Monday, September 6, 2010

American, Machete, Going the Distance square off over Labor Day Weekend. Weekend Box Office (09/04/010).

Despite stupidly opening on a Wednesday (and siphoning off $3 million before the traditional opening weekend), The American grossed a completely predictable $13.1 million over three days and $16.6 million over the four-day holiday. This is no less than the ninth George Clooney vehicle to open to around $11-13 million since The Peacemaker in 1997. And, as I've written before, every time this happens, the pundits jump up and down about how Clooney may not be a real movie star. As I've also said before, true stardom is when it's just your face on the poster, especially when you're selling a somewhat uncommercial bit of cinema. That was certainly the case with The American, which is a slow and ponderous European-style thriller, with only just enough action to fill up the third act of a trailer (film-goers felt duped, as the film received a D- from Cinemascore). The fact that it will end up with $19.6 million between Wednesday and Monday is a testament to Clooney's sheer constancy as an opener for relatively cheap (the film cost Focus Features just $20 million) and arty projects. For what it's worth, if you know what you're getting into, the film is a relatively satisfying character-driven tone poem. It's a B-movie classed up and pruned down to resemble an art film.

The next major opener was Robert Rodriguez's Machete. It was another case of hardcore interest in the geek world not translating into much mainstream interest. Once again, advertising a film as 'so bad that it's good' is a sure-fire way to turn off general moviegoers, and in the era of $10+ movie tickets, it's a tough thing for any number of younger filmgoers to stomach as well. Still, with an opening three-day gross of $11.4 million and a $14.1 million four-day gross, the picture more than justified its cost (it had a $20 million budget, and Fox paid around $5 million to distribute it). At the end of the day, the cameo-filled comedic riff on 70's exploitation was always destined to be more talked about for its nerd appeal and its immigration politics then seen in a theater. For what it's worth, the Danny Trejo vehicle played to a 60% Hispanic audience. The geek-centric film is destined for cult status on DVD/Blu Ray and, if FX can cut the exceedingly violent and bloody film down to an acceptable TV version, a decades-long run on cable. Point being, don't be surprised to see Machete Kills in theaters (or just on DVD) in a few years.

The last major opener was the Drew Barrymore/Justin Long romantic comedy, Going the Distance. Alas, the picture, along with the weak opening of her fantastic directorial debut Whip It last October, proves that Drew Barrymore no longer has the cache of her Never Been Kissed/Charlie's Angels peak ten years ago, and that Justin Long isn't yet an opener. The film got generally negative reviews, but those who liked it really liked it, so it's $6.8 million three-day gross and $8.5 million four-day numbers will heartbreaking for a select few. The Warner Bros film cost $32 million to make, so it will likely be okay once international and DVD money rolls in. Last weekend's openers were a study in audience satisfaction. The B-movie heist picture, Takers, basically delivered what its trailer promised, so it only dropped 47% for an $10.8 million three-day second weekend and a $13.5 million four-day gross. The $30 million caper has now grossed $39 million. I have to wonder how many kids bought tickets to the PG-13 Takers and snuck into the R-rated Machete, which makes their battle for second place a little more amusing. On the other hand, The Last Exorcism promised old-school religious supernatural thrills, but instead delivered a fauxumentary that dealt with religious fundamentalism in the Bible Belt. Cue 64% second-weekend drop, as the Lionsgate release grossed $7.3 million three-day gross and an $8.7 million four-day gross (expect a similar plunge with The American next weekend). Still, the dirt-cheap acquisition has already grossed $32 million.

In other holdover news, The Expendables now sits with $94 million, and is Lionsgate's second-biggest domestic grosser ever, behind the $119 million gross of Fahrenheit 9/11 back in 2004. The hold for this film has been kinda shocking, as it dipped just 30% this weekend despite direct demo-competition with two of the three openers. It has also amassed around $180 million worldwide, although Lionsgate only has the distribution rights for the UK. Despicable Me crossed the $240 million mark, making the film the summer's fifth-biggest grosser and overtaking Shrek Forever After ($238 million). Inception is right under $700 million worldwide, and that 'flop that spells the end of 3D' Step Up 3D has amassed $115 million worldwide on a $40 million budget. Salt has crossed $115 million, The Other Guys crossed $100 million, and Eat Pray Love sits at $70 million.

That's all for now. Join us next weekend for just a single new wide-release,
Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D! In other words, it's a good weekend to catch up on those arthouse films from earlier in the year that are now on DVD (I recommend Chloe, The Killer Inside Me, and Mother). Until then, keep reading.

Scott Mendelson

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