It’s the end of the world as we know it; Sony feels fine

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I’m sure Roland Emmerich who, according to Nikki Finke, is receiving 25 percent of the grosses for his $200 million budgeted “2012,” is also feeling pretty good. Of course, now he has to figure out if he about to earn enough money for his own end-of-world-blocking fortress of solitude in case all those prophesies he used to come up with his critically dismissed thriller come true.

Emmerich’s latest multi-star epic earned an estimated $65 million, at the very highest end of the most optimistic projections put forth by Jolly Carl DiOrio that I mentioned on Thursday night. If you throw in the worldwide figures going back to the film’s international release last Wednesday, then you get to a figure of around $225 million so far. As per Variety‘s Pamela McClintock, assuming there are no surprises, this puts Sony’s PG-13 epic in the #9 spot on the top 10 for international opening weekends.

Disney's At #2 spot this weekend is the Disney/Jim Carrey/Robert Zemeckis CGI-3D revisit of “A Christmas Carol,” which, despite character designs that embody the unpleasant after effects of a visit to the uncanny valley, is holding up extremely well after what was deemed a disappointing opening last weekend. Charles Dickens’ unkillable holiday perennial only dropped about 25-26% or so, about half of what many films do, and collected a very respectable estimated $22.3 million. After it’s a truly steep fiscal drop all the way down to an estimated $6.2 million for “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” It seems to me there’s nothing more problematic at the box office than a prestige picture with a critical/online buzz response that amounts to “meh” — or in this case “meeeahhhh.” That’s an apparent 52% “many films” drop from last week.

Indeed, this week brings us the spectacle of a goat herd of A-listers being upstaged by an abused, severely overweight teen as the critically lauded by overtitled “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” shot up to #4 spot despite being in only 174 theaters. That means it earned it roughly $6.1 million on 2,279 less screens that “Goats” needed to earn an additional $0.1 million.

However, as good as the $35,000 per screen average for “Precious” was, taking a look at the Box Office Mojo weekend chart, the highest per screen went to Fox’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The old-school puppet animation comedy earned a very nice estimated average of $65,000 on four screens and is, weeks before its wide release, already going a long way toward burnishing the reputation of writer-director Wes Anderson who, as far as this writer is concerned, has never shot an uninteresting foot of film.

Still, it wasn’t all hearts and flowers for the indies this weekend. Despite some outstanding coverage by Mr. Will Harris at our fabulous sister site, “Pirate Radio” failed to receive the Bullz-Eye bump. The ensemble comedy, inspired by illegal British broadcasting outfits of the sixties and seventies that competed with the BBC by blasting out the latest in rowdy beat music, earned a very non-rocking  estimated $2.9 million, slipping just below Richard Kelly’s $3.2 million 10th place thriller, “The Box.”  On the other hand, that does mean that “Pirate Radio” went to 11.

  

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“A Christmas Carol” wins the weekend, but “Precious” gets the early Xmas cheer

Not quite Jim Carrey in Robert Zemeckis and Disney’s new CGI “A Christmas Carol” was pretty much destined to take the weekend, and it did with an estimated tally of $31 million. However, Nikki Finke noted that the film was expected to make, she says, at least $4 million more. I am inclined to think that the word that this version of Dicken’s holiday classic might be too scary for very young viewers might have given this entry a bit of a winter chill.

Variety, however, added insult to injury and the #1 movie found itself a subhead on its opening weekend. The trade paper of record instead led with the record-breaking per-screen average of the first new Oscar contender of the winter season, Lions Gate’s “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” which only placed 13th on the Box Office Mojo charts with an estimate of $1.8 million — but did so with an truly awe-inspiring per-screen average of $100,000 on 18 screens in L.A., New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. For comparison, the week’s second highest per-screen average went to “La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet,” a new dance documentary by cinema vérité legend Frederick Wiseman with $14,000 on a single screen. This is obviously a ridiculously good start for a dysfunctionality-driven drama with some markedly uncommercial aspects to it. I also have to wonder if the theaters it was playing in were somewhat larger than the usual arthouse venues.

The association of “Precious” with after-the-fact executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who both literally bought into the film after seeing it but will be reportedly donating whatever money they make on the film to charity, obviously paid off here with largely African-American audiences. There’s little reason, however, to expect that the film won’t “cross over” with all ethnicities thanks to Oscar buzz and mostly great reviews. Still, I’d also argue that more traditional art-house style numbers later in its run are a real possibility. It is worth noting that the nine theaters it’s playing in the L.A. area are demographically fascinating, straddling predominantly black areas and the liberal, indie-friendly west side of town and have me resisting the urge to give you a history of Los Angeles ethnic politics. Somebody knows what they’re doing.

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Holding up the #2 spot is, not surprisingly, the Michael Jackson documentary, “This Is It,” which has ridden good worth-of-mouth to drop less than 40% and earn an estimated $14 million on its second weekend. Doing perhaps a bit better than expected, given that stars — at least stars with an average age north of 40 — no longer seem to have much impact at the box-office, the name-laden satirical comedy, “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” managed an estimated $13.3 million in the #3 spot. Considering the $25 million budget, pretty modest for a film with four fairly major actors, and the “meh”-to-sub-“meh” reviews for a movie that should be critical cat-nip, that’s really not bad at all. Being the only new comedy in some time probably helped.

Nipping at the goat-starers’ heels was “The Fourth Kind,” which engages in some “based on a true story” quasi-mock-doc shenanigans. Though I made sport of it last time, there really is a sucker born every minute and enough of them had $10.00 handy this weekend for the science fiction flick to net an estimated $12.5 million. Somewhere, the ghost of William Castle is smiling.

The weekend’s other new release was one-time “Donnie Darko” whiz kid Richard Kelly’s dark science fiction tale, “The Box.” Not too surprisingly, the “Twilight Zone”-like tale fell short of “Paranormal Activity” — hanging in very nicely with an estimated $8.6 million and sure to cross the $100 million mark shortly — and came in at sixth place with an estimate of roughly $7.9 million.

  

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Xmas ghosts, a dead popster, goat starers, aliens, a box, and some demons

Yes, it’s a real mishmash this weekend at the box office and I’ve got less time than usual — but let’s just see how it goes.

A Christmas Carol

Anyhow, the clear winner over the next few days will almost certainly be yet another version of Charles Dicken’s constantly remade and revisited holiday perennial, this time from Disney, “A Christmas Carol.” Jim Carrey stars as Scrooge, who won’t hurt at the box office and Robert Zemeckis, in his “Polar Express” mode, is at the helm. Personally, while I found the earlier motion-capture movie a fun visceral thrill ride in Imax 3-D, despite a story that was the very definition of treacle, I personally find this style of animation extremely ugly; it’s as if it’s always stuck in the armpit of the Uncanny Valley. Moreover critics, including our own David Medsker, complain that Zemeckis gets carried away with the effects and makes things a bit too visceral and scary for the film’s own good. Still, if it worked even for Mr. Magoo, there’s no reason to think it won’t work well enough for some fiscal redemption. THR‘s Carl DiOrio, whose nearly as jolly as an way-too-early St. Nick, is guessing it’ll grab about $40 million in premature yuletide cheer. A split decision by critics is, I suppose, neither here nor there.

After that, we have four films that will be duking it out with two extant strong releases, Michael Jackson’s ghostly final bow, “This Is It,” which may benefit from better than expected word of mouth and, of course, the horrifyingly profitable “Paranormal Activity.” Intriguingly, all these new major releases have a slightly spooky and/or “paranormal” spin and trying to guess which will do best is probably about as wise as playing with a Ouija board at a demon-infested San Diego townhome.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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It’s Fall Movie Preview time!

So, what did you do on your summer vacation? You already know what the Hollywood studios did — namely, repeat their annual tradition of flooding theaters with months of sequels, action flicks, and expensive film adaptations of any book, game, or toy with enough built-in name recognition to guarantee a Top 5 debut at the box office. Now that the autumn months are upon us, it’s a different story: with a few notable exceptions, popcorn pictures are out and more traditionally grown-up fare (including the yearly parade of awards contenders) is in. Which also means, as you’ve hopefully already guessed, that it’s time for Bullz-Eye’s 2009 Fall Movie Preview.

Of course, it isn’t all serious stuff. Why, one week in September alone features a CGI adaptation of a classic kid’s book (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”), a bloody good time of a horror flick (“Jennifer’s Body”), and some deep space sci-fi (“Pandorum”). And that pretty much sets the tone for the season — aside from Dimension’s long-delayed adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-winning “The Road,” there really aren’t any surefire Oscar contenders in this year’s fall slate. Which is not to say none of these movies have their fair share of buzz: Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” has been making jaws drop since its first trailer debuted a couple of months ago, Robert Zemeckis makes more motion-capture magic with Jim Carrey in Disney’s new take on “A Christmas Carol,” and the season also boasts new films from perennial award-winners Michael Moore (“Capitalism: A Love Story”), Steven Soderbergh (“The Informant!”), and Wes Anderson (“The Fantastic Mr. Fox”).

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? Talking about the movies is what the Fall Movie Preview is for — so what do you say we get started? Click the image above (or follow this link) for the month-by-month skinny on the 25 movies we’re looking forward to seeing between now and Thanksgiving!

  

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