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Weekend Box Office: Paul Anderson Dominates With Resident Evil, and The Master Crushes in Record Limited Debut

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It was a very good weekend to be a director named Paul Anderson. Both W.S. and Thomas had a movie out this weekend and both did pretty well, one somewhat under-performing while the other arguably over-performing. The top film of the weekend was Sony's Resident Evil:Retribution, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, which earned a frankly disappointing $21 million. The series, based on a horror video game franchise, has been one of the more consistent genre franchises over the last decade (essay). The first film opened in March 2002 to $17 million, and it eventually grossed $40 million domestic and $102 million worldwide on a $33 million budget. Resident Evil: Apocalypse set the release template two years later, opening in early September 2004 to $23 million and grossing $51 million domestic and $129 million worldwide on a $45 million budget. Resident Evil: Extinction pulled the same trick in 2007, opening to $23 million and grossing $50 million domestic and $147 million worldwide on a $45 million budget. Two years ago, the $60 million-costing Resident Evil: Afterlife, which came with the added gimmick of being shot in 3D film, opened with $26 million. So this opening has to be a let-down, well below the series average even with 3D-upcharges factored in (the film played 48 percent 3D, 34 percent 2D, 14 percent IMAX, and 4 percent PLF). Adjusted for inflation, the first two sequel openings would be about $28 million apiece, with the original opening to just-under $25 million.

Demographically, the picture played 64 percent male and 45 percent under-25. The four prior films had weekend-to-final gross multipliers of about 2.2x. So Resident Evil Afterlife should finish with about $47 million, well below the series norm and just above the first film's gross ten years ago. Still, Resident Evil 5 cost $65 million to produce, and we all know what rabbit Sony is really chasing. The last film absolutely exploded overseas, earning a whopping $295 million worldwide. Even if the domestic numbers disappoint, anything approaching the last film's $236 million foreign haul is a major win, to the point where even a relative comedown ($173 million, or 73 percent of last film's international total) would still be a slam dunk. So I'm a bit baffled as to the low domestic opener (I'm not a fan of the Anderson-directed entries, but it's not like fans were outraged by Afterlife, ala Saw VI getting hammered due to the reception of Saw V), but Sony will be waiting for the international figures before they laugh or cry. Point being, any franchise that makes it to part IV is to be commended, as the video game-to-movie genre especially is littered with would-be franchises that never got past part I (Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros, Double Dragon, Doom), let alone part II (Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, the upcoming Silent Hill 2). Even if the film all-but tanks here and even a bit overseas (much less likely, it opened with $50 million overseas this weekend), expect Sony to spend another $65 million in two years on Resident Evil: Finale (the next chapter is allegedly the climax). It's the least the studio can do for a franchise whose fans have, until now, been quite loyal.

Coming in at second place was the 3D reissue of Disney/Pixar's Finding Nemo (trailer/essay). The film earned a perfectly decent $17.5 million. That's less than the $17.8 million Fri-Sun debut of Beauty and the Beast 3D (which opened over a four day weekend), more than the $12 million debut of 2009's Toy Story/Toy Story 2 double feature (which was two films for the price of one), and it lags behind the $30 million debut of The Lion King 3D which opened this weekend last year. Point being, while this certainly will make money (Disney spent $5 million on the 3D conversion) and it makes a fine advertisement for the upcoming Blu Ray release, this shows that The Lion King was a bit of a fluke and there is indeed a ceiling for Disney reissues of this nature. Finding Nemo is arguably the closest thing to being an iconic a title as The Lion King and I frankly was expecting it to match Simba's 2011 numbers. Again I won't call a $17.5 million debut for a nine-year-old reissue any kind of flop, but it just means that Disney shouldn't expect to see the kind of numbers that it saw last year pretty much ever again for this kind of thing. When you're basically printing free money you must not get greedy, so expect likely returns at or below this for Monsters Inc. 3D and The Little Mermaid 3D plus whatever comes out next. Point being, I can't think of a single Disney cartoon that has the iconic appeal of The Lion King or Finding Nemo, so I'd argue that the 3D reissue peaked last year, although overseas is always a less predictable situation.

Speaking of which, the real prize is moving up the global chart and the rerelease has already allowed it to surpass Ice Age 3 ($886 million) and eventually past the $900 million mark and beyond (it's at $890 million today). If it can add a relatively plausible $150 million worldwide, then it ends up passing the $1 billion mark and leaving every other cartoon save Toy Story 3 in the dust. It may, like Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, be "cheating", but them's the breaks. The only other somewhat wide release was The Last Ounce of Courage, a hardcore Tea Party propaganda drama that earned the first "Chuck Norris Seal of Approval" prior to release. It's released by Rocky Mountain Pictures, the same distributor that put out 2016: Obama's America (which just crossed $30 million). The picture earned $1.7 million on 1,407 screens, implying that it should have had a smaller platform roll-out to build word of mouth with the 'faithful'. Despite opening in The Master's shadow (more on that in the next paragraph), the Richard Gere drama Arbitrage debuted with $2 million on 197 screens, for a $10,000 per-screen average. That's a fine per-screen average for a somewhat wider limited release, and it's especially impressive when you account for the fact that the film is available on VOD platforms as well (I would have watched it last night, but my wife forced me to endure Halloween: Resurrection). This shows that VOD can become a viable release platform that doesn't completely gut the theatrical release, even if I'd argue that its success stories (Margin Call, Bachlerorette, etc.) are the king of films that would have been mainstream releases just five-to-ten years ago.

The major limited release story was the record-killing debut of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master , (review) which earned an eye-popping $730,000 from just five theaters. That's a per-screen average of $145,949. It's below my initial prediction of $1 billion per-screen, but it's impressive nonetheless. If you discount the $204,000 1-screen debut of Kevin Smith's Red State (which was part of a traveling road show and charged as much as $80 per ticket), then you've got a record per-screen debut for any live action film ever. If you don't then The Master settles for the number two such debut. This passes the four-theater $130,000 debut of The Moonrise Kingdom earlier this year and even the $126,000 three-screen debut of Dreamgirls back in 2006 where tickets were $25 a pop over the first week (it was made to feel like a Broadway premiere, with programs and swag; a four-star presentation of a three-star movie). In terms of all per-screen averages, its final figure will put it somewhere above or below Brother Bear's $146,000 debut in two theaters back in 2003 and the $162,000 per-screen debut of Atlantis: The Lost Empire back in 2001. If you recall, Disney used to release their animated films in uber-limited and uber-pricey platform release a weekend or two before they went wide and much of the top twenty per-screen averages are littered with just fare (in 1994, The Lion King earned $793,377 per-screen in two theaters). They tried this again with The Princess and the Frog three years ago, which backfired when most of the press covered its Thanksgiving weekend limited debut but had moved on to Avatar two weeks later when the Disney toon went wide.

Back to The Master, this film is basically The Avengers for art-house geeks. Having had to miss the press screenings, I was at the Landmark on Friday night and the mood was akin to a midnight showing of a Star Wars prequel. I frankly haven't seen this kind of frenzied anticipation in the lobby for a non-fantasy/comic book sequel since Fahrenheit 9/11 back in June 2004 and it certainly added to my enjoyment. Whether or not it will play beyond the film geeks is a pretty big question, as it's certainly not what anyone would call a mainstream film. It's a fine and often enthralling motion picture and I think the Weinstein Company is taking a real risk releasing it wide so far from the actual year-end awards season, but we'll know next weekend when it goes wide (good on them for taking that risk and going big, by the way). I'm sure the Scientology link will give the picture plenty of free press even as anyone who has seen the picture knows it's only loosely related to the religion (it's a springboard for telling a character piece). The picture will likely snag Oscar nominations down the line (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, etc.), and Joaquin Phoenix falls into the same trap he did back in 2005, becoming the *first* front runner for Best Actor (for Walk the Line) instead of the *last* front runner (followed by Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain and than ironically Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote). The only thing that can really damage it at this point is if it out-and-out dies in wide release while something like Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (whose overly sincere trailer didn't go over well at all with our audience) comes on like gangbusters. As for box office, the consensus that you "must see it at least twice!" won't hurt either when it comes to the hardcore film crowd.

There's not much holdover news, so we're getting through it quickly. Raiders of the Lost Ark IMAX continued its solid limited run, including a full-series marathon on Saturday at certain AMC theaters. It pulled in another $400,000 for a $12,000 per-screen average. The Possession passed the $41 million gross of The Last Exorcism while Lawless crossed $30 million. ParaNorman will pass $50 million in the next day or two and may just crawl to $60 million, although $55 million is more plausible for the dynamite cartoon. The Campaign has passed $80 million, with about $82 million in the till as it works its way to surpass the $88 million gross of Anchorman, and Hope Springs is at $60 million. The Expendables 2 has crossed $80 million, and while $90 million will be a challenge it is on track to surpass the original ($171 million) overseas (part II has $158 million and counting). The Words has $9 million after ten days and Premium Rush has $18 million after three weekends, for whatever that's worth. Brave slowly but surely has found its overseas legs, ending the weekend with $499 million worldwide and it will pass $500 million tomorrow. Ted passed the $400 million mark worldwide this weekend, with seventeen territories yet to open. Oh, and since opening in China, The Amazing Spider-Man has indeed passed $700 million, although its current total of $743 million is well below the $783 million haul of Spider-Man 2 eight years ago. Finally, Robot & Frank has crossed $2 million. Why am I talking about a month-old indie release that has barely broken out? Because it and ParaNorman are the best films I've seen in theaters in two months. So if you're looking for a terrifically moving and genuinely original little picture, I cannot recommend this Frank Langella vehicle highly enough.

That's it for this weekend. Join us next time for four (!) new wide releases, plus the expansion of The Master. It'll be Dredd vs. End of Watch vs. Trouble With the Curve vs. The House at the End of the Street. Until then, keep the proverbial faith.