Weekend Wrap-Up

Underworld Awakens as Box Office Stays Hot

By John Hamann

January 22, 2012

Well, here's your reason to see the movie.

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Underworld Awakening, the fourth film in the Vampire vs Werewolf franchise, enjoyed its fourth consecutive $20 million plus opening, as fans of the series (or just of Kate Beckinsale) continued their support. Also opening this weekend were Red Tails, the retold story of the Tuskegee Airmen from financier George Lucas, and Haywire, starring newcomer Gina Carano and a bevy of international stars. Expanding this weekend were Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the 9/11 drama with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, as it tried to overcome so-so reviews and little award recognition, and The Artist, coming off several Golden Globe wins last weekend.

Our number one film is Underworld Awakening, the third sequel to the original, which was released in 2003. The Kate Beckinsale flick earned a larger-than-expected $25.4 million from 3,078 venues. Released in 3D and on IMAX screens, Awakening carried a solid venue average of $8,252. Considering that the third film in the series, Rise of the Lycans, debuted to $20.8 million, the opening for the fourth film has to be considered a serious success for Screen Gems. It's actually somewhat of a surprise that Screen Gems greenlighted a fourth film in this series, as Rise of the Lycans not only opened lower than all the rest, it also exited the box office quickly, grossing only $45.8 million, giving it an opening-to-total multiplier of only 2.2 (most films look for at least a 3.0 opening-to-total multiplier). Had Lycans opened $4 million higher than it did, that 2.2 multiplier would have added almost $9 million to the third film's total, which we will likely see with Underworld 4: The Return of Kate.


Why the difference between Rise of the Lycans and Underworld Awakening? Kate Beckinsale. The face of the franchise barely appeared in Rise of the Lycans, as the filmmakers used previous footage of the actress and inserted it in the film. Give the opening-to-total multiplier of the third film, it seems like the fanbase didn't realize she was missing until it was too late and tickets were purchased. With Beckinsale back and looking great both in the trailer and at the Golden Globes, it's really no surprise that Awakening opened higher than all the films in the series, save Underworld Evolution, which opened to $26.9 million and finished with $62.3 million. That total (or more) will be what Screen Gems is targeting to earn with Awakening, although that won't help recoup the $70 million production budget. Like so many other franchises, Underworld Awakening will be looking to foreign grosses to make it profitable. The previous three films took in about $160 million from the domestic box office, but then drew another $140 million from overseas cinemas. This Underworld will be looking for a similar ratio. I expect a $60 million domestic finish, followed by another $50 million overseas, and then a healthy stretch on home video.

Finishing second is Red Tails, the new George Lucas release centered around the role of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. Financed solely on his own, Red Tails carried huge risk for Lucas, and a strong opening weekend was needed if he had any chance of seeing his money back. Red Tails got some of what was needed, as it came in with an okay $19.1 million from a muted 2,512 venue release pattern. That gives the throwback a solid venue average of $7,604, and a decent start to what could be a questionable run. Kudos to Lucas for getting this story out to a mass audience. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lucas spent $58 million producing the film and another $35 million in production costs, which is likely too much when factoring the opening weekend. I see Red Tails finishing between $50 and $60 million, then being a really tough sell overseas. If there is good news for Red Tails, it's in its A Cinemascore; however, for about a thousand reasons I am not a big fan of the Cinemascore. A better indication of future legs might come from its internal multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross). Here, Red Tails had a Friday of $6 million, and we divide that into the weekend total ($19.1 million) for a weekend multiplier of 3.18. For an opening weekend, studios want to see a number as close to 3.0 as possible (or over). A higher multiplier can indicate that people not only came out on Friday night, they also attended the movie over the weekend proper. Red Tails has come in with a solid weekend multiplier, which could be good news for long-term legs.

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