Sunday, December 19, 2010

Weekend Box Office (12/18/10): Tron: Legacy opens just okay, Yogi Bear and How Do You Know underperform, Black Swan and The Fighter expand.

Opening following a flurry of advance press and geek-frenzy spanning back three years, Tron: Legacy scored an okay $43 million in its opening weekend. Regardless of my feelings on the film (REVIEW), this is a good but not great for a film that was a big question mark. Would the film play to general audiences, or would it become a super-budgeted version of Kick-Ass or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, playing only to the hardcore geek audience? Tracking had the film opening as low as $30 million, which for the allegedly $200 million+ production would have been a disaster. But at least approaching the $45 million mark allows Disney to save some face. Yes that includes the usual 3D/IMAX ticket-price bump, but it also has a disadvantage of being the kind of film that few would willingly see in a 2D theater (the film played 71% 3D and a whopping 24% IMAX). The film opened with $3.6 million in midnight screenings and a $18 million opening day, before dropping to $15 million on Saturday and $10 million on Sunday. That gives the film a mediocre 2.39x weekend multiplier, implying that it's playing just slightly more like a general audiences genre picture than a hardcore nerd niche-picture that many feared. On most normal weekends, this kind of opening would have been very bad news. But this is the weekend before Christmas...

The film did 8.3% of its business in midnight screenings, which is a bit high (5-6% is the norm), but nowhere near the 19% that the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I or Twilight Saga: New Moon notched in their midnight showings. As they kinda had to, Disney sold the lights-and-magic show, promising one-of-a-kind 3D visuals. While it it indeed a sequel, it arguably had to be sold as an original property, since the few who had truly fond memories of the first film already bought their tickets three years ago. So for an ‘original’ sci-fi genre film with mixed reviews to open just below King Kong and the first Lord of the Rings movie is nothing to sneeze at, especially with no real demo competition until January 14th (The Green Hornet, which will also steal those 3D and IMAX screens). It may not be a home run, but it’s a solid double with one out and a guy on third. The key is that late-December releases tend to have huge legs, especially when released on this very weekend.

It's now all a question of word of mouth and repeat viewings. If the general population dislikes the film as much as I did, then the film will get battered over the holiday by Little Fockers. But, if audiences tolerate the film or at least shrug off its obvious quality issues (the film received a B+ from Cinemascore polling), then $200 million is not out of the question. The film played 66% male and a whopping 75% over-18. That means that Disney needs to ramp up its family-friendly ad campaign, highlighting the fact that the film is rated PG. Disney got lucky, spending $200-300 million on a mediocre product but getting that opening weekend anyway. Chalk it up to lack of competition, and the willingness of moviegoers to see whatever is arbitrarily crowned 'the next cool thing'. For what it's worth, there has yet to be a single film opening in December with $40 million or more that failed to cross $200 million domestic. Of course, as is the lesson of 2010, domestic numbers are just the icing on the cake. The real cash cow for Disney will be in foreign ticket sales, as the lousy acting and poor writing will be less of an issue when it's dubbed and/or subtitled.

I'm trying not to editorialize too much here, but the fact that this (in my opinion) empty vessel opened to these numbers is not a promising sign for movie-going in general. That Disney was basically able to convince the moviegoing populace that they wanted to see a sequel to a 28-year old film that barely anyone remembers in any detail is a testament to the Mouse House's marketing skill and/or a sad commentary on blockbuster filmmaking. If I may quote Don R. Lewis, "The greatest trick the Disney ever played was making you think you ever gave a sh*t about Tron". On the other hand, let me take a moment to clarify something from my original review. The comments I made about the makers of Tron: Legacy not seeming to even try were directed at the director, producers, writers, and main actors. There are thousands of talented tech people who likely gave it their all, and it's a damn shame that their work didn't result in a movie that showed off their talent.

Moving on, the other two new releases both opened a bit soft. Yogi Bear (see the unintentionally smutty poster and the alternate ending), Warner Bros' answer to Alvin and the Chipmunks opened to just $16.4 million. It's not a ghastly haul, but it pales in comparison to the $44 million that the first Alvin and the Chipmunks opened with on this weekend three years ago. Still, with an $80 million price-tag, Warner is hoping that it becomes the family-film of choice over the holiday (the film received a 'B' from Cinemascore). More costly and more disastrous was the $7.4 million opening weekend of How Do You Know. The romantic comedy marked the return of director James L. Brooks and cost an astonishing (for a romantic comedy) $120 million. How does such a film cost so much? Well, the top-of-the-line cast apparently took their top-of-the-line fees, with Resse Witherspoon ($15 million), Owen Wilson ($12 million), Jack Nicholson ($12 million), and Paul Rudd ($3 million), eating up nearly $50 million before a minute of film had been shot. Add in some (allegedly) expensive reshoots in order to (allegedly) make Resse Witherspoon's character 'more sympathetic' (ie - she probably acted like a recognizable human being originally and was tagged a 'bitch' by test screening audiences), and you have a romantic comedy that cost more than The A-Team. Toss in terrible reviews, a C- from Cinemascore, and this looks like a pre-Christmas release that will have to struggle for those holiday legs, especially as Little Fockers is direct-demo competition.

In expansion/limited release news, The Fighter expanded to wide release, grossing $12.1 million on 2,500 theaters. It's a solid expansion and bodes well for the crowd-pleasing Oscar bait drama. Black Swan finally went wide this weekend, with $8.3 million on 959 screens. It's not a knock-out performance, but it means that the $13 million ballet horror film has already grossed $15 million. It's probably not going to end up as the next Up in the Air, but $50 million seems a probability. Lionsgate debuted Rabbit Hole on five screens, but muscled just $53,778 or $10,076 per screen. The well-reviewed Nicole Kidman/Aaron Eckhart drama faces an uphill battle due to its subject matter. It's quite good, and if you can handle it, Rabbit Hole is a thoughtful and compelling drama about a couple grappling with the accidental death of their four-year old son, it's well-worth a trek to the local art house. Kevin Spacy's Casino Jack (where he plays disgraceful lobbyist Jack Abramoff) was dead-on-arrival , netting $4,933 per each of its seven screens. Unless you're a Spacey fan, it's tough to justify seeing a fictionalized version of his felonious career when there's a perfectly good documentary (Alex Gibney's Casino Jack) available on DVD as we speak. And yes, The Kings Speech pulled in another $25,515 per screen on forty-three screens. I'll talk more about that when the film finally has the courage to go semi-wide on Christmas Day.

In holdover news, both of last week's openers barely weathered the storm. The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader dropped 48%, compared to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe which dropped 51% on the same weekend five years ago. The third (and likely final) Narnia film has wracked a $12.3 million second weekend, giving it $42.7 million so far. As expected, overseas numbers have been somewhat compensating ($124 million worldwide so far). The Tourist failed to succeed as the 'second choice', dropping 48% for a $30.6 million ten-day total. Tangled now sits at $127.9 million, having lost many of its 3D screens to Disney's Tron: Legacy. I honestly thought this cartoon had a shot at $200 million after its mammoth Thanksgiving weekend, but Disney had so much vested in Tron: Legacy that the marketing campaign ended for Tangled after opening weekend. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I sits at $265.7 million. It's now the fifth-biggest grosser in the series, and it will have a tough time reaching the $290 million attained by the last three sequels. I'm sure the $824 million worldwide take will help ease the pain over at Warner Bros.

That's it for this weekend. Next weekend is the final big push of the year, with True Grit squaring off against Little Fockers on Wednesday and Gulliver's Travels opening on Saturday the 25th. God I hate when Christmas falls on a Saturday... makes everything that much more complicated.

Scott Mendelson

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