Weekend box office: There’s no way other way to say it, Harry Potter is a lot more popular than Russell Crowe

So, folks, here’s your key to box office success: fund the kind of European-styled welfare state that would drive Tea Party activists into a state of complete hysterics, if they weren’t already there. With impoverished moms actually having a modest amount of free time to themselves because they don’t have to worry about their children starving or being unable to go the doctor and your society as a whole benefiting from improved physical and mental health, wait for one of those moms with a literary bent to come up with a once-in-a-century sensation of a book series. Hopefully, it will be aimed at a young audience with time to watch each movie several times. Then, film it — competently, will suffice, no particular need for brilliance — making sure, as Anthony D’Alessandro reminds us, to avoid the need for a momentum-killing reboot by recruiting strong and likable leads you can continue with for the entire length of the franchise. Repeat.

Daniel Radcliffe can probably afford better mirrors than this That’s pretty much the formula for the massive success of the Harry Potter film franchise. So, as stated Thursday eve, the question for the first weekend of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One” was always whether it would have a great opening or the greatest opening of all time. Well, it did have the greatest opening of all time…for a Harry Potter film. To be specific, according to Box Office Mojo, it earned an estimated $125 million, still well shy of the current opening weekend record holder, “The Dark Knight,” which grossed over $158 million on its mega-huge opening weekend.

On the other hand, that is a series best, significantly well north of the $102 million and change earned by “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” five years back. Also, as the saying goes, $125 million here and $125 million there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. The emotionally rather dark-hued installment (I haven’t seen it, but I’ve read the book, and I can only imagine) also earned the highest per-screen average this week, a rather unusual achievement for a super-wide release like this, earning a whopping $30,332 average in over 4,100 theaters. That’s a nice infusion into our failing economy, as well, even if we have to share it with billionaire ex-welfare mom J.K. Rowling and a bunch of other Brits because of that whole welfare state thing I propagandized for up top. Well, don’t worry because “austerity” might mean that there won’t be any more new English Rowlings for a while, either. Still, she’s got another even bigger pay day ahead of her with the upcoming 3D series finale.

Meanwhile, last week’s trinity of top moneymakers held on decently with drops somewhere not too far above the 40% region. #2 “Megamind” amassed an estimate of $16.175 for its world domination war chest; runaway train thriller #3 “Unstoppable” was not stopped and earned an estimated $13.1 million; #4 “Due Date” avoided lateness penalties in its third weekend for a star-driven $9.15 million.

Meanwhile, the wide theatrical run for Russell Crowe‘s latest may not be all that much longer than, you guessed it, “The Next Three Days.” Paul Haggis’s underwhelmingly reviewed thriller costarring Elizabeth Banks debuted in the deadly #5 spot with only $6.75 million. The budget on the film, which could well be very modest if you subtract Crowe’s paycheck, is unknown at this point, but Nikki Finke is quick to remind that marketing costs for a film like this pretty much start at $30 million.

Will Russell Crowe and Elizabeth banks last for

  

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Weekend box office: “Megamind” stops the “Unstoppable”; “Morning Glory” rises, but doesn’t shine

All us entertainment scribes — Anthony D’Alessandro most certainly included — are busting out their train metaphors and similes. In a very mild surprise according to some, but not all, of the conventional wisdom pre-weekend, the 3D animated “Megamind” hung on with the vigor of a locomotive in its second week and beat the runaway train thriller “Unstoppable” into the money station.

According to the mighty Box Office Mojo, the supervillain tale showed the long-lasting strength of animated family comedies. “Megamind” dropped a mere 36% in its second weekend, earning a very solid estimate of $30 million and change in its second week for Paramount/Dreamworks. Meanwhile, the all-star comedy, “Morning Glory,” proved to be a one very slow moving train.

Though it was not the #1 film this week, Tony Scott’s “Unstoppable” with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine actually came in pretty much where it was expected to, with an estimated $23.5 million for Fox. The good news is that strong reviews and a somewhat older-than-usual audience may well contribute to some strong legs. The bad news is that its $100 million budget — a big chunk of that no doubt coming from the stars and director’s paychecks (Washington reportedly nearly left the project because of salary haggling) — means it’s going to have to keep chugging for a while to be profitable.

This week’s #3 film was the star-driven comedy “Due Date,” which suffered a fairly average second weekend drop of 52.5% to earn an estimated $15.5 million. Fourth place was taken by another new wide release that was, actually, off to a very decent start relative to its budget. Although nobody seems to like the science-fiction destroy L.A. tale, “Skyline,” a whole lot, the $10 million dollar film made back its budget plus a bit extra, with an estimate of just under $11.7 million.

Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford in
It was not an exciting weekend for stars Harrison Ford, Rachel McAdams, and Diane Keaton. The not so well received “Broadcast News”-esque “Morning Glory” earned just a bit over $9.6 million for Paramount, which is a long way south of its $40 million budget. Also, “the nation’s #5 movie!” is not much of a come on for audiences.

Meanwhile in limited release, the IFC-released indie comedy first feature from 20-something Lena Dunham, “Tiny Furniture,” earned the week’s biggest per-screen average of $22,450. On the other hand, it was only on one screen. Somewhat more of a test was the 22 theater run of the Danny Boyle-directed James Franco endurance vehicle and near certain Oscar-nominee, “127 Hours.” It earned the week’s second highest per screen with $20,591 on 22 screens. If you don’t have a calculate handy that translates into an estimated total of $453,000 in its second week for Fox Searchlight.

  

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Box office preview: “Unstoppable”? Perhaps

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Apparently Tony Scott and Denzel Washington enjoyed making their underground run-away train thriller, “The Taking of Pelham 123” so much, they decided to turn around and make an above-ground run-away train thriller. Not everything would be the same. This time Chris Pine would be in tow instead of John Travolta. Another difference is that, this time, the critics are majorly onboard as well, which may or may not indicate that “Unstoppable” will do better over the long haul than its sister film.

Both of my usual b.o. gurus are suggesting a low-to-mid twenties opening for the thriller from Fox, but there is still some daylight between them. Ben Fritz of the L.A. Times is expecting a tough race for the #1 spot with last week’s big winner, “Megamind,” which grossed over $46 million.¬† The Hollywood Reporter’s Carl DiOrio, who remains jolly even while his intro music grows oddly sinister, seems more sanguine that the amped-up train ride will do better. However, Fritz may be on to something considering that family animated films have proven to be leggy in the past and that a decline of significantly less than 50% seems very possible. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Unstoppable” overperform.

Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, and Harrison Ford wonder: What's the story?There are two other major releases this weekend, but neither of them really seems to have much oomph behind them. True, jolly Carl is fairly high on “Morning Glory.” It’s a sort of update on “Broadcast News” minus the critical acclaim putting 32 year-old beauty Rachel McAdams alongside 60-something icons Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. My money is on Ben Fritz’s take, which is that it’ll be fortunate to break $10 million. Exhibit A is that the comedy from Paramount actually opened yesterday and hasn’t shown much life.

Coincidentally, $10 million is the reported budget for the effects-heavy science-fiction tale being released by Rogue and Universal, “Skyline.” The few critics who’ve seen it mostly agree that all the film really has to boast of are the effects. Fritz thinks it’ll do about the same as “Morning Glory” — though obviously from a younger and more male demographic. Since that amount is also roughly its budget, however, this film may just be a success.

Debuting in a fairly aggressive 41 screen limited release is the latest documentary from Ondi Timoner, who made the excellent “DiG!” and “We Live in Public” both of which never really got much distribution. This time, however, her film is getting some critical flack, not too surprising considering it’s kind of an anti-“An Inconvenient Truth” and features a maverick scientist who isn’t exactly a climate denier and who isn’t coming from a politicized perspective, but who does insist that all the global warming fear is just plain overdone. That is no majority scientific opinion. Entitled “Cool It,” it’s so far been ignored by far-right film blog Big Hollywood, which can only be a good sign.

Another film we all might be hearing from later on is the award-winning festival-friendly first feature from Lena Dunham, “Tiny Furniture.” It’s a comedy, but I don’t find this trailer funny so much as aggressively quirky and mildly annoying, perhaps because of the deliberately flat performances of the nonprofessional cast. On the other hand, I sort of dig the look of the thing. See if you disagree.

  

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Weekend box office: “Megamind” rules the ‘plex, more or less

MegamindThe “divide and conquer” strategy for this weekend pretty much worked as planned. The cuddly supervillain-centric 3D animated comedy with an all-star voice cast from Paramount/Dreamworks “Megamind” underperformed slightly to come in at $47.65 million according to Box Office Mojo. That’s a couple million lower than the numbers bandied about earlier, but actually a few million above the opening of another Dreamworks Animation, “How To Train Your Dragon.” As Anthony D’Alessandro reminds us, that one had strong enough legs to carry it to a major success after an opening that was originally deemed very disappointing.

Next up was the heavily promoted Robert Downey, Jr./Zach Galifianakis vehicle, “Due Date.” The R-rated road comedy earned an estimated $33.5 million for Warner Brothers. It’ll be interesting to see if the lackluster reviews are reflected in less than awesome word of mouth and theatrical legs for the film. Nikki Finke reports that it got a decent B- from Cinemascore, but I remain eternally somewhat skeptical of those surveys.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis exchange bon mots in

The #3 film was Tyler Perry’s theatrical adaptation of a very non-Tyler Perry play, “For Colored Girls.” The heavy-duty drama earned true to Mr. Perry’s form with his traditional audience base, and generated an estimate of $20.5 million for Lionsgate. Say what you will about Mr. Perry, an adaptation of an acclaimed poetry-based play earning that kind of cash requires someone with his kind of populist sensibilities and appeal.

In the #4 spot, the age-spanning action-comedy, “RED,” continues to maintain its hold on the box office with an estimate of over $8.85 million for Summit. Last week’s Halloween #1, “Saw 3D,” had the expected big second weekend drop, plus a bit extra. It lost 63.6% for a Week 2 estimate of $8.2 million. “Paranormal Activity 2” is also dropping, but less dramatically (55.8%). It earned an estimated $7.29 million for Paramount in its third week.

Among limited releases, the four theaters showing Danny Boyle’s much discussed James Franco near-one-man-show, “127 Hours,” showed that audiences were willing to pay an arm, if not a leg, to see the fact-based ordeal film and things look promising for a wider release. It endured a spectacular per-screen average of $66,500 for a total of $266,000. Less stratospheric, but still healthy, was the 46 theater debut of the fact-based political ordeal drama, “Fair Game,” featuring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts as Bush-era National Security Council analyst Joe Wilson and his wife, spy Valerie Plame, who was very illegally outed by members of the Bush Administration. (Their defense: it was an accident. Woops.) It earned a per-screen average north of $15,000 and a total of $700,000.

fair-game-watts-penn

  

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Box office preview: Divide and conquer

That’s the studio strategy this week as three major releases with large and divergent natural constituencies hit movie theaters. All three movies are expected to do rather well by the folks whose job it is to guess these things, as evidenced by the small amount of daylight between the predictions showcased this week by the L.A. TimesBen Fritz and THR‘s ever jolly Carl DiOrio.

I don’t think there’s any reason at all to doubt that the family audience, which hasn’t had a new 3D animated comedy in a while to gawk at, will check out “Megamind.” Featuring the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Brad Pitt, and Jonah Hill, the film is the second of these comedies this year to focus on a putative villain after “Despicable Me.” This one takes a more superpowered spin with a pretty obvious spoof on the Superman mythos. Reviews are decent but muted, but the take is expected to be a very solid $50 million or so, which is not so muted.

Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Gallifianaki have a The reviews are substantially less positive for “Due Date,” which is to youngish men what “Megamind” is to families. I remember being unimpressed for the trailer for the new comedy from Todd Phillips starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Gallifianakis, but apparently the sheer star power and the tried and true comic premise of a mismatched twosome on a road trip seems to be enough here for the R-rated comedy to get something in the $30-35 million neighborhood. Personally, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it under-perform. Star power just isn’t what it used to be these days and this is clearly not a second coming of Phillips’ “The Hangover.”

With a cast that includes Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg and the Oprah herself, “For Colored Girls” is pretty clearly for African-American women as far as studio marketers are concerned. Based on the acclaimed¬† poetry-based play of the 1970s by Ntozake Shange (full title: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf), the movie is not getting much acclaim from critics, who once again are none too fond of Perry’s penchant for melodrama, though many do seem to be given Perry credit for at least trying something different this time around. On the one hand, Tyler Perry’s fans are clearly unconcerned about critics, on the other, this is a very different kind of material than Perry’s usual. An amount of $20 million is being bandied about. In any case, one has to wonder what feminist author Shange makes of this excerpt from Carl DiOrio’s piece:

“In addition to Tyler’s core audience, we’re going after fans who are familiar with the play,” Lionsgate distribution topper David Spitz said. “We feel this could be the Sex and the City for African-American women.”

With Oscar season upon us, a number of notable films are coming up in limited release, including the Valerie Plame spy scandal film “Fair Game,” the fainting-inducing mountain climbing ordeal picture, “127 Hours,” and the Elliot Spitzer ordeal documentary, “Client Nine.” Notable for being both good and probably not having a chance in hell at an Oscar, however, is “Red Hill” which I’m not mentioning here not just because we were granted interviews with the director and star, though that never hurts, I admit shamefacedly.

Ryan Kwanten and Steve Bisley in

  

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