Apparently, this is it

In something of a box office anticlimax to one of the most astonishing careers in entertainment history, despite surprisingly strong reviews, “This is It” with Michael Jackson has fallen somewhat short of expectations. The documentary about the preparations for Jackson’s never-to-be final tour won was, in fact, the #1 movie with an estimate of roughly $20.4-7 million for the weekend and $31.9-$32.5 for the “cume” since it’s Tuesday opening — that’s depending on whether you prefer the numbers offered by the breathlessly negative Nikki Finke or Variety’s more glass-half-full Pamela McClintock. The film was originally pegged for closer to $50 million or more.

Now, to be fair, I’ve never been a fan of this whole box office expectations game. In my book, a movie is a commercial success if it makes a profit; the bigger the profit, the bigger the success. That’s it. Still, considering who we’re talking about, it’s obvious why those expectations were sky high.

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Given that Jackson was substantially more admired and less controversial/mocked abroad, it makes sense that the worldwide numbers for “This Is It” look a lot better, with a take so far of $101 million. MJ remains, of course, huge in Japan and lots and lots of other places. Supposedly in response to this response, Sony has made the deeply unsurprising move of extending the film’s putative two-week run through Thanksgiving. Nikki Finke’s cry of “Con Artists” might seem a bit over-dramatic in a business that has long been under the spell of P.T. Barnum, but I’m not going to deny that this was a pretty naked and unconvincing ploy to try to create artificial excitement that, at least in the U.S., didn’t much take. If anyone tries to use it again any time soon, if I may indulge in the subjunctive tense, they be putzes. Still, fair is fair and it appears as if the King of Pop did beat the Hannah Montana concert film internationally, so there’s that.

While “This Is It” was the only new major release this week, and the weekend’s numbers were low overall, at least partially because of an inevitably somewhat low-key Halloween Saturday, there were other movies in play. Not at all surprisingly, the holiday was kind to “Paranormal Activity” which declined a miniscule 22% while adding theaters for an estimated weekend total of about $16.5 million and a “cume” of about $84.8 million.

Considering that it’s still playing in roughly a thousand fewer theaters than “This Is It,” this is a genuinely outstanding box office performance for a film which had an original budget that was actually less than half of the budget of the “zero budget” “The Blair Witch Project.” Perhaps wisely, Paramount appears to be keeping Israeli-born video game designer and now film director Oren Peli under wraps for the time being – no need to turn him into Quentin Spielberg just yet – but I trust he enjoyed the happiest of Halloweens.

Other than that, there were few surprises this weekend with all the current films pretty much staying static. However, I’m sure some of our young male readership will be interested to note that, as per Box Office Mojo, the best per-screen average this Halloween was just under $6,800 and it was enjoyed by Apparition’s “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” on 68 screens. Given the poor performance of my personal great black hope, “Black Dynamite,” which was released in seventy theaters by the same arm of Sony and did not even register this week, or last, at the Mojo, this kind of sets my teeth on edge. It ain’t fair but the most cinematically accurate spoof film since “Young Frankenstein” will be back for another try on DVD. That, as they say, is show biz, suckas.

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“This Is It” is it

This week’s box office preview is going to be pretty thin because essentially nothing is happening in the way of major new releases, except for Michael Jackson’s last hurrah, and that’s been out since Tuesday.

Michael Jackson in

This Is It” has already earned about $20 million worldwide and been declared a disappointment by Nikki Finke. She reports that most expect roughly a $50 million domestic five day total.

Overall, expectations are not too huge for this weekend and the usual trade-paper prognosticators are taking the day off. For one thing, with Halloween falling on a Saturday this year, a lot of folks we’ll be scaring themselves in places other than the multiplex, including watching scary movies at home where its cheaper and excess imbibing, etc. is less problematic.

Woody Harrelson in On the other hand, it’ll be fun to see how “Paranormal Activity,” “Zombieland” and even “Saw VI” fair over the holiday. In addition, the fun/scary sounding eighties-style horror flick, available since October 1 via video on demand, called “House of the Devil” is only going to be in three theaters according to Box Office Mojo, but still may enjoy a bit of a Halloween bump.

Other than that, the closest thing to a major new release this weekend is “The Boondock Saints II: All Saint’s Day,” which will be released into 68 theaters by Sony’s Apparition arm. A couple of weeks back, the outstanding “Black Dynamite” was released by the same outfit and it is currently teetering on the edge of complete box office oblivion (if you’re anyway near a theater showing it — go now!), so let’s say I have less than complete confidence in their releasing strategy.

With a rather crappy 23% Rotten Tomatoes rating, Troy Duffy’s “sub-Tarantino” testostafest may do better based on the cult notoriety of the original film, but it sure doesn’t sound like it will break out much beyond the hardcore fans of the original. Certainly, when the best pull quotes RT can muster is a defensive “Personally, I loved it” and a disarming “I find enough to keep me in a satiated stupor here,” enthusiasm seeems muted. On the other hand, “The Boondocks Saints” itself only has a 16% RT “fresh” rating as compared to 79% for “Overnight,” the unmaking-of documentary about it writer-director. As I’ve learned in countless video store conversations with guys under thirty, there is a market for this thing.

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