Weekend Wrap-Up for August 13-15, 2010

Not-So-Expendable Star-Driven Films Propel Box Office

By John Hamann

August 15, 2010

So much evil in one little place.

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It's a tough weekend for those that yearn for the end of the star-driven film. We had three new openers this weekend, each targeting their own demographic, and each with a lead or leads that can draw audiences. Openers included The Expendables, with Stallone, Rourke, Statham, Li etc.; Eat Pray Love with the somewhat dormant Julia Roberts; the hot Michael Cera flick, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World; and the second weekend of The Other Guys, with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Sequels, 3D films and comic book movies may have driven these flicks to a mid-August release date, but each of these "big names above the title" movies have done well in their own right.

There are a few media outlets that have hopped on board the story that big name actors can't open films anymore - or at least not like they used to (I'm looking at you, LA Times). These outlets trot out examples every time a big star has a miss on the big screen, like Matt Damon in the little-seen Green Zone, or De Niro and Pacino in Righteous Kill, or Benicio Del Toro in The Wolfman – the list goes on. What the LA Times (and others) fail to realize is that since the movie industry began, big stars have movies that don't always do great business. It's not the end of cinema as we know it. Instead, it's a blip in an actor's career. John Travolta's career wasn't over after Battlefield Earth ($21 million gross, $80 million budget). Pacino's didn't end with Revolution ($28 million budget, less than $1 million gross). Julia Roberts wasn't done after Michael Collins ($25 million budget, $11 million domestic gross). This weekend is the perfect antidote for newspapers and their "woe is me" attitude toward the death of the star-driven Hollywood production.


Our number one film of this mid-August weekend is The Expendables, starring a bevy of internationally known action stars, including Sylvester Stallone (who also directed), Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Steve Austen, and Dolph Lundgren, who fought Stallone in Rocky IV 25 years ago. With this mostly washed up crew, The Expendables could have easily been a joke, but by sticking to the old action formula and taking an R-rating into movie theaters and not pandering to the audience, Stallone and company have a potentially decent sized hit on their hands. The Expendables took in a better-than-expected $35 million from 3,270 venues. It had a venue average of $10,713 – and was rated R for “strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language”. This is a rating we hardly ever see anymore, except in awful torture porn movies like the Saw franchise (which stars no one) and The Hills Have Eyes. It is nice to see a group of actors taking a project without worrying what effect it will have on their next project. My mind always goes to The Bourne Ultimatum. Here is a trained killer – who doesn't kill – and the only reason seems to be that the killer doesn't want Universal to blow its PG-13 rating.

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