Box Office Losing Streak Retreats for Universal
By John Hamann
October 11, 2009
After a fantastic weekend in the last frame where great films like Zombieland, Whip It and the Toy Story Double-Feature debuted amongst others, we had only one major release hitting theaters this weekend: the absolutely not-so-great Couples Retreat, which reunites Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. Since studios laid an egg in terms of film quality, one might think that the box office would also follow suit, but again this weekend, and like oh so many others, moviegoers picked star-studded crap, making Couples Retreat one of the bigger October openers ever.
This weekend at the movies is acting as a bridge between two autumn box office periods. The first, which includes September and the first half of October, is often used as a dumping ground for soft openers. We saw that softness in films like Whiteout ($4.9 million opening), Jennifer's Body ($6.9 million opening), Love Happens ($8 million opening), Pandorum ($4.4 million opening), and Fame ($10 million opening). This year things were slightly different thanks to a couple of bigger openers like Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs ($30 million opening), and Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself ($23.4 million opening). Last weekend we saw some decent flicks with capable grosses, and Couples Retreat was strong this weekend, but it's next weekend that things could get really big, and then stay on a run until Thanksgiving. Next weekend brings Where The Wild Things Are, the following frame brings Astro Boy and Saw VI,and then we see Jim Carrey in the wild looking 3-D version of A Christmas Carol. This weekend is akin to Christmas Eve, but with studios putting dung in your presents in the form of Couples Retreat.
Regrettably, Couples Retreat is the number one film of the weekend, as Universal undeservedly breaks a long unlucky streak that goes all the way back to April 2009 when the studio opened Fast & Furious to $71 million. Couples Retreat took the weekend with a larger than expected gross of $35.3 million from 3,000 venues, and had a venue average of $11,780. Tracking had the Vince Vaughan project opening in the lower $20 million area, so the star-studded cast, marketing and scheduling of this comedy paid off handsomely for the studio. Couples Retreat was produced in association with Relativity Media, who also launched Zombieland with Sony/Columbia in the number one spot last weekend. Made for $60 million, Couples Retreat is a lock for a domestic total beyond that figure, and with a solid international total, could earn as much as $200 million worldwide. Universal should consider themselves lucky, as reviews for this one were abysmal. Only one out of every ten reviewers liked Couples Retreat, and the ones that didn't were downright nasty. Lou Limerick of the New York Post said, "Like most of Universal's offerings this year, you have to wonder exactly who (besides masochists) they thought would actually want to see Couples Retreat in a theater" - that pretty much sums up the critical mood around Couples Retreat, although North America must have a ton of masochists.