By John Hamann
February 7, 2010
It was bound to happen, and it was bound to happen like this, given today's audiences. Avatar, after seven consecutive weekends at number one, has been pushed to number two this weekend, shortly after receiving nine Oscar nominations. The pusher ends up being the weeper Dear John, a poorly reviewed drama that has no reason being the historic finisher of Avatar's reign. It is a weekend for women, though, as Dear John joins with a bevy of Oscar expanders – all of which are squarely aimed at women. The new options for males this weekend are the Super Bowl, and the new John Travolta flick, From Paris With Love.
Ever since opening, Avatar has been eerily similar in a lot of way to James Cameron's 1998 record breaker, Titanic. The release date, holds, award recognition and boffo box office were all extremely comparable to Cameron's earlier Oscar winner. We have another similarity now with the fact that the biggest film ever in terms of domestic box office has been knocked off its perch by a truly awful film. Titanic was number one for 15 consecutive weekends, earning over $500 million during that part of its reign. On Titanic's 106th day of release, the sunken boat film ran into Lost in Space, the stupendously bad re-imagining of the old TV series. So, on April 3, 1998, Titanic lost its crown to a Matt LeBlanc film. A dozen years later, history is repeating itself, as bad is once again is taking down history's biggest film, and the actor this time is Channing "Drederick" Tatum. Mel Gibson couldn't do it, Denzel Washington couldn't do it, John Travolta couldn't do it and Robert Downey Jr. couldn't do it, but Drederick Tatum has beaten back the Na'Vi. Insanity is among us.
Our number one film of the weekend is Dear John, the latest chick flick based on a Nicholas Sparks novel (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember). Dear John was tracking in the low-$20 millions heading into the weekend, based on what I don't really know. Somehow, Dear John managed to open incredibly strong on Friday with a shocking gross of $13.8 million, putting it on track for a weekend take in the $30 millions, as this one is definitely not targeted at the Super Bowl audience. Dear John finished the weekend with a very strong (and somewhat inexplicable) $32.4 million. That's enough to knock Avatar off its perch, and make Dear John an ugly footnote in box office history.
Released to 2,969 venues, Dear John was actually in fewer venues than Avatar, and gave it an excellent venue average of $10,913. From Sony Screen Gems, this is not the studio's usual fare, but it is up to Screen Gems standards of questionable quality. Usually, Screen Gems delivers bad horror films that tend to gross well versus their production budgets. Examples include When A Stranger Calls, the 2006 film that cost the studio $15 million to make and opened to $21 million, or Boogeyman, which opened to $19 million and cost $20 million to make. The studio's biggest success was also their biggest opener until Dear John came along. The Exorcism of Emily Rose opened to $30 million in 2005 against a budget of only $18 million. Emily Rose went on to earn $145 million worldwide versus that tiny budget. With Dear John, Screen Gems is only the distributor, with Relativity Films (It's Complicated) being the real driver behind the film. Relativity spent about $25 million making Dear John, so this is an instant success for both companies.