Even 'Dump Weekend' Busy in 2009
By John Hamann
April 26, 2009
It was supposed to be the weekend where studios dump their product prior to the summer blockbuster onslaught, but like this particularly wacky 2009, the opposite pretty much happened. Who thought we'd be thanking the economic downturn for anything?
Instead of opening films against a May lineup that includes Wolverine, Star Trek and Terminator, studios have a general tendency to dump films in the last few weekends in April. Sometimes studios do it to get their movies in front of audiences for at least one weekend without stupifying competition, sometimes they do it due to contractual obligations, and sometimes to set up counter-programming heading into the first few weekends of May. This year, new movies included Wednesday opener Earth from Disney, Obsessed from the always smart Screen Gems, Fighting from Universal (and inexplicably starring Terrence Howard), and The Soloist - a film that once looked like an Oscar contender until it got moved to late April. One might think this is an excellent weekend for Zac Efron to repeat at number one (something Warner Bros. had scheduled for), but 2009 has been the year of the Paul Blarts, the Takens, and the Fast & Furiouseseseses. In other words, despite being late April, expect the unexpected.
So by the preamble, you should have guessed that Zac Efron and 17 Again did not repeat at number one (there is a god). So which of our openers rose to the occassion? These days, the answer is evident with the studio, Screen Gems, and Obsessed, the new film with Beyonce Knowles, Ali Larter and Idris Elba. Like almost every other weekend in 2009, Obsessed shocked. It opened to a completely unexpected $28.5 million from only 2,514 venues, about $10-15 milion higher than tracking expected. It had a venue average of $11,216, by far the best in the top ten. Obsessed scored spectacularly with $11.2 million on Friday night, and while it wasn't able to repeat that single day success on Saturday, the result is still a strike out of the ball park for Screen Gems. This studio is currently a favorite of mine, not only for its successes, but also for its choices, marketing and scheduling decisions. They have a knack for making something out of nothing, like 2005's Exorcism of Emily Rose ($30 million opening, $75 million domestic finish, $18 million budget) or Lakeview Terrace ($15 million opening, $40 million finish, $20 million budget). They also understand marketing, which was displayed with Quarantine ($14 million opening, $31.7 million finish, $12 million budget), and how to open low budget films in a big way (see all of the examples above, and add Obsessed with a $20 million budget). This is Screen Gems' eighth consecutive $10 million plus opening. You just don't see that kind of success anymore.
Obsessed owes its success to one person: Beyonce Knowles. Easy to look at for men, easy to get behind for women. This is the sign of a future movie superstar, and leaves me shaking my head as to why this woman isn't opening more films on her own. We've seen her in wildy successful movies like Austin Powers: Goldmember and Dreamgirls, and the not as successful Cadillac Records and Fighting Temptations. This is the first real "modern" drama on her resume, and America obviously wanted to see her "open a can of whoop-ass" on Ali Larter. While Obsessed is obviously a repeat of Fatal Attraction, this is 2009 and audiences didn't care, supporting this one in droves. Obsessed was held back from critics, so at the time of this writing, a mere 17 reviews were counted, with only five fresh, but then again, it is late April. I'm left with the question of whether this was dumped or scheduled perfectly by Screen Gems. Regardless of when it debuts, it's going to drop 50% in its second frame. Why not let it open this weekend and take the box office by storm?