at least top $80 million with worldwide receipts. And the inevitable director's cut DVD/Blu Ray will do big business and the film will eventually make a profit. This is more of a serious ego-bruiser for Lionsgate than anything else. If they can't open The Expendables to numbers past their general $18-22 million spread this August (good luck with that lousy trailer), they may have to take serious stock regarding what kind of studio they can be with the present marketing muscle.

The number two film of the weekend is the month-old How to Train Your Dragon, which dropped just 19% for a $20 million fourth weekend (the sixteenth-biggest fourth weekend ever). The PG-rated cartoon may have benefited from kids buying tickets for the animated feature and sneaking into the R-rated Kick-Ass, but this is a fantastic hold for the best film of the year. In that rarest-of-rare circumstance, a really good movie has overcome a slightly underwhelming opening to build its audience through sheer word of mouth. At this respective four-week point, the film is just about $5 million behind Monsters Vs. Aliens, neck and neck with Madagascar 2, and well past Madagascar and A Shark Tale. The fantastic cartoon has grossed $158 million domestic and $320 million worldwide thus far, and it will have ample room to grow. It will keep its IMAX screens for two more weekends until Iron Man 2 opens on May 7th. It will keep its 3D screens for a full month until Shrek Forever After opens on May 21st. Every once in a while, quality does win out.

Meanwhile, last weekend's top opener (if not quite the top film) Date Night came it at number three, holding relatively steady with a 31% drop in weekend two. The relatively solid Tina Fey/Steve Carell comedy (it's great when it focuses on character, less great when the frantic action overwhelms the narrative) grossed $17.3 million for a ten-day total of $49 million. As hoped, the film is becoming the second choice for general moviegoers and should play strongly into the summer season. The other major opener was Screen Gems' Death at a Funeral, which opened with $17 million. The all-star cast (Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana, Martin Laurence, Danny Glover, Tracy Morgan, Regina Hall, Keith David, James Mardsen, and Luke Wilson... whew!) propelled this remake within range of its $21 million budget. The demos for this one were 56% women and 56% over 25 (Screen Gems did not provide the racial breakup, for whatever that's worth). Clash of the Titans dropped a reasonable 40% in its third weekend, ending its seventeenth day with $132 million. The kinda-sorta 3D action spectacle has amassed $321 million worldwide, so it appears that the film is playing well with the casually curious and the younger audiences (it's been doing bang-up business with Saturday and Sunday matinees).

The Miley Cryus/Nicolas Sparks-weepie The Last Song crossed the $50 million mark with a 40% drop in its third weekend. Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too? dropped another 62%, ending its third weekend with $54.8 million. It's currently Perry's fourth-highest domestic performer and should squeak by the $63 million earned by Madea's Family Reunion to take the silver before this quick theatrical run expires. Hot Tub Time Machine (a surprisingly character-driven comedy about personal responsibility with fun cameos, even if it cheats just a bit at the end) now sits at $42 million and The Bounty Hunter crossed the $60 million mark. Alice in Wonderland now sits at $324 million, making it the fourth-highest grosser in Disney history and the 21st highest-grossing film of all time. And Avatar more or less finished its theatrical run this weekend. Despite still being on 500 screens, it comes out on DVD/Blu Ray this Thursday. The 18th and would-be final weekend had an added bonus of late-night IMAX 3D showings at various AMC theaters. As a result, the James Cameron opus added 46 screens and jumped 21%, grossing $1 million more and ending its theatrical run (we would assume?) with $745 million. Wow...

That's all for this weekend. Join us next Sunday morning/afternoon as Warner Bros releases the highly-questionable The Losers. The DC/Vertigo comic adaptation has a great cast and a great A-Team meets Ronin premise, but the shifting release dates, 98-minute running time, and PG-13 rating does not inspire confidence. Meanwhile, CBS Films tries another theatrical go-around with the Jennifer Lopez pregnancy comedy The Back Up Plan. And Disney releases its latest Earth Day nature documentary, Oceans, in 1,200 screens on Earth Day (Thursday the 22nd).

Scott Mendelson

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