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Scott Mendelson

Scott Mendelson

Posted: March 21, 2010 01:53 PM

There was a multitude of new wide and limited releases this weekend, but the top of the box office remained the same, if only for one more weekend. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland again claimed the top spot, grossing $34.1 million with a somewhat reasonable 45% drop. That's the sixth-biggest third weekend of all-time. It's also Disney's first three-peat since Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest back in July 2006. Faced with genuine demo competition (see spots two and three below), the 3D fable still held its ground. In just seventeen days, Tim Burton has a new top domestic grosser, as Alice in Wonderland ends today with $265.4 million, putting it $14 million over the $251.2 million gross of the original Batman. Yes, inflation and 3D ticket prices can be taken into account, but that's a personal best record that has held for nearly twenty-two years. How ironic that in the days that Disney is panicking over the relative box office disappointment of The Princess and the Frog by attempting to man-up its future cartoons, that we have a female-driven, genuinely feminist adventure film that will likely out-gross every Disney cartoon ever made save for (possibly) The Lion King and Finding Nemo. Yes, the film was sold as a Johnny Depp vehicle and emphasized action and adventure (not that those are male-only domains), but that only explains the opening weekend. Right or wrong, the film's female-empowerment angle is clearly appealing to the wide swath of moviegoers.

At this point, whether it gets to $300 million or $350 million and above is purely based on whether it can withstand the loss of its IMAX and 3D screens next weekend to the well-reviewed Dreamworks cartoon, How to Train Your Dragon. Since I was so very wrong about Avatar sinking like a stone once Alice took said IMAX and 3D screens three weeks ago, I won't even try to predict what will happen next weekend. Simply put, if it survives the brutal one-two punch of How to Train Your Dragon and Clash of the Titans, it will likely flirt with $400 million and end up as one of the highest-grossing films of the year, if not the highest. If it collapses under direct assault, it may unfortunately prove that 3D is in fact a gimmick that makes an otherwise solid hit into a mega-smash (as opposed to merely goosing the grosses of an already appealing project), which will only encourage studios to convert everything to 3D. Warner Bros. just announced this week that all of their future tent-poles will be in 3D (although I'd imagine that Chris Nolan could shoot Batman 3 and/or Superman Rebooted on 4x3 black and white VHS without too much protest from the brass). If Clash of the Titans breaks out, don't be surprised if Warner decides to splurge and do a last-minute 3D conversion of Sex and the City 2. Come what may, Avatar really was a game-changer after all. As expected, Hollywood is learning all of the wrong lessons from that once-in-a-generation wonder.

The top opener of the weekend was Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The live-action adaption of a popular kids-lit series pulled in $22.1 million, which was a shocking surprise unless you're tired of being shocked and surprised when well-marketed kids flicks that are based on well-respected books happen to open well. There is a solid audience for live-action family films that are appealing to kids and seem painless to adults, and this one fit the bill. Besides, there hadn't been a live-action family film since the odious Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief over Valentine's Day weekend, and that one opened to over $30 million (current domestic total for Percy - $85 million). Longterm prospects for this one are quite limited, if only for the 800-pound dragon (literally) breathing down its neck next weekend. Still, this is a major profit earner for Fox and mazel tov to all involved.

In third place was The Bounty Hunter, which opened to $20.6 million. I went into this in much detail yesterday, but $20 million is a rock-solid number both for the genre (romantic-comedy caper) and the stars involved (this is Aniston's best opening for a film where she was top-billed on the poster). The gender split was 58% female with a 50/50 age split for over/under 30 years. Every box office pundit pegged this one as opening between $21 and $24 million, yet that didn't stop Nikki Finke and others from calling the opening embarrassing, disappointing, etc. Sometimes, it's not the movie, it's your math.

The last major opener was yet another crash and burn from the consistently unlucky Universal. Repo Men, which was based on a novel which isn't quite a rip-off of Repo: The Genetic Opera after all (neither are good movies, but at least The Genetic Opera tries and fails, while Repo Men fails to try), opened to just $6.1 million despite a solid cast (Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber), and the promise of hard R-rated action and violence. The movie is terrible and the marketing was bland and unappealing. Alas, Jude Law was unable to capitalize on the audience goodwill from Sherlock Holmes. Ironically, at a cost of just $32 million, this is just the kind of mid-level genre product that the studios should be making more of, yet the audience was just not there. Still, the compatibility low cost will prevent the film from losing quite as much money for Universal compared to, I dunno, The Green Zone.

Oh right... fifth place went to The Green Zone, which plunged 57% for a second weekend of $6.1 million. Unfairly tagged as liberal-propaganda, it failed to draw even the older movie goers that can sometimes lessen the second-weekend drop of such adult fare (since older audiences don't always rush out on opening weekend), the $100 million Iraq war thriller has amassed just $24.8 million. While some have piled on Matt Damon over the performances of his last few movies, The Informant! ($33 million) and Invictus ($37 million) were at least budgeted according to realistic box office expectations (Invictus cleaned up overseas, pulling in $120 million worldwide).

She's Out of My League (which was surprisingly decent, more low-key and less vulgar that the marketing let on) fell 40% for a $5.8 million second weekend and a $19.7 million ten-day total. It's a shame it's not doing better, but the Paramount picture cost under $20 million, so it'll do just fine once all theatrical and home viewing money is tabulated. Shutter Island is now at $115.7 million, and reaching the $132 million-domestic gross of The Departed is now a long shot, if only due to the theaters that it will bleed over the next two weekends (cough-more second run theaters-cough).

Robert Pattinson's prank-movie, Remember Me, dropped 59%, for a $3.2 million-second weekend and a $13.9 million total. Still, it's a movie star's job to open movies, not keep those movies in rotation (that's the job of the movie itself). The other holdover from last weekend, Our Family's Wedding, dropped 51% for a new total of $13.6 million. Oh, and Avatar dropped 38% after losing 482 screens (it remains on only 1236 screens) for a new total of $736.9 million. Barring a re-release at the end of this summer, it looks like $750 million may be the best case scenario.

In notable limited releases and expansions, Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer expanded to 819 theaters and scored $2 million for its trouble. The low-key, ripped from the headlines thriller has now amassed $6.7 million, but the screen count has likely peaked at this point so $10 million seems to be a likely final cum. The Cherie Currie/Joan Jett biopic The Runaways opened in limited release, grossing $805,115 on 244 screens. The $3,300 per screen average is not promising, but Apparition still has time to market the Dakota Fanning/Kristen Stewart rock-melodrama as a mainstream entertainment for its April 9th wide release. Still, the picture cost just $10 million, so anything other than an outright flop should be just fine for long-term profitability. The IMAX exclusive Hubble 3D debuted with $410,920 on 39 screens for an $10,536 per screen average. Greenberg pulled in $118,152 on three screens while the acclaimed thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo grossed $335,502 on 32 screens. And that's the news for this weekend. Join us next weekend when Dreamworks unleashes How to Train Your Dragon and MGM debuts Hot Tub Time Machine. Until then, take care.

Scott Mendelson

 

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