Friday Box Office Analysis

By David Mumpower

July 30, 2011

I liked Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon better.

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On Sony’s signal, Blue Hell was released into theaters yesterday and the end result is as surprising as it is alarming. Despite squaring off against a more storied competitor, The Smurfs was the number one North American film yesterday. Yes, this is a Smurfing nightmare for anyone over the age of two and a halff.

How did we reach this point? Well, Neil Patrick Harris made a deal with the devil right before his role in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and the rest is history. Legendary history. Legendary Smurfing history. I miss Doctor Horrible.

Typing the words none of you want to read, The Smurfs earned a much larger than expected $13.3 million from 3,395 North American venues last night. This tally is slightly larger than the more heralded Jon Favreau project, Cowboys and Aliens, managed. That film starring the current James Bond and the (technically) current Indiana Jones grossed $12.99 million in 3,750 engagements. Yes, the reported number is $12.99 million, which reinforces the fact that Universal and Sony were expecting each another to exaggerate in order to claim top billing on Friday. It’s either that or Cowboys and Aliens ordinarily retails for $14.75, but it’s currently on sale for $12.99. These are the jokes, people. If you don’t like them, go Smurf yourself.


Suffice to say that yesterday’s box office results are shocking. Industry observers had pegged Cowboys and Aliens for a $40+ million debut while tracking was indecisive about whether The Smurfs could clear $20 million. It can. And it will. The family film that is the latest to s(m)urf the waves of 1980s cartoon nostalgia bested even the most optimistic expectations with its $13.3 million; the new debate is whether there was a significant amount of frontloading due to name recognition or not. I simply refuse to accept that this could happen, meaning that I believe The Smurfs is heading for a $38 million debut. This makes me want to Smurf the Smurf out of every Smurfer I see.

Meanwhile, Cowboys and Aliens is being projected by some to win the weekend. In order for this to happen, the action film would need for The Smurfs to be frontloaded while it demonstrates solid staying power. I believe such a scenario is ambitious and in fact unlikely. I envision Cowboys and Aliens winding up with a $36 million weekend unless Universal feels pressured to exaggerate once more.

While people are quick to dismiss this project as a bomb due to its massive $163 million budget, I would advise waiting until foreign revenue totals are known. Universal was well aware of the fact that this project would prove to be a tough sell domestically. They cast Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford specifically due to their overseas appeal and as we have all witnessed in 2011, international monies are the saving grace of almost all tentpole titles these days. Even so, I would caution studio execs against signing off on $163 million expenditures for science fiction westerns from this point forward. They seem to be only slightly more popular domestically than premises involving animated matriarchal Martians.

Believe it or not, there was a third release this weekend - the best-reviewed of the bunch, in fact. Crazy, Stupid Love completes the inverse trifecta of quality to box office results. The Smurfs was either liked by 18% of movie critics or despised by 82%, depending upon your viewpoint. Cowboys and Aliens is 44% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, while Crazy, Stupid Love is actually a good movie that is 73% fresh. A modest $6.6 million Friday is still quite solid, and word-of-mouth on this film is strong. It's gotten lost in the shuffle a little bit, but if you're above the age of two and a half and can only see one film this weekend, it should be Crazy, Stupid Love. I expect it to total $20.4 million for the weekend.



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