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Weekend Box Office: Four New Releases Cannibalize Each Other as The Master Whiffs in Wide Release and The Perks of Being a Wallflower Explodes

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As always, for background and historical context for all the weekend's new movies, check out John Gosling's obscenely detailed weekend preview HERE.

It wasn't so much a "something for everyone" weekend as it was "multiple things for the same general audience," as four wide releases aimed at thrill-hungry moviegoers and/or adults debuted on the same day, creating a clear case of mutually assured destruction.  The top three movies are basically tied, but as always, rank is irrelevant next to the actual hard numbers (why rank doesn't matter).  For the moment, the top debut of the weekend may be End of Watch, a "found footage"-style LA cop drama, parlayed strong reviews into a solid $13 million opening, which is the second-biggest debut for Open Roads outside of The Grey ($20 million) back in January.  The $7 million film (purchased for $2 million) had a marketing and distribution cost of around $20 million, so even a $40 million final total will get this film in the black before home video.  It also proves that Jake Gyllenhaal  is a decent mid-range opener.  He's useful when the film you're selling doesn't cost $200 million ala Prince of Persia.  End of Watch is yet another installment in writer David Ayers' "two volatile men in a car" sub-genre, which includes the likes of The Fast and the FuriousTraining Day and Harsh Times (an underrated Christian Bale vehicle that he also directed).  He wrote but did not direct the the LA Riots-set cop melodrama Dark Blue while directing but not writing the frankly mediocre Keanu Reeves cop melodrama Street Kings.  Among films he directed, End of Watch should easily top the $26 million gross of Street Kings while it will be fifth (out of seven) if it can merely surpass the $9 million gross of Kurt Russell's Dark Blue. Fourth place is the $76 million-grossing Training Day, which is too far a bridge to cross at this point.

In a somewhat surprising turn, considering it felt like a dump, Open Road's The House at the End of the Street may also be the top film of the weekend, earning a halfway decent $13 million, which means the Jennifer Lawrence thriller (filmed a couple of years ago and held back arguably until Lawrence's profile was high enough) has earned back its $10 million budget.  The film may be terrible (there was a single press screening right before opening day), but cheap horror is one of the more reliable standbys in the industry and no harm in Relativity for exploiting it (they purchased the film for just $2.5 million).  Considering the film looked like crap on rye, it does give ammunition to the idea that Jennifer Lawrence may soon be an "open by yourself" movie star coming off The Hunger Games.  Her next film, the David O'Russell drama The Silver Linings Playbook will tell more (and possibly net her another Oscar nomination.  Still, the opening could very well merely be the $10 to $15 million that seems to attends PG-13 horror out of habit, although films like The Apparition proves that's not an automatic win.  Point being, the core audience for this kind of thing doesn't care about reviews or bad buzz, they just wanted to see the same thing these movies always offer: an attractive girl/young woman in seemingly supernatural peril from malevolent forces unrelieved in the trailers.  The film played 61 percent female and 70 percent under-25, meaning that this was pretty big with the stereotypical teen girl horror demo.
Clint Eastwood's Trouble With the Curve opened with $12.7 million, although it, too, may be the weekend's top film when finals are released.  As the first film has acted in since 2008's Gran Torino and the first Eastwood film that he did not direct since In the Line of Fire back in 1993, the baseball-centered father/daughter drama actually ranks up in the upper rankings of Clint Eastwood vehicles in terms of opening weekends (it's actually his sixth-best opening as an actor).  Gran Torino, which opened to a stunning $30 million in early 2009 (after an Oscar-qualifying platform release), is an anomaly as Eastwood's next biggest opening is Space Cowboys.  That "old dudes go into space" epic opened with $18 million back in 2000 before ending with $90 million.  Eastwood's films are hit-or-miss in terms of legs.  It could go somewhat leggy and end up with $50 million a la Absolute Power in 1996 or it could perform like many of director Eastwood's less-than-break-out films (think The Changeling or J. Edgar) and top out around between $32 million and $37 million.  It all depends on A) how much of an effect Eastwood's speech to an empty chair at the RNC Convention had on his fan base (minimal, I'd presume) and whether or not the older-skewing moviegoers who generally don't rush out to the movies right away sample this one as opposed to the likes of Taken 2 in the coming weeks.
The last new wide release was Lionsgate's Dredd, which was frankly dead-on-arrival with just $6.3 million.  It will not be the No. 1 film of the weekend.  The hardcore geek set may say it's superior to the Sylvester Stallone version of the same comic book (which opened with $12 million in June 1995), but no one else cared about the film at all.  This is frankly a classic case of online interest not translating into mainstream interest.  The Karl Urban-starrer had no high-profile cast members to lure general moviegoers into the futuristic 3D variation on The Raid: Redemption (the films accidentally share a very similar story).  Lionsgate, which acquired the $50 million-budgeted film from Reliance Entertainment and is only on the hook for marketing and distribution, sold this one almost exclusively to the committed faithful, which led to a predictably disastrous debut.  The film played 75 percent male and 60 percent under-25.  Of all the films opening this weekend, this is the one that would have benefited from opening mostly unopposed on September 4th after Warner Bros. moved The Gangster Squad into January 2013 (essay).  Why Lionsgate instead chose to dump The Cold Light of Day into 1,500 theaters with no marketing support instead of transplanting this far more important investment I cannot say, but it was a costly error on their part.  The general moviegoer crowd who wanted an R-rated action fix, especially couples, found it with End of Watch instead, as a star-driven cop drama is a much easier sell to a general audience member than a 3D sci-fi action comp based on a British comic book they've probably never heard of. Even surprisingly good reviews didn't matter.  Oh well, judgment is indeed served.
There was one major expansion and one big story in limited release.  First, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (review) expanded to 788 screens and didn't exactly set the world on fire.  It's second weekend of play brought in $5 million, giving the film $6 million so far.  It's above the $4.8 million expansion (on 885 screens) of There Will Be Blood.  The Daniel Day Lewis vehicle was in its fifth weekend of release but also had Oscar nominations to boast about.  Come what may, The Master was never going to be a mainstream hit and anything near or above $26 million gross of Boogie Nights (Anderson's second biggest grosser behind the $40 million finish of There Will be Blood) should be considered a win, especially if it can maintain awards momentum as the rest of the Oscar bait rolls into theaters over the next three months.  The big limited-release story was the eye-popping debut of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Based on an allegedly beloved novel by Stephen Chbosky (who wrote and directed his own film adaptation) about teenagers finding themselves in high school, Summit debuted the film on four screens and snagged an astonishing $61,000 per screen.  The film was relatively well reviewed and had the added bonus of being Emma Watson's first major role after the end of the Harry Potter series.  Anecdotal evidence (for what it's worth, I do get "on the ground reports" from time to time) informs me that this thing was sold out in the evening for much of the weekend, with a rather large middle-school audience treating this as their The Master.  This is the fourth-biggest per-screen average of the year and Summit's biggest ever.  It played 70 percent female and 60 percent under-25. Obviously a massive per-screen debut for a limited release doesn't always guarantee equally mainstream success, but expect Summit to expand this one much faster than they perhaps intended to.

For holdover news, read the rest of this article at Mendelson's Memos.