Cowboys and Aliens opened with about $36.2 million this weekend, mostly on the strength of men over 25. Sci-fi westerns are a tricky business, as (somewhat stereo typically speaking perhaps) western fans don't like sci-fi while science-fiction geeks aren't fans of the classic westerns. Of course, neither Wild, Wild West or Jonah Hex were very good, and Cowboys and Aliens received some shockingly poor reviews. The film received a weak reception from its world premiere at Comic Con last weekend, something that the many powerful people behind the film (director Favreau, producers Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, etc) were not expecting. Since the film was targeting older audiences as much as the stereotypical geeks, the reviews did matter in this case. The film has a Cinemascore grade of a B+, which is a little low for such apparently mainstream entertainment.
As far as long term marketing, it was a clear case of not quitting while you're ahead (see past perpetrators of this crime). I loved the teaser from last November, but was less and less impressed with each new trailer. More importantly, the several additional trailers were basically the same footage re-cut. It's nice that Universal didn't blatantly spoil the whole film in the ad campaign, but using nearly identical footage cut up slightly differently for six months gave the impression that the bag was empty. Universal should have just gone with the terrific teaser and kept a certain amount of 'mystery'. This is alas, another apparent miss for Universal, all the more unfortunate in that it was an 'original' property (it was based on a very cultish comic book). Results like this are why Universal passed on The Dark Tower and In the Mountains of Madness (not that I disagree with those calls). When Universal whiffs on one ambitious original property after another and (presumably) scores a hit next summer with Battleship (hilarious teaser HERE), what lessons can we expect them to take?
We pundits and critics of course decry this kind of film as the epitome of what's wrong with mainstream Hollywood. But while that may be true, it's also a reminder that many moviegoers don't treat cinema as a hobby or a profession or a passion, merely as a diversion (the film pulled an A- from Cinemascore, with an A from those under-18). 65% of the audience was kids with their parents. 65% of that audience were families with kids under 12, with 2/3 of the overall audience being female (IE - dad stayed home). I'm may be taking my kid to see this one this week because she wants to see it, plain and simple. And while it may be terrible, if she laughs, I'll survive. The Miyazaki marathons can come when she's a little older. But this does prove the value of 3D. Point being, this tie-game wouldn't even be a contest without the 3D variable. In 3D, Cowboys and Aliens would have grossed about $42 million. In just 2D, The Smurfs would have grossed about $30 million. Come what may, 3D is not going anywhere.
The other major opener was Crazy, Stupid Love which rode a great trailer and decent reviews to a fine $19.2 million debut. That's actually a bit under the various R-rated comedy openings this summer, but the film was clearly playing to older audiences, the ones who didn't quite show up as expected for Larry Crowne. The all-star romantic comedy (Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Kevin Bacon, Marissa Tomei, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, etc) was primarily advertised by Warner Bros using a series of snapshot posters, taking scenes from the film and labeling them (IE - "This is Crazy", "This is Love", etc). Even if the older audience doesn't give the film exceptional legs, this picture cost just $45 million so long-term profitability is all-but assured. I'll probably see the film tomorrow, as it's the featured 'bring your baby to the movies' pick at Pacific Theaters.
For more box office info, including a major milestone for Harry Potter and the solid debut of a critically-acclaimed alien invasion import from Britain, read PART II of this weekend's box office in review.