Weekend Wrap-Up
The Rite Leads Slow But Competitive Box Office
By John Hamann
January 30, 2011

It's raining. Do we have to go chasing Dracula again?

Welcome to the last weekend in January, where the new movie choices are even drearier than usual. It hasn't been a stellar month at the box office and new releases The Rite, with Anthony Hopkins, and The Mechanic, with Jason Statham, weren't going to breathe life into a struggling movie lineup. The good news this weekend is that Oscar nominations are out, and could change the landscape in the top ten. The King's Speech led the nominations with 12, and also expanded into wide release this weekend. Overall, things were still at their same sad pace versus Avatar last year, with things not looking to improve for a few more weeks.

Our number one film of the weekend is The Rite, the Warner Bros. take on the January PG-13 horror film. Starring Anthony Hopkins, The Rite dealt with a young priest trying to exorcise Hopkins' demons, with advertising looking like they were exorcising Hannibal Lecter. The ads worked to a point – The Rite earned a soft $15 million this weekend from 2,985 venues, but this it could have been much worse. The Rite carried a venue average of $5,027. I think Warner Bros. would have been looking at the numbers from films like Robert DeNiro's Hide and Seek and Michael Keaton's White Noise – two films that had above the title stars doing hokey spookers – as both of those films opened to over $20 million in January 2005. Budget data isn't available for The Rite, but one has to assume it would be somewhere in the $25-40 million range, so a domestic total of $40 million won't be a disaster, as Hopkins carries some weight at the foreign box office.

For Hopkins, The Rite is his second consecutive critical and financial disappointment. His last film following a three year sabbatical was The Wolfman, the $150 million Universal film that could only gross $62 million stateside and $142 million worldwide. It was panned by critics (33% fresh at RottenTomatoes), and was considered a missed opportunity for a Universal reboot of their classic monster characters. The Rite received even worse reviews. At RottenTomatoes, only 13 reviewers out of a possible 75 found something to like, leaving the thriller with a 17% fresh rating. It should be noted that critics thought Hopkins was okay, but the movie was so poorly written, that none of the great actors could have saved this one. Next up for Hopkins is Thor, where he plays Odin, which should provide some chewy dialogue for the Silence of the Lambs star. Until then, we will watch The Rite fade into certain obscurity.

Finishing a near second is No Strings Attached, Natalie Portman's decent sized opener from last weekend. After debuting in top spot last weekend with $19.7 million (not the $20.3 million originally estimated), No Strings Attached held well, considering the costar is Ashton Kutcher, as it earned $13.7 million and fell only 31%. The Paramount release has to be thankful for the rise of Natalie Portman, as her Golden Globe win and subsequent Oscar nomination seem to be helping No Strings Attached more than Black Swan. Paramount should be extra thankful to Portman, as they budgeted the romantic-comedy at only $25 million, a figure this one had earned by Thursday of last week. No Strings has now earned $39.7 million, and with the hold this weekend, is going to be a decent hit for Paramount, thanks to some very effective scheduling.

There are three films vying for third spot this weekend, because when there are no breakout successes, films tend to bunch up in the top ten. For now, third spot is a tie between The Mechanic and The Green Hornet. Jason Statham's The Mechanic, distributed by struggling upstart CBS Films, was never meant to be really huge, and earned $11.5 million from 2,703 venues. It had a venue average of $4,255.

Millennium Films (The Expendables) is the production company behind The Mechanic, and it looks like this one is going to work. Made for only $40 million, Millennium sold off distribution rights, but likely also kept a percentage of The Mechanic's receipts. The key to The Mechanic is Statham, who makes fairly low budget films that tend to do okay stateside and blossom overseas. Take for example Death Race, a Statham action staple. It didn't get horrific reviews (42% fresh), and opened to $12.6 million in North America against a production budget of $45 million. It finished domestically with only $36 million, but then earned the same amount overseas, bringing the total up to $72 million. DVD sales were around the $25 million mark, with further ancillary revenues unaccounted for. Statham makes working-man films that work – in the long run – for the studios releasing them.

Seth Rogen and The Green Hornet tie for third, and the film has held much better than I ever expected it would. Now in its third weekend, The Green Hornet earned $11.5 million, off 35%, which isn't bad considering this is a fanboy flick and the fact that Jason Statham provided some competition this weekend in The Mechanic. When The Green Hornet had its first weekend at $33 million, I thought the Michael Gondry flick had little chance of reaching $100 million; however, after weekend three, the super-hero flick has earned $78.8 million. It has also picked up almost $40 million overseas, so it will have no problem recouping the $120 million the studio spent on it.

Fifth spot this weekend goes to The King's Speech, which picked up 12 Oscar nominations earlier this week, and expanded its run by 877 venues this weekend to take advantage of those nominations. The payoff was decent, as The King's Speech earned $11.1 million this weekend, a gain over last weekend of 41%. The Weinstein release is now out to 2,557 venues, and it carried an average of $4,342. Remarkably, this is the sixth time that this film has increased it take weekend over weekend since it opened on four screens in late November, which makes this the perfect example of a well-platformed release. The Colin Firth/Geoffrey Rush starrer has now earned $72.2 million in North America, a remarkable amount for a British release. Even more remarkable is that this film carries a budget of only $15 million and has accumulated $115 million worldwide.

Sixth goes to True Grit, which also had another healthy weekend thanks to Oscar. Nominated for 10 awards, True Grit turned that promotion into a $7.6 million weekend, gaining 4% over last weekend when it finished with $7.3 million. This marks the first time in Grit's six weekend run where it has gained over the prior weekend. Like The King's Speech, True Grit is a film with a small budget ($38 million) and all kinds of success. True Grit has now earned $148.4 million, and is going to finish closer to $200 million than $150 million.

Seventh goes to The Dilemma, Ron Howard's comedy miss, despite it starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. The Dilemma earned $5.5 million this weekend and dropped 40%. The $70 million Universal effort has now earned $40.6 million.

Landing in eighth is Black Swan, receiver of five Oscar nominations. Oscar didn't help the Natalie Portman film as much as it did The King's Speech or True Grit, but I think Fox Searchlight has to be overjoyed at the success Swan has had regardless. This weekend, Black Swan earned $5.1 million, and was off 13%. The $13 million arthouse feature has now earned a remarkable $90.7 million, or seven times its production budget.

Ninth is The Fighter, which was nominated for seven Oscars. The Mark Wahlberg/Christian Bale flick took in $4.1 million this weekend – its seventh in wide release – and dropped 3%. The $25 million Paramount film has now earned $78.4 million.

In tenth is Yogi Bear, which continues to hold onto a top ten spot for what should be a final weekend. The kid flick about a bear who loves his picnic baskets earned $3.2 million and dropped a slight $3.2 million. The film is approaching the $100 million mark but may just miss that amount, as its current total is $92.5 million.

Overall this weekend, the box office is still struggling badly versus last year. This weekend's top 12 posted a total of only $93.2 million, down 15% from last year's $109.8 million. Will things pick up next weekend? It depends if moviegoers key on Executive Producer James Cameron's name in the 3D Sanctum (or really dig spelunking), or are willing to see The Roommate, another teen horror flick.