Contagion Spreads Over Post-Labor Day Box Office
By John Hamann
September 11, 2011
Welcome to the post-Labor Day frame at the box office, another of the slowest moviegoing weekends of the year, this time lifted by the star-driven Steven Soderbergh film, Contagion, but lowered again by the launch of the NFL season. Contagion didn't lift the overall take much. This weekend's box office is infected by an embarrassing bottom six that even teenagers are abandoning. Also hurting the box office is the fact that last weekend was a long weekend, so grosses from the last frame are inflated, leading to big drops. Even The Help got sick this weekend, dropping its box office crown for the first time in three weekends.
Our number one film of the weekend is Steven Soderbergh's Contagion, the Warner Bros. thriller that delves into the idea of a plague on the verge of wiping out mankind. This is my kind of film, and it's odd that it would be released over the post-Labor Day frame, considering it stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotilliard, Laurence Fishburne, and the guy from Breaking Bad. The Warner Bros. attempt to cash in on a slow weekend worked to a degree, as Contagion earned $23.1 million from 3,222 venues, giving it a venue average of $7,180. Some might look at the cast and director of this one and wonder why it didn't earn more over opening weekend, but I ask you to remember where we are - September, and early September at that.
The two highest grossing releases in September – Sweet Home Alabama ($35.6 million opening) and Rush Hour ($33 million opening) – are nine and 13 years old respectively, which shows how much emphasis studios put on the month of September. The highest September opener of the last few years is Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, a CGI animated kids flick that still opened to only $30 million, as early September is usually centered on more adult fare. All of these films opened in the second half of September – after kids have settled into school. The highest grossing openers released in the first half of September are The Exorcism of Emily Rose ($30 million opening, September 3rd release date) and Resident Evil: Afterlife ($26.6 million opening, September 10th release date).
The dark side of the month of September is truly dark. Some of the worst moviegoing weekends have landed in September. There is the infamous September 5-7, 2008 weekend that saw Nic Cage's Bangkok Dangerous open to only $7.8 million, leading the top 12 to only a $50 million gross. Had that top 12 been amassed into a single movie, it would only be 137th biggest earner ever. Contagion was pegged to open north of $20 million, which it did, but not by much. In the end, though, dropping Contagion into a weak spot in the calendar was smart, because this one was made for only $60 million. Given the cast, this will likely be a global hit, with Warner Bros. laughing all the way to the bank. The September release date is not new to Soderbergh or cast member Matt Damon. The pair launched The Informant! in mid-September 2009 and it earned $41.8 million worldwide against a budget of $20 million. The director also turned Traffic into a $207 million worldwide hit despite an early January release, and Erin Brockovich into $256 million hit with an early March release. Soderbergh is no stranger to rough release dates.