Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekend Box Office (01/23/11): Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher top chart with No Strings Attached, Way Back and Company Men under-perform.

As the lone new wide-release of the weekend, the Ivan Reitman romantic-comedy, No Strings Attached, debuted with $20.3 million. The $25 million picture was a solid win for both Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. Portman probably deserves credit, as this was the first mainstream project to capitalize on her Black Swan press, as well as her new unfortunate role as a tabloid darling (re: surprise engagement + pregnancy = no escape). But the $20 million opening falls right in Ashton Kutcher’s median average when dealing with commercial fare such as this (What Happens in Vegas, Guess Who, etc). Out of fifteen wide-release openers, seven of them opened between $17 and $23 million. Killers, with $15 million, was just as much an anomaly on his box office filmography as Valentine’s Day (where, ensemble cast aside, he and Jennifer Garner were the leads) opening with $56 million. Journalists may unfairly tag him as a flop machine, and audiences may say they hate him, but as he’s not making a $70 million spy comedy, Kutcher is a reliable draw for reasonably-budgeted pictures such as this one

Comparably, this opening is Natalie Portman’s second biggest ever outside of the Star Wars franchise. V For Vendetta pulled in $25 million five years ago, and the next highest is the $9.6 million opening for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (which is actually pretty good, thanks to a terrifically warm supporting turn by Jason Bateman). This may indeed be the start of her career as a genuine box office draw (Black Swan is already her biggest-grossing non-Star Wars picture ever), but that remains to be seen. Her next theatrical release is a small IFC-distributed picture, The Other Woman. The next big test will be Your Highness (red-band trailer), opening on April 8th, and then Thor (trailer) on May 6th, which will likely open or not open regardless of Portman.

It’s also worth nothing that this is Ivan Reitman’s biggest opening weekend in 22 years, after Ghostbusters II, which actually set the record for opening weekend with $29 million in June 1989… if only for a single week. And, in equally useless stats, Cary Elwes is BACK! This is his second $20 million+ opener in just under three months (after his 'buzz'-building supporting turn in Saw 3D)! Yes, I'm being sarcastic, but I'm always happy to see Elwes steadily working. Point being, the adult romantic comedy is not dead in the least, it just shouldn't cost $70 million (The Dilemma) or $120 million (How Do You Know).

There were only two other notable releases, both in respective limited debuts. Peter Weir's epic drama The Way Back, opened in 650 screens with just $1.4 million. The escape adventure starring Collin Ferrel, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan (who has a franchise of her own in April with Hanna), Mark Strong, and Jim Sturgess (remember when he was the next big thing just two years ago?) never had a chance, as it is long and brooding, with absolutely no awards heat and limited critical fuss attached to it. Weinstein Company finally debuted The Company Men into 106 theaters this weekend, after pulling it from the 2010 schedule to avoid competition with more surefire Oscar contenders. The recession drama with Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper grossed just $767,000 for a mediocre $7,000 per-screen average. It's a shame, as I remember a time when a drama starring any two of those actors would be a major wide release...

Second place went to The Green Hornet, which held up pretty well considering it was coming off of a holiday weekend. The superhero comedy dropped 46% for a $18.1 million second weekend. That's not a huge hold, but it's not a major drop for a geek-friendly genre picture in today's marketplace, and I can say from copious anecdotal evidence that it's going to be the 'second choice' for general movie goers for at least the next couple weeks. The too-expensive ($120 million) but awfully fun (review) picture has a ten-day total of $63.4 million. The Dilemma had an okay hold as well, dropping 47% for a $9.4 million second weekend. Its $33 million cum would be just fine had the critically-savaged romantic comedy not cost $70 million. Country Strong has now equaled its $15 million budget in domestic grosses, while Season of the Witch lost 18% of its auditoriums (520 screens) and tumbled accordingly (-52% for a $22 million total). Laugh all you want, but when all but the biggest hits are being tossed out of multiplexes on their fifteenth day, general moviegoers are just that much more likely to wait for DVD.

The King's Speech
is holding up quite well, and will only grow stronger after its surprise win at the Producer's Guild Awards last night (this no longer makes an Oscar win for The Social Network a sure thing). Anyway, the crowd-pleasing period piece grossed another $9.2 million (-0.2%) and it currently sits with $58.6 million. True Grit had another solid weekend, dropping just 27% and ending its fifth weekend with $138 million. The other two major Oscar contenders are holding their own as well. Black Swan (you know, the other Natalie Portman movie) dropped just 25% and now sits at $83.5 million. It would have seemed unfathomable that a hyper-sexual and oppressively grim horror film set in a ballet studio directed by Darren Aronofski would make it to $100 million, but now that seems like a foregone conclusion. David O Russel's The Fighter may get there too, especially if Christian Bale and Melissa Leo win their respective Oscar categories, as the boxing drama has already grossed $73 million.

In non-Oscar news, Little Fockers is still holding on, having crossed the $141 million. For any other comedy, this would have been a very impressive achievement, but for the $100 million+ sequel to the second highest-grossing comedy of all time, it's okay at best. Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader has crossed $100 million in domestic dollars, and it just topped $355 million worldwide. Tangled is at $186 million stateside and is near $400 million internationally. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I is just under $700,000 domestically from becoming the third-highest grosser in the series, but it's just surpassed the $938.2 million worldwide take of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to become the second-biggest international grosser of the franchise, behind the first picture ($974 million). Tron: Legacy crossed the $160 million mark this weekend, ending Sunday with $163 million domestic and $334 million worldwide. Not only is there a sequel on the way, there is apparently a teaser sequence for said sequel that was already shot back in Thanksgiving and will appear on the DVD/Blu Ray.

That's about it this weekend. Join us next weekend for another light load, as CBS Films hopes that Jason Statham killing people as The Mechanic will prove more successful than The Rock killing people in Faster. Also, Anthony Hopkins returns to the horror genre (where, let's be honest, he is most at home) with The Rite. Until then, keep reading and take care.

Scott Mendelson

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