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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Does Megan Fox have what it takes to go from starlet to star?

I watched “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” this weekend, and one thing really struck me as I took in the initial (and totally gratuitous) shot of Megan Fox in cutoff jean shorts half-straddling a motorcycle: Wow, she’s hot. Throughout the course of the next 150 minutes – really, did a “Transformers” sequel need to be that long? – I found myself observing Ms. Fox’s work wondering if she had what it takes to transform – pun intended – from starlet to star.

By most standards, she’s already a movie star. She has played a lead in two “Transformers” installments, had a supporting role (as a vacant actress, no less) in the Simon Peg comedy “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” and she recently starred as the title character in the horror flick “Jennifer’s Body.” Moreover, she seems to have a stranglehold on the current #1 ranking as the Hollywood Girl That Guys Want to Bang. But does this really make her a star?

Not in my book. There was no point in the latest “Transformers” installment where Fox couldn’t have been replaced by Elisha Cuthbert, Jessica Biel or some other former (or future) #1 Hollywood Girl That Guys Want to Bang. When I started to type this up, I actually blanked on her name, and had to look it up on IMDB.com. (Ah, yes, Megan Fox.) If nothing else, that makes her a starlet.

Every year or two, there’s a new crop of young’ns vying for the title of “it” girl, and Fox owns it, for now. But it’s a dicey transition from being a hot young thing to developing a long-lasting, viable career in the movie business.

So, does she have what it takes to become a star?

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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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Entourage 6.4 – Runnin’ on E

I’m sure some people will look at the title of tonight’s episode and crack a joke about how “Entourage” isn’t as good as it used to be, but not every episode can be as good as the one from last week. There are bound to be shows of the filler variety every once and a while (it’s the nature of the series), just like Eric isn’t always going to be as busy as he’d like. Unfortunately, with Vince’s Ferrari movie pushed back 12 weeks due to pre-production troubles, not to mention Eric’s decision to pull out of producing duties on Charlie’s sitcom, the Murphy Group has become a dead zone. Vince suggests Eric join him on a trip to Paris, but he’d rather just hang around the office with Ashley, leaving Vince to sex up waitresses and surf the web (“How come you’re not on this Facebook thing?”) to keep busy. In the end, however, Eric decides to shut down the Murphy Group for good, and I must say that I’m a little disappointed. I hope that doesn’t mean Eric will stop managing altogether, because he’s easily the show’s most interesting character.

The other two guys didn’t have much to do this week, either. Turtle was stuck shopping for back-to-school clothes with Jamie-Lynn, while Drama spent the day auditioning girls (read: making out with hot models) for his character’s new love interest on “Five Towns.” What could have been a great subplot for Kevin Dillon, though, quickly turned into typical Drama shenanigans. Upset over the lack of talent in the pool of candidates, Drama demands they audition real actresses for the role, and even visits Ed Burns with the suggestion that they go after Natalie Portman or Rachel McAdams. I find it hard to believe that Drama is so stupid that he would expect the network to chase down A-list talent for a brief kissing scene, but he gets his wish nonetheless when he begs Turtle to convince Jamie-Lynn to do the role. Granted, Meadow Soprano is certainly no Natalie Portman or Rachel McAdams, but she’s definitely a step up in quality.

It’s not exactly the kind of stuff that will affect the overall arc of the season, though, so it’s a good thing that Jeremy Piven is still around to save the day. It may be the writers who are responsible for giving the actor such great material, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t knock it out of the park every time. Ari has grown so much as a character over the last two seasons, and now that he’s trying to run a successful business and be a good husband, father and friend, the stress is really starting to show. I don’t know how much longer Ari is going to be able to play babysitter to Andrew, and quite frankly, the subplot is beginning to show signs of wear.

For the time being, it seems like the affair really is over, but now that Andrew’s officially left his wife, will he just go running back to junior agent Lizzie? And just who exactly ended the affair in the first place? From the way Lizzie “manned up” to Ari and apologized to him in person, I have a strange feeling she was the one who pulled the plug. That would certainly make more sense, because Andrew nearly flipped out when David Schwimmer started flirting with her in the business meeting. Now, Ari has a big decision to make: side with his wife and get rid of Andrew before he makes an even bigger mess of his life, or keep his latest Employee of the Month around long enough to reel in one of television’s most admired creative forces. With Vince cruising along in his career again, he certainly has the time to make up his mind.

  

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