“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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