Weekend Wrap-Up

Recycling the Classics Big at the Box Office, For Now

By John Hamann

September 18, 2011

Meow at the moon.

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Disney took a low-risk chance giving what was likely a clean up for a Blu-ray release, added the third D, plopped it into one of the slowest moviegoing periods – one that had zip for competition, marketed it sparingly, and it worked – big time. Like the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Disney has moved on from kicking their franchise in the teeth – they've now moved on to their core business – and I think we all know how loved George Lucas is these days from doing exactly the same thing: selling us the exact same product over and over again (it happens AGAIN on Tuesday). Short-term, The 3D Lion King re-release is the right business move for Disney. Long term, though? I have to wonder.

Finishing second this weekend is Contagion, a very good film I saw on Thursday. Following an opening weekend of $22 million, Contagion dropped back somewhat likely due to its "clinical" word-of-mouth. Contagion earned 14.5 million in its second weekend of release, and drops a not bad 35%. Heading into the weekend, I actually thought Contagion might drop a bit more, as Soderbergh does take a dry walk through a world of emerging plague. It earned only a B- Cinemascore (which isn't great) but those scores were likely taken from an opening night audience, one that might have thought zombies go with this kind of Contagion. The thriller, with its solid reviews and what is likely good word-of-mouth amongst cinephiles, does not look like a $100 million picture at this point, but it should at least approach that mark, finishing with $85-90 million. The $60 million picture should then earn as much or more overseas.


FilmDistrict's Drive is third despite a strong marketing campaign, decent awareness and a solid screen count. The film, driven by a strong performance from Ryan Gosling, earned $11 million from 2,886 venues, and carried a venue average of $3,818. This is the film that should have been number one this weekend, what with its 11 negative reviews out of a possible 142 at RottenTomatoes, making it 92% fresh – one of the better scores we've seen all year. Was it too art house? Too off the level for mainstream audiences to buy into? Maybe. Did the lack of a recognizable star put people off? Had this starred Matt Damon or Robert Pattinson would it have been more successful?

Drive was made for $13 million, so regardless of the opening weekend, this one will still do decent business for the upstart FilmDistrict. This is the studio that delivered Insidious in April of this year. That film opened to $13.3 million, and despite being a horror film, managed to find good legs. FilmDistrict turned Insidious into a $54 million domestic winner, with another $38 million coming from overseas cinemas – all against a budget of only $1.5 million. Hence, a studio is born. FilmDistrict also had a piece of Sony's Soul Surfer, the Christian-themed movie about a girl overcoming a confrontation with a shark. That one opened in fourth to $10.6 million, but managed to stay in the top ten for six weeks, and wound up earning $43.9 million in domestic cinemas. FilmDistrict has a knack for turning okay openers into big money. I hope they do it again.

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