Super 8 Solid for Spielberg and Abrams
By John Hamann
June 12, 2011
It's a very different weekend at the box office over this mid-June frame, as the constant onslaught of expensive blockbusters pauses for a weekend, and we get a smaller version of the usual summer tentpole. The movie of the weekend is Super 8 – produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by J.J. Abrams – and it cost a third of what it took to put Thor and Kung Fu Panda 2 together, and a fifth of what Disney paid for the latest Pirates sequel. Super 8 is a throwback to Gen X youth, and is a pearl in the sea of garbage that's become the summer movie season.
The number one film of the weekend is Super 8, the small, $50 million effort from Paramount, Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Abrams' Bad Robot (Star Trek, Lost, Cloverfield). Written and directed by Abrams, the '70s throwback got off to a decent start this weekend, taking in $37 million from a muted 3,379 venues. Super 8 had a venue average of $10,950. Some may say that this is too low of an amount for a summer weekend headliner, but with that small $50 million budget, Super 8 is going to be a big winner in the long run for all involved. Additionally, Paramount was looking for a launch between $25 and $30 million, so studio estimates have been vanquished. The Cinemascore is a B+, and reviews for the most part are good, coming in at 82% fresh at RottenTomatoes. Super 8 pulled in about $1 million on Thursday night via a Twitter-based sneak preview, and the social networking angle may have helped push this one higher over the weekend in general.
If Super 8 manages to find its way into the American zeitgeist, it could run for a very long time, not unlike the Spielberg movies it is playing homage to. Back before the churn 'em and burn 'em summer box office, Spielberg opened films like Raiders of the Lost Ark to $8 million, turning it into a $250 million winner. He opened E.T. To $11.8 million, and over its first year-long run it earned $360 million. Both of those films opened the same weekend as Super 8 - Raiders 30 years ago, and E.T. 29 years ago. Super 8 is a very different film. A site I was reading this week called it a referendum on originality, and the opening weeknd, at least in my mind, passed the vote.
I had to flip back a long way into box office history to find a movie like Super 8. In my mind, the most recent example is District 9 from then unknown director Neil Bloomkamp. While not close to a family outing at the movies, Bloomkamp did use action/sci-fi to make a point, and his epic tale cost only $30 million to make, and used acting nobodies, like Super 8. Further back, I look at a film like M. Night Shyalaman's Signs, this time with bigger names (Mel Gibson), but telling a family story with a point, and like Spielberg, did a good job of hiding the monster and letting us build it in our minds. Signs was also much more expensive, carrying a production budget of $72 million. Going further back, we have to look at other films produced by Amblin Entertainment, like Joe Dante's Gremlins ($12 million opening, $148 million domestic finish in 1984) or 1990's Arachnophobia ($8 million opening, $53 million finish). Gone are the days of these small films opening in the mid-$35 millions in June. Spielberg’s Minority Report did that in the summer of 2002, but that film's opening was considered a disappointment, and the beginning of a long climb downward for Tom Cruise.