Avatar Closes Book of Eli
By John Hamann
January 17, 2010
Finishing second this weekend is Denzel Washington's The Book of Eli, which had a solid start, but like Daybreakers and Sherlock Holmes can tell you, it's hard living in the shadow of Avatar. The Book of Eli took in an impressive for January – and solid for MLK weekend - gross of $31.6 million from 3,111 venues. It had a venue average of $10,162. I'm still struggling with the fact that over MLK weekend last year, Paul Blart: Mall Cop took in a similar $31.8 million – and Kevin James is obviously no Denzel. The Book of Eli swung under Cloverfield's $40 million three-day gross, but was ahead of Black Hawk Down's MLK three-day of $28.6 million.
As has been discussed many times in this column, Denzel Washington is not known for opening films over $30 million. Only once in the actor's career has he opened a film beyond $40 million. That was American Gangster with Russell Crowe, which opened to $43.6 million on November 2007. Prior to that, Washington's biggest opening was The Inside Man, which debuted to $29 million in March 2006. This is a stronger start than The Taking of Pellham 1 2 3 did this last summer, as that one started with $23.4 million against the second weekend of The Hangover and the third weekend of Pixar's Up. Suffice it to say that competition has not been kind to Denzel Washington over the last year.
The Book of Eli is an $80 million production financed by Alcon Entertainment (which was also the production company behind The Blind Side) and distributed by Warner Bros. Eli should be another win for the suddenly ultra-successful production company, as it should have decent success domestically, and be even bigger internationally. Denzel Washington is a solid draw overseas, as his films tend to outgross their domestic totals overseas. The Taking of Pellham 1 2 3 finished with a domestic take of $65.5 million, then earned another $85.4 million overseas. American Gangster earned $130 million in North America, and $135 million overseas. Reviews of Eli were mixed down the middle, with 55 positive reviews out of 120 for a 45% fresh rating at RottenTomatoes.
Finishing in somewhat of a surprise third is The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestseller. After a few weekends of only so-so limited release (at best), Paramount took the film wide this weekend to 2,563 venues, and The Lovely Bones earned $17.1 million, well ahead of what analysts were predicting. With a strong cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz and Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones debuted in three theaters on December 11th. It earned $116,000 in its first weekend, before dropping 61% in its second frame. Suddenly, Paramount was stuck trying to decide what to do with this high profile production that wasn't grossing much in limited release, and wasn't receiving good reviews. Cue the marketing ambush that we saw this week, and all of a sudden this $65 million effort goes from being a big disappointment for Paramount to something they can salvage with a strong DVD release. Peter Jackson can go back to writing The Hobbit without this black mark on his record. The Lovely Bones now has a running total of $17.5 million.