Sunday, May 20, 2012

Weekend Box Office (05/20/12): Battleship sinks, The Dictator and What To Expect When You're Expecting stumble, while The Avengers charges on.

Most box office write-ups written today or tomorrow will exclaim that 'The Avengers sunk Battleship!'.  The truth is that Battleship (review) sunk itself.  The film was terrible, a mishmash of a thousand prior blockbuster films all meshed into a generic template that seemed like producers checking off a list of ingredients on a sciencitic formula.  More importantly, the marketing accurately conveyed this and audiences decided to either stay home or see something else.  The assumption of global success, based on an arbitrary connection to a board game and $220 million worth of special effects surrounded by a stale concoction of used parts, was cynicism of the highest order.  The fact domestic audiences soundly rejected it has to be cause for optimism.  With John Carter and now Battleship (pity Taylor Kitsch, who stars in both but bears little responsibility), it appears that movie studios run the risk of indeed going broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

With a production cost of anywhere from $210-$250 million, Universal's Battleship debuted with $25 million this weekend.  That's lower than the last 'lemmings off a cliff' project John Carter which opened with $30 million last March before crawling to $70 million.  But even that domestic total is unlikely for Battleship, as the Disney epic had the fortune of being attached to drive-in double-bills with The Avengers for the last three weeks, which goosed grosses just a bit.  Like John Carter, Battleship did okay overseas, as it opened in most foreign territories five weeks ago.  Its foreign run is almost over, and its $226 million total isn't what Universal was hoping for when they decided to open it everywhere-but-here.  Again, the quality of the film and lack of must-see factors aside, the budget was the biggest culprit.  Had this raging mediocrity cost less than $150 million, its likely $300-350 million worldwide total would have been an eventual break-even proposition.  But with cost of as much as $250 million plus marketing, this board game adaptation *needed* to be global phenomenon to make its money back, which as I've always said is a terrible idea for anything that's not a guaranteed slam dunk.

But with a board game mostly remembered by older audiences, an alien invasion plot that reeked of Transformers rip-off and a cast that included a young man few have heard of, a pop singer, and a super model in lead roles, the film's marketing campaign basically advertised that it was explicitly not quality entertainment.  Again, and I mentioned this back when John Carter debuted, there was a painful cynicism and condescension at work with the expectations that audiences would flock to what damn-well looked like Blockbuster: The Movie purely because it was hyped as the next big thing.  Universal took a beating over 2009 and 2010 with a slate of original and/or adult-skewing films that mostly under-performed or outright tanked (State of Play, Duplicity, Funny People, The Wolfman, The Green Zone, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, etc).  Now it seems they have sadly learned the wrong lesson (don't spend more than $50 million on adult films) and decided to become a tentpole factory.  With Battleship, Snow White and the Huntsman (which to be fair looks a lot better and may capitalize on Kristen Stewart's Twilight fanbase), and the wildly over-budget 47 Samurai, it looks like Universal is trying to play the Warner Bros/Paramount game.  Let's hope that Universal's Savages (a star-packed R-rated drug thriller from Oliver Stone) is a big hit in July, as it and this February's Safe House ($120 million+) will theoretically teach Universal to stick to what it does best, albeit at a reasonable cost (Taylor Kitsch stars in that one too and he deserves a break).

There were two comedy openers this weekend and neither of them made much of an impact.  Paramount intended to release the Sacha Baron Cohen satire The Dictator last Friday, but fled to this Wednesday after they realized that Warner Bros' Dark Shadows was a dark comedy (in theory) as well.  So they instead opened on Wednesday, which as I always say is a majestically stupid thing to do if you don't have a fanbase chomping at the bit.  Generally speaking, films will open over the weekend to the same dollar figure no matter how many days they have in that weekend.  So instead of having a respectable $24.5 million Fri-Sun debut, they have to explain a $24.5 million Wed-Sun debut and a $17 million Fri-Sun debut.  The film cost $70 million, which is nuts for this kind of movie, but at least it's doing okay overseas where it earned another $30 million giving it a decent $54 million global cume.  Obviously this one isn't going to come anywhere near Fox's Borat ($126 million domestic) and may end up under Universal's Bruno ($60 million), but Cohen should be fine if he can keep his budgets more reasonable from here-on-out.

Lionsgate debuted the all-star pregnancy comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting (essay), and they arguably expected a better debut than $10.5 million.  Based on a bestselling advice book for pregnant women and filled with would-be stars (Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock, etc), the film opened even lower than last December's New Year's Eve ($12 million).  I'd argue that the core audience for this one either didn't want to spend babysitter money/date night seeing something that they themselves went through and/or couldn't actually get out over the weekend for a girl's night out.  I'd also question the wisdom of Lionsgate's campaign, which presumed it had female audiences in the bag and aggressively sold the comic relief-antic from the various onscreen dads (to the film's credit, the 'dudes club' is used sparingly).  Come what may, the film cost just $30 million with about $15 million covered by foreign pre-sales, so Lionsgate will probably see a small profit in the long run.  I'm more concerned with the temptation that studios will now have to again write-off female-centric releases of this nature while making excuses for Battleship.      

In holdover news, The Avengers (review, essay, and spoiler discussion) again topped the box office, this time with $55 million.  Alas, this is not the largest third-weekend in history, as Avatar's $68 million New Year's weekend still claims that mark (Disney weeps).  But in terms of third weekends not backed by a holiday, it's far above Spider-Man ($45 million), The Dark Knight ($42 million), or Shrek 2 ($37 million).  With $457 million, it's bested The Dark Knight's race to $450 million and now seems sure to topple The Dark Knight's $533 million domestic total in just a few weeks for the title as third-biggest grosser in America (behind Titanic and Avatar).  With $1.18 billion globally, it's the fourth-biggest film of all-time domestically and sits with a few weeks of toppling  Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($1.2 billion) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II ($1.3 billion) to take the title of the biggest-grossing film not directed by James Cameron.  Tim Burton's Dark Shadows (review) dropped 57% in weekend two for a $12.7 million second-weekend and a $50 million cume.  The picture should finish up just under $80 million, with about that much overseas, which would have been fine if the vampire comedy had cost $80-$100 million and not $150 million.  In better news, the would-be indie breakout The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel rose 21% despite not adding any theaters, earning a scorching $18,000 per-screen on just 178 screens.  The film now has $8 million after three weekends of play, which means I don't even want to try to predict the end-game on this film (no I haven't seen it yet, but yes I will try to once my work schedule lightens up a bit).

The Hunger Games now sits with $391 million as it tries to get to $400 million before losing its screens to the June slate.  Think Like A Man took a dive this weekend, dropping 53% and earning $2.7 million.  With $85 million thus far, $100 million is somewhat of a long shot, but not impossible.  The Pirates: Band of Misfits crossed $25 million this weekend, and the jam-packed audience I saw it with on Saturday afternoon suggests my theory about Madagascar 3 breaking out in June due to a lack of kid flicks is probably accurate (my daughter didn't care much for it, and I can't entirely disagree with her, although it's harmless and occasionally clever).  Cabin in the Woods crossed $40 million this weekend, which is a huge win for a film that almost didn't get released due to inter-studio politics.  Bernie sits with $1.1 million as it slowly expands over 100 screens.  Still, films like Bernie and the just released Hysteria (a comedy about the invention of the vibrator) damn-well could have prospered beyond art-house success if the studios had the muscle/courage to treat them as mainstream releases (the latter scored $40,000 on five screens).  The Lucky One has $57 million (a fine result, don't let anyone tell you otherwise), The Five-Year Engagement has $27 million, American Reunion has amassed $57 million here and $200 million worldwide. Safe is basically done with $16 million, and The Three Stooges has $41 million.  Oh and Titanic 3D has $57 million domestic and $283 million worldwide.      

That's it for this weekend.  Join us next time for Memorial Day weekend, when Sony unleashes Men In Black 3 (review on Tuesday) while Warner Bros. releases The Chernobyl Diaries.  Until then, well you know the drill...

Scott Mendelson  


Rick's Cafe Texan said...

When you spoke of "a young man few have heard of" and "a super model" as the leads in Battleship, I wasn't sure if that "young man" was either Taylor Kitsch or Alexander Skarsgard, or if the "super model" was Kitsch, Skarsgard, or Brooklyn Decker. As good as all of them may be, none are enough of a draw to get me to Battleship.

JMK said...

If Cameron Diaz is a "would-be" star, so are Angelina Jolie and esp. Julia Roberts (hasn't been the lead in a $100M+ movie this whole CENTURY!)...

Scott Mendelson said...

I would agree that Cameron Diaz was the only one in the cast with any real drawing power. Bad Teacher opened with $30m and grossed $200m worldwide based mostly on her being in the right premise.


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