Sunday, August 22, 2010

Expendables tops Vampires Suck, Piranha, Switch, Nanny McPhee 2, Lottery Ticket. Eclipses tops New Moon, Pilgrim dies. Weekend box office (8/22/10)

It was a rare 'everybody loses' weekend at the box office, with the only silver lining existing in low budgets and/or strong foreign business. Five new wide releases were dumped on the movie-going populace, and not a single one grossed more than $12 million over the weekend. In number one was not a new film, but last weekend's champion. Sylvester Stallone enjoyed his second weekend at number one with The Expendables, which dropped a reasonable 51% in weekend two. Comparatively, Freddy vs. Jason dropped 63% in its second weekend while Alien vs. Predator dropped 67%. The picture grossed $16.9 million and ended its tenth day with $65.3 million. This makes the film a solid bet to surpass the $90 million gross of Madea Goes to Jail and become Lionsgate's second-highest grossing film in its history (first is Fahrenheit 9/11, with $123 million). That the film didn't collapse after its first weekend is again a testament to the strong appeal of old-fashioned meat and potatoes entertainment aimed at audiences who don't necessarily race out to see a movie on opening weekend. We film nerds discussed the film as a sort of 'Action All Stars to the Rescue', but general audiences simply took the film as a big-budget action picture starring Stallone and a handful of other notable action stars. They didn't care about discussing the film's politics or what its success represented for society at large. The film has major issues, but at the end of the day, it delivers what it promises, which has been an all-too rare thing this summer.

Coming in second was the top new opener, yet another Freidberg/Seltzer 'spoof' Vampires Suck. Opening on Wednesday, the film crossed $12.2 million over the three-day weekend and $18.5 million over its five-day weekend. Its loss at the hands of The Expendables has to be a little cathartic, as Stallone's Rambo opened in second place in early 2008 to Meet the Spartans, with charges that kids were buying tickets to the PG-13 300 'spoof' and sneaking into the R-rated gorefest. This is a slightly comeback for Freidberg and Seltzer, as their previous film Disaster Movie, opened with just $5.8 million. Two things: Disaster Movie was the only one of these laugh-less wonders not distributed by Fox (it was handled by Lionsgate), and it stands to reason that quite a few Twilight fans showed up to watch their favorite franchise get mocked. These 'Hey, now we're replicating a scene from another movie!' or 'Hey, it's a random pop culture figure!' non-satires (Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, and now Vampires Suck) may represent the nadir of lazy filmmaking, but as long as the budgets remain in the $20 million range, we'll be seeing more of them. At least Ken Jeong got a paycheck. Oh, for the record, these fiends had nothing to do with Superhero Movie, and it was actually a reasonably funny satire of comic book films.

Eat Pray Love was in third place, dropping 47% in weekend two. With $47.2 million in ten days, the film is about $4 million ahead of the ten-day total of Julie and Julia, but it dropped about 10% more on its respective second weekend (both films made about $12 million on their second weekend). $100 million is still possible, but it's looking less than plausible. Next comes the second opener of the weekend, Lottery Ticket. The 'urban' comedy concerning a winning lottery ticket claimed by a do-gooder in an economically-deprived neighborhood grossed $10.6 million on about 1,973 screens. With $5,399 per screen, it had the highest per-screen average of anything approaching a wide release. At least we've stopped pretending to be shocked when comedies starring African-American casts open to around $10-13 million. With a budget of just $17 million, this is an easy win for Warner Bros. In fifth place was The Other Guys, which dropped 41% in weekend three. At $88.2 million in seventeen days, the film has fallen behind Blades of Glory ($89 million at the end of its third weekend), and should top out around $110 million. If the film hadn't cost $100 million, this would have been a massive win, so next time keep the budget closer to the $60 million spent on Blades of Glory and Step Brothers.

Next up is what may be the most important film to come out of this weekend. Piranha 3D opened with $10.1 million, which isn't too shabby for a $25 million R-rated horror comedy (a sequel has already been more or less green-lit). However, as I noted yesterday, 2D showings of this film were almost impossible to find. This may be a genuine example of a film being hurt by its 3D conversion. The film is just the kind of thing that could be enjoyed by casual moviegoers for a cheap afternoon matinee. However, since 3D tickets run around $15 a pop (in the LA area), there could be no cheap matinee tickets found. Once you take away the 2D viewing options for moviegoers who either don't like 3D or don't want to spend $30 to take their date to an afternoon movie of something like Piranha, you're going to lose quite a few casual moviegoers. Also of note is that the film was held from critics until the very last minute, only to wind up with an 80% score on Rotten Tomatoes (Oscar nominees have scored substantially less). As I've said time (Snakes on a Plane) and time again (Quarantine), do NOT hide your film from the press if it's actually good!!!

Next we have The Switch. Despite starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, this Miramax release opened on only 2,000 screens and only managed $8.43 million. The somewhat icky premise likely scared away viewers, and the reviews, while more positive than expected, could not compensate. This was certainly a harder sell than the spouse vs. spouse action comedy theatrics of The Bounty Hunter. Like most actresses not named Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, or Jodie Foster, Aniston still needs a notable male co-star to sell a commercial picture. Aaron Eckhart wasn't big enough for Love Happens ($7 million opening), and Jason Bateman is not yet a full-fledged movie star either. Finally, Nanny McPhee Returns opened with $8.4 million. The Emma Thompson vehicle failed to equal the $14.5 million opening weekend of the original back in 2006. Obviously this was not a case of a well-liked original expanding its audience on DVD and television and thus adding interest for the sequel's opening weekend. On the other hand, the $35 million picture has already grossed $71 million worldwide, so Universal was basically treating the domestic release like a desert.

Inception spent what may be its last weekend in the top ten, although it may stick around if all five of these new openers completely collapse. It dropped just 30% and crossed the $260 million mark. Next weekend, it loses its IMAX screens to the rerelease of Avatar. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World plunged 51% in weekend two, just barely crossing $20 million by its second weekend. The film now has no shot of not being a major money loser, although it will live forever on DVD, Blu Ray, and cable television. In limited release debuts, two critically-acclaimed documentaries that drummed up controversy due to their 'R' ratings scored solid debuts. The Tillman Story, a look at the life of the former NFL player who served in Afghanistan, turned against the war effort, and was killed by friendly fire (rated R for language), grossed $13,046 per screen on its four screens. A Film Unfinished, a Holocaust documentary (rated R for nudity) grossed $8,515 per-screen on its four screens.

In holdover news, Twilight Saga: Eclipse surpassed New Moon in domestic grosses, although it will be a struggle to find that last $2.8 million to cross $300 million (cough-second run theaters-cough). Despicable Me crossed $230 million, becoming Universal's seventh-highest grossing film of all time. The Last Airbender crossed $130 million, Dinner For Schmucks crossed $65 million, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time crossed $90 million, Charlie St. Cloud crossed $30 million, The Sorcerer's Apprentice crossed $60 million, and Toy Story 3 is now the ninth-highest grossing domestic grosser of all-time ($403.8 million), although it likely won't catch up to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($423 million).

Join us next weekend for the official final weekend of summer, although this weekend's results certainly imply that last weekend was the 'season finale'. Anyway, the new releases are the much-delayed heist-pic Takers (starring the new Alex Cross, Idris Elba), The Last Exorcism, and the 700 screen rerelease of James Cameron's Avatar. I can think of no more fitting way to end this mediocre summer than to cap it off with Avatar retaking the box office crown.

Scott Mendelson

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