Weekend Wrap-Up
Coen Brothers win the top spot
By John Hamann
September 14, 2008

Mmmm...that's good squishy.

Box office is about a lot of things, and this weekend it's about peaks and valleys. Last weekend, the box office bottomed out, limping badly to its yearly low point with a top 12 take of $50.3 million - or about 30% of The Dark Knight's opening weekend. ($158.4 million in three days - I'm still not over it). This weekend, the box office snapped awake, mostly due to the large amount of new product hitting movie theatres, as there have only been five new films released in the last three weekends. With a De Niro/Pacino combo, a Coen Brothers flick, a gospel according to Tyler Perry, and an elder chick flick, there was something for everyone, which led to a peak at the box office, It also meant a valley for box office tracking, Nic Cage and Vin Diesel.

Our number one film of this mid-September weekend is not the De Niro/Pacino match-up Righteous Kill or the Tyler Perry film. It's Clooney, Pitt and the Coen Family with Burn After Reading, in their first number one debut ever. The Coens' follow-up to the completely serious No Country For Old Men was the total opposite, and Burn After Reading charmed ticket buyers into $19.4 million worth of sales. Released to only 2,651 venues (a number often used when distributors aren't quite sure of the product) Burn had a fantastic average of $7,319. For the Coen Brothers, this is a huge financial success, as these two usually make art house films that don't see screen counts in the thousands. In fact, No Country for Old Men never saw this many screens, even in its post-Oscar glory. No Country's biggest weekend was $7.8 million from 860 venues, and their biggest weekend ever came from the Tom Hanks-driven Ladykillers which found $12.6 million from 1,583 venues in March 2004 (which is an absolute shame considering titles like Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing, Raising Arizona and Fargo flow from their brains, just to name a few).

Why the spike in sales for this Coen Brothers release? Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Clooney had worked with the Coens on Intolerable Cruelty ($12.5 million opening) and O Brother Where Art Thou?, which was formerly the Coens' biggest earner with a $45.5 million domestic finish, until No Country came around ($74.3 million domestic). George Clooney is happy to clear his memory of Leatherheads, the large disappointment ($31.2 million finish) released in April of this year. Pitt was new to the Coens, and this is his first real shot at pure comedy. His closest prior to this would be maybe the Ocean's films or Cool World, so we don't really have anything to compare this to. For Coen favorite Frances McDormand, this is a new high in terms of opening weekend.

Critically, Burn After Reading was not embraced as much as No Country For Old Men was (94%), but with this kind of story and style, who thought it would be? Burn had 127 critics chime in on its performance, and of those, 97 found something to like. That gives Burn After Reading a fresh rating of 78%, which is neither exciting or disappointing when it comes to the Coen Brothers. The more serious critics didn't like it as much as the general populace, as that score came in at a quite different 54%. The best news for distributor Focus Features is the slight $37 million budget, as this one could finish in the mid-$60 millions.

Tyler Perry is back this weekend, and unlike the usual, he had to settle for second at the box office. The Family That Preys earned $18.2 million, which swings under Mr. Perry's usual $20 million-ish openings, but this one had to go to bat without family matriarch Madea, who seems to be the big breadwinner in the family. The Family That Preys also swung under tracking scores - they predicted either the Tyler Perry flick or Righteous Kill would lead the weekend. Tracking has been abysmal this year, and this weekend is no different.

The Family That Preys is slightly different that Perry's other releases. First off, this film was held back from reviewers prior to opening, so at the time of this writing, only ten reviews are available at RT, and four are positive (but you can bet it will drop from a 40% fresh rating). Also new is that this film is more interracial than Perry's previous films. The Family That Preys stars Kathy Bates (Misery) and Alfre Woodard, and the box office result is okay for a film that probably cost $15 million to make (the budget wasn‘t released, another new aspect for Perry). Look for this one to fall extremely hard next weekend, which would follow the Tyler Perry model to a T.

Finishing third is Righteous Kill, the Al Pacino/Robert De Niro matchup that would have been big news had it been 1998 instead of 2008. Righteous Kill got lost, and due to the fact that it had a rookie distributor in Overture, I'm not surprised. It didn't do terribly, earning $16.5 million, but it grossed that amount from 3,152 venues, by far the largest count for a single release in the top ten. Considering the acting clout of the two leads, reviews were downright horrendous. At RottenTomatoes, only 20 reviews of out of a possible 64 were negative, leaving it with an un-righteous score of 24%. The top critics came in at a sorry 15%. Why did these two auteurs choose Jon Avnet to direct? Pacino couldn't have thought 88 Minutes (6% fresh) went well ($7 million opening, $16 million finish), so I can't imagine what compelled him to work with Avnet again. Overture Films won't get stuck with a loss on this one, but someone will, as Righteous Kill was made independently at a cost of $60 million.

Fourth comes from another upstart distributor, Picturehouse, and the film is The Women. Despite being up against Tyler Perry and the 24% fresh Righteous Kill, this is still the worst reviewed opener this week, and audiences caught on. The Women earned $10.1 million from 2,692 venues, again, not a completely horrible score, but nothing memorable either. Considering some of the tired names involved here, the opening frame isn't half bad. Diane English, the brain behind Murphy Brown, helmed a feature for the first time after basically being out of the business for ten years. She gathered a team of actresses that included Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Bette Midler, and Carrie Fisher, amongst many others. The only "name" there these days is perhaps Mendes, who showed up for last year's Ghost Rider, which opened to $45 million. Despite the talent, this one cost only $16.5 million to make ($10 bucks each?), so it won't be a disaster, but no one will be whistling Dixie either.

Fifth through seventh is a dogfight between our summer holdovers. The ranking looks like this right now, but could change when actuals come out tomorrow. Number five goes to four-weekend-old The House Bunny, as the Anna Faris flick has an exceptional hold with a 22% drop, and grosses $4.3 million. From Sony, The House Bunny cost only $25 million to make, and has now grossed $42.1 domestically. Sixth goes to Tropic Thunder with $4.2 million, and while it doesn't have a House Bunny hold at 42%, it does cross the $100 million mark, which is good news for any kind of satire (wouldn‘t the Coen Brothers love that?). The Ben Stiller-directed flick now has a total of $103 million against a $90 million budget. Seventh goes to The Dark Knight, now in its ninth weekend in the top ten. The extremely successful Batman flick earned $4 million and drops only 27%. Its running total has now reached a truly awesome $517.7 million.

Eighth goes to the truly ugly Bangkok Dangerous with Nic Cage. After finishing first last weekend basically by default, the action flick nose dived 69% to eighth, earning a woeful $2.4 million. This one cost $45 million to make, and is going to have to be happy with less than $20 million domestically, although international sales may bail it out. The same thing happened with Vin Diesel's Babylon A.D., which opened in second, then earned $4.2 million last weekend and $1.8 million this weekend, a drop of 58%. Maybe people are tiring of crap.

Ninth goes to Traitor, the Don Cheadle flick. Traitor earned $2.1 million and was off 50%. It has a running total of $20.7 million against a production budget of $22 million. I'll look forward to it on DVD.

In tenth is Death Race, the Jason Statham car accident. Death Race earned a paltry $2 million and was off 46%. Death Race now has a total of $33.2 million against a budget of $45 million.

Falling just outside of the top ten is Mamma Mia!, which should be noted. Mamma Mia earned $1.7 million this weekend and dropped 39%. It has a total now of $139.3 million stateside, and a foreign total approaching $300 million.

So, after the top 12 grossed a sad $50 million last weekend, we get a nice bounce back this weekend. The top 12 films earned a much more healthy $86.6 million thanks to the new product. A year ago had Jodie Foster and The Brave One on top with $13.5 million, and the top 12 put up a score of $64 million, which leaves last year well ahead of this year, at least for September. Next weekend brings another weekend of so-so product, except for maybe Ghost Town with Ricky Gervais.