As expected, the heavily-hyped Battle: Los Angeles (teaser/review) topped the box office this weekend, grossing an estimated $35.7 million. If that number holds, it will be the twelfth-biggest March opening in history, and a rock-solid start for a would-be tentpole that cost (depending on who you asked) $70 or $100 million. There was talk that the picture would break out and perhaps reach $50-60 million, but that was frankly silly. We've been spoiled the last few years, with massive March openings like 300 ($70 million), Watchmen ($55 million), and the astonishingly-huge Alice in Wonderland ($116 million). But generally speaking, March releases that aren't animated don't reach $35 million. We didn't have a single live-action $35 million opener in March until 2005 (The Ring Two), and there have been only five others since then prior to this weekend (the three above examples, plus Wild Hogs at $39 million, 10,000 BC at $35 million), so getting anywhere close to $40 million in the third month of the year has to be considered a win, especially without any kind of 3D or IMAX advantage.
The critically-savaged film (which was as much a case of critics expecting another Independence Day) scored a B from Cinemascore, with an A- from under-25 audiences and an A from males under-18. It remains to be seen if real-life disaster in Japan effected the film's weekend take in any way, pro or con. You could argue that some audiences were at home watching non-fiction devastation instead of paying to see CGI-destruction, or you could argue that audiences responded to the 'comforting escape' that the unlikely (aliens from another world attack!) scenario provided. Regardless, and sometimes its just a great trailer, the film counts as the fourth-consecutive number-one opening for Sony this year, although its likely that they won't have another number one opening this year until The Smurfs in early-August (Priest won't top the second weekend of Thor or the opening of Bridesmaids, and Bad Teacher looks fun but it won't top Green Lantern).
The next big opener was Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood (trailer/review), which pulled in just $14 million. The Amanda Seyfried vehicle was expected to reach $20 million, but Warner wasn't expecting the senselessly-negative reviews. Again, the film is no masterpiece, but most of the most vicious pans seemed dead-set on the idea that the film was ripping off Twilight (false - it's ripping off Sleepy Hollow), while condemning the film for highlighting a lover's triangle above a werewolf's rampage (also false - the romantic subplot is just that, and its dealt with in a mature and timely fashion). Point being, the sheer venom directed at the sloppy-but-fun picture gives credence to Lisa Cholodenko's assertion that female-driven stories aren't taken as seriously or considered as worthwhile as male-driven stories. Whatever the case, the teen girl demographic didn't show up, which caused the softer-than-expected opening. On the plus side, the film only cost $40 million, a number it may reach barring complete collapse next weekend, with the Warner Bros international marketing might to save the day overseas.
The last major opener was an unqualified disaster. Disney's $150 million animated motion-capture fable Mars Needs Moms opened with just $6.9 million. It is the lowest-opened for any Disney animated film since the $5.9 million opening of Valiant back in August 2005. But this was no cast-off/second-rate pick up project. This was supposed to be Disney's major entry in the first half of the year, and it will likely end up losing money on a Pluto Nash/Cutthroat Island level. I honestly can't remember the last time a major Disney cartoon opened to so little, but it may indeed be the $3.4 million opening of The Rescuers Down Under back in 1990. Still, Disney followed up that costly miss with Beauty and the Beast, and now Disney will follow up this catastrophe with the sure-to-be-huge Cars 2 (teaser/trailers) in June.
But while The Rescuers Down Under still brought about the breakthrough use of computer animation, the collapse of Mars Needs Moms will likely mean the end of Robert Zemeckis's groundbreaking motion-capture technology (he only produced this one). Disney closed Image Movers Digital after screening this critically-panned cartoon, and it's unlikely that any other studio will fund the uber-expensive 3D animation when they can just do cheapo-conversions and charge the same ticket surcharge. It's a damn shame, as Zemeckis was doing genuinely groundbreaking work and all anyone would talk about is 'how scary it looked'. My three-year didn't think it looked scary in the ads, and she's in her scaredy-cat phase. For better or worse, the reemergence of 3D would not exist without the astonishingly eye-popping The Polar Express back in 2004, and Beowulf remains a stunningly good piece of adult action/horror that should have been devoured by those who complain about kid-centric animated films.. Still, the film itself was handicapped by an unclear premise (were the Martians malevolent?) and brutal reviews that pointed out the film's allegedly retrograde gender politics. On the plus side, perhaps Robert Zemeckis will actually make another live-action film again, something he hasn't done since the one-two punch of What Lies Beneath and Cast Away back in 2000.
The main action in limited-release was the dynamite $45,721 per-screen average for Jane Eyre. The acclaimed literary adaptation (which stars Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Sally Hawkins) opened on four screens and the terrific opening assures that it will expand in the coming weeks. Also scoring in limited release was the star-studded (Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Paul Sorvino, Linda Cardellini, and Vinnie Jones), gangster drama Kill The Irishman, which grossed $29,086 per each of its five screens. In holdover land, the good news was the solid hold for Rango (review), which weathered mediocre audience polling to score another $22 million. The 40% drop is a little high for animation, but the best film of 2011 thus-far has still amassed $68.2 million in ten-days and seems to be catching on amongst discriminating kids and adults, as well as lovers of westerns and/or film history. The Adjustment Bureau (guest review) dropped about 45% in its second weekend, taking in $11.5 million and ending day-ten with $38.5 million. It's a mediocre hold, and a sign that the film will just barely get to the $62 million that Universal paid for it. The film has already equaled that number worldwide, so this should still be a solid win for the studio. Hall Pass is at $34.8 million at the end of weekend three, while Beastly sits at $16.9 million after weekend two and will struggle to reach $25 million.
And that is indeed it for this weekend. Join us for another crowded session, when two adult, star-driven thrillers The Lincoln Lawyer (with Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, and William H. Macy) and Limitless (with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro) inexplicably fight for the same audience, while Greg Motala's Paul goes for the sci-fi geek crowd.