Weekend box office: Demons take robbers (maybe, kind of) in a photo-finish (updated — results reversed)

To be perfectly honest, this whole business of the box office horse race is a bit silly. Box office is not a zero-sum game and is probably a bit more like horseshoes than hand grenades. The success of one film doesn’t necessarily take that much away from the success of another. In this weekend’s case, people who felt like seeing an attempt at a stylish robbers-‘n-cops thriller were edged out very slightly by people who wanted to see another scary mockumentary. This weekend, the results are close enough that the “actuals” may be different enough from the estimates to reverse the #1 and #2 positions.

TakersTo be specific, the horror tale, “The Last Exorcism,” earned an estimated $21.3 million for Lionsgate, while the crime thriller “Takers” netted an estimate of $21 million. Aside from being extremely close, it’s worthy of a huge asterisk. As per Box Office Mojo, “Exorcism” was in 668 more theaters while Screengems/Sony’s “Takers” had the week’s highest per-screen average ($9,519). The heist picture had a budget of $20 million, extremely modest by contemporary studio standards, which means that it’s very much on its way to profitability. However, like prior horror mock-docs, “Exorcism” is by far the profitability king this weekend with an announced budget of $1.8 million. That’s enormously tiny in Hollywood terms and makes this a big win for producer Eli Roth, first-time feature director Daniel Stamm, and the screenwriting team of Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, whose unpromising looking upcoming ‘net-driven horny-teenager flick, “The Virginity Hit” got a certain amount of bloggy attention a while back.

On the bad news side for “The Last Exorcism,” Nikki Finke has noted that the film received a “D” from Cinemascore. She decreed, in typically blunt Finkian fashion, “they hated it.” Well, that seems a fair enough assessment, except that it might not be that simple. The ending has been generating a certain amount of complaints even from critics, who have been mostly supportive of the film. Clearly horror fans and others who plunked down $10+ more, however, may be feeling cheated and we have reports of audible responses from audience.

A friend and I have been having for decades having to do with mostly good movies with bad endings versus mostly bad movies with good endings and which are “better.” Perhaps like the critics who were kind to “The Last Exorcism,” I believe the journey is more important than the destination but, of course, it’s the destination you often remember most easily. I wonder if any of those D-graders had second thoughts on the way home as their immediate anger lessened and they remembered the “good parts” on the way home.

[UPDATE: Yes, that difference was small enough to be reversed. According to Nikki Finke and Box Office Mojo, the “actuals” have reversed the order of the this week’s top 2l.  “Takers” took $20,512,304 and is now #1, while now #2 “The Last Exorcism” received $20,366,613. That’s a difference of just over $145,691.]

In other news, the week’s #3 film was ‘The Expendables” with $9.5 million estimated in its third week. That expanded 3D only reissue of “Avatar” I spent time discussing on Thursday night turned out not to be monkey wrench to anyone else’s success. It only managed to get into 12th place, earning a decent but definitely non-blockbuster $4 million in about a third as many theaters as a typical wide-release.

Finally, the indie/limited release beat is percolating along nicely with good news for the first half of a fact-based French 2-part gangster thriller “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” starring the memorable Vincent Cassel. Meanwhile, my mild obsession with the success of “Get Low,” which continues to thrive, is mellowed by the knowledge that it’s not likely to match the years #1 indie so far, “The Kids All Right.” As usual, the details are available as handled very nicely by Peter Knegt over at Indiewire.

Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in

  

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Weekend box office: A crime caper, a demon (non) con, and some bulked up Na’vi head to the ‘plex

The good news is that it seems pretty clear that “Vampires Suck” will not be the #2 movie again this weekend. The not-quite-news is that, with the reign of “The Expendables” also almost certainly over, there is some real doubt about what will be #1 because of the special extended edition, all 3D, release of box office champion “Avatar” in over 800 theaters.

While Ben Fritz confesses to some actual confusion, jolly Carl DiOrio cautiously leans toward the heist thriller “Takers” to take the weekend with some amount in the “teen millions.” Although our own Will Harris found some things to like in a thoroughly mixed review, the thriller is being out-and-out bashed by many critics, with the consensus being that the film, which stars Chris Brown, potential A-lister Idris Elba, and “Avatar” leading-female-life-form Zoe Saldana (well, Will says she’s hardly there), is a tinsel-laden rehash or, as Cinemablend’s Josh Tyler puts it (via Rotten Tomatoes pull quote):

The logical result of watching Heat over and over and over until your brain burns out, and then wondering what it would look like if the whole thing were remade as a Smirnoff Vodka commercial.

Doing better critically is this week’s other new wide release, “The Last Exorcism.” Producer Eli Roth’s first foray away into PG-13 scares, the movie boasts a premise that actually threatens to justify one more shot at the increasingly large horror mock-documentary subgenre with a premise I know I’ve seen somewhere before in some form. It’s about an avowedly phony exorcist who opts to document his own con job only to find himself beset by…well, just guess. It’s a premise ripe for laughs and satire as well as scares and a majority of critics find this an auspicious debut for first time helmer Daniel Stamm.  There’s been some viral promotion for this film. Considering the style and the no-name cast, I’m sure the budget for this “Exorcism” was good and low and that’s nearly always a smart move, especially with an attempt at horror that’s more than just frightening.

One proviso, however. Most seem to agree that the ending is a let down. One thing about the most commercially successful entries in this genre, they might not have been great cinema in the usual sense, but they had wowser endings.

Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black In the indie world, the year’s next candidate for break-out film turns out to be “Get Low,” which will almost no longer be a limited release as it expands onto 570 screens. Yes, I’m one of the very few writers not to be the least bit charmed by the film. So, what’s the voice of one-almost-lone movie critic versus a wave of good reviews and enormous, well-earned goodwill built up by three great stars like Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray? Don’t answer that.

  

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Weekend box office: The “Inception” brain caper goes according to plan; “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” gets a swat in the tuchas

Those of us speculating on the possibility of a surprise in either the high or low direction for “Inception” early on Friday (okay, that would mainly be me), have now been silenced by the weekend estimates. They appear to have come down on the highish side of what the professional prognosticators expected, even if some of them were confessing to uncertainty. (Where did I read that? It’s gone now from where I thought I read it but maybe my dreams are being manipulated by a crack team hired by a Japanese billionaire who hates Nikki Finke.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in So, no, Christopher Nolan’s highly praised but also controversial science-fiction thriller film for Warner Brothers is officially not “too smart” or too not-franchise-associated to be a hit, if an estimated $60.4 million is enough to constitute a hit these days for a $200 million film. It’s also worth noting that it managed this without an artificial boost from inflated 3-D ticket prices. I wonder if some math whizzes out there can compare this to the “disappointing” $77 million opening for “Avatar.” Anthony D’Alessandro points out this is the strongest North American opening ever for a Leonardo DiCaprio-headlined movie, which includes “Titanic.”(That box office stinker only made about $28 million domestically it’s first weekend.)

Still, as always, the question remains “legs” and how the word-of-tweet-facebook update-txt-mouth goes. The L.A. Times reported that the film scored a B+ on Cinemascore, reportedly dividing the audience by age with under 25-ers giving it an A and us oldsters giving it a B-. So are middle-aged filmgoers more discerning or younger ones more open to real genius? (Hey, politically, I tend to agree more with under-25 years olds more than people my own age who mostly loved Ronald Reagan, who I believe peaked in “Storm Warning” with Ginger Rogers.)

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Midweek movie news, the Cannes kick-off edition

With the super-hum0ngous Cannes Film Festival opening today — with Tim Burton heading the festival jury, btw –the movie news is in a kind of hyper-drive.  Also, it’s been a few days since I’ve done one of these newsy posts. So, you’ll have to excuse me as I merely skim the surface.

* Is it that no one’s writing books or plays anymore, or do we really need to keep making movies based on games? Tim Burton, it so happens, is the next to contemplate the matter. Will “MONSTERPOCALYPSE” be the first game-based film to screen at Cannes, or will that be “Checkers: the Movie”?

* Here your fix of Cannes-related glitz, and also details on the rather big film-making names. Meanwhile THR takes a moderately bullish look at the market-side of the event.

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Weekend box office preview — how high will “Iron Man 2” fly?

“Pretty high” is the obvious answer. As I write this, the first midnight shows are just finishing up the trailers on the East Coast, fanboys are queuing up in the Midwest, and their West Coast brethren are enjoying their pre-film burgers and Red Bull, but as far as everyone seems to be concerned, the sequel to the surprise “four quadrant” mega-blockbuster of 2008 is already a massive hit.  “Iron Man 2” has been booked into a record number of theaters, 4,380 according to Box Office Mojo.

Robert Downey Jr. in

Moreover, Nikki Finke is reporting that the film has already earned $132 million from 53 assorted countries where it has already opened. The summer solstice is more than six weeks away, but summer-time film madness is, we are informed, very much upon us. (Just btw, Anthony D’Alessandro offers a brief historical look at the outward creep of the summer movie season over the last couple of decades.)

So, the question remains, just how many millions will the second film about billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) fetch. Will it beat the record $158.4 million opening of “The Dark Knight” and crack $160 mill? Or, will it get a mere $140 million or so and send everyone to the immensely well appointed and hugely relative poor house? That seems to be the floor being offered up by the various gurus, including Ben Fritz of the L.A. Times‘ Company Town blog and THR’s jolly Carl DiOrio, who characteristically seems to be leaning slightly towards the possibility of a huge opening for Marvel and Paramount.

Nevertheless, there is a small dark cloud here and that’s the general perception, at least among us press types — who are, I remind you again, people too — that “Iron Man 2” is, while not at all bad, also not as good as the first one. This is a rare case where I’ve actually seen the week’s big movie in advance myself and, quality wise, I’m seeing this one as a glass-half-empty. For me, the story simply fails to find a strong emotional connection between Tony Stark’s troubles and the various threats he’s facing. It all feels a bit vague and disconnected despite director Jon Favreau’s way with humor, mostly good acting, and some very decent action scenes.

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