Monday Morning Quarterback Part I
By BOP Staff
September 4, 2012

People let me tell you 'bout my best friend!

Exorcism Overload

Kim Hollis: The Possession, the first eBay auction ever adapted into a feature film, opened to $17.7 million (over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the weekend). What do you think of this result?

Matthew Huntley: Two somewhat opposing words come to mind: impressive and unsurprising. They're opposing because you wonder, how can something be impressive when it's unsurprising? Anyway, hear me out: The Possession's opening was impressive because it opened over Labor Day weekend, which, as we all know, is the slowest movie-going weekend of the year. The fact that it will top more than $20 million over the four days and cover its production budget (estimated at $14 million) in parallel already makes it a winner, even if it does collapse by next weekend. What's also impressive is that it had no real stars in it, so the studio was able to sell it mostly on concept/idea alone.

What makes it unsurprising is that it's another one of those devil-takes-over-someone's-body movies, or at least I think it is (I've yet to see it), and it's another one claiming to be "based on a true story." These are always an easy sell (just look at The Devil Inside) and tend to have one solid weekend to themselves before they quickly fade away.

So, on the one hand, the movie's opening is good for the industry; on the other, it's the same old story given the idea/genre.

Edwin Davies: Matthew's hit the nail on the head on this one. This is a better result that might be expected given how barren this weekend tends to be, yet given the genre and style of the film this success shouldn't be surprising to anyone. It's, at best, doing very well against incredibly low expectations. Then again, for a film with such a tiny budget that should be more than enough, even if it disappears from theaters and the public consciousness within the next couple of weeks.

Jason Barney: I am a little surprised by this result, as horror films have not done well over the last couple of months. The Apparition opened last weekend and it didn't even make the top ten. Way back in May we had the Chernobyl Diaries and that film barely made a mark at the box office. So to have The Possession open at $17.7 million and take the number one slot for the week is a bit of a surprise. Perhaps it goes along with the leaves starting to change. Maybe it's the Halloween candy ending up in the stores.

It is not a huge win, but if it only took $14 million to make this film, Lionsgate has to be happy. From here on out they will be making money on this one, and they have to be happy about their timing and recent performances. Sure, it is one of the dead weekends for movies, but with Expendables 2 still sitting at #3 for the weekend, they can claim to have the #1 and #3 movies. Small victories, but other studios like Universal would be begging for those sort of results right now.

Shalimar Sahota: I hadn't really heard of this film till I started seeing ads a couple of weeks ago. They do seem to show that there's still new ways to scare the hell out you (fingers creeping up from inside someone's throat!?). And that poster of a whole hand emerging outside of someone's mouth is brilliantly grotesque! The overall impression I get is a more flashy version of The Last Exorcism. The Sam Raimi name probably had more of an effect than the "based on the true story" tagline. I'm sure it'll drop heavily next week as these films normally do, but to make your production budget back over the opening weekend is clearly a good result.

Felix Quinonez: Although I am not surprised that it opened at #1, it did beat my expectations. Labor Day weekend is notoriously slow at the box office, so a $17.7 million opening (and probably $20 million when you include today) is nothing to laugh at. And when you factor in the small budget, I think this definitely falls in the win category.

Reagen Sulewski: I had expressed some skepticism about whether exorcism stories still had any punch with audiences, but clearly they do, and sticking a little girl in peril with a boogeyman and/or devil taking over their body is a formula that they can't get enough of, apparently. The Exorcist was 40 years ago, people, get over it!

Relatedly, I haven't heard as many poor comments about a horror film since The Devil Inside, so while this is definitely an impressive debut, I think this could be an epic fall coming up.

Max Braden: All this proves is that humans have an insatiable desire to know what's inside a closed box.

David Mumpower: This reinforces one of the truisms of modern living. eBay items always sell for more than what you expect. The rest of the box office got sniped at the last minute.

I am going to go against the grain here in order to say that while I have full confidence that the movie is terrible, I consider this to be a genius concept. I always have. I fully expect that the author of the original eBay listing is a con artist extraordinaire yet I still give him credit for selling a product in a manner that had never been attempted before. He baited Hollywood into buying his concept. I applaud him for this. If North American audiences were briefly entertained, everyone's a winner on The Possession. If not, consumers always have the option to leave - wait for it - negative feedback.

Who wants some moonshine?

Kim Hollis: Lawless, the Shia LaBeouf film from the Weinstein Co., opened to $10 million over three days and $12.1 million since Wednesday. How does this opening match up to your expectations?

Matthew Huntley: No surprises here, so I'd say Lawless's opening matches my expectations almost perfectly. I write "almost" because I guess I did expect it to open slightly higher, but the difference is negligible. Everything about this Prohibition-era crime drama screamed "standard" or "conventional," and it looks like most audiences felt the same way and decided to pass on it. I saw the movie, and it's good from a directing and performances standpoint, but there are really no real surprises when it comes to the narrative. I'm not sure we can attribute its numbers to the time of year, either. Would there ever have been a good time to release this movie so it opened bigger? I'm not sure, but I really don't think so.

Edwin Davies: This is about what I expected from the film. I really liked it, myself, but it was never going to be a huge hit out of the gate, especially since most of the cast have never opened a film to huge numbers, and the only two who have (Mia Wasikowska and Shia LaBeouf) did so in films which would have been huge with or without them (Alice In Wonderland and the Transformers series, respectively). If anything, LaBeouf might be more of a weight on the film than a draw at this point. It's hard to judge just how good or bad a result this is for the studio without any budget detail, but based on the cast and the period details I'd guess that a finish in the $30 million range probably won't be enough to put it in the black. If word-of-mouth is strong then maybe it'll do a bit better than that, but I'd be surprised if that happens considering how little enthusiasm there seems to be for the film at this stage.

Jason Barney: This might be a little cruel, but it is nice to see Shia LaBeouf come back down to earth. The only thing I thought he was good in was Disturbia. After that I've shrugged my shoulders, shook my head, and wondered how he got cast in so many big films. His being Indiana Jones's son in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a huge disappointment, one of the reasons that film was not as good as it could have been. The Transformers films are a bit of a surprise to me and fall strictly in the stupid action category. I expected them to do well, but they far exceeded my expectations, and they weren't that good. LaBeouf was in each of those projects, and I could never figure out why he was cast.

So Lawless opening to $10 million on a weekend with very little competition seems much more normal to me than his run of luck earlier in his career. I don't know if people have gotten sick of him, don't believe he is a good actor, or didn't see much to attract them to this film, but this result seems much more in line with my impression of his talents.

Felix Quinonez: This is pretty much in line with what I was expecting. I think a lot of people have been kidding themselves about how much of a draw any of the actors in this movie are and given the period setting, subject matter and the fact that, in my opinion, it looks pretty generic, this is a perfectly decent opening.

Shalimar Sahota: Despite the all-star cast, a good director, and a few decent moments of action, is there really going to be a big enough audience for a film about the struggles of a bootlegging gang? The story just doesn't have that magnetic pull that's going to convince people that this is worth watching, regardless of just how much it's bursting with talent. Having seen it I will admit that I was a little underwhelmed. Understandably it's based on a book, but the film had a "connect the dots" inevitability to it. Still, I enjoyed the performances (notably Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman and Dane DeHaan) and applaud Hillcoat's decision to not shy away from the violence, which certainly left an impact.

Reagen Sulewski: In some parallel universe, this collection of "It" actors opened this film to $80 million in July and were on the cover of Vanity Fair. But here we have the best demonstration of the gap between studio hype of actors and the appeal of a premise. I don't think anyone was under the particular illusion that Shia LaBeouf was responsible for Transformers, or Tom Hardy for The Dark Knight Rises, but puts their actual appeal in sharp relief. That's not even to mention Chastain (whom I love, but still) and Wasikowska, whose publicists have been working overtime to get them into films, but really haven't made a dent in the whole "box office draw" thing.

Max Braden: Even Tom Hanks could only open Road to Perdition to $22 million, and adjusted for inflation, The Untouchables doesn't fare any better. Lawless lacks both the star power and the iconic characters everyone knows from the 1920s. It wouldn't surprise me if the History Channel's miniseries of Hatfields & McCoys a few months ago drew more viewers than Lawless did this weekend.

David Mumpower: This strikes me as an excellent example of how not all late August releases are dumped there due to quality. In some instances such as this one, there simply was never going to be enough demand for the movie to become a box office blockbuster. We saw the large scale version of this in 2009 with the release of Public Enemies, and that film stopped at $97 million. This one was not intended to a blockbuster so a third of the take would be a solid win. Lawless is a project that always had struggles with funding. Despite this, enough people believed in the source material that it still got made after the financing collapsed the first time. The film has a lot of great actors who are honing their craft rather than star in garbage like Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Premium Rush last week. I applaud the attempt and believe that this is the vastly superior version of the end-of-summer release options. I'll take this over The Apparition or Hit and Run any day of the week.