Friday Box Office Analysis

Help Still Wanted

By David Mumpower

September 3, 2011

And then I told Tony Soprano I wasn't going to pay him a dime, and then...

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Three new entries debuted in movie theaters this weekend, but the end result will be the same. The Help is about to join the rarefied air of three time weekend box office champions after winning the Friday box office race comfortably with $3.6 million. Meanwhile, all of the new releases debuted in the same indistinguishable range and will be additional cautionary tales about Labor Day weekend releases.

The most popular new entrant yesterday was Apollo 18, which garnered $2.8 million on its first day in release. The latest "found footage" horror movie is also science fiction-ish in tone with a premise that the officially canceled Moon landing for this mission actually occurred in 1974. It just...didn't go very well. Presumably, whalers of the moon who carry a harpoon (or The Crushinator?) slayed a bunch of astronauts. Ergo, this feature is Moon meets Paranormal Activity, a premise that should be more marketable than this. The Weinstein Co. failed to identify to the primary demographic, teen boys, why they should care that disco-loving fans of Paul McCartney's second band were left to die on the Moon. The fact that Apollo 18's release date was moved half a dozen times (legitimately) said everything about the studio's (lack of) confidence in this project. This is a blueprint example of a movie receiving a greenlight but little to no support after production began, a frequent story for mid-August to Labor Day releases. I expect about a $9.2 million four-day performance.

Finishing in a virtual tie (technically $14,000 behind) is Shark Night 3D, which I believe is an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. Its $2.8 million debut is a touch short of the 2010 release it mimics. Encouraged by the results of last year's Piranha 3D, rising newcomer Relativity Media basically duplicated the premise with more killer fish, albeit exponentially larger ones. Piranha 3D debuted to $3.6 million on its first day, $10.1 million over its first weekend and earned total domestic revenue of $25.0 million. As has become the situation at the box office over the past two years, international receipts carried the day with Piranha 3D accumulating $83.2 million worldwide to date. Shark Night 3D has similar aspirations, but it has managed only 78% of what Piranha 3D earned on opening day. While the reported box office total will approach Piranha's $10.1 million, this number will reflect box office inflation from Labor Day Sunday and a fourth day of revenue on the Monday holiday itself. Given that Shark Night 3D cost $4 million more at $28 million, this isn't the best news in the world; yet, the frugal bottom line means this project should avoid disaster at a minimum and may wind up in the black if international receipts are strong. Its four-day total should be around $8.5 million.


The Debt technically finishes last among the three new entries in the marketplace with $2.6 million. A closer examination reveals that its per-location average is the highest of these releases while the movie is also the best reviewed and has the brightest future. The cerebral fractured time espionage tale features a stellar cast of Helen Mirren, CiarĂ¡n Hinds and Tom Wilkinson, with Avatar lead Sam Worthington also on-board. As such, it offers a rare pedigree for the Labor Day weekend box office period. The Debt should have the best multiplier of the three new releases and could conceivably earn $9.6 million over the four-day period. Such a performance would indicate that (marginally) the worst Friday performer winds up being the biggest opener of the three.

The sage of our era, Jimmy Buffett, notes that everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you. Last weekend's new releases were negatively impacted by this concept, at least somewhat, as Hurricane Irene shut down innumerable theaters on the East Coast. Fortunately, property damage was the primary victim in its wake, but Our Idiot Brother, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Colombiana also suffered a frustrating fate. Colombiana was the most popular of the three titles last week, earning $3.7 million. Yesterday's tally of $2.0 million represents a 47% drop, which means that maybe just maybe the weather was overstated as a box office factor yet again. Testing the results with Our Idiot Brother, that title fell from $2.4 million last Friday to $1.4 million yesterday, a 41% decline. Meanwhile, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark debuted to $3.6 million but managed only $1.4 million yesterday, a 61% drop.

These numbers do not support the premise that the weather was a huge negative factor last weekend as had been expected. BOP has argued this for a while now but even I am surprised by this turn of events. I had ceded the point that Hurricane Irene would impede the box office prospects of last weekend's new releases. While it certainly did, the results are not as significant as I had anticipated. These three titles simply were not that well received by North American audiences. The one release that may have had a supporting argument would have been The Help, which fell 24% last Friday to $4.4 million. Still, the $3.6 million performance yesterday, an 18% decline, means that if there was an impact, it was a ripple more than anything else.



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