Sunday, January 20, 2013

Weekend Box Office (01/20/13): Chastains's Mama and Zero Dark Thirty top while Walhberg, Crowe, and Schwarzenegger bomb.

This weekend provides a fascinating lesson at the would-be star system and the extent to which it exists in Hollywood today.  Jessica Chastain indeed reigned as the star of the top two movies of the weekend.  Mama (review), which was sold more on executive producer Guillermo Del Toro than anyone in front of the camera, debuted with a terrific $28 million over the Fri-Sun portion of the weekend, with $33 million expected by the end of the four-day Martin Luther King Day weekend (or twice its $15 million budget).  Zero Dark Thirty (everything I've written about that one thus far...) is projected to earn another $21 million by Monday, with $17 million of that coming from its Fri-Sun second weekend, a solid hold of just -28% from last weekend.  The film's ten day total is now $55 million and will be about $59 million tomorrow, or almost identical to what Black Hawk Down had after its first ten days.  It opened on *this* weekend eleven years ago, ironically grossing exactly what Mama made over the four-day holiday and dropping 40% in weekend two for a $17 million second weekend.  Even compared to the usual slate of early year (January/February) supernatural horror, Mama's debut is the strongest yet, besting the $24 million debut of Michael Keaton's White Noise back in January 2005 (that would be about $29 million today).  So does this mean that Jessica Chastain is a new movie star?  Not quite.

For most of the general populace, Jessica Chastain is someone they see in magazines from time-to-time but only know from, if anything, her supporting role in The Help.  We film nerds may have seen all 481 films she made in 2011, but most out there did not see The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, The Debt, or Texas Killing Fields.  She may become a star as a result of these twin successes, especially if she wins an Oscar next month for Zero Dark Thirty.  But being the top-billed lead in a major supernatural horror film no more makes you a star than White Noise announced the box office comeback of Michael Keaton or The Ring turned Naomi Watts into an 'face on the poster' movie star.  As for Guillermo Del Toro, his last producing effort, Are You Afraid of the Dark, grossed $24 million total in August 2011.  Mama opened huge because it had a scary trailer and played to those who automatically flock to any PG-13 (or soft R, ala Paranormal Activity) supernatural horror film.  The trailer played along with the last Paranormal Activity film *and* certain prints (if not mine, natch) of the last Twilight film, putting it squarely in front of the target demographic.  Put Jessica Chastain in a movie that has nothing to sell  but Jessica Chastain (a cheesy looking romantic comedy without a bankable male lead perhaps) and see how she opens it.  That's not a slam against one of the most promising actresses of this generation, merely a fact of life.  Just as Mark Wahlberg.

I was among those crowning him as a genuine 'open it yourself' movie star after last January's Contraband opened with $25 million and ended up with $66 million on a $25 million budget. And surely Ted's $50 million debut and eventual $503 million global take had something to do with Wahlberg's star power, no?  Well, as always, it appears that it's a case 'movie + star', not just the star.  Because Broken City, starring Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, and Catherine Zeta Jones, earned just $9 million over the weekend.  The big-city corruption drama, basically Allen Hughes's attempt to make a Sydney Lumet-type picture, got terrible reviews and didn't look all that appealing save for its grown-up cast.  So it basically tanked this weekend even with the newly crowned 'A-list' movie star like Wahlberg at the helm.  Russell Crowe has always been a 'it's the movie, stupid!' "star", but Wahlberg somewhat failing to capitalize on his hit streak is somewhat surprising (it's his lowest grossing genre lead opening in eleven years).  I suppose it's a shame as it does seem like one of those star-driven, R-rated, adult-skewing genre dramas that we say we want more of, yet once again the current slate of Oscar bait offers more than enough of that for the moment.  If Fox thought they had a contender, they would have waited until after the awards season.  This whole 'star' discussion is worth mentioning in light of The Silver Linings Playbook finally going wide and earning a strong $11 million after nearly two months in limited release.

The major Oscar contender has earned $55 million.  But does this mean Jennifer Lawrence is now a movie star? Well we can debate how much credit she deserves for opening The Hunger Games and her cheapie horror film The House at the End of the Street opened with the usual 'who cares?' $12 million that cheapie horror films can usually crawl to.  We'll see over the next few years if Lawrence can become a true 'open it by yourself' movie star or whether she's just a good actresses who has a major franchise to fall back on (not exactly the worst fate in the world, natch).  We see all kinds of ink given to would-be movie stars like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, yet The Gangster Squad will barely crawl to $50 million after opening to just $16 million last weekend (it's at $32 million today after a $9 million second weekend).  We need to admit that we have long-ago entered a time/place where audiences won't necessarily flock to the newest film of pretty much any major movie star unless it looks like something they'd otherwise want to see. In short, Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained is box office ($138 million total) while Jamie Foxx in The Soloist is not.  Daniel Craig as 007 is box office (Skyfall just crossed $300 million on Friday) while Daniel Craig in literally anything else is not.  And of course Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables ($132 million here, $280 million worldwide) is box office while Anne Hathaway in One Day is not.  That's not a bad thing, but it's something to be taken into consideration when discussing the would-be 'next big thing' or the allege comeback of whatever 80's or 90's star is attempting to resurrect their career this week.

This weekend it was the epic and shocking belly-flop of Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand (review) that brought this message home.  Arnold's first lead role since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in July 2003 and his first lead role in a non-sequel since Collateral Damage in March 2002 landed with a stunning thud.  The film may be a surprisingly successful action crowdpleaser, but there were no crowds to be found this weekend. The film earned $6.3 million over the weekend with a projected $7.35 million four-day total.  This is, in terms of tickets sold, Arnold Schwarzenegger's worst opening weekend as a lead in his long career.  Even in terms of real dollars, it's only above the $2 million debut of Red Sonja, the $4 million debut of The Terminator, and the $5.4 million debut of Raw Deal (it's even below the $6.9 million debut of Conan the Barbarian back in 1982).  This is a genuine disaster, folks.  As for 'why', it's pretty simple.  The trailers looked pretty terrible, so the fact that the movie turned out to be good is pretty much irrelevant (it's a classic "No, wait, it's actually good!" movie).  Most of today's younger audiences know Arnold as a politician, a disgraced one at that, rather than the onetime king of the action hill.  What this means for his already-in-the-pipeline projects I cannot say, but it will be interesting to see if Sylvester Stallone, who at least has been making Rocky and Rambo and Expendables films over the last seven years, can pull any better for his Bullet to the Head on February 1st.

And that's it for this weekend.  Join us next weekend for the debuts of Jason Statham's Parker, the much-delayed and allegedly awful Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Jeremy Renner - not a star!), and the Kentucky Fried Movie-esque Comedy 43.  Until then, keep reading and comment below!  Thanks.

Scott Mendelson

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