Contraband Beats Devil, Beast and Beauty at MLK Box Office
By John Hamann
January 15, 2012
While there were no real breakout successes at the box office, the MLK long weekend did produce a couple of movies that have done better than they had any right to. With the holiday Monday on tap, the box office super-sized, leading to better than expected grosses for Mark Wahlberg's Contraband and Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah's Joyful Noise, as well as Disney's 3D re-run of Beauty and the Beast (Disney called it “found money” - we lose it, they gain it). Expanding this weekend are The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep's latest Oscar target, and The Artist, the silent, black and white pic that for some reason has Oscar voters abuzz (obviously they didn't see Hugo). Considering the questionable new content, the box office did very well for a second straight weekend.
Our number one film of the weekend is Mark Wahlberg's Contraband, Universal's modestly budgeted action pic, which is a perfect fit for mid-January. Tracking expectations had it opening in the mid-to-high teen millions, but with an almost $9 million opening day, it was able to extrapolate that success into a strong opening weekend take of $24.1 million. Opening at only 2,863 venues, the R-rated thriller earned a strong average of $8,405. Contraband needed to work well for Universal this frame, as next weekend it faces off with three other action flicks: Underworld: Awakening, Lucasfilm's Red Tails, and the buzz-worthy Haywire. The good news for Wahlberg (who also produced) and Universal is that Contraband cost only $25 million to make – so with the take this weekend, it will see a profit after the domestic run, and will likely match what it earns domestically overseas. It will earn three times what it cost domestically, and could earn as much as six times its budget worldwide.
Why did this one work? The idea seems kind of tired (Shooter, Four Brothers, and The Yards all feel like the same thing), but Wahlberg brings something different to the screen this time. This is his first film coming off 2010's The Fighter (seven Oscar nominations and two wins, $130 million in worldwide grosses, $11 million production budget), but he's become known for more. Wahlberg also works as one of the Executive Producers on Entourage (and the soon-to-be written film), Boardwalk Empire (nominated for Best Television Series - Drama Golden Globe), and How To Make It In America. He also has a live action film being released in July called Ted, about a man whose teddy bear comes to life. That one is directed by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane, so it should be as bizarre as it sounds. He is also filming Broken City with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Russell Crowe. Mark Wahlberg has become a bankable star in Hollywood, and in today's movie world, that's saying something.
Finishing second is Disney's re-run of Beauty and the Beast, obviously in 3D so that the Mouse House can not only take your admission money, they can also add another 15% to that bill as well. After already raking in $400 million worldwide 20 years ago, the 1991 feature is back in 3D, and this portion of Disney's renaissance earned a quite solid $18.5 million, about $10 million more than tracking was expecting. The good news (at least for me) this weekend is that Beauty and the Beast did not match the $30 million that The Lion King reaped in September of 2011 (but then no one really expected it to). However, It did bash expectations, and will earn Disney a huge profit in the end. The 3D conversion cost the studio only $10 million, and after reaping what will likely be $75 million in domestic box office, it will then earn even more internationally, and then see a huge profit on 3D home video. With 3D DVD players starting to make inroads into homes, studios need as many titles as possible, and these re-issues fit that bill perfectly, have that cachet of success, and are cheap to produce for the studio. Of course, the trailer for Finding Nemo 3D hit my computer screen today.