“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.)

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The strange weekend of five

This is one interesting movie August we’re in. In fact, if you go to a mutliplex this weekend and can’t find anything that interests you, then you probably don’t belong anywhere near a contemporary movie theater. At this point in film history, things just don’t get that much more diverse, and more interesting, than the new films on offer this weekend.

* Anyone with a geek bone in their body has heard and/or seen a fair amount about the movie box office prognosticators expect to end the reign of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” By most accounts a thoughtful yet violent/bloody R-rated science fiction actioner from first-time feature director Neill Blomkamp, “District 9” benefits from a lot of really good buzz, truly outstanding reviews, and a very high-profile variant of a viral campaign; the “humans only” signs have been up at bus-stops in Los Angeles for what seems like years and the film’s association with executive producer Peter Jackson won’t hurt. (Just like the filmgoers who probably still believe that Quentin Tarantino directed “Hostel” and have no clue who Eli Roth is, many casual movie fans will give Jackson the credit/blame on this.)

On the possible downside: there are no stars or recognizable faces and the film’s setting of South Africa might put off some people. We Americans, I fear, can be an obnoxiously xenophobic bunch at times. However, this is a new age we’re in (I think) and certainly this film, about space aliens being oppressed by us literally xenophobic humans, has a much easier to grasp premise than “Serenity,” the last star-free but excitement-heavy, well-reviewed science fiction film to rely on viral marketing, and the virus is far more virulent this time. So, the projections of a take of somewhere in the $20 millions or more for Sony offered both by Variety‘s Pamela McClintock and The Hollywood Reporter‘s ever-jolly Carl DiOrio, who guesses it at at least $25 million, make some sense.

Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams
* Unless they’re seeing someone very special and very insistent, the young males who will be flocking to “District 9” likely won’t be seeing this week’s promising box office hopeful, even though it’s also science fiction, though obviously of a very different sort. Warner’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is unusual for the movies I write about here in that I’ve actually seen this one before its release date, and you can read all about my opinion of the film over at the link. Suffice it to say that fantastical romantic melodrama is not generating a whole bunch of critical excitement, though that underwhelming 37% RT rating is not so much a collective groan as a chorus of “meh.”

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Sticks and stones

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” director Stephen Sommers, from an interview with Michael Fleming:

I don’t think the mainstream critics are relevant here, they have criticized themselves into irrelevancy.

I make the kind of movies critics love to hate. They love dark and depressing movies…All the internet movie haters love this movie.

These critics have become a dying breed, and part of it is how much more vicious and personal they’ve become. They attack the directors, personally.

Glenn Kenny has some wise words on the whole “wither the critics/wither the kids” thing.

  

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Box office victory for “G.I. Joe”; “Julie and Julia” attracts many ladies of a certain age

Not a lot of big surprises at this weekend’s box office. “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” apparently did even better than some expected in the “flyover” or “heartland” areas (this is supposedly where “real Americans live,” which is nice to know as a coastal fictitious American). As per the trades, it made an estimated $56.2 million this weekend, several million better than $45-50 million number I repeated last time.

For those of us (me!) seeking a cloud in Paramount’s silver lining, Nikki Finke does offer that the studio actually predicted a round $60 million earlier and that the film’s $175 million budget is just a tad on the high side. (That’s a minimum of 17 smallish budget studio films that could have been made for the same price tag.)

Finke has some doubts that the movie will hit $300 million or be profitable all on its own, though merchandising here is obviously a possible financial bonanza for toy maker Hasbro. She also has some doubts about the foreign market in light of sentiment abroad opposed to U.S. militarism. It might be tempting to say then, that Barack Obama is the best friend Paramount has here, but Finke points out that “G.I. Joe” came in at #2 in Australia, once the third most enthusiastic member of “the coalition of the willing” under Bush-esque rightwinger John Howard. She also expects it to be blown out of the water by the apparently entirely non-brainless “District 9” next weekend. I never thought I’d say this, but from Nikki Finke’s mouth to God’s ears.

Meryl Streep and Stanley TucciMeanwhile, the culinographic “Julie and Julia” also performed pretty much precisely according to expectation and pulled in a satisfactorily satiating estimate of $20.1. According to a “rival exec” Finke quotes, the dual memoir dramedy had one of the oldest demographics he or she had ever seen, which I guess makes sense considering you have to be over a certain age to have watched Julia Child regularly on television. Finke also says the audience was almost exclusively female, despite the fact that we all like food that tastes good. In any case, those whose dating preferences includes middle-aged and older women now know their next film-going destination.

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“G.I. Joe” to enforce age (and gender?) apartheid at box office (updated)

It’s hard to tell from the wilds of deepest North Orange County, but I’m guessing that Hollywood’s in a mild state of shock following the very unexpected death of John Hughes, without a doubt one of the most influential writers and directors of the past two-and a half decades. Nevertheless, life goes on and the box office is the fact of life in the film business.

And so it is that, Lord help us all, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” seems poised to take this coming weekend’s chase for the green fairly effortlessly. Indeed, the always jovial Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter expects something in the neighborhood of $45-50 million. As mentioned here before, the actioner hasn’t been screened for critics, an increasingly common studio ploy that is nevertheless still somewhat rare for a film as high profile as this one.

Variety‘s Pamela McClintock, though not setting any numbers out for us, remarks that the action/sci-fi flick and toy/game marketing device is:

…sparking strong interest among both young and older men, as well as some curiosity among younger femmes, according to tracking.

Why any sensible young person of either gender should be interested in this film eludes me, but I guess we’ll have to see if there’s enough insensible ones from both to make this film more than a young male bastion. I should also add that some critics in the online and foreign press have managed to somehow see the film despite Paramount’s non-screening decision, and the Rotten Tomatoes numbers are less dismal than you would expect. Still, in my estimation, the best reviews lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity, though the rough beast we call the teenage populace will not be stopped from slouching towards the Plex-ville. (My profoundest apologies to Mr. Yeats.)

Intriguingly, while both Variety and THR say “Joe” will be deploying to 3,500 screens, Box Office Mojo has the film in over 4,000 theaters. The cinematic Powell doctrine, anyone?

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