It was supposed to be the weekend where studios dump their product prior to the summer blockbuster onslaught, but like this particularly wacky 2009, the opposite pretty much happened. Who thought we'd be thanking the economic downturn for anything?
Even 'Dump Weekend' Busy in 2009
By John Hamann
April 26, 2009
Instead of opening films against a May lineup that includes Wolverine, Star Trek and Terminator, studios have a general tendency to dump films in the last few weekends in April. Sometimes studios do it to get their movies in front of audiences for at least one weekend without stupifying competition, sometimes they do it due to contractual obligations, and sometimes to set up counter-programming heading into the first few weekends of May. This year, new movies included Wednesday opener Earth from Disney, Obsessed from the always smart Screen Gems, Fighting from Universal (and inexplicably starring Terrence Howard), and The Soloist - a film that once looked like an Oscar contender until it got moved to late April. One might think this is an excellent weekend for Zac Efron to repeat at number one (something Warner Bros. had scheduled for), but 2009 has been the year of the Paul Blarts, the Takens, and the Fast & Furiouseseseses. In other words, despite being late April, expect the unexpected.
So by the preamble, you should have guessed that Zac Efron and 17 Again did not repeat at number one (there is a god). So which of our openers rose to the occassion? These days, the answer is evident with the studio, Screen Gems, and Obsessed, the new film with Beyonce Knowles, Ali Larter and Idris Elba. Like almost every other weekend in 2009, Obsessed shocked. It opened to a completely unexpected $28.5 million from only 2,514 venues, about $10-15 milion higher than tracking expected. It had a venue average of $11,216, by far the best in the top ten. Obsessed scored spectacularly with $11.2 million on Friday night, and while it wasn't able to repeat that single day success on Saturday, the result is still a strike out of the ball park for Screen Gems. This studio is currently a favorite of mine, not only for its successes, but also for its choices, marketing and scheduling decisions. They have a knack for making something out of nothing, like 2005's Exorcism of Emily Rose ($30 million opening, $75 million domestic finish, $18 million budget) or Lakeview Terrace ($15 million opening, $40 million finish, $20 million budget). They also understand marketing, which was displayed with Quarantine ($14 million opening, $31.7 million finish, $12 million budget), and how to open low budget films in a big way (see all of the examples above, and add Obsessed with a $20 million budget). This is Screen Gems' eighth consecutive $10 million plus opening. You just don't see that kind of success anymore.
Obsessed owes its success to one person: Beyonce Knowles. Easy to look at for men, easy to get behind for women. This is the sign of a future movie superstar, and leaves me shaking my head as to why this woman isn't opening more films on her own. We've seen her in wildy successful movies like Austin Powers: Goldmember and Dreamgirls, and the not as successful Cadillac Records and Fighting Temptations. This is the first real "modern" drama on her resume, and America obviously wanted to see her "open a can of whoop-ass" on Ali Larter. While Obsessed is obviously a repeat of Fatal Attraction, this is 2009 and audiences didn't care, supporting this one in droves. Obsessed was held back from critics, so at the time of this writing, a mere 17 reviews were counted, with only five fresh, but then again, it is late April. I'm left with the question of whether this was dumped or scheduled perfectly by Screen Gems. Regardless of when it debuts, it's going to drop 50% in its second frame. Why not let it open this weekend and take the box office by storm?
Well back in second is Zac Efron's 17 Again, which opened last weekend to $23.7 million. This weekend, Efron is a little flat, as his film fell 51% to record a second weekend gross of $11.7 million. At least he can say his film had two weekends above the $10 million mark, and that his first above the title role is going to generate at least $65 million for Warner Bros. It has a current total of $40 million, and as much as I hate to say it, will be considered a success. Now let's see if Efron signs on for Jonny Quest.
Finishing third is Fighting, which is certainly no Fight Club. The Universal/Rogue Pictures film opened to $11.4 million from 2,309 venues and carried a venue average of $4,955. The film stars Channing Tatum (who I always confuse with Dreaderick Tatum from The Simpsons), and for some reason Terrence Howard. Howard was nominated for an Oscar for Hustle & Flow, was part of the cast that won multiple awards for Best Picture winner Crash, and more recently, he was Tony Stark's sidekick in Iron Man. Fighting finished at only 36% fresh at RottenTomatoes, and leaves me wondering who Howard owed a favour to. Considering that the film was sold on the back of Channing (Dreaderick) Tatum, this film should be happy with its so-so success, although Universal marketed the hell out of it, costing the studio a small fortune in the process. Budget data isn't available, but a guess would put this one in the $30 million range, a figure Fighting will struggle to earn.
Fourth spot goes to The Soloist, which falls from being former Oscar bait, to a sad fourth on dump weekend in April. Considering the dumping, The Soloist still opened to an okay $9.7 million from an extremely low venue count of 2,024 venues. It had an average of $4,800. Oscar winner Jamie Foxx and Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. head this film about a homeless Julliard-trained musician who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and his benefactor. This seems like an Oscar home run, but reviews were unkind, leading to a barely fresh rating of 61%. The problem here might be the lack of a happy, concise ending. The Foxx character doesn't overcome his illness so that he can lead the symphony to greatness in the end. Instead the movie falls into the trap of manipulation, and we will have to wait until next weekend to see if America falls for it. IMDb lists a budget of $60 million for The Soloist, a figure this one is extremely unlikely to see, unless something weird happens over the next few weekends.
Finishing fifth is Earth, Disney's nature film that opened to $4.6 million on Wednesday, which was Earth Day. Over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of its five-day opening, Earth grossed $8.6 million from 1,804 venues. It had an average of $4,742. Earth was filmed "alongside of" the documentary Planet Earth, and it had already played in Europe two years ago (where it amassed $80 million in box office). This is not a fresh film for Disney to say the least. I'm thinking this one could disappear fairly quickly, but wouldn't be surprised if the opposite was true. After five days, Earth has a total of $14.2 million.
Monsters vs. Aliens slips to sixth, earning $8.5 million. MvA, despite no kid competition except Disney's Earth, still dropped 36% compared to last weekend, as this one has racked up some fairly serious dips since opening five weekends ago. Still, Monsters vs. Aliens has picked up $174.8 million, and looks to finish with about $190 million.
Seventh goes to State of Play which opened last weekend to $14.1 million. This weekend, the Russell Crowe/Ben Affleck flick earned $6.9 million, dropping an alarming 51%. There was an LA Times article on Thursday that said poor openings for Duplicity, State of Play and The Soloist were "nails in the coffin of adult cinema." This is something I absolutely do not believe, and would impress on the Times that good ideas still bring adults out to the movies – see Taken ($142 million domestic), Gran Torino ($147 million), Slumdog Millionaire ($327 million worldwide) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ($127.5 million). The LA Times needs to remember that State of Play stars a phone-throwing child who doesn't have a lot of push with American audiences, and should consider itself lucky to have earned $25.1 million so far considering the casting choices.
After finishing third last weekend with a $13.4 million gross and a 59% plunge, Hannah Montana: The Movie moves all the way down to eighth this weekend. The Miley Cyrus flick earned $6.4 million and has another woeful drop of 53%. Now the $32 million opener has a total of $65.6 million, barely double the opening weekend after three weekends of release.
Fast & Furious finishes ninth and sees another fairly steep drop since opening above $70 million. F&F earned $6.1 million and drops 49%. Budgeted at $85 million, Fast and Furious has now earned a remarkable $145.2 million domestically and an equal amount overseas.
Crank: High Voltage slides to tenth after opening in the last frame at a disappointing sixth position. Crank 2 earned $2.4 million in its second frame and drops a nasty 66%. The Jason Statham actioner now has a sad total of $11.5 million.
Overall this weekend, like every other weekend in April 2009, is a good news story, thanks to the breakout success of Obsessed this weekend. The top 12 films earned $104 million this weekend, which is just another $100 million weekend to throw in the pile for 2009. A year ago this weekend, Baby Mama and Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay opened, leading the box office top 12 to a soft $80 million. Over the month of April, box office is ahead of last year by about $150 million when comparing top 12 grosses. Next weekend, though, things will get much tougher, as a year ago on May 2nd, Iron Man opened to $98.6 million. Next weekend we get cheesy animation in Lionsgate's Battle for Terra, and two big hitters: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past with Matthew McConaughey.