Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend Box Office (10/02/11): Dolphin Tale tops as top-3 from last weekend remain top-3 this weekend, fending off four new releases.

 Four new releases fought for a piece of the box office pie and, with the exception of a lower-profile Christian drama playing in 1,100 screens, none of them had much bite.  The top three movies from last weekend were the top three movies this weekend as well, just in different order.  The top film of the weekend was Dolphin Tale, which actually rose two spots from its third-place debut last weekend.  More impressive than its ranking (as rankings are less important than actual numbers) is its mere 27% drop. The $37 million 'help a wounded dolphin' family drama grossed another $13.9 million and now has a ten-day cume of $37 million.    It's not a boffo figure, but the film is obviously playing well, especially in the face of the return of Simba (more on that in a minute).  And if Disney really does pull The Lion King 3D from theaters next weekend (no word yet, but the Blu Ray streets this Tuesday), it will have the family market to itself until October 28th, which is where Dreamworks moved Puss In Boots just a couple days ago (it was supposed to launch on November 4th).

Staying strong in second place yet again was the Brad Pitt baseball drama Moneyball.  The critically-acclaimed (review) and surprisingly audience-pleasing (I know quite a few general moviegoers who saw and enjoyed it over the last ten days) drama dropped just 38% for a $12 million gross in weekend two.  The $50 million production now has $38 million in ten days.  That's a bit below the respective ten-day totals of recent popular adult dramas such as The Social Network ($46 million), The Town ($48 million), and Contagion ($44 million - it's now at $64 million), but the picture should still a decent shot, especially with year-end awards consideration, of clearing $76 million and supplanting The Rookie as the second-biggest baseball movie ever behind A League of Her Own ($107 million).

In third place was the stunningly successful relaunch of The Lion King (essay) which pulled in another $10.6 million in what may or may not be its last weekend.  The re-release alone has earned $79 million, meaning that The Lion King is now the third animated film in history to cross $400 million in domestic grosses and is, at $408 million, within an earshot of surpassing the $415 million gross of Toy Story 3. With about $880 million worldwide, it's just $6 million away from overtaking Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs ($886 million) as the third-biggest animated film in worldwide box office history.  Many breathless words have been written about this one in the last few weeks, so I'll only repeat that this could be as much of a game-changer as Avatar was two years ago.

Now at last we get to the new releases.  The top new movie was Courageous, which was a somewhat lower profile Christian drama that did a terrific $9 million on 1,161 screens.  We really have to stop being surprised when these films break out, as there is a perception (true or not) that Hollywood does not 'represent Christian values', so when a mass-market release apparently panders to that particular complaint, it's bound to do business.  The film cost just $2 million, which it made back in pre-sale online ticket purchases alone, and the marketing was pinpoint and targeted (read - smart and cheap).  I'd argue that the opening would have been even larger if not for Dolphin's Tale, which has also successfully sold itself to the same overtly spiritual crowd.  Again, serving an undernourished market usually gives you a certain amount of success every time.

The critically-acclaimed 50/50, a Joseph-Gordon Levitt/Seth Rogen dramedy about one young man's struggles with cancer, opened with $8.6 million.  That's a bit under what was hoped, and it again shows both the inherent weakness in terms of marketing might when it comes to smaller studios like Summit, as well as how well certain studios market certain genres.  Universal had a flop of its own this weekend with Dream House (more on that below...), but Universal has had much more success selling potentially challenging comedies to a wide audience while Dream House arguably would have opened better over at Screen Gems.  Regardless, the stunningly well-reviewed film cost just $9 million, so it will likely eke out a profit when it hits DVD/Blu Ray.

The really bad news starts here, with the last two major openers.  Morgan Creek-financed/Universal-distributed Dream House (essay) grossed just $8.1 million, proving for the 30th time that Daniel Craig is not a box office draw outside of the 007 films (unless you once again want to blame his respective female co-star).  If I were Sony, I'd be a little worried about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (trailer).  Anyway, this Jim Sheridan thriller was allegedly beset by copious behind-the-scenes meddling, as well as a trailer that blatantly revealed a massive plot twist.  In the end, the Daniel Craig/Rachel Weisz/Naomi Watts thriller went out over the weekend without press screenings, a sign that even general audiences understand in this day and age.  Point being, as I mentioned above, the studio can sometimes make the difference.  Screen Gems surely would have had more luck marketing this one, with or without press screenings, as this kind of movie is right in their wheelhouse.

More problematic was the poor showing for Anna Faris's What's Your Number?.  The $20 million production opened with just $5.4 million, meaning if it collapses it will be the third film to fail to reach $10 million despite opening on over 1,000 screens this year (sadly, Faris co-stars in one of the other two, Take Me Home Tonight).  It's actually the fifth worst opening in history to open on over 3,000 screens.  Faris has been the poster-child for the challenges facing female comedic talent, and this star vehicle tanking will not help her cause, nor the cause of other female comics or comedic actresses. The sad truth is that executives will look at this as proof that the massive success of Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher were 'flukes' and that audiences don't like funny women after all.  Daniel Craig will get 1,000 chances to prove that he's not a box office draw (and Eddie Murphy still gets prime gigs despite his last two live-action vehicles being number 3 and 4 on the above 3,000-screen opener list), but studios are always looking for any excuse to write-off anything that doesn't match the standard thinking as 'a fluke'.

Anna Faris scored her own breakout vehicle back in 2008 with The House Bunny.  Yet in the last three years she's only appeared in the aforementioned Take Me Home Tonight (which was shot years ago), Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakel (where she voiced Jeanette),  'the token love interest' in Yogi Bear, and a rather brilliant but-misunderstood satire of 'token love interests' in Observe and Report (essay).  Any male actor who opened a comedy to $14.5 million all-by himself would have had any number of vehicles tossed his way, but Faris had to wait three years for another turn at bat, arguably a couple years too late.

There is little holdover news.  Abduction (review) and The Killer Elite (essay) both dropped around 50% and are both hovering just under $20 million.  Both will top out at around $25 million.  Captain America has crossed $175 million, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes is hot on its heels. In limited release news, the main story is the hilariously poor debut of the anti-Sarah Palin documentary, You Betcha, which grossed just $1,152 per screen on seven screens.  Of course, the fact that an anti-Palin documentary tanked is no more meaningful than the fact that The Undefeated flopped a few months ago.  Sarah Palin is not a movie star, but it is absolutely irrelevant to the political process (essay).  Michael Shannon's acclaimed Get Shelter pulled in $52,000 on three screens while the six-years delayed Margret debuted with just $7,500 on two screens.

That's it for this weekend.  Join us next time for the debut of Dreamworks' Real Steel (basically Hugh Jackman stars in a robot-boxing remake of Over the Top), while George Clooney debuts his political thriller, The Ides of March (which I predict will open at $11-13 million). 

Scott Mendelson             

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