Despite my offhand comments last week about summer being over, two new openers delivered better-than-expected results as summer officially came to a close. It was a tight race for first place this weekend, as Lionsgate's The Last Exorcism took the runner-up spot with $20.3 million. The fake exorcism documentary was a bit frontloaded (2.1x weekend multiplier) and received a 'D' from CinemaScore. However, that audience distaste was more a result of fraudulent marketing, as the socially relevant, relatively realistic and gore-less fauxomentary was sold as a thrill-a-minute horror film from the mind of Eli Roth and a religious thriller in the vein of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. In other words, audiences hated it for the same reasons that critics generally enjoyed it (it's at 71% on Rotten Tomatoes), it's just that critics hadn't felt that they had been sold a bill of goods.
Ironically, while he was only a producer on this one, it opened bigger than any of the three films (Cabin Fever, Hostel, and Hostel II) that Eli Roth himself directed. The film posted the 15th-biggest opening in Lionsgate history, their seventeenth $20 million+ debut, and their fifth-biggest opening not involving a Saw sequel or a Tyler Perry epic. Regardless of longterm business, Lionsgate allegedly picked this up for $1 million, so this is their second major win in a month after The Expendables (at $82 million, the Sly Stallone epic is now their fourth-highest grossing film). I'm glad to see that Lionsgate is getting their mojo back, partially by returning to their roots a bit. Their 2-year quest for 'respectability' has not been kind to them. At the end of the day, Lionsgate theatrical puts out trashy action pictures, high-end horror fare, and the Tyler Perry melodramas. It's what they are known for and what they are good at marketing. Let their DVD branch put out the prestige stuff (Winter's Bone, Away From Her, Agora, This September Issue, Stoning of Soraya M., etc) via Village Roadshow and New Market.
Somewhat surprisingly, first place went to the Screen Gems cheapie Takers. Despite a delayed release date and some of the worst photo-shopping I've ever seen on a poster, the riff on Michael Mann's Heat opened to $20.5 million. Produced for around $20 million, the film has a B-star cast (Idris Elba, Hayden Christensen, Matt Dillon, Chris Brown, Jay Hernandez, Zoe Zaldana, and Paul Walker), and a solid trailer. Pardon the broken record, but there is a distinct lack of B-movie genre fare like this, and if you can keep the costs in line, you can usually make money on an old-fashioned action picture. It looked more big-scale than Armored and less comic book-flashy than The Losers (which theoretically turned off older audiences), thus you get a good opening off of Takers where as audiences generally ignored Armored and The Losers. For a shock, check out the cast lists for those three caper pictures, as Idris Elba, Zoe Zaldana, Matt Dillon, and Columbus Short were all in two of those three respective heist pictures.
This article continues, with a look at limited releases, holdovers, and the re-release of the most successful film of all time, at Mendelson's Memos.