Sony Dominates With Zombieland and Meatballs
By John Hamann
October 4, 2009
With September behind us, the box office moves towards better product, and what a swing toward quality we see this frame. It's another weekend where we have a slew of openers, but this time, the movies are interesting and for once, not critically reviled. Openers include Zombieland, with Woody Harrelson (who is also back from the dead), The Invention of Lying, a high-concept sort of flick with Ricky Gervais leading the way, Whip It, from director Drew Barrymore and starring Ellen Page, the Toy Story double feature in 3-D, the expansion of Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story, and the limited release of the Coen Brothers film, A Serious Man. This is a treasure chest of solid film choices, and it's sad that it doesn't happen all year round.
Our number one film of the weekend is Zombieland, a Shaun of the Dead-type of zombie flick with more comedy than undead. Zombieland kicked some box office butt, earning a stellar $25 million from a very wide 3,036 venues. It had a hot opening venue average of $8,235, and out-grossed its production budget of $23.6 million over the opening frame, making Zombieland a one-weekend winner. The Woody Harrelson/Jesse Eisenberg/Abigail Breslin/Emma Stone picture definitely clicked with audiences, and the Sony/Columbia/Relativity Pictures release is going to be a huge hit for these companies. Word-of-mouth should be so good that Zombieland may even avoid the 50%-plus plunge that so many of these types of film manage in their second frames.
At first glance, Zombieland looks like a low-budget cash grab; however, the trailer and TV ad were both quite funny, and as we rolled up toward release, I felt the slow trickle of extremely positive reviews might be too good to be true. The first six reviews were all positive, and I thought the next 100 would all be negative – another marketing effort around reviews. It wasn't the case. Currently, Zombieland sits at 89% fresh, with only 12 rotten reviews out of a possible 107. Z-land's inspiration, Shaun of the Dead, finished with a similar score at RottenTomaotes – 91% fresh – with only 16 rotten reviews out of a possible 171. The biggest difference between these two films (besides country of origin) is going to be box office. Shaun of the Dead only made $13.5 million over its entire U.S. run, a number Zombieland would have earned by Saturday afternoon. Shaun of the Dead had an international total of just a little over $30 million, and a production budget of only $5 million. In the end, these two films will end up quite similarly when comparing overall gross to budget.
Speaking of zombies, if this one opened this big, Woody Harrelson must be officially back from the dead. Ever since appearing in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers ($11 million opening, $50 million finish in 1994), Woody Harrelson's career seemed to go sideways. Prior to NBK, Harrelson had been a star on the rise, appearing in White Men Can't Jump, Doc Hollywood, and the $100 million earner Indecent Proposal. However, after NBK, there were zero $50 million earners for Harrelson. Sure, there were some strong appearances in The People vs. Larry Flynt, Wag the Dog, and The Thin Red Line, but there were no big hits. That changed a little after a solid turn in the Coen Brothers' 2007 Oscar winner No Country for Old Men ($74 million domestic, $163 million worldwide), but after that, he went back to the slide for ten films, where the only "highlights" were Semi-Pro with Will Ferrell (flopped with a $15 million opening and a $35 million finish) and Seven Pounds with Will Smith ($15 million opening, $70 million finish). Harrelson should have back-to-back hits, though, as Zombieland will be followed by 2012 for the actor, and Roland Emmerich's next disaster flick looks a lot better than 10,000 BC.