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HuffPost Weekend Box Office in Review: Green Hornet Dominates MLK Holiday

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As I wrote yesterday, expectations are a funny thing. For months, if not a year, The Green Hornet (review) was pegged as a costly sure-fire flop. Plagued by alleged reshoots, a date change from December 2010 to January 2011, and a seemingly desperate quick-conversion to 3D. But the film started screening for the geek crowd to mostly positive responses, and the buzz started building. The tracking estimated around $40 million for the four-day opening weekend. Yet when the film opened on Friday to $11.1 million, the pundits shouted 'disappointment!', 'failure!', and/or 'under-performer!' for daring to actually meet but not exceed expectations. So yes, the Michael Gondry superhero action-comedy The Green Hornet debuted at number one over the long Martin Luther King day holiday, with $34 million over three days and a projected $40 million for the four-day weekend. In my book, meeting positive expectations puts you in the 'win' column.

The film scored a B+ from Cinemscore, played about 61% male and about 50/50 between genders. Whatever comes from here on out, the film is a winner for at least its first four days. The film cost way too much (anywhere from $110 million to $150 million, depending on who you ask), so merely scoring on opening weekend won't be enough to make the film profitable without strong overseas dollars. But the market is pretty bare for around a month, with no hardcore geek projects until Drive Angry on February 25th, and no general audience action-adventure pictures until I Am Number Four on February 18th. The film took the third-biggest three-day opening weekend in January history, behind Star Wars: Special Edition ($36 million) and Cloverfield ($40 million).
Granted, getting to $100 million in January is mighty tough if you're not Oscar bait, this opening is a result is lots of money and work at Sony, working overtime to stem the impression of failure with word-of-mouth screenings and rock-solid marketing materials. For all the hub-bub about the power of Twitter, Facebook, and the like, sometimes all it takes is a terrific trailer. While the release date was actually forced upon them by Warner Bros (Sony wanted to open in March, but Warner didn't want it opening so close to the June 17th opening of Green Lantern), it may have worked in their favor. Green Hornet is now the only real big game in town, a large fish in a very small pond. Legs are an open question, as 3D films sometimes benefit from keeping larger venues for longer periods of time (the film played 69% 3D over the weekend), and it was a much better movie than pretty much anyone was expecting. Again, expectations are a funny thing. An allegedly bad film that turns out to be good is much more potent than an allegedly great film that turns out to be merely good.
The other main opener of the weekend was The Dilemma, which was a genuine underperformer at $17.8 million for three days and $21.1 million for four days. This opened pales in comparison to the $30 million+ openings posted by Vince Vaughn (The Wedding Crashers, The Break Up, Four Christmases) and Kevin James (Hitch, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, I Love You Chuck and Larry). But, this is not a case of fading star power so much as a case of popular stars appearing in a genuinely unappealing film. I've often said that pure star power is about how much you can open with when the film itself doesn't look all that worth seeing, and this is certainly an example. The film scored early controversy last year over Vaughn's casual use of the word 'gay' as a non-sexual negative slur, and the film itself seemed almost programmed to turn off would-be viewers. Kevin James has scored his biggest success as a family film star, but the PG-13 film felt R-rated and was about that oh-so-young skewing subject that is marital infidelity.

Of course, wives cheating on their husbands isn't exactly the prime subject for romantic comedies for casual movie-going adults either. Point being, it was an unappealing film about an unappealing subject. The film basically advertised that Jenifer Connelly and Winona Ryder were basically token window dressing, standing around looking pretty while their male counterparts got all the laughs. The film also had to sell the unlikely notion that Kevin James would be married to Winona Ryder and a not-in-his-best shape Vince Vaughn would be dating Jennifer Connelly. So there were many strikes against this one, the biggest being that this romantic comedy cost $70 million, which means that it need more than $20 million over the first four days to guarantee profitability. Next weekend sees direct competition with the heavily-gossiped No Strings Attached, which stars Ashton Kutcher and likely Oscar winner Natalie Portman. For the record, this isn't some kind of judgment on adult-skewing romantic comedies. It was a bad looking film that had poor marketing and was apparently not well-liked by those who did bother to check it out. As I say quite often, it's the movie, stupid.

There isn't too much else to report this weekend. The main Oscar contenders remained strong as they headed into the Golden Globes weekend. True Grit (-23%) is at $128.3 million as of Monday, making it the second-biggest grossing western in history behind Dances With Wolves ($184 million). The King's Speech (starring Golden Globe winner and Oscar front-runner Colin Firth) is expanding quite well, as the film added 785 screens and grossed $9 million for the three-day weekend and $11.2 million in four days. It has grossed $46 million with lots to go as the award season rolls on. Black Swan (review) added 744 screens and grossed another $8.1 million over three days and $10.4 million over four days (+0.1%), giving it a new total of $75 million (for perspective, all of Darren Aronofsky's previous films have grossed $43 million combined). And the film passed the $70 million total of V For Vendetta to become Golden Globe winner (and Oscar front-runner) Natalie Portman's second-biggest-grossing non-Star Wars film ever (she has a cameo in Cold Mountain, which grossed $95 million).
The Fighter (review) dropped 26%, but the film went wider earlier and has already started to shed screens. Still, the $25 million boxing drama will get a boost from the Oscar nominations (and likely Oscar wins for Golden Globe winners Christian Bale and/or Melissa Leo). It has already grossed $66.8 million, making it the seventh-biggest boxing drama ever, and the second-largest gross (behind the $100 million gross for Million Dollar Baby) for a boxing drama that doesn't involve Rocky Balboa. Amongst sports dramas, it's in thirteenth place. Amongst non-Oscar holdovers, Season of the Witch dropped an expected 57% over the Fri-Sun portion of the weekend, for a ten-day total of $18.8 million, which isn't bad considering the factors at play (upstart distributor, terrible reviews, mangled marketing, etc). Country Strong dropped 49% over the three-day portion of the weekend, giving the $15 million country music melodrama $14 million in eleven days of wide release. It's no smash hit, but it will make its money back. My mistake, Gwyneth Paltrow is apparently a 'bitch' who needs to be taken down a peg, so let's just call it a 'flop' anyway.

Tron: Legacy (review) dropped 43%, which isn't too bad considering it lost its IMAX screens to The Green Hornet. The film now sits with $158 million domestic and $325 million worldwide on a $170 million+ $100 million or more in marketing. If this were a female-driven franchise (The Golden Compass, Sex and the City, etc) with a similar cost/gross margin, it would be considered a flop. Hell, Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (trailer) is already at $355 million worldwide on a $145 million production cost, but getting a fourth film in that franchise is considered quite unlikely. But since Tron: Legacy is about boys, cool cars, hot chicks, and lasers, and the toys are selling well, it's getting a sequel. Speaking of toy sales causing a sequel, Cars 2 comes out on June 24th.

And speaking of female-driven franchises, Tangled crossed the $180 million mark and is nearing $400 million worldwide. We'll see if Disney makes good on their threat to never make another fairy tale movie ever again. Little Fockers now sits with $135 million, meaning it will likely fall short of the $166 million grossed by Meet the Parents over ten years ago. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I crossed the $290 million mark, meaning it needs only a couple million to make it the third-biggest domestic grosser of the series. Finally Blue Valentine is holding strong, as the $1 million drama has already grossed $3.1 million. If Michelle Williams and/or Ryan Gosling get Oscar nominations, then this uber dark and very adult romantic drama could see the $10 million mark by Oscar night.

That's it for this weekend. Join us next weekend when Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher struggle to keep their friendship intact after they start having casual sex (we should all have such problems) in No Strings Attached, and Peter Weir's The Way Back finally goes into wide-release. In limited release, Weinstein Company finally debuts the critically-acclaimed The Company Men, a recession-era drama starring Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, and Kevin Costner. It's apparently quite good, but was pushed back to avoid the Oscar stampede.

Scott Mendelson