Weekend box office: “Shrek Forever After” #1 with diminishing returns; “MacGruber” explodes, but in the bad way

Shrek Forever AfterThe fourth and, I’m guessing, probably final theatrical bow for the soulful green troll with the Scottish accent grossed an estimated $71.25 million this weekend for Dreamworks and Paramount, according to the mighty Box Office Mojo chart. That’s a lot more than enough to make “Shrek Forever After” the top movie in the country this week, and a substantial take for any movie. It is, however, significantly below the $121.6 that the widely unloved last entry in the series earned on its opening weekend back in 2007 — without the benefit of inflated 3-D ticket prices.

It’s even further below the  numbers that were being bandied about by writers, if not, studios, earlier on. I mentioned last time that Carl DiOrio thought the film could hit $100 million, but failed to note the breakdown at the Numbers. It said that while “analysts” (whoever they may be) were suggesting a $90-$95 million opening, the studio was pimping a more modest $80 million while trying to diminish expectations. They should have diminished them a little bit more.

The week’s other major opener, “MacGruber,” proved my hunches to be at least as wrong as DiOrio’s. While steering clear to some extent of the $15-20 million guess at the Numbers, I doubted the single-digit numbers that DiOrio mentioned. As the singer of the obscure Difford and Tilbrook tune says, let’s face it, I’m wrong again. As it turns out, even DiOrio’s lowest figures weren’t low enough. The incompetent MacGyver-like bomb diffuser only earned a fairly pathetic $4.1 million in 2,551 theaters for the #6 spot. I think it’s safe to say that the poor reputation of SNL-derived films clearly preceded this one, which actually has garnered reviews that are a bit better than most other films in this long-running franchise.

Grim faced Ryan Phillipe, Will Forte, and Kristen Wiig face the b.o. music

Still, considering that most SNL sketches, even at their best, never seem to sustain until the end of the bit, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the movies derived from them have a hard time holding attention through feature-length running times. If “MacGruber” suffered from a bit of movie guilt-by-association, it’s just too bad for anyone who was hoping for a quick A-list status for the off-kilter Will Forte — a performer who I think would fit in really nicely in a David Lynch movie. (I mean that as a compliment, I think.) On the other hand, every time I check Rotten Tomatoes, even it’s now-meh-to-bad (once kind of okay and maybe even almost good) critical numbers keep dropping, with “Top Critics” being a bit more brutal.

The #2 and #3 spots, respectively, were held by “Iron Man 2” with an estimate of $26.6 million for Marvel and Paramount, and “Robin Hood” with $18.7 million estimated for long suffering Universal. Probably helped by weak competition, both movies managed to keep their weekly drop to just under 50%. Still, I think it’s safe to call the $200 million “Robin Hood” a disappointment that won’t do much for the careers of either Russell Crowe or Ridley Scott, not that they’re in any danger of obscurity just yet.

A paucity of movies for women of any age probably also helped grow some legs for the #4 cross-generational rom-com, “Letters to Juliet,” which dropped only by 32.8% and earned a solid $9.1 million for the probably fairly modestly budgeted film. That should help young Amanda Seyfried cement her growing credibility as a box office draw, at least for young-female-skewing films and even if her most challenging film role so far has been ignored. Of course, that lack of female-friendly major draws will change next week with the arrival of “Sex and the City 2.”

Jesse Eisenberg is probably okay for the JewsOn the limited release circuit, it was actually a pretty good weekend for Jesse Eisenberg and the talented young actor’s efforts to prove he’s something other than a Jewish knock-off of Michael Cera. His high-concept drama with mixed reviews, “Holy Rollers,” performed fairly strongly in its opening weekend on three screens with a solid per screen average of $13,003 from an audience that probably discussed after the film whether the drama about a drug-running Hasid was good or bad for the Jews. Doing even better was the all-star comedy, “Solitary Man,” top-lined by Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito (let’s not talk about how long it’s been since “Romancing the Stone” and ‘The War of the Roses”),” and also featuring mid twenty-something Eisenberg. On the strength of strong reviews and the cast, it managed an estimated $22,250 on four screens. As usual, Peter Knegt at Indiewire has the details.

  

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Weekend box office: “Iron Man 2” holds on in U.S., but “Robin Hood” makes out like a bandit abroad

Seeing as we have two action movies in contention this week, I’ll cut to the chase. Marvel and Paramount’s “Iron Man 2,” as was universally expected back before the weekend started, easily held on to its #1 spot at the box office. Ir scored a weekend estimate of $53 million that nevertheless included a somewhat higher than average drop of over 58%, indicating that the movie, as I imagined, isn’t quite wowing filmgoers the way the first movie in the franchise did.

This week’s big debut, “Robin Hood” has generally received a decidedly mixed reaction from, as far as I can tell, everyone who sees. It came in slightly below expectations at an estimate of roughly $37.1 million for Universal. (Earlier, the box office gurus were talking about figures in the range of $40-50 million.) Nevertheless, though the reaction be “meh,” not all the news for brave Sir Robin is mediocre. Indeed, THR this morning trumpeted a take of $74 million from just under 6,944 screens across the globe, making it the world’s #1 movie.

Russell Crowe is, I guess, It’s been a long, long time since my stint in an International Sales wing of a smallish film company, but it appears that, then as now, the combination of a really well-known star like Russell Crowe, action, and a strong (at least in theory) storyline remains the formula for success in non-English-speaking territories. I’m sure this news is music to the ears of the suits of recently bad luck/bad decision prone Universal.

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Can “Robin Hood” steal some of the shine off “Iron Man 2”?

Well, maybe just a little, seems to be the collective answer for this coming movie weekend. Both Daniel Frankel of the Wrap and THR‘s ever jolly Carl DiOrio seem to agree that those mysterious tracking figures point to a strong, if not really earth-shattering, performance for this “secret origin” tale of the quasi-mythological hero, “Robin Hood.”

Russel Crowe is

The film reteams director Ridley Scott for the fifth time with today’s ultimate A-list macho man, Russell Crowe, but the reception will not be that of a “Gladiator.” The problem, I think, is that there’s another general consensus developing about the film amidst the very mixed reviews: it’s just not a whole lot of fun.

Our own Will Harris, in his 2.5 out of 5 star review, admits the film looks terrific but also that it feels completely unnecessary. Roger Ebert is even more pointed. After opening up his review about the slow death of innocence and joy in movies — something we’ll all forget about the next time Pixar releases something — and remembering great Robins of yore, he moves in for the rhetorical kill:

Have we grown weary of the delightful aspects of the Robin Hood legend? Is witty dialogue no longer permitted? Are Robin and Marion no longer allowed to engage in a spirited flirtation? Must their relationship seem like high-level sexual negotiations? How many people need to be covered in boiling oil for Robin Hood’s story to be told these days? How many parents will be misled by the film’s PG-13 rating? Must children go directly from animated dragons to skewering and decapitation, with no interval of cheerful storytelling?

Okay, so I think Roger is still a bit grumpy that he’s one of the few critics and filmgoers who wasn’t thoroughly charmed by “How to Train Your Dragon,” but his point is well taken. It really does seem at times like the movies have largely ceded real wit and fun to television, and his view of this “Robin Hood” really does mirror the reaction I’m hearing pretty much everywhere. Of course, it’s not like people listen to critics, but critics are, I once again remind you, people. The lack of emotional resonance could hamper the film’s chances of making a large profit over time, especially given its engorged $200 million budget. Universal is a studio badly in need of a home run. This may not be it.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow relate in In any case, at a projected $40-50 million or so, “Robin Hood” stands not much chance of beating “Iron Man 2” in it second weekend. For all the sense of mild-letdown the Marvel-Paramount superhero flick generated from the first film, it’s reviews and word-of-mouth are pretty darn solid. Even with a rather large possible 60 percent drop in attendance, given last weeks $128 million and change (a relatively steep decline from last weekend‘s estimate of $133.6 million), Tony Stark’s take is expected to be well north of brave and oh-so-gritty Sir Robin.

We two have two cannily counter-programmed PG-rated films aimed at girls and women coming out. “Letters to Juliet” features the very-much up-and-coming Amanda Seyfried, living legend Vanessa Redgrave, and some guys. Its reviews are south of “Robin Hood” — but not as much as you’d think, especially considering that there seems to be some confusion about whether or not it’s a comedy. The Box Office Mojo theater count informs us that it’s booked into 2,968 theaters and should earn between somewhere between about $14 and $18 million or so, based on what Frankel and DiOrio have guessed. This one has “female guilty pleasure” written on it to some degree, so it could do reasonably well for Summit Entertainment, given that it benefits from a reasonable $30 million budget. (Though even that figure sounds high to me for this kind of a movie.)

Just Wright” from Fox Searchlight might feature a sports backdrop and a somewhat more unconventional female romantic lead in the extremely talented Queen Latifah, working opposite rapper/actor Common and another living legend, Pam Grier. At heart, however, the film strikes in very similar territory in terms of genre, if not in terms of ethnicity and setting, to “Letters to Juliet” right down to it’s mother-daughter-day friendly PG rating.  It’s also only in 1,831 theaters as compared to over 3,500 for “Robin Hood” and nearly 4,400 for “Iron Man 2.” It’s expected to earn something approaching $10 million.

Just Wright Movie Trailer

  

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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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