“District 9” inspires some box office awe (updated)

Shout it from the rooftops. The trades have revealed that an essentially South African film with a previously unknown, first-time feature director, a cast of complete unknowns, and an R-rating is not only #1 at this week’s highly competitive box office, it significantly over-performed even the highest expectations I mentioned last time. Forget those more optimistic numbers of $25 million+, it has earned an extra-profitable estimated $37 million.

As Nikki Finke points out, the outstanding showing of “District 9” is especially mighty considering that the film’s budget was only an extremely modest by sci-fi action standards $30 million, not including its no doubt pricey viral and not-so-viral marketing campaign. Oh, and it got excellent reviews, too and that’s supposed to be box office poison because movie goers hate writers or something. Weird. I don’t think Peter Jackson’s name in the credits alone can do that alone, though I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

Meanwhile, wither “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra“? Stephen Sommers PG-13 sci-fi actioner with a budget of $170 million, not including its no doubt expensive damage-control oriented marketing campaign, met its expectations with an estimated $22.5 million, dropping 59% — fairly typical for this kind of Hollywood product. It should be noted, however that “Joe” was on 4,007 screens, while “District 9” was at 3,049. In terms of per screen averages, it amounts to a real trouncing with Blomkamp’s film netting a huge $12,135 per screen as compared to the unofficial “Team America” remake’s merely solid $5,615 average. (Okay, I admit it. It’s not right, but I haven’t even seen this movie and I really have it in for it; I was provoked.)

Eric Bana and Rachel McAdamsThere were few surprises in other news. The me-reviewed and not entirely foul “The Time Traveler’s Wife” came in a couple million below expectations at an estimated $19 million for the #3 spot. Perhaps pretty strongly misleading yet also slightly spoilerish stories like this chilled the turn-out just a bit. (And thanks to Bullz-Eye’s David Medsker for pointing out the issue/rumors with the ending, which I’d missed entirely.)

With not much more than a lackluster trailer and the “Entourage”-driven cable-TV fame of Jeremy Piven to bolster it, “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard” was no sleeper, earning $5.3 million, say the esimators, probably mostly from young males who arrived too late to make their “District 9” screening. That puts it in the #6 spot behind “Julie and Julia” and the rodent driven “G-Force.”

In 927 theaters, as per Box Office Mojo, Disney’s release of “Ponyo” is supposed to have done a modest $3.5 million and squeaked in at the #9 spot just ahead of the still growing “(500) Days of Summer.” I really hope parents and kids open their minds to 2-D anime, even though the studios have been doing a good job of making non-CGI animation seem weird and exotic all of a sudden. (They declared 2-D animation dead, and then did their best to kill it.) I’ve missed Hayao Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle” because I have a bad habit of waiting forever to get to the theater, and they haven’t always been lingering. I hope people give this one a chance.

UPDATE: I actually forgot one of the five wide releases that came out on Friday. Sadly for the filmmakers,  so did everyone else. From the reviews, “Bandslam” sounds like fun, but as Nikki Finke pointed out, the marketing campaign makes it look like a more rocked-up “High School Musical” when the actual movie appears to be closer to “School of Rock.” The result: a horrendous thirteenth place showing and a take of $2.25 million from over 2,000 theaters. That is not close enough even for rock and roll.  The strong demand for family fare gives the film a chance for a second life on video, but I fear its first life is probably shot. If you want to see this one in the theaters, I’d get going on that.

  

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