We have another apparent photo-finish at the box office this weekend. Despite my confidence Thursday night that “Kick-Ass” would be the top film this weekend and probably come out in the middle-to-high end of the $20-30 million range suggested by all the prognosticators, the film appears to have come just shy of doing either.  For now.
Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz in
The “actuals” that will come out sometime tomorrow could change this. However, with an estimate of $19.75 million, the somewhat controversial hyperviolent “hard R” superhero action-black-comedy  is currently within $250,000 of being beaten by the $20 million estimate for the crowd-pleasing, PG-rated 3-D family film “How to Train Your Dragon”. That’s actually still good, if  you can ignore the expectations game.

However much the schadenfreude brigade plays up the gap between expectations and box office reality, the $30 million film from director Matthew Vaughn (a producer earlier in his career) is clearly going to be very profitable for Lionsgate. The man who started his career as Guy Ritchie’s producer and who since has proven himself to be, in my estimation, the vastly better filmmaker (I haven’t seen “Kick-Ass” yet), should be applauded for bringing an action film like this on what is, by Hollywood standards, a very low budget for an action film. I think that is especially so in the home video long haul as the “Kick-Ass” cult will undoubtedly grow, at least among fanboys of all ages. It’ll also be interesting to see if the film develops legs or sinks-like a stone theatrically, as many genre films do. Next weekend will tell that tale.

Nikki Finke is saying that “Hollywood” was “expecting” $30 million, although she’s, as usual, exaggerating the pain slightly. Carl DiOrio, who seems to reflect the conventional wisdom, had it at somewhere between $25 and $30 million. In any case, Anne Thompson‘s box office guru, Anthony D’Alessandro, has an interesting thought…

…riddle this: If Kick-Ass was tracking strongly for fanboys under 25, where were they?

One wild theory is that they definitely turned up at the multiplex, however, those under 17 bought tickets to Dragon or Date Night and snuck into Kick-Ass.

It’s a tried and true tactic that <cough, cough> is something I would never, ever have done at the same age <cough, cough>. Okay, actually I did do it at that age, with a little peer-encouragement, and I was the biggest wuss in the world — not the kind of kid you’d ever seen in the principle’s office. In other words lots and lots of teens do this routinely. Let’s hope they were smart enough to not pay for a 3-D “Dragon” ticket to do so.

I should also mention that, if we writers were over-hyping “Kick-Ass” a bit, we were also somewhat guilty of underestimate the strong family appeal of “How to Train Your Dragon” which is really doing well. Checking out the mighty Box Office Mojo weekly chart, the film dropped only a very modest 19.6% in its fourth week and is nearing the $160 million mark for its total gross. However, it’s worth mentioning that it’s production budget was $165 million. Still, when you include the international take and the huge, huge life this film will have on home video and licensing from toys, etc., Dreamworks will not suffering.

Moving on, but perhaps also with an assist from those aforementioned wayward teens above, the PG-13 rated but adult-aimed wide audience comedy “Date Night” is also holding in far better-than-average fashion at third place with at an estimate $17.3 million for Fox. That’s only a very modest 31.4% drop from it’s opening weekend. In another very close finish, the new comedy-remake, the actor-driven farce directed by Neil Labute, “Death at a Funeral,” earned a solid estimate $17 million at fourth place, just a few million shy of its $21 million budget. Again, the “actuals” could reverse the order here.

Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan in

Coming in fifth is “Clash of the Titans,” at $15.77 million, which is holding a bit better than I expected. I think people just love hearing “release the kraken!”

It was also a very big weekend for a number of interesting films in limited release which all crowded theaters far more than the big mainstream films discussed above. Peter Knegt of Indiewire, has the details, but here’s my summary: The documentary (or is it?) featuring the highly touted street artist, Banksy, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” did extremely well with a boffo per screen average of $20,750 on eight screens. That’s especially strong given the film is, as Knegt points out, not being released through a conventional distributor. Also, this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar winner, “The Secret in Their Eyes” did a very good $17,600 on ten screens.

The week’s per-screen king however was, as usual, on only one screen.  “The City of Your Destination” earned an excellent $22,000 on its debut weekend. It certainly helps that it reunites the octagenerian team of arthouse standbys, director James Ivory and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala with Anthony Hopkins who gave them two of their biggest successes with “Howard’s End” and “The Remains of the Day.”  Especially since they can’t market the film as “Merchant-Ivory” because legendary producer Ismail Merchant sadly died in 2005 and it has, so far, not quite set the critics on fire either, this might not do quite as well as those earlier films. However, if you need something to take your older, literate aunt to see, you could probably do a lot worse.