Weekend box office: “Jackass 3D,” a big win for creative stupidity; “RED” a smaller win for chronological maturity

Back on Thursday night, we were talking about a possible $30 million or more for the latest from the usual gang of self-declared prankster-daredevil idiots, “Jackass 3D.” Well, one quick look at the Box Office Mojo’s chart will show you that it turned out to be an estimated $50 million. Considering the film only cost $20 million, that’s a pretty great start, even with a rather large possible second week attendance crash.

No doubt a lot of “Jackass”-generated cash for Paramount — a new record for this time period, though with constant inflation of movie tickets, even in a stagnant economy, I’m never too impressed by these constantly broken records — comes directly from the 3D bump. It seems clear that the format can still make a big difference for the right movie, and this is obviously a special case. Regular readers know I was born without the gene that makes people enjoy the feeling of being grossed out, but even I get that if seeing something, or someone, squirt out of an orifice in 2D is hilarious, then watching it/him practically fly into your lap in 3D must be completely hysterical. The only fly in the stinky ointment here is that inevitable R-rating. I can only imagine how many younger, mostly male, teenagers and tweens are trying to figure out how they can scam their way into a theater (and the correct glasses) or begging older relatives and/or paying neighborhood winos to take them.

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Weekend box office: Demons take robbers (maybe, kind of) in a photo-finish (updated — results reversed)

To be perfectly honest, this whole business of the box office horse race is a bit silly. Box office is not a zero-sum game and is probably a bit more like horseshoes than hand grenades. The success of one film doesn’t necessarily take that much away from the success of another. In this weekend’s case, people who felt like seeing an attempt at a stylish robbers-‘n-cops thriller were edged out very slightly by people who wanted to see another scary mockumentary. This weekend, the results are close enough that the “actuals” may be different enough from the estimates to reverse the #1 and #2 positions.

TakersTo be specific, the horror tale, “The Last Exorcism,” earned an estimated $21.3 million for Lionsgate, while the crime thriller “Takers” netted an estimate of $21 million. Aside from being extremely close, it’s worthy of a huge asterisk. As per Box Office Mojo, “Exorcism” was in 668 more theaters while Screengems/Sony’s “Takers” had the week’s highest per-screen average ($9,519). The heist picture had a budget of $20 million, extremely modest by contemporary studio standards, which means that it’s very much on its way to profitability. However, like prior horror mock-docs, “Exorcism” is by far the profitability king this weekend with an announced budget of $1.8 million. That’s enormously tiny in Hollywood terms and makes this a big win for producer Eli Roth, first-time feature director Daniel Stamm, and the screenwriting team of Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, whose unpromising looking upcoming ‘net-driven horny-teenager flick, “The Virginity Hit” got a certain amount of bloggy attention a while back.

On the bad news side for “The Last Exorcism,” Nikki Finke has noted that the film received a “D” from Cinemascore. She decreed, in typically blunt Finkian fashion, “they hated it.” Well, that seems a fair enough assessment, except that it might not be that simple. The ending has been generating a certain amount of complaints even from critics, who have been mostly supportive of the film. Clearly horror fans and others who plunked down $10+ more, however, may be feeling cheated and we have reports of audible responses from audience.

A friend and I have been having for decades having to do with mostly good movies with bad endings versus mostly bad movies with good endings and which are “better.” Perhaps like the critics who were kind to “The Last Exorcism,” I believe the journey is more important than the destination but, of course, it’s the destination you often remember most easily. I wonder if any of those D-graders had second thoughts on the way home as their immediate anger lessened and they remembered the “good parts” on the way home.

[UPDATE: Yes, that difference was small enough to be reversed. According to Nikki Finke and Box Office Mojo, the “actuals” have reversed the order of the this week’s top 2l.  “Takers” took $20,512,304 and is now #1, while now #2 “The Last Exorcism” received $20,366,613. That’s a difference of just over $145,691.]

In other news, the week’s #3 film was ‘The Expendables” with $9.5 million estimated in its third week. That expanded 3D only reissue of “Avatar” I spent time discussing on Thursday night turned out not to be monkey wrench to anyone else’s success. It only managed to get into 12th place, earning a decent but definitely non-blockbuster $4 million in about a third as many theaters as a typical wide-release.

Finally, the indie/limited release beat is percolating along nicely with good news for the first half of a fact-based French 2-part gangster thriller “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” starring the memorable Vincent Cassel. Meanwhile, my mild obsession with the success of “Get Low,” which continues to thrive, is mellowed by the knowledge that it’s not likely to match the years #1 indie so far, “The Kids All Right.” As usual, the details are available as handled very nicely by Peter Knegt over at Indiewire.

Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in

  

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Weekend box office: A crime caper, a demon (non) con, and some bulked up Na’vi head to the ‘plex

The good news is that it seems pretty clear that “Vampires Suck” will not be the #2 movie again this weekend. The not-quite-news is that, with the reign of “The Expendables” also almost certainly over, there is some real doubt about what will be #1 because of the special extended edition, all 3D, release of box office champion “Avatar” in over 800 theaters.

While Ben Fritz confesses to some actual confusion, jolly Carl DiOrio cautiously leans toward the heist thriller “Takers” to take the weekend with some amount in the “teen millions.” Although our own Will Harris found some things to like in a thoroughly mixed review, the thriller is being out-and-out bashed by many critics, with the consensus being that the film, which stars Chris Brown, potential A-lister Idris Elba, and “Avatar” leading-female-life-form Zoe Saldana (well, Will says she’s hardly there), is a tinsel-laden rehash or, as Cinemablend’s Josh Tyler puts it (via Rotten Tomatoes pull quote):

The logical result of watching Heat over and over and over until your brain burns out, and then wondering what it would look like if the whole thing were remade as a Smirnoff Vodka commercial.

Doing better critically is this week’s other new wide release, “The Last Exorcism.” Producer Eli Roth’s first foray away into PG-13 scares, the movie boasts a premise that actually threatens to justify one more shot at the increasingly large horror mock-documentary subgenre with a premise I know I’ve seen somewhere before in some form. It’s about an avowedly phony exorcist who opts to document his own con job only to find himself beset by…well, just guess. It’s a premise ripe for laughs and satire as well as scares and a majority of critics find this an auspicious debut for first time helmer Daniel Stamm.  There’s been some viral promotion for this film. Considering the style and the no-name cast, I’m sure the budget for this “Exorcism” was good and low and that’s nearly always a smart move, especially with an attempt at horror that’s more than just frightening.

One proviso, however. Most seem to agree that the ending is a let down. One thing about the most commercially successful entries in this genre, they might not have been great cinema in the usual sense, but they had wowser endings.

Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black In the indie world, the year’s next candidate for break-out film turns out to be “Get Low,” which will almost no longer be a limited release as it expands onto 570 screens. Yes, I’m one of the very few writers not to be the least bit charmed by the film. So, what’s the voice of one-almost-lone movie critic versus a wave of good reviews and enormous, well-earned goodwill built up by three great stars like Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray? Don’t answer that.

  

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Weekend box office: “The Expendables” hold their ground, otherwise things pretty much “Suck”

Sylvester Stallone in I guess all Americans should all be grateful to the very patriotic Sylvester Stallone and company for “The Expendables” for being #1 at the U.S. box office, even with a not-terribly leggy performance of $16.5 million in week 2, a 53% drop. That’s because him and his studly posse turned out to be only standing between us and the spectacle of “Vampires Suck” being the #1 movie in the U.S. of A.

Yes, I know I never have, and probably never will, see more than a minute or two of the parody. However, a very tiny minority of films and filmmakers are so bad and so devoid of even the minimum level of dramatic/comedic acumen that a minute or two is really all you need to see and, from its titles to its sub-idiot-mentality trailer, this is one of those rare films, unless my cine-spider senses totally have failed me.

Yet, the PG-13 “Twilight Saga” spoof, so rated because, if you’re over 13, you should be too old to find anything in its trailer remotely funny, did far better than it surely deserved. It seems the Twi-hards really wanted a spoof movie to call their own, so many went and the film earned an estimated $12.2 million, just barely edging out the roughly $12 million second weekend of “Eat, Pray, Love.” Somebody really blew an opportunity a few years back to rush a quickie adaptation of the Harvard Lampoon’s legendary “Bored of the Rings.”

Overall, this  weekend should be familiar to we Democrats in that it was a real circular firing squad, with too many new movies competing for attention and, I suspect, sort of canceling each other out. Nobody really did that well though some did better than you might assume.

The so-called “urban demos” appeared to turn out for the comedy “Lottery Ticket” which netted an estimated $11.1 million. Not at all bad considering it’s thrifty $17 million budget.

Lottery Ticket

As for nerd male demos, “Piranha 3D” fell squarely into an amount I’m going to just go ahead and name the “geek zone” with an estimated $10 million despite the boost from 3D ticket prices. Despite lots of gore, I’m guessing the movie just didn’t seem scary enough for today’s trauma-loving hardcore horror fans and naked breasts are available in many venues these days. Even so, since that movie cost $24 million, extremely modest especially considering the amount of effects involved, I wouldn’t rule out an even lower budget “Piranha 4D” or something. That might have been a disappointing number, nevertheless, but it still managed to beat two films some analysts apparently expected to do significantly better, the family comedy “Nanny McPhee Returns” and the relationship comedy, “The Switch.”

I’m running short on time this week and there’s a lot more interesting stuff going on. So, I’ll simply refer you the source for my numbers this and most weeks, the mighty Box Office Mojo weekly chart. Also, on the arthouse side, there was good news for the outstanding documentary “The Tillman Story” and liked-by-everyone-but-me folk tale “Get Low,” among many other interesting tidbits. For that, as always, I refer you to Indiewire’s detailed coverage.

  

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Box office preview: “The Expendables” likely to fend of a mob led by an ugly nanny, unfunny vampires, and flesh-loving fishies

The ExpendablesIt’s very late as I start this and with five new wide releases this week, I’m not going to even attempt to try and describe all of them in any detail. In fact, I’m going to try and make this post as short as possible. Basically, the story is that the prognosticators like Ben Fritz and jolly Carl DiOrio seem to agree that last weekend’s megamacho winner, The Expendables, is the most likely winner of this week’s box office derby. That’s because none of the five movies is seen as being that strong.

Personally, as a geek who adores humorous, old school exploitation horror movies but who is also a gross-out negative gorephobe in no mood to have a bloody penis (!) thrown at me or throw-up thrown in my lap, I honestly don’t know whether to be happy or sad that the apparently rather effective “Piranha 3D” is not expected to do very well for the Weinstein Company. That’s despite what should be a successful formula of blood and breasts. It’s always worked before. The movie has been kept away from most critics but — bad sign — most of the ones who have seen it actually like it.

Expected to do better is the English family comedy sequel from Working Title, “Nanny McPhee Returns,” starring and written by the wondrous Emma Thompson as the anti-Poppins. The film, already a success overseas, is seen as having the best shot at kicking the arse of the ass-kicking “Expendables” septet, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Actually, I wouldn’t bet on anything because with so many movies out, it’s really just kind of a mess and anything can happen. I wouldn’t expect an upset, however, from the Warners “‘hood comedy” “Lottery Ticket” or the PG-13 Jason BatemanJennifer Aniston rom-com involving a “baster baby,” the aptly titled “The Switch” from possibly soon-to-be-moribund Miramax.

Jason Batemen and Jennifer Aniston in

On the other hand, there is another movie that’s actually expected to do rather well and, oh god, I have no goddamn clue why that should be. I mean, if I was eight years old, I might find the title of Fox’s spoof film “Vampires Suck” promising. However, there is an emerging and near universal consensus that, whatever stereotypes might be out there about us Jewish guys being as inherently funny as, say, Canadians, they are more than disapproved by the past work of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. These are the guys who foisted “Disaster Movie,” “Meet the Spartans” and “Date Movie” upon an unsuspecting world. IMDb users are not loving it too much either, although there are nine women 45 and over I really wonder about. Hmm. Both guys have to have mothers, right? That’s two. Grandmothers? Aunts? Great grandmothers? Second cousins?

“Suck” is, I’m sure, the worst reviewed major movie of our not-so-young year. Indeed, the alleged comedy was on the precipice of achieving a rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes when a lone contrary opinion saved it and got it all the way to a mighty 3%. No, it wasn’t the nefarious and attention-hogging Armond White who found something to not hate in a spoof movie seemingly dripping in the not-funny, but newcomer Michael Ordona of the L.A. Times. Or at least Rotten Tomatoes says it was him. The actual review, at least here, has no name on it. Is somebody ashamed?

The really sad part of this story is that the suck movie was actually released on Wednesday and had a surprisingly okay first day. In theory, it could win the weekend, and that would really suck.

Stay tuned — though it’s looking like my Sunday box office report will likely be delayed to Monday. Can you stand the suspense that long? I know I can.

  

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