By John Hamann
March 2, 2008
If you are New Line Cinema, Leap Day 2008 and the week leading up to it are certainly not good times. Time Warner gobbled up New Line Cinema this week, right on the heels of releasing New Line's financed and distributed basketball comedy Semi-Pro, which has officially flopped. For the second consecutive weekend, we have a higher profile new release with a 3,000+ venue count in the basketball spoof Semi-Pro, and then we have two small releases with venue counts smaller than 1,200 in The Other Boleyn Girl and Penelope. With a questionable start for Semi-Pro, the weekend has caved in, leaving this year tens of millions behind last year.
Will Ferrell is no Adam Sandler. Since Old School was released in 2003, Will Ferrell has appeared in a dozen or so big features in an above-the-title role, but hasn't seen the $40 million plus openers that Sandler has. Over the same period, Sandler has been in only seven films, two of them dramas. Of those films, Sandler has had four films open to over $40 million, while Will Ferrell has only one (Talladega Nights, with a $47 million open). Obviously, Sandler has more power in the studio system to dictate release dates, hence summer playdates for I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Click, and The Longest Yard. Sandler got a Christmas date for Spanglish, but that crashed and burned, but he opened 50 First Dates very strongly on Valentine's weekend in 2004. Ferrell, in terms of release dates, has had to work much harder. Semi-Pro, this weekend's big release, is opening as February closes and ushers in March, a time frame that hasn't historically been huge. However, he did propel Talladega Nights to the third biggest opening ever in the usually weak August, and turned Blades of Glory into a hit despite a late March release date. Ferrell obviously has a big following; the question was whether that following would turn out for this weekend's R-rated Semi-Pro, a comedy that tracking said would win the weekend, but which offered little for the average moviegoer.
Our number one film of the weekend is Semi-Pro, Will Ferrell's latest ridiculous looking comedy. Semi-Pro earned a floppish $15.3 million, ending any chance New Line had of going out on a high note. The basketball spoof went out to a huge 3,121 venues, and had a painful venue average of $4,906, not even the biggest in the top ten. For Will Ferrell, this opening is disastrous. For a straight comedy, we have to go back to his pre-Old School days, when Ferrell wasn't the main draw for a film, like 2001's Zoolander with Ben Stiller ($15.5 million opening) and The Ladies Man with Tim Meadows ($5.4 million opening). Semi-Pro didn't have the broad demographic appeal that his usual straight comedies have, like a Ricky Bobby or Blades of Glory. I believe the marketing let basketball team down, as Ferrell is usually everywhere promoting a film, and this year we didn't even see him on the red carpet at the Oscars. The 'red band' restricted trailer wasn't enough to get word-of-mouth going, but tracking believed this one was going to work. The often wrong prediction service was looking for upwards of $30 million this weekend for Semi-Pro, so half of that isn't quite right, is it?