Bruno Leads Pre-Potter Weekend
By John Hamann
July 12, 2009
Sacha Baron Cohen came back to movie theatres in another B-movie, leaving the Kazakh news journalist Borat behind, and bringing us the gay fashionista, Bruno. Over opening weekend, Borat earned a staggering $26 million from only 837 venues. This time out, Bruno is in 2,755 venues, more than three times that of Borat. Does that mean Bruno will gross $85 million over opening weekend? No way. Does it make for a nice, profitable, mid-size release for Universal? Oh yeah.
Our number one film over this pre-Harry Potter weekend is Bruno, Cohen's follow-up to Borat. Bruno was able to outgross Borat over opening weekend, as it enjoyed a strong, but not stellar, $30.4 million from those 2,755 venues. This means that the also R-rated Hangover opened better than Bruno with $45 million over three days, and also less than the PG-rated Paul Blart, which took in $31.8 million. 2009 has been an excellent year for comedy, and Bruno's opening continues that trend. Some were looking for a breakout performance from Bruno based on the popularity of Borat; however, with the hard R-rating and a character that makes Liberace look straight, selling tickets to the middle-America masses was always going to be difficult. This opening indicates that Cohen's fanbase is following him, and expanding slightly.
Bruno and Borat have a lot of surface similarities, but deeper down, they are different films. Both films carried the hard R-rating, Bruno's for "pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language", while Borat's was for "pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic nudity and language". Both were mock-docs, a format that Cohen excels at, and both feature characters so "out there" that even the concept alone is funny. Both are funny and extremely offensive (my mother would shut it off), and both were critically accepted, but Bruno far less than Borat, which could affect word-of-mouth. Borat finished with a 91% fresh rating at RottenTomatoes, with the "top critics" (I hate that term) coming in at 97% fresh. Bruno, on the other hand, finished with a 71% fresh rating at RT, but this time the "top critics" came in at only 55%.
The differences between Borat and Bruno show up on the financial side. Production companies Everyman Pictures and Four By Two are the same for both films, but the domestic distributor changed from Warner Bros. to Universal. Universal picked up Bruno's distribution rights for $42.5 million prior to a script, which is a darling of a deal if you ask me. Borat was much more inexpensive, with a budget of only $18 milllion. The next difference is how the two films are going to play out. Borat opened over the November 3rd weekend in 2006 to $26 million, and managed to increase its take over its second weekend to $28.3 million. Even without Harry Potter next weekend, Bruno is not the word-of-mouth surprise that Borat was, and won't see an increase to the positive side in the next frame. In the end, Borat finished with a fantastic domestic tally of $128.5 million, a number that Bruno might approach, but won't beat (although I do think $100 million is possible). The overseas scenario might be different. Borat finished with $133 million in foreign grosses, while Bruno could improve on that figure. While Bruno is not a breakout success for Cohen, his films and performances continue to shape the future of moviemaking, and I look forward to seeing whatever is next from this outrageous comedian.