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Box Office: Moviegoers Want Scares & Imbecility

Red movie Helen Mirren John Malkovich
Helen Mirren, John Malkovich in Robert Schwentke’s Red.

Nov. 1

Kevin Greutert’s gory horror flick Saw 3D topped the North American box office chart this past Halloween weekend (Oct. 29-31), collecting $22.5 million according to final studio figures found at

Adding about $1.7 million from Thursday midnight screenings, Saw 3D‘s total reached $24.2 million by Sunday evening. Expect a major drop-off rate next weekend.

That’s less than Saws 2-5 earned on their first weekend (Saw III scored the most, $33.61 million), but nearly as much as Saw VI earned during its entire run ($27.7 million.)

Saw 3D‘s box office take certainly isn’t bad for a movie that cost a reported $20 million. However, it falls short of expectations.

After all, some had been predicting Saw 3D to gross more than $30 million on opening weekend, and even early Friday estimates had the movie collecting about $28m.

Written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, Saw 3D features Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes, Betsy Russell, Sean Patrick Flanery, Chad Donella, and Costas Mandylor.

Saw 3D features Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes, Betsy Russell, Sean Patrick Flanery, Chad Donella, and Costas Mandylor.

Last weekend’s champ, Tod Williams’ Paranormal Activity 2, took in $16.5 million in second place.

After expanding from 55 to 565 locations, the Tony Goldwyn-directed, based-on-a-true-story Hilary Swank-Sam Rockwell drama Conviction collected a disappointing $1.82 million, landing at no. 10 for the Halloween weekend and averaging only $3,230 per venue.

Despite generally positive reviews (70 percent “fresh” among Rotten Tomatoes‘ “top critics”), expect the Conviction expansion to remain modest – either that, or to be radically brief. Also, expect Hilary Swank’s Best Actress Oscar chances to become just as radically smaller.

To date, this Fox Searchlight release has taken in $2.4 million. It won’t be easy for Conviction to match at the domestic box office its modest $12.5 million budget. The poorly received Amelia, which opened in late Oct. 2009, drew in $3.9 million on its first weekend out, cuming at only $14.2 million.

Down one spot from last weekend, Tod Williams’ horror flick Paranormal Activity 2 grossed $16.5 million (down 59 percent) at the North American box office according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. Total: $65.65 million. Cost: $3 million, in addition to approximately $25 million in marketing expenses.

It’s hard to compare the performance of the prequel/sequel to that of the first Paranormal Activity because last year’s sleeper hit (well, one of them) kept expanding its number of theaters for several weeks. As a result, even after going wide Paranormal Activity‘s drop-off rates were smaller, e.g., down 23 percent on the second wide weekend after adding 459 venues.

Matt Damon Hereafter
Matt Damon in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter.

Oct. 25: Made on a reported $3 million, Tod Williams’ Paranormal Activity 2 earned nearly $1 million less than estimated this past weekend. The horror thriller far surpassed pundits’ expectations (ranging $25–$30 million), taking in $40.7 million in the U.S. and Canada. Paranormal Activity 2, which has a mediocre 53 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes’ “Top Critics.”

For comparison’s sake: Back in 1999, The Blair Witch Project went wide on its third weekend, grossing $29.2 million at 1,101 theaters, averaging $26,528 per venue. In 2010 dollars, that would translate into approximately $45.6 million and $41,515 per theater.

Marketing costs for the Paranormal Activity sequel/prequel have reportedly hovered around $25 million – or more than 8 times the film’s production budget. Money well spent, obviously.

Oren Peli wrote and directed the original.

In fact, film distributors/marketers should take courses from the people who sold both Paranormal Activity movies – and Jackass 3D, too, of course.

Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, which, like Paranormal Activity 2 also deals with death – but in a radically different manner – brought in $4.1 million at 2,181 venues, or a good – but hardly spectacular – $1,896 per theater. Hereafter stars Matt Damon. Cost: 50 million.

I should note that Hereafter has a so-so 64 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes‘ top critics, versus only 51 percent among all of RT’s critics – whose tastes apparently veer more toward Jackass 3D, which garnered a 63 percent approval rating overall (but only 31 percent among RT’s top critics).

For comparison’s sake: Eastwood’s Invictus, which starred Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, opened with $8.61 million late last year. The South African-set political/sentimental drama went on to gross only $37.4 million domestically, but a remarkable $84.74 million overseas.

In 2008, Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, collected $9.3 million on its first wide weekend. Changeling eventually took in $35.7 million in North America, in addition to a solid $77.3 million overseas.

Unlike the aforementioned two efforts, Eastwood’s Gran Torino, whose poster featured the star-director holding a weapon about twice his size, did quite well in North America.

Gran Torino collected $29.48 million on its first wide weekend, cuming at $148.1 million domestically in addition to $121.9 million overseas – where, relatively speaking, big guns apparently aren’t as much of a box office magnet.

Warner Bros. should have learned from that. For the American Hereafter poster, Matt Damon should have been pictured holding a mountain-sized bazooka. Tagline: “Damon will dispatch you to the Hereafter.”

I guarantee you that had the WB marketing people had such foresight, this weekend Hereafter would have earned more than Paranormal Activity 2‘s $41.5 million.

Johnny Knoxville Jackass 3D
Jackass 3D: Imbecility rules.

Oct. 18: Movies are better than ever. Just ask Paramount, which has been – sorta – around since 1912.

The Paramount-distributed Jackass 3D, which cost a reported $20 million to make, Jackass 3D: the biggest fall opening ever (not adjusted for inflation, 3D surcharges). A sign of the times. Directed by Jeff Tremaine, Johnny Knoxville’s latest idiocy fest, brought in $50.4 million (including Thursday midnight screenings), according to actuals released at Box Office Mojo.

Jackass 3D cost only about $20 million (plus marketing/distribution expenses). That means Jackass 3D has more than recovered its budget on one single weekend.

Jackass 3D‘s take far surpassed expectations, which hovered around $25-$30 million. The movie fully reflects the current idioticized zeitgeist – at least in the United States.

Update: The previous September/October record holder was David Zucker’s Scary Movie 3, with $48.1 million back in 2003. As per BOM, Jackass’ 3D showings accounted for 90 percent of the film’s receipts. So much for those box office graphs “proving” the imminent demise of that format.

At a distant no. 2, Robert Schwentke’s comedy-actioner Red scored $21.8 million. Even so, it’s a better opening than many were expecting. Red stars Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, and Mary-Louise Parker, and features Karl Urban, Richard Dreyfuss and veteran Ernest Borgnine, among others.

The $58 million production was distributed by Summit Entertainment.

At 3,081 theaters, Jackass 3D averaged $16,228 per site. Back in 2006, Jackass Number Two grossed $29 million (in 2D, lower prices) averaging $9,480, while in 2002 Jackass: The Movie pulled in $22.76 million, averaging $9,072 per venue.

Jackass Number Two went on to gross $72 million in North America; Jackass: The Movie reached $64 million. Neither film did well at all outside the US – $11.8 million for the second installment; $15.2 million for the first – where people apparently prefer their idiocy wrapped in a different package. To date, Jackass has remained a strictly all-American imbecility phenomenon.

Now, if they can only add odorama – so Jackass’ American fans can actually smell the shit and the farts – the inevitable Jackass Four (Take It Up Yours?) will open to the tune of $100 million.

Jackass 3D also features Bam Margera, Jess Margera, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, in addition to Seann William Scott and Spike Jonze.

Oct. 11: David Fincher’s The Social Network, featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, and Rooney Mara, topped the North American box office for the second weekend in a row (Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 8–10), with $15.45 million.

On a relatively slow weekend, down 5.7 percent from a week ago and with new entries Life As We Know It and Secretariat failing to crack the $15 million mark, the widely acclaimed The Social Network took in $15.5 million at 2,771 locations, down a mere 30 percent compared to last weekend. The Facebook drama’s per-theater average was $5,594.

Budgeted at $40–$50 million (depending on the source), The Social Network has grossed an estimated $46.1 million after 10 days.

The coveted $100 million milestone still looks pretty far in the distance, but if The Social Network maintains its low drop-off rate and regains some box office muscle later in the year – when it’ll inevitably start winning and/or getting nominated for myriad film awards – it could reach it.

The Greg Berlanti-directed Katherine Heigl-Josh Duhamel-Josh Lucas comedy Life As We Know It came in second place with $14.5 million. The $38 million Warner Bros. release averaged a passable $4,464 at 3,150 locations.

At no. 3, Randall Wallace’s Secretariat, starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich, collected $12.69 million. Some were heralding this sentimental tale about a successful underdog – or rather, underhorse – as this year’s The Blind Side and Diane Lane as this year’s Sandra Bullock.

However, barring a miracle, the $35 million Disney release has absolutely no chance of becoming another $200 million hit. In fact, Secretariat will have trouble recovering its production budget at the domestic box office, as approximately $70 million would be needed for that. (As a rule of thumb, studios keep about 50–55 percent of their films’ grosses.)

Diane Lane, for her part, may get an Oscar nomination, but Secretariat won’t make her a top box office draw. Secretariat‘s per-theater average was a barely passable $4,102 at 3,072 sites.

Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take opened at no. 5 with only $6.9 million. Featuring Max Thieriot, the $25 million 3D horror flick about a bloodthirsty serial killer averaged a meager $2,690 per venue.

For comparison’s sake: Craven’s last solo directorial effort, Red Eye, grossed $16.2 million on opening weekend back in 2005, when ticket prices were quite a bit lower than they are now – not to mention the fact that Red Eye theaters didn’t charge extra for 3D shows (as per the Los Angeles Times, 86 percent of My Soul to Take‘s ticket sales came from 3D screenings).

Red Eye went on to collect $57.89 million domestically; My Soul to Take won’t get even close to that figure.

My Soul to Take is the third box office disappointment in the horror/thriller genre this fall, following the Renée Zellweger vehicle Case 39 and the Let the Right One In remake Let Me In.

Oct. 4:  Featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, and Rooney Mara, David Fincher’s The Social Network, about all the nasty infighting following the creation of Facebook, topped the U.S. and Canada box office with $22.5 million – not $23 million – this past weekend (Oct.1–3), according to actuals.

Some have absurdly called the opening a disappointment because several box office pundits – who are usually off the mark, anyhow – had predicted a gross above $25 million.

Some will now once again proclaim that The Social Network has been a box office disappointment. It hasn’t. Pundits are the ones who should adjust their tracking methods.

A $22.5 million opening ($8,100 per theater) for an adult drama featuring no major box office names is remarkably good. Which proves that, regardless of what’s been said about the irrelevance of film criticism, there’s a sizable number of moviegoers out there who actually pay attention to what movie critics and journalists have to say.

The previous week, Ben Affleck’s critically acclaimed $37 million “adult” thriller was considered a hit when it brought in $23.8 million ($8,322 average).

According to various reports citing sources at Sony Pictures, The Social Network did well in urban centers on the West and East coasts and in Chicago, but failed to do much business outside of those areas. It wasn’t exactly a big box office draw in Canada, either.

Yet, Sony Pictures’ $40–$50 million (reports vary) production will surely have a long life at the box office, considering the overwhelmingly positive critical reception awarded to the Aaron Sorkin-adapted drama about the creation of Facebook, currently the film to beat at the 2011 Oscars.

The Paramount Vantage-distributed Renée Zellweger vehicle Case 39, a $26 million horror/thriller directed by Christian Alvart back in 2006, and also featuring Bradley Cooper, Ian McShane, and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse‘s newborn vampire Jodelle Ferland, landed at no. 7 with only $5.4 million – a paltry $2,420 average, according to studio estimates.

In recent years, Oscar winner Renée Zellweger hasn’t been very lucky at the domestic box office. Case 39 grossed on one single weekend more than either My One and Only and Miss Potter collected during their entire run, but that isn’t saying very much as domestic box office figures for those two movies were abysmal.

Zellweger’s biggest hit since 2005’s Cinderella Man was the George Clooney-directed romantic comedy Leatherheads, itself a major box office disappointment with a total take of only $31.4 million. In that one, Zellweger shared the screen with both Clooney and John Krasinski.

Sept. 27: Starring Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, and veteran Eli Wallach, Oliver Stone’s “from the (2008) headlines” drama Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps topped the U.S. and Canada box office over the Sept. 24–26 weekend.

Stone’s sequel to his 1987 drama Wall Street – the market had also crashed (though not as loudly) back then – scored $19 million at 3,525 venues, or $5,333 per theater.

Oliver Stone’s sequel received mixed reviews (64 percent positive among Rotten Tomatoes‘ top critics).

The original Wall Street, also directed by Stone and starring Douglas, Charlie Sheen, and Daryl Hannah, took in $4.1 million (about $8.3 million adjusted for inflation) from 730 theaters, averaging $5,322 per venue back then, or about $10,820 today.

Wall Street went on to gross $43.8 million, or about $89.1 million today. Even considering that movies screening at fewer theaters tend to post higher per-venue averages, Money Never Sleeps will likely be unable to reach Wall Street‘s total.

News Corp., which owns Money Never Sleeps distributor 20th Century Fox, will clearly make much more money with their far-right nuts on Fox News than with Stone’s cautionary tale about the big business vultures Fox News extols.

For comparison’s sake: Ben Affleck’s heist thriller The Town, which is supposed to target the same (or similar) adult audience as Money Never Sleeps, opened with $23.8 million at 2,861 theaters just a week ago. Its per-theater average was $8,322.

The Town, in fact, may have helped to keep down Money Never Sleeps’ revenues, as Affleck’s extremely well-received thriller fell only 33 percent from last weekend (that’s an Inception-like drop-off rate), taking in $16 million in third place, and averaging $5,556 at 2,885 venues – a solid figure for a movie on its second weekend out.

Another comparison: The Town cost a relatively modest $37 million; Money Never Sleeps cost a reported $70 million.

Irony of ironies in this world of mega-conglomerates: 20th Century Fox, which belongs to News Corp., owner of the far-right propaganda channel Fox News, is Money Never Sleeps’ distributor. Well, if there’s money to be made…

Ben Affleck’s adult-oriented heist thriller The Town performs better than expected

Sept. 17–19 weekend box office: The two big box office news this past weekend were:

The Town took in $23.8 million, which, somewhat surprisingly, was about what distributor Warner Bros. had predicted (studios tend to downplay their “expectations”), but box office pundits had generally been expecting that Affleck’s second directorial feature would debut in the $18–$20 million range.

For comparison’s sake: Another late-summer heist thriller, John Luessenhop’s Takers, debuted with $20.5 million about four weeks ago. Starring Hayden Christensen, Paul Walker, and Matt Dillon, Takers went on to gross a mid-level $57.7 million in the U.S. and Canada.

Another comparison: On its first weekend out, The Town earned more than Affleck’s previous directorial effort, Gone Baby Gone, during its entire late 2007 run ($20.3 million).

Even though The Town’s $8,321 per-theater average wasn’t exactly of blockbuster caliber, the crime drama should be able to hold on during the fall in case word of mouth remains as positive as most critics’ reviews. (As per CinemaScore, audiences gave the film an A-.) Studio ads emphasizing Oscar talk for the film and its director won’t hurt any.

Budgeted at a reported $37 million, besides Ben Affleck The Town also features: Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, 2009), Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, Owen Burke, Oscar winner Chris Cooper (Adaptation, 2002), and nominee Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father, 1993).

Easy A is an Emma Stone hit while Devil flops

Trailing The Town this past weekend was the Emma Stone star vehicle Easy A, a revamped version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Directed by Will Gluck, Easy A collected $17.7 million. Budget: A reported $8 million.

Also in the Easy A cast: Penn Badgley, Amanda Byrnes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Lisa Kudrow, veteran Malcolm McDowell, and Twilight‘s Cam Gigandet.

At no. 3, the M. Night Shyamalan presentation Devil collected $12.3 million. This one has been greeted by bad reviews and poor word of mouth. It’ll likely disappear fast.

First, James Cameron’s Avatar: Special Edition has finally passed the $10 million mark at the domestic box office, following Thursday grosses of $81,000. The eagerly anticipated Avatar rerelease has taken in a grand total of $10.1 million after 21 days.

Despite Avatar‘s meager receipts, 20th Century Fox surely hasn’t lost any money rereleasing it. But I have no doubt that some big egos have been badly bruised.

Even three weeks ago anyone would have guessed that Avatar would be fighting it out with Piranha 3D for the last two spots on the top twelve chart – as happened last weekend.

Matt Damon Hereafter image: Ken Regan | Warner Bros.

Jackass 3D image: Paramount Pictures.

Photo: Red (Frank Masi / Summit Entertainment)

Photo: Saw 3D (Brooke Palmer / Lionsgate)

Photo: Conviction (Ron Batzdorf / Fox Searchlight).

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John Yaskanich -

I think Eastwood’s Hereafter was somewhat of a tangent coarse for him but since it was a spare of the moment thing I think he did quite well. I especially liked the young new talent of the young boys. john y.

risot -

Hereafter finished its run with $32 million in North America.

risot -

I think Clint Eastwood is an overrated director, while Matt Damon is an underrated actor. Eastwood has too many Oscar nominations and wins, while Damon has too few.

zac -

Thanks for writing, but I disagree.

I don’t believe Warner Bros. was expecting a $30m opening for a (non-horror) movie about death and the afterlife. And a $12m opening will quite likely take “Hereafter” above the $50m mark.

Add foreign revenues — if “Hereafter” follows the pattern of Eastwood’s recent movies, it’ll make much more money overseas — and then ancillary revenues on top of that, and “Hereafter” will quite possibly end up in the black.

Destroyer -

You’re wrong about Hereafter. It is a flop. The budget was $50 mil and they probably spent more than that on marketing. Add Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon both being A-listers and the flop seems even more pronounced. Damon couldn’t afford another flop this year. All of his movies have done poorly. He may need to do like his buddy, Affleck, and get back behind the camera.

Gran Torino was also rated R and included tougher subject matter, but it still made more money than the PG-13 Hereafter. Movies that critics love like Never Let Me Go and Conviction are doing awful while films like the $3 mil budget Paranormal Activity 2 and the $20 mil+ budget Jackass 3D make huge profits.

Red was a smart move for Summit. The foreign pre-sales paid for the budget. That meant they only spent money on advertising which I’ve read was around $20 million. It’s not like they needed the cash anyway. Their cow, The Twilight saga, keeps them flush with cash.


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