Sunday, May 27, 2012

Weekend Box Office: (05/27/12): Men In Black 3 tops Memorial Day while The Moonrise Kingdom slays in limited release.

The Men In Black franchise returned to theaters this weekend after a ten year hiatus and, for better or worse, performed exactly the same as the prior Men In Black films. The first Men In Black debuted with $51 million over the Fri-Sun portion of its July 4th weekend back in 1997 while Men In Black 2 earned $52 million over the same portion in 2002.  To wit, Men In Black 3 earned an estimated $55 million over the Fri-Sun portion of the weekend with a projected $70 million Fri-Mon holiday gross. 3D-bumps and ten years worth of inflation puts a damper on the numbers (in today's respective dollars, the original's debut would be about $88 million while the sequel would be about $71 million), but the consistency is arguably a little remarkable.  It's arguably only a 'dissappointment' due to the unexpectedly high budget of the threequel, which shut down production for six weeks in the middle of filming in order to work out script kinks.  At a cost of anywhere from $220 million to $300 million, Sony was in the unenviable position of needing an 'out of this world' debut (sorry) to justify the expense, and this otherwise hearty haul wasn't it.   Having said that, it's still Will Smith's third-biggest Fri-Sun debut behind his last two blockbusters from 2007 (I Am Legend's $77 million opening) and 2008 (Hancock's $62 million Fri-Sun debut over July 4th 2008).

Of course, the real story of the film's eventual profitability will be international numbers. Thus its $202 million worldwide debut (as of Monday) means that the film may in fact pay off in the end.  The prior Men In Black films opened during a time when international grosses were just starting to expand, with the first film earning $589 million worldwide back in 1997 ($251 million domestic) and Men In Black 2 earning $441 million worldwide ($190 million domestic).  On the plus side, the film is surprisingly good and it will likely be the "general audiences' second-choice" movie for the next few weeks provided they have had their fill of Avengers repeat viewings.  Regular movie-goers may have vaguely heard about the behind-the-scenes issues, but that's more for we pundits to obsess about and it certainly doesn't show in the final product.  Like that other 80s/90s mega-star Tom Cruise, Will Smith's films tend to be leggy so the final financial picture on this one is not yet written.  Oh, and don't believe anything you read about the box office take being affected by that six-minute Amazing Spider-Man preview that played in front of IMAX theaters.  Other than perhaps fueling some moviegoers to choose IMAX over 3D or 2D, it didn't make a darn bit of difference anymore than that Dark Knight Rises IMAX prologue showing on 10% of the IMAX theaters impacted Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol's IMAX debut back in December.

Not to be outdone by a mere change in arbitrary rankings, The Avengers crossed the $500 million mark on Saturday.  That's just 23 days, better than the 32 days it took Avatar and (more relavant to the discussion) the 45 days it took The Dark Knight.  With an estimated $523 million by Monday, the Marvel blockbuster looks to surpass The Dark Knight ($533 million) to become the third-biggest domestic grosser in a few days.  With $1.295 billion worldwide thus far, it's merely a matter of time (again no inter) before it surpasses Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II ($1.3 billion) to also become the third-biggest worldwide grosser as well.  It's $37 million Fri-Sun gross makes it the number two 4th-weekend of all time, behind Avatar's $50 million fourth weekend, besting the $28 million fourth weekends of Titanic and Spider-Man as well as the $26 million-grossing weekend four of The Dark Knight.  Dropping just 35% in its fourth weekend, The Avengers seems sure to surpass the original $600 million gross of Titanic and has an outside shot of besting the film's new 3D rerelease-enhanced total of $658 million.  At this point, it appears that the only thing that can slow down this film is the inevitable loss of screens as June kicks into gear (altough the first three weekends of June have only two wide releases apiece while July has just six wide releases the entire month).

The only other wide release was Warner Bros's counter-programming/dumper The Cheranobyl Diaries.  Having the misfortune to be the first 'dumb kids go to a mysterious location and get killed off' movie since Cabin in the Woods, the film opening with just $8 million over the Fri-Sun portion and a projected $10 million over the holiday.  This Oren Peli production probably cost about $75 to produce, so assuming that Warner's overseas strength can make up for marketing and distribution costs, this one is basically an advertisement for DVD.  The big limited release news was the eye-poppng debut of Wes Anderson's The Moonrise Kingdom, which did an estimated $169,000 per each of its four screens over the holiday for one of the biggest limited debut averages in history.  It's $127,000 Fri-Sun per-screen average is the ninth-biggest in history and the largest for any film that wasn't a premium-priced Disney release. It will begin expanding on June 8th.  Weinstein Company opened The Intouchables, the blockbuster (and kinda terrible) French comedy which has already earned $339 million overseas, on four screens this weekend and expects a solid $25,000 per-screen over just the Fri-Sun portion of the weekend (it grossed $101,000). 

In holdover news, Battleship got clipped by the combined might of Men In Black 3, The Avengers, and its own raging mediocrity, falling 60% even during a holiday-enhanced weekend for $10 million over Fri-Sun.  The film should have about $47 million by Monday and it will now struggle to even reach the mere $72 million earned in America by the equally wrongheaded John Carter.  With its international run ending fast at $232 million overseas thus far, the film will probably reach around $325 million in the best-case scenario, which isn't nearly enough to justify to $220-$250 million price-tag.  Unless Universal can turn this into a Universal Studios theme part ride, this is basically a waste of time/money for all involved.  Dark Shadows continues to struggle under the weight of its own irrelevance as well, as the Tim Burton private joke has earned $64 million.  It should crawl to $80 million, with similar overseas results, which would be fine if the film cost $90 million and not $150 million.  What To Expect When You're Expecing dropped just 30% in weekend two, but that's just $7 million off a $10 million debut.  Still, the $30 million Lionsgate production now has $23 million as of Monday, so it should reach its budget domestically.  Lionsgate sold off the foreign distribution for this one, as they so often do, so their financial exposure is modest at best.

Paramount's The Dictator fell about 45% in weekend two, with a projected $12 million four-day holiday weekend.  That will give the obscenely expensive comedy (official budget - $70 million, unofficial budget - $100 million) $44 million after two weekends of play, meaning it will hit $70 million domestic in the best-case scenario with about the same likely overseas busines.  If it actually cost $70 million, then DVD and what-not will eventually put it in the black, but expect major budget constraints for Sacha Baron Cohen's next comedic vehicle.  The big independent film sensation of early summer remains The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which expanded into semi-wide release over the holiday to superb results.  The Fox Searchlight film expanded to 1,233 theaters and earned another $8 million over the holiday for a new projected total of $18 million.  It's already clear that this one is the official designated 'mainstream arthouse film' of summer 2012, and its longterm fate will also be determined by how successfully Sony Classics handles Woody Allen's From Rome With Love (June 22nd) and if Focus Features can successfully expand The Moonrise Kingdom.  May Fox Searchlight have even half that level of success with their next major release, the truly terrific Beasts of the Southern Wild which debuts in limited release on June 27th.

That's it for this weekend.  Join us next time when Universal unleashes the mega-budget Snow White meets Lord of the Rings hybrid, Snow White and the Huntsman.

Scott Mendelson

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