Weekend Wrap-Up
Super 8 Solid for Spielberg and Abrams
By John Hamann
June 12, 2011

Yes, it is weird that the alien's secret is that it likes to wear tap shoes and sing I Will Survive

It's a very different weekend at the box office over this mid-June frame, as the constant onslaught of expensive blockbusters pauses for a weekend, and we get a smaller version of the usual summer tentpole. The movie of the weekend is Super 8 – produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by J.J. Abrams – and it cost a third of what it took to put Thor and Kung Fu Panda 2 together, and a fifth of what Disney paid for the latest Pirates sequel. Super 8 is a throwback to Gen X youth, and is a pearl in the sea of garbage that's become the summer movie season.

The number one film of the weekend is Super 8, the small, $50 million effort from Paramount, Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Abrams' Bad Robot (Star Trek, Lost, Cloverfield). Written and directed by Abrams, the '70s throwback got off to a decent start this weekend, taking in $37 million from a muted 3,379 venues. Super 8 had a venue average of $10,950. Some may say that this is too low of an amount for a summer weekend headliner, but with that small $50 million budget, Super 8 is going to be a big winner in the long run for all involved. Additionally, Paramount was looking for a launch between $25 and $30 million, so studio estimates have been vanquished. The Cinemascore is a B+, and reviews for the most part are good, coming in at 82% fresh at RottenTomatoes. Super 8 pulled in about $1 million on Thursday night via a Twitter-based sneak preview, and the social networking angle may have helped push this one higher over the weekend in general.

If Super 8 manages to find its way into the American zeitgeist, it could run for a very long time, not unlike the Spielberg movies it is playing homage to. Back before the churn 'em and burn 'em summer box office, Spielberg opened films like Raiders of the Lost Ark to $8 million, turning it into a $250 million winner. He opened E.T. To $11.8 million, and over its first year-long run it earned $360 million. Both of those films opened the same weekend as Super 8 - Raiders 30 years ago, and E.T. 29 years ago. Super 8 is a very different film. A site I was reading this week called it a referendum on originality, and the opening weeknd, at least in my mind, passed the vote.

I had to flip back a long way into box office history to find a movie like Super 8. In my mind, the most recent example is District 9 from then unknown director Neil Bloomkamp. While not close to a family outing at the movies, Bloomkamp did use action/sci-fi to make a point, and his epic tale cost only $30 million to make, and used acting nobodies, like Super 8. Further back, I look at a film like M. Night Shyalaman's Signs, this time with bigger names (Mel Gibson), but telling a family story with a point, and like Spielberg, did a good job of hiding the monster and letting us build it in our minds. Signs was also much more expensive, carrying a production budget of $72 million. Going further back, we have to look at other films produced by Amblin Entertainment, like Joe Dante's Gremlins ($12 million opening, $148 million domestic finish in 1984) or 1990's Arachnophobia ($8 million opening, $53 million finish). Gone are the days of these small films opening in the mid-$35 millions in June. Spielberg’s Minority Report did that in the summer of 2002, but that film's opening was considered a disappointment, and the beginning of a long climb downward for Tom Cruise.

Why didn't some other blockbuster come along and try to muscle out Super 8 out of the weekend? Respect. With the dynamic duo of Spielberg/Abrams opening this one, studios stayed away from what is Spielberg’s weekend. For Abrams, this is only the third film the Lost creator has directed, joining Mission Impossible III, which disappointed in 2006 with a $47 million opening and $133 million domestic finish (luckily for Paramount the overseas grosses doubled the domestic take), and of course 2009's Star Trek reboot which remains in my mind as one of the better films over the last few years. As a producer, Abrams turned Cloverfield into a $170 million worldwide hit (against a $25 million budget), but took a hard loss last year with Morning Glory, as that one under-performed with $31 million, despite starring Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford. The future is bright for Abrams, although it's very sequel-filled. He's got Mission Impossible IV coming out at Christmas with Brad Bird directing, a Star Trek sequel set for next year, and a Cloverfield sequel set for a couple of years down the road.

Finishing a more distant second than it would have liked is X-Men: First Class. After an okay $55 million opening weekend and a solid Monday to Thursday where it pulled in almost $20 million, First Class dipped over its second weekend. The gross this weekend came in at $25 million, down a disappointing 55% from its opening weekend. Yes, blockbusters have a tendency to drop large in their second weekends, but with X-Men's muted opening and extremely strong reviews, one could see Fox hoping for a much better hold in its second frame. An X-Men film has never seen a second weekend drop below 50%, and this is a marked improvement over X-Men: Wolverine and Last Stand, as both of those films fell dramatically, losing 65-69% of their first weekend audience in the second weekend. The $160 million reboot has now earned $99 million domestically, and a similar amount overseas. First Class will end up as a winner for Fox, but it isn't going to be the lotto result they were hoping for.

Third spot goes to The Hangover Part II, now in its third weekend. With its huge opening and big second weekend fall behind it, the sequel was looking to even out a bit this weekend, which it did. The Hangover Part II took in $18.5 million and fell a much better 41% (last weekend it fell 64%). The poorly reviewed comedy still has another weekend before the R-rated Bad Teacher from Sony hits screens, as I don't think Mr. Popper's Penguins will have that much of an affect. Like the original, The Hangover Part II is putting up some pretty dramatic numbers. It now has a domestic running total of $216.6 million, and overseas it has taken in over $150 million.

Fourth goes to Kung Fu Panda 2, which is all of a sudden nipping at The Hangover's heels. Kung Fu Panda 2 took in $16.6 million, down only 30%. After a 50% dip last weekend, I thought the mighty Panda was not going to show any legs whatsoever, but should now see at least one more weekend above $10 million, if not two. After three weekends of release, the Jack Black/Angelina Jolie voiced film has pulled in $126.9 million on the domestic side, and has earned more than $150 million overseas. The first Kung Fu Panda earned $215 million domestically, and over $400 million overseas.

Fifth goes to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which was looking to improve on two consecutive 50% drops. This weekend was better, as the Johnny Depp swashbuckler took in $10.8 million and fell a much better 40%. With a domestic running total of $208.8 million, On Stranger Tides is a longshot to match its $250 million production budget stateside, but the ridiculously large $615 million overseas haul will help Disney fund many more unnecessary sequels.

Bridesmaids is sixth as it has another strong weekend in its fifth frame. The Kristen Wiig film earned another $10.1 million and shows no sign of slowing as it dipped only 16%. Bridesmaids may not be the biggest film of the summer, but its certainly is the one with the best legs – it's the Hangover with smaller numbers. Give Bridesmaids a gross of $123.9 million so far, against a budget of only $32 million. It will likely finish with more than $150 million domestically.

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is seventh this weekend, but should be happy with what it earned. Judy Moody took in $6.3 million this weekend from 2,524 venues giving it a venue average of $2,483. This one is based on a popular kids' book, and cost Relativity $20 million to make. It will end up as a push for the studio.

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris expanded nicely, moving from 147 venues last weekend to 944 venues this weekend. With the expansion, Midnight In Paris raised its weekend gross to $6.1 million, giving it a venue average of $6,511. It increased its gross by 122%, and is on its way to being a nice little hit for Sony Classics. I did some checking, and can't find a weekend where a Woody Allen comedy grossed more $4.5 million over a single frame. If this is considered an "opening weekend," it is his biggest throughout a 40-year career. Midnight in Paris has a cume now of $14.2 million stateside, and has already earned $28 million overseas.

Thor and Fast Five take the bottom rungs on the box office ladder this weekend, as their box office dominance has ended. Thor earned $2.4 million and dropped 44%, and Fast Five earned $1.7 million and dropped 46%. Fast Five is the bigger winner between the two, as the Vin Diesel flick has collected $205.1 million stateside versus Thor's $173.6 million. Overseas, Fast Five has pulled in over $370 million, while Thor has taken in a paltry $258 million.

Overall, the box office is solid, but down slightly from last year when The Karate Kid debuted with $55 million and The A-Team flopped with only $25 million. Last year, the top 12 drew $144 million in box office gold. This year, the top 12 could only draw $136.2 million. Things will pick up in a very big way next weekend, as we have Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern hitting screens, along with Jim Carrey in Mr. Popper's Penguins