10/17/2010 04:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jackass 3-D Opens With $50m, Setting October/Documentary records, While Red Scores $21m: Weekend Box Office (10/17/10)

Jackass 3-D grossed a whopping $50.3 million in its debut weekend, setting several records and setting punditry tongues wagging in the process. First of all, the film bested the $48.1 million opening weekend for Scary Movie 3 in 2003, taking the October opening weekend record. Second of all, the opening figure is far and away the best opening weekend for any kind of non-fiction/documentary film in history. If you count this series as a documentary franchise (which I do), then the third entry is now the fifth-highest grossing documentary in history in just three days. It stands behind Jackass: The Movie ($64 million), Jackass Number Two ($72 million), March of the Penguins ($77 million), and Fahrenheit 9/11 ($119 million). While the franchise has mediocre legs (part one had a 2.9x weekend-to-total multiplier in 2002 and part two had a 2.4x multiplier in 2006), thus making $100 million+ not quite a sure thing yet, there is little doubt that the film will end its domestic run as the second-highest grossing documentary/non-fiction film of all time. Still, 3-D films seem to have better legs than average (witness the useless My Soul to Take dropping just 54% in weekend two, as well as the inexplicably strong holds of Legends of the Guardians, now at $46 million), partially because they keep the bigger auditoriums for longer periods of time. If it can manage a mere 2.4x multiplier, it will in fact surpass the Michael Moore anti-Bush epic.

There will be much discussion this week about how much of an effect the 3-D format (and related ticket-price bump) had to do with this performance, and this is a rare case where it must be acknowledged. The opening weekends of Jackass: The Movie ($22 million) and Jackass Number Two ($29 million) aren't anywhere near the debut for part III, even when adjusted for inflation (around $33 million apiece). It is difficult to deny that the appeal of watching Johnny Knoxville and the gang horribly maim themselves in actual (not converted) 3-D had a certain appeal to both hardcore fans and those who only casually followed the franchise. As such, 3-D ticket sales accounted for 90% of the gross. As I've said before, 3-D is a tool, not a genre in-and-of itself, and Jackass is a franchise that lent itself to this newly-popular tool. More importantly, I'd argue, this is an R-rated film franchise (and a ten-year old television series) that has had countless young fans over the years. Even in the last four years between installments, any number of youngsters have devoured this TV series and film franchise on DVD and on MTV, while turning 17 in time to sample this newest installment in theaters. It's the same phenomenon that gave Beavis and Butthead Do America its $20 million opening in 1996 (a few years past its peak in popularity, but by which time many of its uber-young fans had already turned 13). It's what allowed Freddy Vs. Jason to explode in summer 2003 with a $37 million opening. And THAT, I'd argue, is why we're getting Scream 4 next April.

Two last notes: We're also going to be reading a lot in the next week about A) what the success of this film says about our decline as a culture and B) how the success of Jackass 3-D is somehow symptomatic of our current national mood, how our economic and political tribulations made us more likely to run towards the over-the-top stunts and goofball antics as opposed to more serious fare. Allow me to preemptively call bullshit on both. Our culture has always enjoyed the immature antics of people hurting themselves or failing in absurd tasks. America's Funniest Home Videos turned getting hit in the crotch into a national sport, and even the classic Looney Tunes cartoons based much of its comedy on the humiliation or physical injury of a comic foil. I have never seen the Jackass series or any of the films, but that is my choice and I don't begrudge anyone who enjoys the stuntwork involved. As I've often said, the older generation always decries the 'for the masses' entertainment of the younger generation, only to hold up their own 'for the masses' entertainment as the pinnacle of art from a bygone era.

As for the whole 'we saw Jackass 3-D because we're sad' argument, mass-audience comedies have always been easier sells than high-toned dramas. Jackass opened in a field of critically-acclaimed and popular fare all aimed at mature and/or grownup moviegoers. We can decry the massive opening of Jackass 3-D, but we must also acknowledge that we're drowning in (mostly) financially successful, generally intelligent films at this moment, be it The Town ($80 million), The Social Network ($62 million), Easy A ($52 million), Let Me In (alas, $11 million and at the second-run theaters in just three weekends), Waiting For Superman ($2.5 million for an education documentary), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps ($47 million), and Secretariat (dropping just 26% in weekend two, now with $27 million). Complain all you want about audiences wanting simple, politically-incorrect 3D comedy in a time of strife, but you certainly can't accuse them of ignoring the more sophisticated fare.

The only other major opener was Red, which rode a gangbusters cast and solid buzz to a $21.7 million debut. That makes it the second-biggest non-Twilight debut in Summit Entertainment history, behind the $24 million debut of Knowing in 2009. The film actually had a near-3x weekend multiplier (2.97x), again proving that films aimed at grownups play steadier than those playing toward younger audiences. Considering the older nature of the cast (Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Ernest Borgnine, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, etc), it's no surprise that the crowd-pleasing (A- from Cinemascore) played 58% to audiences over 35. The marketing campaign highlighted Malkovich dueling with a rocket-launcher and Helen Mirren firing a very large machine gun, and it was an uncommonly confident sell from the occasionally unfocused Summit marketing department. Expect the ads to start skewing younger, as this one should easily play for those who barely know most of the older stars and know Morgan Freeman as 'that science guy from the Batman films'. The film cost $58 million, but Summit sold off the foreign rights, so their remaining $20 million exposure has already been recouped.

In limited release news, the right-wing economic documentary I Want Your Money opened with a pathetic $467 per each of its 537 screens. Clint Eastwood's afterlife drama Hereafter opened on six screens and scored a decent $36,720 per screen. It goes wide next weekend. Also going wide (or wider) next weekend is the Oscar-bait Hillary Swank 'based on a true story' legal drama Conviction. Alas, this weekend saw just $9,305 per screen in its platform eleven-screen debut. Barring some Oscar love, Never Let Me Go is pretty much finished, having failed to capitalize on its status as the first awards-bait movie of the season. With $1.6 million on less than 250 screens after five weekends, this film seemingly fell victim to both its uber-downbeat premise and the fact that there was plenty of quality fare available at the megaplex without having to find a local arthouse theater.

And that's about it for this weekend. Join us next weekend where the aforementioned Hereafter and Conviction go into wide release. But the big release of the weekend is Paranormal Activity 2, which will seek to recapture the lighting-in-a-bottle success of last year's sensation. Will it be Scream 2 or Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows? We'll know this time next week. For a look at what happened this weekend last year, click here.

Scott Mendelson