It's the May 13th-15th weekend, right? The openers this weekend, Bridesmaids and Priest 3D, cost less than $100 million to make combined, and neither were tracking to open above $20 million – hardly mid-May blockbuster fare. As I re-check the calendar to make sure it is actually summer, I notice the elephant in the room: next weekend's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the $2.7 billion worldwide earner that's set to completely dominate the box office. I haven't seen this kind of pre-blockbuster panic since the frame before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace opened, as the box office quivers a weekend before Captain Jack Sparrow even arrives.
Bridesmaids Get Lucky With Summer Box Office Pause
By John Hamann
May 15, 2011
Blockbusters didn't avoid the weekend because Priest 3D was opening (Priest was supposed to open last summer, but more on that later) - they avoided it because of the money-vacuum coming next weekend in the form of Johnny Depp and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. As mentioned above, a similar set of circumstances happened the weekend before The Phantom Menace opened in 1999. Prior to the opening of the first part of George Lucas's epic failure, four new films opened, and none of them earned more than $5 million. Two of them, Trippin' and Black Mask, were from studios that didn't release a lot of films, Artisan and October Films, and the other two were arthouse type films, Tea With Mussolini and A Midsummer Night's Dream. The point is that no one was trying to win the weekend.
The number one film during that 1999 weekend, The Mummy, was much like Thor this weekend. The Mummy had two weeks to earn as much as it could before The Phantom Menace took its momentum away. The Matrix placed third that weekend, and it was seven weekends old. Movies were either positioning themselves for the next weekend, or were being dumped by their respective studios. This weekend, the dumpee is Priest 3D and the strategic counter-programming attempt is Bridesmaids, the small comedy that is going to play with the big boys.
Before we get to Bridesmaids, we need to deal with the second weekend of Thor, which is our number one film of the weekend, but mostly by default. After dominating the box office with a $65 million opening, Thor went crashing to Earth with a second weekend take of $34.5 million, and a drop of 47%. This is pretty solid compared to other blockbusters, especially other non-sequel Marvel properties. The first X-Men movie dropped 57% in its second weekend; the Ang Lee version of The Hulk fell a notorious 70%, the "incredible" Ed Norton version fell 60%; the not-so Fantastic Four fell 59% and Iron Man fell 50%. The lone exception is Spider-Man, which despite its huge $115 million opening, fell only 38%. So, you can see that Thor is actually looking pretty solid by comparison.
The other good news for Thor is the domestic cumulative total and the international grosses. Thor crossed the $100 million mark on Saturday, its eighth day of release, and gets there two days faster than other Marvel properties like Fantastic Four and Ang Lee's Hulk. It hits $100 million in the same amount of time it took 300, Twilight, and Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. Thor has a domestic total so far of $119.3 million against that $150 million budget. The question now is whether or not Thor is a $200 million film on the domestic side of the equation. We know it will earn $200 million overseas, as it crossed that mark today. Thor will need a couple of good holds to bring the hammer down on $200 million domestic, and with megaplexes getting busy once the Pirates return, the Norse God is going to have to work hard.
Finishing second this weekend is Bridesmaids, this year's early-summer Judd Apatow-produced comedy from Universal. Usually we don't see Apatow comedies until early June, but by dropping Bridesmaids into early May, there was hope of seeing his return to box office glory. While it's no Superbad ($33 million opening frame), Bridesmaids did earn a quite respectable $24.4 million this weekend, a number that is going to leave tracking services in tatters. Pre-opening polling had Bridesmaids debuting to $15-17 million, a laughable estimate, as even my two beagles knew it would do more than that. Bridesmaids went out to only 2,918 venues, and garnered a decent venue average of $8,365. It also had some ridiculously good reviews, coming in at 91% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, which might help it become one of those leggy Apatow-produced comedies. The Kristen Wiig flick cost Universal and Relativity Media only $32.5 million, a number this one will likely see before it has its second Friday.
There's been a lot of talk about what kind of movie one would compare Bridesmaids to – is it a Sex in the City? Is it a Baby Mama? The Hangover? How about Mamma Mia!? It stars a bunch women and has a wedding in it, after all. None of these examples really worked for me. Bridesmaids has a cast only regular watchers of Saturday Night Live would recognize, a director (Paul Feig) whose best credits come from television, and no male leads. It really didn't have much going for it, except for the name Judd Apatow and a trailer that is simply laugh out loud hilarious, regardless of the sex of the viewer.
These things were also true for Knocked Up. At the time, Seth Rogen was the dude from the 40 Year-Old Virgin, and Katherine Heigl was on a TV show. Some familiar but not overly-identifiable faces, a funny trailer and some really good reviews helped make Knocked Up a $31 million opener, much like what happened to Bridesmaids this weekend, just on a slightly smaller scale. Knocked Up opened the weekend after Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; Bridesmaids pulls the reverse, and will act as excellent counter-programming against On Stranger Tides, as nothing else opens next weekend.
Third spot goes to the third weekend of Fast Five, Universal's other film in the top three after Bridesmaids. Fast Five continues to follow the pattern of its predecessors, but the one it follows most closely is more apparent this weekend. Fast Five took in $19.5 million from 3,793 venues, and drops a much better 40%. Last weekend the car flick fell 62%, a steep number, but understandable against Thor and the fact that Fast Five had an $86 million opening . The improved drop matches it up quite nicely with 2 Fast 2 Furious, which opened to $50.5 million, fell 63%, then improved to 41% in the next weekend. Fast Five benefits from little competition this weekend, as Priest and Thor are the only other films competing for the younger male demo. Fast Five has now earned $168.8 million domestically, already becoming the highest grossing F&F movie. It will at least approach the $200 million mark stateside, and has already crossed the $215 million mark overseas.
Priest opened poorly this weekend, but as a silver lining, it beat some even worse tracking expectations. Screen Gems' long delayed Priest finally hit theaters and did it with a thud, as the Legion-like film earned only $14.5 million in its debut. Out to only 2,864 venues, some of those 3D, the sci-fi action film (with vampires!) logged a sad sack venue average of $2,864. Like Legion, it had the same director, same star, similar story, and same bad reviews (21% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes). What Legion had but Priest did not was a fantastic trailer, which helped it earn more - $17.5 million - in late January, a much harder time to get people to the movies. Priest finished shooting in November of 2009 and was originally scheduled to open in August of 2010, but was then moved to January 2011 before eventually being pushed to this weekend. Screen Gems spent at least $60 million making Priest, a number this one will not see domestically.
Fifth is Rio despite being in release week number five. The talking bird movie from Fox earned another $8 million and dropped 6%. The $90 million film has now earned $125 million stateside, and almost $30 million overseas.
Sixth is Jumping the Broom, last weekend's surprise third place film with $15.2 million. Unfortunately, Jumping the Broom pulled a Madea, and fell 52% to only $7.3 million this weekend. Despite the drop, this comedy is doing very well, as it cost only $7 million to make, and has a cumulative total of $26 million so far.
Seventh goes to Something Borrowed, which got its legs crushed by a bunch of Bridesmaids. After a decent-but-not-spectacular opening of $14 million last weekend, Borrowed dropped 50% in its second frame, earning only $7 million. The debut of Bridesmaids and a 21% fresh rating aren't helping the Hilary Swank-produced film. This one cost Warner Bros. $35 million, a number it should approach by the end of its run. Something Borrowed has earned $25.6 million so far.
Eighth is Water For Elephants, another chick flick getting stomped by Bridesmaids. The Reese Witherspoon drama earned only $4.1 million this weekend and fell 32%. The $38 million Fox release has now earned $48.8 million.
Madea's Big Happy Family is ninth this weekend. It earned $2.2 million and fell 47%. It has a total so far of $50.2 million.
Soul Surfer manages another weekend in the top ten. The one-armed surfing movie earned another $1.8 million in its sixth weekend, and dropped 22%. The small $18 million film has now earned $39.2 million.
Overall, the box office is not bountiful this weekend, but it does provide an absolute perfect setup for a huge Pirates of the Caribbean opening next weekend. The top 12 this weekend earned only $125.3 million, well back of the $155 million earned last weekend, and the $131 million earned last year over the same frame.