Sunday, October 3, 2010

Weekend box office (10/03/10): The Social Network scores, four horror films crumble, and holdovers remain steady.

It was good news for one major release and bad news for pretty much everything else. The much hyped and critically-acclaimed 'founding of Facebook' drama The Social Network debuted in number one this weekend with a strong $22.4 million three-day take. Predictions were all over the map for this one, with pundits guessing anywhere from $15 to $30 million. As usual, taking the average prediction usually gets you the right answer. Regardless of the breathless hype and relentless free media coverage, $22.4 million is pretty terrific for a two-hour adult drama with no genuine movie stars and a director (David Fincher) and writer (Aaron Sorkin) who are only known by name among the film nerds and the industry.

This is the kind of completely entertaining (if not culturally-defining or anything of that nature) film that makes movie stars. Jesse Eisenberg now has a 'serious' hit to go along with his pop-art success Zombieland (which opened with $24 million this weekend last year). This is major mainstream exposure for Andrew Garfield, who now stars in the little-seen Never Let Me Go (current gross: $726,000) and will soon be featured as the new Peter Parker in Sony's 3D Spider-Man reboot. Rooney Mara has two of the best scenes in the film (and is the film's strongest defense against charges of sexism), and she used those two scenes in order to get cast in director David Fincher's next project, the high-profile remake of The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo. And if Justin Timberlake wasn't already one of the more famous entertainers on the planet, his scene-stealing supporting turn would instantly turn him into a bankable character-actor.

As somewhat expected, the film played much better in the big cities than it did in the rest of the country. Where it goes from here is an open question. The film scored a solid 'B+' from Cinemascore, and Sony was able to keep the project's budget at around $40 million. The film played like a general-audiences hit, as the film had a solid 2.87x weekend multiplier (it actually went up about 14% on Saturday). The picture is being set up as a major Oscar contender, so expect to see a certain amount of backlash in the coming weeks as the 'it wasn't that great, thus it was bad' crowd chimes in, as well as the 'it's not a true portrait of the the people it portrays' camp. The big challenge at this point is selling the film to middle America, where the idea of watching an amoral Ivy-league kid invent a something that makes him into a billionaire might not be the easiest sell. Sony is already on the right track, with TV spots that sell the movie not as 'the defining movie of our generation' (HA!), but as a witty and fun-filled look at a token moment in recent history. The film is already on tap to be a hit thanks to the low budget, but the final domestic gross (IE - over/under $100 million) is now about whether it's the front runner for Best Picture or merely one of the ten nominees.

For some inexplicable reason, there were four (!) horror films opening in wide and limited release this weekend. And, alas, every single one of them tanked pretty hard. The highest-grossing of the four was actually a studio dump, as Paramount finally released the four-year oldCase 39, filmed back when Renee Zellweger was bankable and Bradley Cooper had just come off of The Wedding Crashers. The film cost only $26 million, and it had already racked up around $15 million in overseas grosses, so the $5.3 million weekend was basically a bit of gravy before the DVD release. The best new film of the weekend, Let Me In, failed to capitalize on its positive reviews or its moody ad campaign, as the Overture release ended up with just $5.1 million. The film only cost $20 million, so the damage is more about Overture's return after a nearly year-long sabbatical (they were taken over by Relativity back in July) than the film itself. Sad to say, but it would seem that (financially speaking) Overture may have been better off making the kind of Let the Right One In remake that everyone feared in the first place (think a reverse-gender Twilight rip-off). This was always going to be a hard sell, as the film is a remake of an arthouse film that plays as arty as the original, and fans of the original either refused to go on principal or couldn't quite stomach paying $10 for a remake of a film they could watch again at home.

The other two horror films were limited releases. Chain Letter went out semi-wide on 406 screens and earned a pathetic $138,788 ($342 per screen). Of more importance was the lousy debut of Dark Sky's Hatchet II. The film may be garbage (I wasn’t much of a fan of the original Hatchet), but a solid showing for an unrated horror film in a major theater chain (AMC) could have opened the flood gates for unrated director's cuts of documentaries, horror films, and adult dramas to play in semi-wide theatrical release. This was the first time in decades that an unrated horror film played in major theater chains (it went onto 68 AMC screens), but the $774 per screen average will not encourage this kind of promising release strategy. In other limited-release news, Waiting For "Superman" scored around $408,873 on 34 screens for an $12,026 per-screen average. Still, unless a wider expansion really breaks this one out, the 'education system-in crisis' documentary is fated to be one of those movies that is more talked about than actually viewed. The 'not really a thriller' documentary Catfish is doing okay in wider release, as it grossed $590,107 for the weekend for a current total of $1.621 million on 137 screens thus far.

In other holdover news, Legends of the Guardians held well, dropping just 32% for a ten-day total of $30 million. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps lost 47% in weekend two, owing to competition from The Social Network and the feeling that the picture wasn't all that relevant or impressive. It's new ten-day total is $35.7 million. The Town and Easy A (starring the alleged new Mary Jane Watson) fell about 36% each, as the popular studio pictures continue to hold their own against the newbies. The respective totals are $64 million for The Town and $42 million for Easy A (the latter is easily the best teen comedy since Mean Girls). Last weekend's rom-com disappointment You Again also dropped 31%, as the $20 million ensemble comedy should reach $20 million by next weekend. Devil has now grossed $27 million, making it a solid hit on a dirt-cheap budget. Lastly, the shockingly good Despicable Me (finally saw it in second-run last weekend) has crossed $246 million domestic, which makes it the tenth-biggest grossing cartoon of all-time.

That's it for this weekend. Join us next weekend when the Diane Lane horse-racing period piece Secretariat squares off against the Katherine Heigl/Josh Duhamel rom-com Life As We Know It. On the horror film front, we have the limited release of the surprisingly well-reviewed remake of I Spit On Your Grave, the wide release of Lionsgate's Buried, and the debut weekend of the Wes Craven effort My Soul To Take (it's been delayed for nearly two years, it's been converted to 3D, and Craven dashed back into the Scream franchise upon completion - you do the math). Until then, take care.

Scott Mendelson

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