Long Weekend Openers No Help For Box Office
By John Hamann
September 4, 2011
The rest of the top ten shows up in pairs or sets of threes. Battling for a sad second this weekend were all the openers. Finishing second this weekend is The Debt, a small thriller starring Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington. The John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) film was not supposed to finish second, and if there is good news this weekend beyond The Help, this is definitely it. The Debt debuted on Wednesday, but not spectacularly, as it earned only $970,000 on its first day of release (albeit only behind The Help), and less on its second. It perked up on Friday, though, earning about $2.6 million, and was able to turn that Friday gross into a weekend take of $9.7 million, and a five day haul of $11.5 million.
The Debt debuted at only 1,826 venues, so it carried a fairly strong average of $5,300. Without a successful platform release, a film like this is never going to place in the top five other than in late August/early September. It would fail to get any marketing support, and would barely register a blip in the American consciousness. This weekend, though, anything can shine, and with some solid reviews (77% fresh at RottenTomatoes), and a cast willing to promote it (Mirren), it does well for what it is (an espionage thriller).
Usually, when a film is shot two and a half years before it's released, usually that means trouble in terms of quality. Not with The Debt and its Oscar pedigree (Mirren for The Queen, Madden for Shakespeare in Love). The Debt was made by Miramax in 2009, and like last weekend's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, it languished on the shelf as Miramax and Disney had their tussle. The Debt ended up with Focus Features, a studio that can handle a release like this. Focus Features did the exact same thing with The Constant Gardener, releasing that one on September 2, 2005, where it finished at #3 with a gross of $8.7 million, very similar to that of The Debt. Focus was able to turn that one into a $34 million domestic winner against its $25 million budget and to top it off, The Constant Gardenener earned another $50 million overseas. Focus Features again picked a shrewd release date for The Debt, padded the gross by opening it on a Wednesday, and the move paid off. Likely made for a similar amount, The Debt is the smart movie of the weekend, both in terms of quality and release.
Finishing third is Apollo 18, the film that some thought might steal the box office crown from The Help. Another of the found footage horror films (after Paranormal Activity 2, I can already feel the air coming out of this concept), Apollo 18 is cheap and not very well put together (really?). It did manage to earn $8.7 million, beyond its $5 million production budget, but not by much. Given the mark of badness by not releasing it to critics (that's strategery these days, folks), at the time of this writing, Apollo 18 was 24% fresh at the time of this writing. Released by the Weinsteins, Apollo 18 does the expected by turning a low budget horror film with no scares into a financial winner. It earned a D Cinemascore, and should be seen by no one.