Weekend Wrap-Up

Paramount Muscles G.I. Joe to Top of Box Office

By John Hamann

August 9, 2009

No, I wasn't in White Chicks. That must have been someone who looked like me.

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Audience manipulation is something movie studios do in such a sublime way that no one usually notices. This weekend, Paramount turned that statement on its head, with the release of G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, the latest over-cooked military commercial from Paramount and producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura (Transformers).

Our number one film of the weekend is G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, and what should have been a $25-30 million opener is much bigger, thanks to the powerful marketing arm of Paramount Pictures. G.I. Joe got off to a very strong start, recording a huge-for-August three-day gross of 56.2 million from a massive 4,007 venues, giving this one an average of $14,025. Thankfully, Joe is not the biggest thing ever in the month of August. That record still belongs to a good film (The Bourne Ultimatum, with a $69.3 million opening frame), but G.I. Joe will finish in the top four, ahead of Rush Hour 3 ($49.1 million opening), but behind the third biggest August opener, Signs, which debuted with a $60.1 million weekend back in 2002. While not the biggest August film ever, Paramount will be quite happy with this debut, as it comes in slightly ahead of tracking expectations that had pegged Joe as a $45-50 million opener.


So how did Paramount do it? How did such an obviously cheesy, poorly-made flick do so well? The fix was in. Other sites will tell you that Paramount didn't screen G.I. Joe for critics prior to the film's release. While this is true for the mainstream media, Paramount actually did show G.I. Joe to a handful of critics they thought they could get onside early, including Harry Knowles from AICN and the dude from CHUD. Both said how this was an awesome film, that our inner-child was going to love it, that we should check our brains at the door and go for the ride. This handful of reviews received at RottenTomatoes enabled G.I. Joe to ride as a "fresh" film up until the day of its release, as no "mainstream" reviewers got to see it up until then. As of Saturday morning, 85 reviews had been counted, and only 32 were positive, leaving G.I. Joe at 38% fresh, and most likely moving downward.

Usually when studios use this practice, they are extremely quiet about it, but not Paramount with G.I. Joe. Paramount's Vice President told the Associated Press that he wanted "audiences to define this film". While this may be true, what the Paramount VP really wants is for young, wired audiences to believe that word-of-mouth is good, so they won't abandon it prior to opening weekend. This strategy, combined with an absolutely relentless marketing campaign (a friend said to me that he thought the Transformers:Revenge of the Fallen profits were all being spent on G.I. Joe marketing), has worked, although Joe has been rumoured to cost as much as $200 million, so a 60% slide next weekend may hurt its prospects. Still, with this opening weekend, and with the film being made to bang home a sequel, Paramount wins this weekend, despite the bad taste that's left behind..

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