Weekend Wrap-Up

Clint Eastwood Shocks Box Office

By John Hamann

January 11, 2009

Flags of our grandfathers.

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It took only 12 days to deliver a huge surprise for the new 2009 box office. This bombshell is huge, as it doesn't involve a ludicrously high debut for one of our garbage openers, The Unborn or Bride Wars. Instead, it is a quiet performance from one of America's icons in Clint Eastwood, the 78-year-old actor/director of Gran Torino. The Warner Bros. release went from successful art house release last weekend to potential $100 million earner overnight, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Gran Torino is not only our number one film of the weekend, it dominated the box office. The R-rated Warner Bros. drama grossed an amazing $29 million from 2,808 venues, giving it a venue average of $10,337. This is about $10 million more than expected for the Eastwood Oscar bait, and could be enough of a box office surprise to garner more Oscar attention for the star. While probably not a Best Picture contender, a Best Actor nomination could drive this one toward $125 million or more if the stars align.


Gran Torino had already been a huge success, but on a smaller arthouse scale. Gran Torino debuted on six screens on December 12, 2008 and earned an awe-inspiring venue average of over $45,000. Warner Bros., platformed Torino over the holiday season, moving it into 19 venues in its sophomore weekend ($24,463 venue average), and then into 84 venues over the next two weekends. It was at that point Warner Bros. knew that this was no Blood Work/True Crime type of Eastwood flick ($42 million domestic combined), but rather the Unforgiven/Million Dollar Baby Eastwood ($201 million domestic combined). From those 84 venues, the first weekend gross was $2.3 million ($27,652 average), and the second weekend actually increased by 26% to $2.9 million ($34,957 average, $10,000 higher than its second weekend on eight screens). To have this kind of platform success, especially during high times from limited release film, is a distributor's nirvana. Before playing on more than 84 screens, Gran Torino had already earned $11 million, or 31% of the film‘s $35 million production budget. With a combined total gross so far of $40.1 million, Gran Torino has exceeded its production budget, has paid a portion of its print and advertising costs, has thrust itself forward in the middle of awards season, and has easily put itself on the path towards much more than $100 million domestic.

At 78-years-old, this weekend is the biggest of Clint Eastwood's career. His previous biggest opening weekend was the debut of Space Cowboys, which debuted to $18 million in August of 2000 and went on to earn $90 million domestically. Adjusted for inflation, the opening of 1978's Every Which Way But Loose would be his biggest, as that one started with $10.3 million and went on to earn $104 million in 1978 dollars. His other $100 million domestic films include In the Line of Fire, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. If this is his last acting gig, it would be a beautiful way to end a historic acting career.

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