Sunday, July 4, 2010

Twilight Saga: Eclipse leads Independence Day weekend as Last Airbender opens strong, Toy Story 3 crosses $300m. Weekend box office (07/05/10).

To the surprise of no one with a pulse, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse dominated the July 4th holiday weekend, as the third installment of the popular teen-lit romantic soap opera series (IE - Moody with a Chance of Vampires) debuted with $64.8 million over the Fri-Sun portion and $83.6 million over the four-day holiday weekend. That's the third-biggest Independence Day opening weekend in history, behind Spider-Man 2 ($88 million) and Transformers ($70 million), and War of the Worlds ($64.9 million). Now, while one might argue that the number is a few hundred-thousand dollars less than the opening weekend of the first Twilight, and it's actually three million less than what New Moon scored on its first day, let's not forget that this Twilight picture was opening on a Wednesday, not Friday. So for its first six days, the film has amassed a scorching $176 million (the fifth-biggest on record, just $2 million behind the first five days of New Moon). The picture is the eighth-fastest sprinter to $150 million. If you recall, Spider-Man 2 opened over the same period in 2004, and it amassed $88 million on its Fri-Sun weekend, with $151 million in the first five days and $180 million in the first six days. What Spider-Man 2 and Transformers didn't have was a mammoth $68.5 million opening day, the second biggest on record behind the $72 million Friday gross of New Moon last November.

Obviously, if Summit wanted another crack at the three-day opening weekend record, they would have opened this picture on a Friday as well. The last film opened with $142 million, so the superior reviews and added ticket price for IMAX theaters certainly gave this third film a solid chance of taking down The Dark Knight ($158 million). What Summit did was rather interesting. Since we all know that this franchise has shorter legs than any ongoing franchise to date, they figured they could open over a long weekend, in the hopes that fans would see the film on Wednesday and then see it again over the holiday. Of course, the downside of that is that now Summit has to hope for three-peat viewings from the fans, lest this film has an even shorter shelf life than the second film (New Moon grossed $296 million, or 2.08x its opening weekend). At the end of the day, the Twilight series has a large niche of hardcore viewers, and the probability of adding a significant number of newbies three films in is not very high (possible positive sign of expansion - the film played 35% male, as opposed to the 20% male demo of New Moon). Barring a larger showing for the last picture in the series (Breaking Dawn will be broken into two films), this series is 'doomed' to gross around $290-310 million no matter what it does. But at last the video game is fantastic.

Of course, the Harry Potter franchise is the same situation, although I predict a major uptick for the finale, especially with that stunning trailer (like Twilight, the last book in the series is being released as two movies). You can play with the numbers all you want, but Twilight is a studio's ultimate fantasy: top-tier tentpole grosses for mid-budget prices (the third film cost around $65 million). But if Summit can't figure out how to open anything non-Twilight, they just become a future MGM, dying in the vine and occasionally saved by a Bond film every few years. But unless Summit can become a real studio and/or re-purpose the Twilight franchise after the current series is over (rebooting, a TV series version, etc), than they are dead in the water in about three years. Summit now has quite a bit of money to spend, and how they choose to spend it for their non-Twilight releases will be a matter of life and death.

The other major story of the weekend was the surprisingly robust debut of The Last Airbender. Proving once again that Paramount can open anything when they put their money into it (about $130 million worth of worldwide marketing), the $150 million, critically-reviled fantasy epic opened with a robust $40.3 million for the three-day weekend and $51.8 million over the four-day weekend, which gives the picture $69.3 million since opening on Thursday (it's the second-largest five-day haul for M. Night, behind the $76 million five-day gross for Signs). Blame the razzle-dazzle trailer, the large fanbase for the Nickelodeon cartoon that this is based on, the 3-D ticket prices, and/or the marquee power of M. Night Shyamalan, but something went very right for a picture where quite a bit went very wrong. The reviews obviously did not matter, nor did the controversy regarding the casting of white actors to play Asian characters. This is the thirteenth-biggest Independence Day opening on record. Where it goes from here is an open question, as critics loathed the picture and I cannot imagine the hardcore fans of the television series being too fond of it (the film received a C from Cinema Score). Still, it has the kids-action audience all to itself for the next ten days until The Sorcerer's Apprentice opens on July 14th, although it will lose some of its 3-D screens on July 9th to Despicable Me.

Barring an epic collapse in the weeks ahead, the film is all-but guaranteed to gross at least $150 million, which would make it Shyamalan's highest-grossing picture in eight years. As I wrote a few days ago, I'm mixed on this. On one hand, M. Night Shyamalan made an indefensibly bad film, and the idea that this stunningly inept picture will likely end up becoming his third-highest grosser (behind Signs with $226 million and The Sixth Sense with $293 million) is not something that's going to encourage him to fix his own issues. Still, I remain a fan in light of his earlier great pictures, so I don't want to see him flop so badly that an artistic comeback is impossible. Like Tim Burton, Shyamalan is at a crossroads, and Alice in Wonderland's $1 billion gross is not going to encourage him to make more original movies. Nor will The Last Airbender making it to $150 million+ encourage Shyamalan to openly deal with his flaws as a writer and, of late, a director of actors. For now, let us just hope that Chris Nolan can deliver the artistic goods in a way that Shyamalan, Burton, Martin Scorsese, and Roman Polanski have not this year.

In third place lies Toy Story 3, which took a slight hit from the loss of its IMAX screens to Eclipse and the general competition. It dropped 49% in weekend three, grossing $30.2 million in three days and $43 million in four and ending its eighteenth day with $301.8 million. It actually had a slightly lower third weekend than Up, which grossed $30.7 million in its third weekend. On the other hand, it did cross the $300 million mark on Monday, which makes it the seventh-fastest movie to reach said milestone. The film will likely topple Alice in Wonderland ($334 million) and Finding Nemo ($339 million) in the next week or two, and it will surpass Iron Man 2 ($308 million and pretty much finished) in the next handful of days. Whether or not Toy Story 3 can join Alice in Wonderland in the billion-dollar worldwide club is an open question, but it already has $435 million (Finding Nemo, the previous Pixar champion, ended its global run with $847 million).

In other animation news, Shrek Forever After sacrificed 1,383 of its mostly 3-D screens to The Last Airbender and plunged 74%. The picture has grossed $232.6 million domestic and $394 million worldwide. How to Train Your Dragon is now at $216 million, surpassing Kung Fu Panda as Dreamworks' highest-grossing animated film that isn't a Shrek film. In limited-release news, Cyrus expanded to 77 theaters and actually entered the top ten, with a scorching $10,000 per screen average over the Fri-Sun portion. The John C. Reilly/Marissa Tomei/Jonah Hill comedy has already grossed $1.8 million on a $7 million budget. The other summer success story, the dynamite Winter's Bone, added thirteen theaters and grossed another $598,699 for a new total of $1.88 million.

Grown Ups took the usual Sandler second-weekend plunge, dropping 53% over the three-day weekend and ending the holiday session with $84.6 million. As with most Sandler films, expect it to recover and have a healthy run for the rest of the month. Knight and Day dropped a disturbing 48% in weekend two, as its draw as the adult film of choice failed to cope with the brutal competition. With $10.4 million in three days and $14.1 million in four days, the $120 million Cruise/Diaz vehicle has grossed $49.4 million in thirteen days. Fox will be expecting overseas numbers to make up for lost domestic dollars, as its already done $24 million internationally without expanding to many of its key markets. The Karate Kid grossed another $8 million in the Fri-Sun portion, $11 million over four days, and crossed the $154.5 million mark in weekend four. If it can keep screens in the next few weeks, $175 million is a possibility.

The A-Team lost over 1,000 of its screens and plummeted 48% in its fourth weekend. This is just the sort of film that suffers due to the constant screen-bleeding. My wife and I finally saw it last night and found it to be perfectly enjoyable and occasionally creative. But, just a month into its run, the film which opened with $25 million was not playing at many of the local theaters in our area. Point being, older-skewing films like this are often sampled by general moviegoers after the first few weekends, but that's only going to work if said films are actually still in theaters by that point. Date Night was able to keep its screens for several weeks due to the lack of competition in the Spring months (and it still was screen-bled out of $100 million). The A-Team likely would have been more successful as a mid-August release, when it could have held onto screens for a little longer. The $100 million picture has grossed $70 million in America and $46 million overseas thus far. Five films (Killers, Get Him to the Greek, The A-Team, Shrek Forever After, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) lost over one-thousand screens over the holiday weekend. A viable second-run industry would give these films a place to breathe and be sampled by the casually curious, and the rising cost of first-run tickets would only make that more enticing. But, I've been saying that for years.

That's about everything this weekend. I will update the numbers when the Monday estimates roll in, and then again when the final numbers are available. Join us next weekend when Fox unleashes Predators, which looks great (love the international trailer) and might open well if Fox can let anyone know that it opens on Friday (I bet you didn't know). Universal releases the critically-acclaimed 3-D animated adventure, Despicable Me. But the really interesting thing to watch is the limited-release front. Music Box debuts The Girl Who Played With Fire, the sequel to the indie-smash The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (out of DVD/Blu Ray on Tuesday). The acclaimed drama The Kids Are All Right also opens on seven screens, while Paramount gives twelve screens over to Grease: the Sing-Along Edition (I think my wife would enjoy that). For a look at Independence Day in 2009 and 2008, click accordingly. For a blow-by-blow of this year's holiday weekend, click for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Otherwise take care and keep reading.

Scott Mendelson

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