Weekend box office: Coal in Hollywood’s stocking as “Little Fockers” underperforms and bloated tentpoles tank; Santa smiles on the Coens

Misguided movie populists who say that critics are somehow less relevant than they were 20 years ago and that their reaction in no way tracks the reaction of other human beings should really take a close look at this weekend’s results. It’s an eternal truth that audiences and critics often differ — seeing a lot of movies does tend to make a person somewhat harder to please — but to say that there’s zero correlation between what most critics hate or love and what most audiences members hate or love is not the case. It is true that critics hated, hated, hated this weekend’s #1 film, but that clearly isn’t the entire story.

Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner don't look happyAs I recounted prior to the start of the long Christmas holiday frame last Tuesday, the oracles of the box office were predicting a reaction to “Little Fockers” somewhat in line with the 2004 performance of “Meet the Fockers.” Specifically, the numbers being bandied about were in the $60 or $70 million range for the entire five day period. The total gross instead appears to be roughly $48.3 million for Universal. That is only a couple of million higher than what “Meet the Fockers” earned over a three day period on its Christmas opening in 2004. Remember, movie ticket prices have gone up a few bucks since ’04.

Nikki Finke recounts how the megastar-laden film’s difficult and expensive $100 million production, helmed by the currently luck-challenged Chris Weitz, provided a windfall for Dustin Hoffman and, I understand, allowed him to almost literally phone-in large portions of his performance. Finke estimates that the lastest “Fockers” movie is earning only about 75% of what the prior comedy made. As for the critics, while “Meet the Fockers” left critics unhappy — as opposed to the very well reviewed original smash-hit, “Meet the Parents” — it was a regular success d’estime compared to the woeful reviews of the third film in what critics are praying will remain a trilogy. Strangely enough, this seems to correlate with diminishing returns for the series.

Overall, things weren’t any better, with Sony’s two expensive, poorly reviewed, star-laden turkeys  — “How Do You Know” and “The Tourist — being slaughtered in their second and third weeks, respectively. (To be fair, since it stars literally the two most famous people in the world right now not named “Obama” or “Oprah” or “Palin” or “Assange,” “The Tourist” is doing significantly better than the latest from James Brooks, but both films are money losers right now.) The extremely un-promising and critically derided “Gulliver’s Travels” was all but thrown to the wolves by Fox and its release was delayed until Friday. It opened in 7th place for the weekend with a Lilliputian estimate of $7.2 million.

Anne Thompson notes that this three-day weekend at the movies was 44% lower than last year, and had some choice words on the drop:

Little Fockers repped the widest-appeal offering among the weakest bunch of holiday releases in recent memory. At a time when studios usually try to maximize returns on their strongest pictures, they instead offered audiences a menu of costly, tame, MOR fare—and moviegoers stayed away in droves.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon happily calculate their back-end deals in

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It’s a brand new week and never too early for movie news!

* Sofia Coppola’s latest, “Somewhere,” won the highly prized Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. The problem, if there is one, is that she is a current friend and former flame of Jury President Quentin Tarantino. I have to admit that I had forgotten they’d ever been a “thing,” but many do remember and there’s been some grumbling to the effect that the movie isn’t all that “fucking great.” It ain’t the crime of the century, but I guess Tarantino should have recused himself. Speaking for myself only, I find that I tend to be either more harsh or more enthusiastic about friends’ work.  As for Monte Hellman, Tarantino’s hardly alone in praising the maverick writer and director.

* Someone took Stanley Kubrick’s ultimate trip with way too much chemical enhancement over the weekend at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. I have a story about that I’ll tell you sometime. In the meantime, protective measures may be in order.

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* So, if Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert DeNiro are going to be in a film by Martin Scorsese, naturally it’s called “The Irishman.” Daniel Day Lewis, Brendan Gleeson, and Pierce Brosnan need to make a film called “The Italian” with Neil Jordan directing.

* Good. L.A. needs all the love letters, cinematic and otherwise, it can get. Naturally, all the lead actors are from foreign lands (Christopher Plummer is Canadian, but he feels like he’s from actual overseas), though I’m not sure about the characters. One of the things I loved about “A Single Man” was the way it depicted the European’s love affair with a town that U.S. natives mostly don’t seem to get.

* Woody Allen has stepped in to a long-running rumor-created fracas. France’s acting first lady, Carla Bruni Sarkozy, apparently did just fine in “Midnight in Paris.”

Mickey Rourke scares small children * Mickey Rourke’s latest gig appears to be playing notorious mob killer Richard “the Ice Man” Kuklinski. I think this is a close to making a true family film as Rourke may ever get, next to “Iron Man 2.” The man’s face doesn’t only scare small children, it scares me.

  

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Today’s trailer — Sofia Coppola is back with “Somewhere”

Over the weekend, Anne Thompson was discussing the imminent return of the youngest member (so far) of the directing dynasty begun by Francis Coppola. For me, the jury on Sophia Coppola is still out to some degree, not because I in any way doubt her talent or skill, but because I wonder about her commitment to storytelling. She has yet to really knock my socks off dramatically, and it worries me slightly that she’s such an outspoken fan of Wong Kar-Wei and Michelangelo Antonioni, two directors of the world’s most gorgeous films that I find nearly unwatchable. On the other hand, Thompson came up with a quote in which Coppola praises Bob Fosse, one of my favorite directors of all time, and his most direct and emotional film, “All That Jazz.”

“I enjoy movies when they’re sincere, from personal experience. Fosse got away with his girlfriend playing his girlfriend. It’s not an all-romanticized idea of himself. It’s honest.”

True enough. Watching the trailer for “Somewhere,” about a hard living actor (Stephen Dorff) and his tween-age daughter (Elle Fanning), it looks to me like she’s still thinking about a key sliver of that film, but I ‘ll get to that some other time. Also, considering that Coppola is about to become a mom for the second time, it’s a topic that likely hits close to home. I’m hopeful about this one.

  

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DGA nominations: no surprises

If you’ve been following the various awards and awards nominations that have been coming out of the past several weeks, there’s a good chance you can guess exactly what the Directors’ Guild nominations are without me even telling you. But just for the sake of latecomers, the casual and those who can’t be bothered, they are:  Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker,” James Cameron for “Avatar,” Lee Daniels for “Precious,” Jason Reitman for “Up in the Air” and Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds.” It would be a fairly big surprise if the Oscar’s nominees were a whole lot different.

Gregg Kilday at THR points out that Lee Daniels is the first African-American to be nominated (!!!!) and Kathryn Bigelow is joining the very small club of women to be nominated for the award. However, you can be sure that if she wasn’t nominated, her absence would have been the story, considering how her film has been received up to now. The same might have gone for Daniels, though perhaps to a lesser degree as he has more detractors.

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My hunch is that Bigelow also enjoys a somewhat better better chance to actually win than did such past female nominees as Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Copolla, and, yes, Barbara Streisand, though the competition is mighty stiff. Of course, there’s always some controversy, so now the question is, why leave out first-timer Tom Ford of “A Single Man”? And so, the Playlist asks  a related question: “Too Gay or Too Little Money?”

Fun fact time: This is also the first time, I’m pretty sure, a once-married coupled (Bigelow and James Cameron) have been nominated to oppose each other for the directors’ awards. Of course, once we succeed with overturning Proposition 8, that could get more common even if the DGA remains predominantly a boys’ club.

On a related note: The BAFTAS long list.

  

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Friday film news dump, pre-Halloween edition

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So much going on today that, unless my Google Reader is lying to me, not a single one of the many film sites and blogs on my list of usual suspects has mentioned that Christopher freaking Lee was knighted today. (I, however, will be paying my respects in the next post.)

Meanwhile….

* The biggest news of the day was expected, I guess. The New York offices of the once might mini-major Miramax, founded by Harvey and Bob Weinstein and since sold off to Disney, have been closed and the annual slate of films significantly downsized. In addition, the division’s “prexy” Daniel Battsek is stepping down, though he is supposed to be supervising the consolidation of the NYC and L.A. offices through January and no replacement has been set. Not surprising in tough times for “small” films. Anne Thompson partially blames what you might call movie mission creep, among other factors.

The main problem with the studio sub-divisions that are being slashed if not eliminated is that they simply don’t return enough on investment. They inevitably drift away from small-scale divisions that push low-budget films into more ambitious upscale operations with more employees and more overhead. With growth comes bigger budgets, more P & A, wider releases, more grandiose Oscar campaigns and often, smaller profits.

Her entire piece is definitely worth a look as she mentions how even some seemingly successful award pictures as “There Will Be Blood” and “Doubt” became money losers or earned less than you might think due to marketing costs and award campaigns.

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