Weekend Wrap-Up
Basketball Beats Box Office As Ticket Sales Fade
By John Hamann
March 20, 2011

That's a lot of drinks he's got there.

Bradley Cooper in Limitless, Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer, or the Blue Devils in the second round of the NCAA Championship – which one did you pick this weekend? From looking at box office statistics it looks like basketball - and female moviegoers - won out. The difference on the movie side this weekend is that the choices were actually good – three for three, actually – and we have to go waaayyy back in the calendar for that achievement. Openers included Paul, with the great Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; Limitless with Robert DeNiro and The Hangover's Bradley Cooper; and The Lincoln Lawyer with my dear friends Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe.

Our number one film of the weekend is Limitless, as an extremely dry moviegoing season almost put three-weekend-old Rango back on top. It could've been Rango; however, Limitless actually did better than expected, as the Relativity release managed to earn $19 million from 2,756 venues. It had an average of $6,894, and tracking had indicated it would open below $15 million. For Relativity, the number one opening - more than the gross itself – is very good news for the upstart distributor. The film, whose co-star Robert De Niro might have brought a different generation to the theater, cost only $27 million to make, and with the gross and number one ranking, should produce a tidy profit for Relativity. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Relativity was in good shape prior to release, due to foreign sales and an output deal with Netflix.

Relativity needed a hit. As a distributor they have struggled since getting started. They released Stone, another Robert De Niro flick, which failed, never grossing more than $361,000 over any weekend despite starring De Niro, Edward Norton and Milla Jovovich; The Warrior's Way, which cost $42 million (or more) and earned $5.6 million at the domestic box office; and the Nic Cage flick, Season of the Witch, which cost $40 million and earned $25 million at the domestic box office, just to name a few. In fact, after one day of release, Limitless was Relativity's second biggest flick of all time. Beyond the good news of Limitless, Relativity also has a piece of the foreign market with David Fincher's version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, scheduled for US distribution in December.

Limitless is also the first title from Richard Branson's Virgin Produced label, and not only is it a solid earner, it has critics on its side as well. Of the 120 critics polled at RottenTomatoes, 77 thought well enough of it to give it a positive review. That gives the Neil Burger (The Illusionist) film a fresh rating of 64%, and will likely mean even more dollars for the Relativity release once DVD sales and rentals are counted. For Bradley Cooper, this was a better choice following some missteps since The Hangover. After The Hangover earned $277 million in North America, Cooper's next was the awful All About Steve (6% fresh), which was followed by the also-awful Valentine's Day (17% fresh). He then appeared in the suspense flick Case 39 (23% fresh), and then the $100 million A-Team, which earned $77 million at the US box office. For Cooper, Limitless may not be a breakout success, but it will be remembered as a solid outing for the actor between Hangovers.

Second spot goes to Rango, Gore Verbinski's animated lizard western (Hunter S. Thompson and Jim Morrison would have liked this one). Rango earned a strong $15.3 million this weekend, dropping 32%. Spring break may be skewing Rango's numbers, or it's building in popularity (movies are predictable, spring break dates are not, so you decide). On Rango's first Monday following its opening, the animated flick earned $2.1 million. A week later on the following Monday it earned $2.3 million (on a normal week, we would expect a $1.5-$1.7 million Monday). On its first Tuesday, it earned $2 million, on its second, $2.5 million, and so on. Last weekend, Rango had a multiplier of 4.2, which means the kids avoided it on Friday, and then had at it on Saturday and Sunday. This weekend, the multiplier was 3.6, which means the kids were more available on the Friday. From Paramount, Rango has now earned $92.6 million stateside, and will reach $100 million soon. It has already collected $50 million overseas as well, so this will finish as a hefty win for Paramount.

Landing in third (with a bit of thud) is Battle: Los Angeles, which some box office observers thought had a chance at a repeat win. Battle earned only $14.6 million in its second weekend, which gives it a weekend-to-weekend drop of 59%. Given the reviews (33% fresh), and the so-so word of mouth (“it's great for gamers” does not draw crowds) a big drop was certainly expected. The good news for Battle: Los Angeles is that it had some solid draws during the week, taking in over $10 million from Monday to Thursday, so it already has a cumulative total of $60.6 million against a production budget of $70 million. Additionally, it has already earned over $20 million overseas, so it won't hurt Sony in the end.

Landing in fourth is The Lincoln Lawyer, a film I know little about, other than the fact that I like to ridicule the stars, Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillipe. However, I can't mock them this time out, as The Lincoln Lawyer opened to $13.4 million from 2,707 venues, perhaps helped by a Groupon promotion that allowed people to buy tickets to the film for $6. The Lincoln Lawyer was also fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. McConaughey has to go back to 2002's Frailty to find a positive score at the movie review aggregator, and somehow The Lincoln Lawyer finished at an amazing (at least to me) 81% fresh. The Lionsgate/Lakeshore Entertainment product cost $40 million to make, and given the opening, will have to work hard to match that budget stateside. However, those positive reviews could turn into good word-of-mouth, and we can't forget that McConaughey's A Time to Kill opened to $14.8 million in 1996, and finished with over $100 million.

Fifth spot goes to Paul, the new slacker Alien comedy from Universal. Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (and Seth Rogen as the voice of Paul), the comedy did what it wanted to in North America, opening with a $13.2 million weekend. Launched to 2,801 venues, Paul had an average of $4,695. Paul cost Working Title (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Nanny McPhee) $40 million to make, and had already earned about $30 million overseas, so Universal, Working Title, and Relativity Media (yep, two in the top four, a good weekend) should all make out okay on this one. Reviews were better in the US and than they were in the UK, as the rating has improved at Rotten Tomatoes since it opened stateside. In the end, Paul ended up at 70% fresh, but "top critics" liked it a lot less, at 59%. Paul screams "just good enough" in all the right departments. For Simon Pegg, Paul is his biggest non-blockbuster opening yet.

Sixth goes to Red Riding Hood, which disappointed with a $14 million opening in the last frame. This weekend, things did not pick up, but the news isn't devastating either. Red earned another $7.3 million, and drops 48% compared to last weekend. The budget for this Warner Bros. entry is $42 million, and the Catherine Hardwicke film should at least approach that figure. Its current total is $26 million.

Seventh goes to The Adjustment Bureau, as the Matt Damon film continues to slip. Bureau earned $5.9 million in its third frame and dropped 49%. These are the types of films that need to break out in the early spring season, or the box office just fades. Unfortunately, The Adjustment Bureau didn't do that, and the $62 million Universal film is not going to earn as much as its production budget. The good news is that it has padded its domestic take with $25 million coming from overseas, so it won't hurt Universal too much. The Adjustment Bureau has made $48.8 million so far.

Eighth is Mars Needs Moms, which somehow had at least a decent hold this weekend. One of the bigger flops in history earned $4.3 million this weekend, off 23% from its ugly $7 million opening last weekend. Remember that Mars Needs Moms cost Disney $150 million to make, and is certainly no Tangled. So far, Mars Needs Moms has earned $15.4 million, and now it's just a matter of waiting to see how much this one loses.

Beastly is ninth, as the other Twilight wannabe in the top ten continues its free fall. Beastly dropped 49% against the opening of Red Riding Hood, and this weekend it drops another 35% as it earns $3.3 million. So far, the small $17 million CBS Films release has earned $22.2 million.

In tenth is Hall Pass, the generally flat comedy from the Farrelly Brothers. The Owen Wilson/Jason Sudeikis flick earned another $2.6 million, falling a pretty lofty 48%. Hall Pass now has earned $40 million, which at least means it has beaten its budget even if it's not going to go much further than that.

Overall, the box office continues to trail 2010 numbers. The top 12 films this weekend earned $104.5 million. A year ago, with Alice in Wonderland on top for the third straight weekend, the top 12 earned $114.5 million. I keep waiting for something to break out and breathe some life into multiplexes, so maybe it will come next weekend. The opener to keep an eye on is Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder's fantasy epic – let's hope it's more 300 and less Watchmen.