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Weekend Box Office: The Help Tops in Second Weekend, Crushes Four New Releases. Summer of 3D Ends With Three 3D Flops.

Posted: 08/21/11 03:20 PM ET

As expected, the summer reached its climax this weekend with an ugly pileup, as four new releases failed to achieve anything resembling success, with three of those releases being in 3D and two of them chasing the exact same demographics.  Why oh why did Lionsgate and Disney open Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night on the same weekend?  With the new releases eating each other alive, The Help snuck into the number one slot during its second weekend.  Dropping just 21 percent compared to the Fri-Sun portion of its opening weekend, The Help earned $20.4 million and now sits with a 12-day total of $71.8 million.  This is the very definition of an old-fashioned leggy hit, but in today's front-loaded marketplace, it almost qualifies as a sensation.  $100 million is guaranteed at this point, the question now merely remains how far over/under $150 million it ends up and/or how much the film will factor in the year-end awards races.  Viola Davis is a lock for an Oscar nomination (but will her lead performance get placed in the leading or supporting category) and the film is in a pretty good place for a Best Picture nomination.  It would be a lock under the old 10-nominees system, and said two-year experiment was dismantled partially out of the desire to keep such 'popular entertainments' (i.e. -- well-reviewed films that mainstream audiences actually enjoyed... horrors!) out of the field.

Coming in at second place was not any of the new releases, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  The (again) well-reviewed and well-liked franchise reboot pulled in another $16.3 million in its third weekend.  It sits with $133 million after 17 days.  Again, back in the old days, this would have been just a regular old-fashioned hit film.  But in today's insanely front-loaded marketplace, the film qualifies as a leggy winner.  It's respective 17-day total puts it just under Thor ($145 million) and Captain America ($143 million), both of which were in 3D and both of which cost about 50% more than the Fox franchise reboot.  Its $134 million total after three weekends exceeds X-Men: First Class ($120 million), I, Robot ($115 million), and GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra ($120 million).  And it's quickly catching up to Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, which had earned $148 million by this point in time.  So yes, we'll probably be seeing another one of these in 2-3 years (Passion of the Planet of the Apes, perhaps?).
Now we get into the new releases, and it is ugly. The top opener was Spy Kids 4D: All the Time in the World.  It pulled in just $12 million, which was far below the previous openings of the first three films in the series ($26 million, $16 million, and $33 million respectively).  Ironically, the last one, Spy Kids 3D: Game-Over was the first mainstream 3D feature in ages back in 2003, and the last to use the traditional red-blue technique.  The third Rodriguez Spy Kids entry used its 3D as a major selling point to open with a series-high $33 million to cap off summer 2003 (I don't recall any ticket up-charges either, natch).  Eight years later, it was just another 3D movie, with only token appearances from the star-filled original cast. Jessica Alba may be a gorgeous woman and a seemingly good person, but she is not a box office opener.  The gee-whiz appeal of the first film from 2001 (a family-friendly adventure picture that looks more expensive than it was) is long past the expiration date, and the lousy reviews didn't help.  Like the previous adventures, Robert Rodriguez brought this one in cheap, at just $30 million this time around.  So this is more of a 'won't make money' versus 'will lose a bunch of money.  Should the franchise continue, it will likely be straight-to-DVD from here on out.

The next 'biggest' opener was Lionsgate's $90 million Conan the Barbarian revamp.  This was clearly a case of trying to reboot a franchise for which there was little audience appetite, as the 3D-converted and critically slammed (obviously) R-rated gorefest earned just $10 million.  To put that in sad perspective, the original Conan the Barbarian opened with $9.6 million back in 1982 (that's about $26 million adjusted for inflation).  The marketing this time around lacked the cachet of casting a well-known champion bodybuilder with a strange accent and un-spellable last name.  While the new film may in fact be as much a 'Conan the Barbarian' movie as can be expected (I have not yet seen the new movie nor have I read the original stories), most of the audience for this kind of thing are just the sort of young boys who were turned away by the film's R-rating.  Those currently prepping reboots of The Crow and other such properties should take heed this weekend.  Even if you argue that there was room to try again with Conan the Barbarian, this should not have been a $90 million investment, especially from a studio that has only ever had one $40 million opening weekend (Madea Goes to Jail) and one other $30 million opening for a non-sequel (The Expendables).

And the next contender in the needless and unwanted remake/revamp category goes to Disney/Dreamworks halfhearted Fright Night remake, which grossed just $8.3 million this weekend.  Featuring the absolute worst 3D work in recent history (much of the very dark and muddy-blue/gray film is genuinely painful to watch), this may be a case where 3D actually hurt the film's box office.  While the bigger releases made sure to schedule enough 2D showings to allow for consumer choice, the influx of 3D product this weekend and the smaller nature of said release made 2D Fright Night screenings harder to come by.  Despite (inaccurate) positive reviews, the film was of little appeal to moviegoers who had little knowledge of the original 1985 horror comedy and found the film's marketing remarkably similar to Disturbia (a much better film, by the way)The good news is that Disney/Dreamworks only spent $30 million on this one, so the bleeding will be minimal.  The bad news is that this is the second high-profile genre whiff (after I Am Number Four) from Dreamworks' new deal with Disney.  If I were Marvel Studios, I'd be very nervous right now.  Yes, The Help is an unqualified winner, but that's not exactly the same kind of marketing campaign that propels The Avengers to a massive opening weekend next year. If Real Steel tanks in October, expect Marvel to try to find someway (somehow...) to get Paramount re-involved in the marketing campaigns for future Marvel films.

Last but not quite least is the $5.1 million debut of the Anne Hathaway/Jim Sturges romantic drama One Day.  I'm sure we'll see headlines everywhere screaming "Anne Hathaway FLOPS!", but don't be that idiot.  The film opened on just 1,600 screens and likely lost out on the bigger auditoriums to the franchise pictures.  It also received brutally bad reviews (most of which picked on Hathaway's accent), while targeting audience demographics (older audiences and women) who actually read and care about reviews.  Still, pure romantic dramas without some kind of genre trappings are notoriously hard sells, as there has been just one (Dear John) that opened above $30 million and only one other (Indecent Proposal) to open even above $18 million. The film cost $15 million so it will eventually break even.  Hathaway has yet to prove herself a 'by myself opener', but her next film (some superhero movie shooting in Pittsburgh) should probably do quite a bit better.

For news on holdovers, including which alleged flop actually earned back its budget, plus a look at the final weekend of summer 2011, read the rest of this article at Mendelson's Memos.

 

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