Only Riddick Can See in the September Box Office Dark
By John Hamann
September 8, 2013
You know the tide has turned at the box office when this weekend’s combined gross for the top 12 films would equal only the eighth biggest opening of the year – and last year was even worse. There is a speck of light this weekend, though, and it’s called Riddick, Vin Diesel’s passion project.
Our number one film of the post-Labor Day Weekend is Riddick, the third film of the franchise that made Vin Diesel a star. Following Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, this one harkens back to the original – more of a suspense/horror than a space opera. Considering the release weekend (a large black hole on the movie release calendar, usually reserved for bad Nic Cage movies or teen horror tripe), Riddick did okay, but certainly didn’t break out. The three-quel earned a slightly lower than expected $18.7 million from 3,107 venues for Universal this weekend. It had a venue average of $6,010 and an internal multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) of 2.56, which indicates that it was somewhat front-loaded as fans of the original series primarily came out to see it on its first day. This is also the kind of film that would be impacted by football, as both the NCAA and the NFL get into high gear this weekend and Riddick shares its demographic with that audience.
After Pitch Black opened to $11.6 million in February 2000, and went on to earn $53.2 million worldwide against a $23 million production budget, a fledgling franchise was born. Vin Diesel combined Pitch Black and the first Fast and Furious movie ($207 million worldwide, against a $38 million budget) into a movie career. He turned xXx into a $277 million worldwide hit (against a $70 million budget), and had his choice of films to make following these three films. Unfortunately, his next two films were Knockaround Guys and A Man Apart, a film that sat on the shelf for three years. Both films were panned badly by critics and were little seen by audiences, as they combined for approximately $38 million domestically.
Diesel then went back to the franchise that started it all for him, making The Chronicles of Riddick, a big expensive summer film, this time carrying a PG rating, instead of the R earned for Pitch Black. Universal spent over $100 million on Chronicles, and it failed, taking in only $24.3 million over opening weekend. Universal must have been unhappy with it prior to release, as they put it out to only 2,757 venues over opening weekend. The other openers that frame, Garfield and The Stepford Wives, both debuted with over 3,000 screens. Chronicles earned only $115 million worldwide, and many thought the franchise was doomed. Then, Chronicles showed up on DVD. It sold 1.5 million units on day one of release, and became a cult hit, with Universal releasing numerous versions and a popular video game. Riddick wasn’t done yet.
In 2006, Universal wanted Vin Diesel back for a cameo in Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, as they were looking to reboot the franchise and needed to bring his Dominic character back into the fold. Diesel wasn’t interested, but agreed to trade the rights for the character of Riddick for an unpaid cameo. Diesel, following an extremely successful return to the Fast & Furious franchise, independently produced this weekend’s Riddick, at a cost of only $38 million. Funds were raised through foreign pre-sales, and with additional help from Universal, which is oddly enough the studio that kneecapped the second film. Diesel and director David Twohy reverted back to the original R-rated horror/thriller style, and the move has worked. Given the opening weekend, this Riddick should earn $50 million stateside, so this will end as a profitable venture for all involved, and just may continue the franchise.