Weekend Wrap-Up for August 27-29, 2010

Last Exorcism, Takers Surprise at Late Summer Box Office

By John Hamann

August 29, 2010

Loud noises!

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Before I sat down to write this column, I desperately reached for things to talk about, as this was shaping up to be a brutally slow weekend at the box office. Openers were supposed to be soft, with both Lionsgate's The Last Exorcism and Screen Gems' Takers looking to debut in the low teen millions. However, and as it often goes with horror flicks and Screen Gems releases, the new releases popped, combining for more than $40 million. While the top end of the box office looks great, the overall picture is starting to sag, as we have our lowest top 12 gross since the beginning of April.

While The Expendables couldn't repeat on top for the third consecutive weekend, the studio distributing it did, as Lionsgate's The Last Exorcism takes over where Stallone and company left off. Lionsgate has always stayed alive by parlaying low priced acquisitions into big box office, and they've done it again with The Last Exorcism. It cost Eli Roth around $2 million to produce the film, and Screen Gems picked up the rights for nearly that same amount. Given that tiny budget, The Last Exorcism broke out this weekend, earning a powerful $21.3 million from 2,874 venues. It had a venue average of $7,411. To think a film can gross TEN TIMES its pick-up cost in one weekend boggles the mind, as production cost plus marketing was likely earned prior to the end of the weekend. A film like this will bankroll a half-dozen other small pick-ups, and may prove troublesome for stock raider Carl Icahn's attempted takeover of the Lionsgate studio.


The Last Exorcism is done in the faux-documentary style, which certainly seems to keep costs down. Examples include Quarantine ($12 million production budget, $31.7 million domestic gross), and everyone's favorite, The Blair Witch Project ($600,000 production budget, $250 million worldwide gross). For Lionsgate, the result is similar to some of their other horror offerings, like The Haunting in Connecticut (budget unknown, $23 million opening, $55 million domestic finish) and My Bloody Valentine ($14 million production budget, $21 million opening, $51 million finish). Maybe the most similar, though, is the film that launched Lionsgate's biggest franchise, Saw. The original Saw film came out in 2004, and opened to a similar $18.3 million. It cost only $1.2 million to produce, and finished with $55 million in domestic sales. Also like Exorcism, Saw did okay in the review department as well, coming in at 48% fresh – The Last Exorcism did a little bit better, at 70% fresh; however, 161 people reviewed Saw, where only 74 have reviewed The Last Exorcism. Lionsgate again found the right mix for The Last Exorcism by finding the right release date and providing a perfect marketing strategy.

That means that Screen Gems' Takers opens in the number two spot this weekend - but just misses the top spot. Usually known for horror flicks (much like The Last Exorcism), Screen Gems has moved slightly away from their usual fare, releasing the tear-jerker Dear John to huge numbers in February, and know the action flick Takers in August. Takers did quite well this weekend - again better than expectations - as the ensemble flick earned $21 million from a small venue count of only 2,206. It had the best venue average in the top ten, coming in at $9,519.

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