Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inception grosses $62 million opening weekend, while Sorcerer's Apprentice really shouldn't have opened on Wednesday. Weekend box office (07/18/10).

Playing like an old-fashioned general-audiences blockbuster, Chris Nolan's Inception opened at the higher end of realistic expectations with $62.8 million over the weekend. That's a 2.89x weekend multiplier, which means that front-loading was moderate but not severe (the film actually rose a token amount from Friday to Saturday). Word of mouth is relatively positive, as the film earned a B+ from Cinema Score but an A from the under-25 crowd (73% of the audience was under 34 years old and 54% was male). In a world filled with remakes, reboots, and franchise-intended adaptations (many retrofitted for 3-D), Inception stood out as an original 2-D would-be tent-pole not based on any existing property. It was, to paraphrase Nolan's last film, attempting to be an original film in an unoriginal time. As such, it scored the fifth-largest opening weekend ever for a completely original live-action picture, behind Avatar ($77 million), The Day After Tomorrow ($68.7 million), Bruce Almighty ($67.9 million), and 2012 ($65.2 million). If you take away holiday weekend-infused openings, then Inception is the third-such opening behind Avatar and 2012.

A big kudos to Warner's marketing department, as they spent a solid year selling this one and preparing audiences to dive into what could have been a very questionable blockbuster. By teasing the visuals and action beats, and then gradually explaining the plot in broad strokes, they made the film feel comprehensible and only slightly challenging while withholding the basic narrative and any plot twists. They sold the visual spectacle and alleged epic nature of the film. Ironically, like Star Trek, the full trailer was more 'epic' and emotionally-compelling than the actual film, using sweeping and powerful music that was not from the film itself. Most importantly, they bet that audiences would care about seeing a movie from 'that guy who directed The Dark Knight'. More than the visuals or even lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio (this far exceeds his $41 million debut of Shutter Island), the real star of the marketing campaign was director Chris Nolan. It was a risky bet, as Nolan's non-Batman pictures have not gotten anywhere near blockbuster territory. But Warner hoped that Nolan was enough of a known entity, with audiences having seen the Batman pictures and theoretically sampled at least one of his other mind-benders (Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige) over the last decade. With this opening, Chris Nolan becomes a member of a very rare club: the star director. Nolan joins James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Bay, Quintin Tarantino, Roland Emmerich, and Tyler Perry as a director who is famous and/or respected enough by general audiences to be a valuable marketing tool.

Where Inception goes from here is anybody's guess. Unless it completely collapses or turns into a true audience sensation, $190-230 million seems a reasonable finishing point. Such a finish would put it on the high-end of such original properties. Of the 105 movies that have crossed $200 million, twenty-five are live-action originals and ten are original animated films. While the film cost around $160 million, Warner is also betting on strong global business. It pulled in about $15 million in a small number of markets this weekend, but it expands overseas over the next three weeks). While the film feels fashioned as the kind of picture that demands repeat viewing, the exposition-heavy movie is pretty easy to comprehend the first time around, leaving repeats only for the hardcore fans who want to catch small tidbits and/or deeper meanings that they missed. But the movie has a real IMAX advantage, as it will keep those 150+ IMAX screens (ideal for second viewings) for nearly two months before Resident Evil: Afterlife 3-D snatches them away on September 10th, 2010. Regardless of the final gross, this proves that audiences will flock to original properties if the studio behind them has faith enough to spend the time and money to market the picture. Kudos to Warner Bros. for breaking through the reboot/remake glut with something new.

The only other major opener was Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which shot itself in the foot by opening on a Wednesday. I've said this time and time again, unless fans are camped around the block for the first midnight showing, your film does not have enough of a must-see factor to open on Wednesday. If audiences can wait to see the film at their convenience, they will certainly wait to see the film over the traditional Fri-Sun weekend. As such, all a Wednesday opening does is kneecap the three-day opening weekend, giving you a soft five-day total instead of a solid three-day total with the same number. So while The Sorcerer's Apprentice opened with about $24.8 million over five days, it pulled in only $17.6 million of that over the weekend. Yes, money is money, but perception is everything. Instead of saving some face with a soft-but-manageable $24 million three-day take, the film looks like an absolute disaster with a $17 million three-day take and a footnote discussing the full five-day numbers.

As for the opening itself, it was a matter of Disney never really making the film look anything other than a relatively amusing curiosity. Fair enough, but relatively amusing curiosities should not cost $150 million. The film was sold on Nicholas Cage's extremely unreliable star power, and random special effects shots. Sure Alfred Molina is cool, Theresa Palmer is cute, and Cage is doing his 'low-key crazy' shtick, but that's not enough to sell when you've bet the farm. Nevermind Disney's confusion about how faithful it was to the Fantasia short for which it is named, that property is irrelevant to today's kids. While we may think of Pinocchio and Fantasia as classics, the classics for today's kids are Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and The Lion King. I'm sorry if I just made you all feel really old, but it's true (recall a Spring episode of Glee, where the U2 song 'One' was treated as classic rock). Anyway, Disney is hoping that overseas numbers save this one in the manner than they saved the earlier Bruckheimer production, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time ($90 million domestic, $236 million overseas).

In holdover land, Despicable Me had a decent second weekend, dropping 42% for a second-weekend gross of $32.8 million. 41% is a larger than normal drop for an animated film, but the Universal picture had a pretty large opening weekend, so there was more room to drop. Point being, the $70 million-budgeted film crossed the $100 million mark on Saturday and ended day 10 with $118 million. Twilight Saga: Eclipse dropped 57% for a third-weekend take of $13.4 million. For such an infamously front-loaded franchise, this is a pretty okay hold. It has grossed $264.7 million domestic thus far and has already grossed $552 million worldwide. Toy Story 3 grossed $11.9 million (-42%) in its fifth weekend, and it has a new total of $362.9 million, or the fifteenth-highest grossing film in US history. Grown Ups had the best hold in the top ten (-37%), again showing strength as the casual choice of general moviegoers. It has now grossed $129.1 million and is already Adam Sandler's sixth-highest grosser ever.

The Last Airbender dropped 53% and grossed $7.7 million in weekend three. On the plus side, it ended the weekend with $115.1 million, surpassing the $114.1 million gross of The Village. The Last Airbender is now, for better or worse, M. Night Shyamalan's third-highest grossing film, trailing the $227 million take of Signs and the $293 million gross of The Sixth Sense. Predators took a massive tumble from last weekend's solid debut, plunging 71.7% in weekend two (the 32nd largest second weekend drop ever and the 7th-largest such drop for a film on over 2,000 screens). Still, the $38 million-budgeted horror sequel has grossed $40.3 million, and with a global total already at $77.9 million and a decent sized bounty on DVD/Blu Ray still to come. Fox will make a profit on this one in the long run. Knight and Day is at $69.1 million (it may surpass the $81 million gross of Valkyrie), The Karate Kid is at $169.2 million, The A-Team is at $75.2 million, and Iron Man 2 is at $310 million. In limited release news, The Kids Are Alright expanded to 38 screens and grossed $1 million in its second weekend, for a $28,009 per-screen average. Cyrus crossed the $5 million mark and The Girl Who Played With Fire is at $2 million. And the year's best live-action film, Winter's Bone, crossed $3 million this weekend (if you see one arthouse film this year...).

That's all for this weekend. Join us next weekend when Angelina Jolie tries to launch her own spy franchise with the well-reviewed Salt and Disney Channel star Selena Gomez launches the rare G-rated live-action film Ramona and Beezus. For a look at this weekend in 2008 and 2009, click accordingly. Otherwise take care and keep reading.

Scott Mendelson

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