After Earth Implodes on Sony, Smiths and Shyamalan
By John Hamann
June 2, 2013
On Friday, Now You See Me came up with $10 million, but with the Thursday night showings removed, that amount moved to $8.6 million, which was actually less than After Earth’s $8.8 million ($9.8 million less its $1 million from Thursday). However, over the weekend proper, Now You See Me was able to pull past After Earth with a weekend multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) of 2.8. The result is a three-day take of $28.1 million for the Jesse Eisenberg film, about $5 million more than tracking was indicating. This is not a typical summer film with a big name, so this is a huge victory for Summit Entertainment (now a subsidiary of Lionsgate) not for the weekend gross, but because they took down and finished ahead of a big summer entry delivered by Sony Entertainment.
Reviews weren’t great for Now You See Me, but audiences appear to really like it. At Rotten Tomatoes, 34 critics out of a possible 79 found something to like, giving this one a 43% fresh rating at the time of this writing. The site's "top critics" were less kind, with only seven out 27 (26%) giving it a positive rating. Audiences, however, gave the film an A- Cinemascore, so, with a strongish opening and solid word-of-mouth, Now You See Me has a chance to earn a profit for the studio. Summit spent $70 million making the thriller, but reduced their risk by selling off foreign rights to the film (we will never know what their exposure on it really is). In the end, they will have a profitable picture, and a good tale to tell about taking down a giant.
That means that After Earth is our first true bomb of the summer season, despite the struggles of The Hangover Part III. Sony spent $130 million bringing After Earth to the screen, and unless foreign grosses bail them out, they are in big trouble with this one. After Earth earned only $27 million this weekend, despite being in 761 more venues than Now You See Me (3,686 versus 2,925). The venue average comparison is abysmal, with After Earth’s coming in at $7,939 versus Now You See Me’s $9,590. It earned only about 20% of its production cost this weekend, and finished $10 million below the worst case scenario tracking estimate. Will Smith’s average opening for his last three films released during the summer is $56.5 million, so After Earth throws way below expectations.
So what happened? There are too many possible reasons, but let’s review a few: It could have been that reviews were so bad (12% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes) that audiences didn’t care whether the Smiths were in it or not, as not even Wild Wild West was reviewed this poorly at 21% fresh. It could have been the Shyamalan name, which Sony deliberately tried to hide from the marketing materials. After Earth is NOT M. Night Shyamalan’s worst-reviewed film; he will always have The Last Airbender (6%). It could be the Scientology/Battlefield Earth connection, with some critics saying that some of themes in the film relate back to the pseudo-religion, which makes us all reflect on Travolta’s Battlefield Earth (2% fresh). It could have been that Will Smith was not the star of this film, Jaden Smith was. That’s my reason – I’m not plunking down my hard earned money to watch my favorite actor’s kid, I want him in all the film. If he’s not, that's a bait and switch. Lastly, I think we’re beyond people flying in spaceships and then fighting animals with spears – this is a weak plot to begin with regardless of all the rest. I expect better of Will Smith (and so does Sony, who is going to lose money on this one).