Weekend Wrap-Up
The Rock Shakes Up Box Office with San Andreas
By John Hamann
May 31, 2015

So long, San Francisco.

It’s The Rock’s world, and this weekend he is shaking the foundations.

After a Memorial Day weekend frame when five films earned over $20 million but none came close to breaking out, San Andreas was able to find significant room to open decently this weekend. Dwayne Johnson went full-court press on his large social media audience and was able to push the envelope on expectations for the opening weekend of disaster porn spectacle San Andreas. Our other opener is a bit of a sad case, as we get only our third Cameron Crowe release in 10 years with the critically ravaged Aloha. The director of Say Anything... and Almost Famous makes a rare appearance with an awesome cast, but Aloha was not able to overcome the critical beating from writers and Amy Pascal's leaked emails.

Still, the story this weekend is again going to be the health of the overall summer box office so far. Tomorrowland struggled last weekend, and there was definitely no upsurge this weekend. While Pitch Perfect 2 opened big, it has flamed out since, spending many weekdays behind Mad Max: Fury Road. The return of George Miller to the apocalyptic wasteland is probably the second best story of the summer so far, behind only the $191 million opening for Age of Ultron. Even the Avengers sequel has not seen the legs and true dominance of the original. These results are leaving the overall May box office behind previous years, but June looks solid with the likes of Jurassic World, Ted 2, Inside Out, Spy and Entourage all set to roll. The box office is down, yes, but I am still looking for a strong comeback as the summer continues.

Our number one film of the weekend is San Andreas, as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson continues to stake his claim as a bona fide action star and dynamic box office draw. San Andreas was on shaky ground only a few weeks ago, when tracking was looking for a debut in the low $30 millions. What that tracking didn’t take into account was Johnson’s mastery of promotion, as The Rock tub-thumped big time for San Andreas. Johnson easily earned his $12 million salary for San Andreas, and distributor Warner Bros. could include it as a marketing cost.

San Andreas got started on Thursday night, earning a solid $3.1 million from previews. That’s a solid start for a disaster flick starring the Rock, even though it didn’t quite match that of Pitch Perfect 2 ($4.6 million Thursday) or Mad Max: Fury Road ($3.7 million). Still, for a non-sequel, it was an impressive start. Hercules, The Rock’s last film, had a Thursday preview amount of $2.1 million on its way to a $29.8 million debut. Thus, with a $3.1 million Thursday, expectations for a low-$30 million weekend were rubble all of a sudden.

The Friday number was also impressive. Combined with Thursday, the opening day was reported at $18.2 million, easily the best start of a Dwayne Johnson film where he was the lone draw. The opening day for Hercules came in at $11.1 million and was better than G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which opened on a Thursday to $10.5 million before going on to earn $15.2 million on its first Friday. Over the remainder of the weekend, San Andreas was able to shake out a weekend total of $53.2 million, which I believe will have those at Warner Bros. quite happy this morning. Warner Bros. opened San Andreas 3,777 sites, of which about 80% were either 3D or IMAX screens. It earned a venue average of $14,089, and leads me to think that it took over some of the bigger theaters after the disappointment that is Tomorrowland.

Along with The Rock’s social media presence, Warner Bros. did a savvy job of getting the word out about San Andreas. Given the disaster porn nature of this one, WB was able to build an effective marketing campaign, using many of the high-value visuals of the carnage to maximum effect. The studio didn’t panic after the earthquake in Nepal caused its devastation; instead, they turned the campaign into an earthquake awareness campaign. The use of a melancholy version of California Dreamin’ in the trailers was very effective, but I think at the end of the day, The Rock drove this one home. Reviews were decent for this type of flick at 49% fresh, better than 2012 (39% fresh) and The Day After Tomorrow (45% fresh). It earned an A- Cinemascore, which is good news for its opening-to-total multiplier, and could be better news for how this one is perceived overseas.

San Andreas cost $110 million to make with Warner Bros., Village Roadshow and Rat Pac covering the cost, the first two carrying the bulk of it. That means that a film like San Andreas will need at least $300 million worldwide to see a theatrical profit, and this one should be able to pull it off. I would expect at least a $125 million domestic finish, with overseas audiences picking up the $175 million balance. Disaster flicks play well overseas due to the big effects – The Day After Tomorrow earned $357 million over there way back in 2004, and 2012 did a massive $603 million overseas. Even a film like Into the Storm more than doubled its domestic gross overseas, so no one is going to get hurt by San Andreas.

Pitch Perfect 2 manages a second consecutive second place finish as Tomorrowland fades more than I expected. In its third weekend, Pitch Perfect 2 got started with a $4.6 million Friday, off 53% from the previous Friday, giving us another indication that audiences aren’t going to prop up this sequel for a long, dramatic Mamma Mia! style run. Over the weekend, the Elizabeth Banks film earned $14.8 million, which means it was off 52% from its Memorial Day weekend result of $30.8 million. Instead of phenomenon, Pitch Perfect 2 is becoming only a surprise opener, relishing its $69 million debut before fading fast. It has a current domestic take of $147 million, and will hope to reach $175 million before all is said and done. It’s also earned over $60 million from overseas theaters, which means it has crossed the $200 million worldwide, all against a budget of only $29 million.

Third is Tomorrowland, which is quickly moving from disappointment to flop. After debuting last weekend to $33 million over three days, I expected Tomorrowland to hold this weekend and potentially earn $18 million plus. It wasn’t to be, as the George Clooney starrer finished fourth on Friday, barely edging out Sony’s critical disaster, Aloha. On Friday, Tomorrowland was off a hefty 62% from its opening day, and couldn’t recover enough, finishing the weekend with $13.8 million, giving it a 58% plunge from its soft opening frame. The kids are not going to save Tomorrowland, obviously, and Disney will now be hoping that overseas audiences can somehow soften the blow. Remember that Tomorrowland cost Disney $190 million to make, and at this point, it does not look like it will make $100 million domestically. Give the Brad Bird film $63 million so far. It will ride the express to the lower rungs of the top ten next weekend, when three new films debut.

Fourth goes to Mad Max: Fury Road, which continues its effective run. After a $24.6 million Memorial Day frame, the George Miller action epic was able to keep its drop below 50% in its third weekend and keeps its strong run going. This weekend, Max earned $3.9 million on Friday, off only 42% from the previous Friday, setting it up for another good weekend. It was able to turn that Friday into a weekend gross of $13.6 million, giving it a drop of only 45% compared to the previous frame. The $150 million masterpiece was the number one film on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, and crossed the $100 million mark on Wednesday, its 13th day of release – one day faster than last November’s Interstellar, which finished with $188 million. Mad Max: Fury Road has earned $115 million domestically, and another $133 million from overseas venues. I see Max picking up $150 million domestically, but it will need a lot more from foreign theaters if it has any hopes of finishing in a profitable position.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is fifth again this weekend as it continues its successful run. The Marvel property earned another $10.9 million, off 50% compared to last weekend, as San Andreas likely cut into its audience. Age of Ultron is now pacing about 50% behind the original Avengers on a weekend-to-weekend basis, but it is staying ahead of where Iron Man 3 was at this point in its run. Ultron has now amassed $427.1 million domestically, and has $894 million from overseas theaters.

That puts the open of new release Aloha down in sixth, which is a disappointment for Sony and should be a disappointment for all of us, as the great Cameron Crowe serves up another questionable feature. After disappointing with Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo, I had high hopes for Crowe’s Aloha, given the cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams and Bill Murray. While maybe not a great film, the box office result for a Cameron Crowe film is similar to that of previous efforts. Aloha earned $10 million over its opening frame, in line with We Bought a Zoo’s $9.8 million opening frame (which included Christmas Day on its first Sunday) and Elizabethtown’s $10.6 million. Aloha cost $37 million to make and will be lucky to earn $30 million of that back domestically.

Poltergeist got hammered in its second weekend, following its decent $22.6 million opening over the Memorial Day frame. Its second Friday dropped a disastrous 73%, a drop higher than the worst case scenario. It didn’t recover enough over the rest of the weekend, earning only $7.8 million and falling 66%. The Fox remake cost $35 million to make – for the studio, blissfully low – as it has already matched that amount domestically at $38.3 million. It shouldn’t have to do much overseas to get this one into the win column.

Eighth is Far From the Madding Crowd, which surprised last weekend with an 83% uptick over the previous frame thanks to a significant increase in screens. This weekend, Fox Searchlight added a handful more, and the arthouse release earned $1.4 million, giving it a drop of 38%. This small release has now earned $8.4 million stateside, and has pulled in a similar amount overseas.

Ninth is Hot Pursuit, which has only stayed in the top ten this long due to a lack of new releases. This weekend it earned $1.4 million, fell 62%, and now has a cume of $32.4 million. Tenth is Home, from DreamWorks Animation. Home earned another $1.2 million and declined 34%. It has earned $170.4 million domestically, and $350 million worldwide, which isn’t enough for a film with a $135 million budget.

Overall, the box office continues to struggle versus last year, but I maintain that good news is just around the corner. The top 12 this weekend earned $129.9 million, well off of the $160 million earned last year with Maleficent on top, and the $160.8 million earned the year previous when Fast & Furious remained number one. Next weekend brings more fresh meat to summer cinemas, and titles include Insidious Chapter 3, Entourage, and Melissa McCarthy’s Spy. If McCarthy can get Spy to $40 million, and the horror flick opens where the last one did, the three openers could combine for $100 million plus. Check back next weekend to see how it all rolls out.