Latest “Twilight Saga” installment to eclipse “The Last Airbender” (updated)

If you’re the kind of person who lives or dies by box office news and, if so, you have my deepest sympathies,  this weekend’s box-office is already partially old news. As I write this late Thursday night, we know that Summit’s “The Twlight Saga: Eclipse” has already raked in a massive $68.5 million, though that’s actually a bit less than the prior installment got on its first weekday release. Nevertheless, its very mixed reviews are actually an improvement on  the poor critical performance of the last entry and there’s general agreement that, whatever else may be the case, this is the most action-packed installment so far. Decent word of mouth could give it a boost.

Ah, the eternal choice: lycanthrope or bloodsucking parasite?

In any case the $150 million or more total for the vampire romance’s first five days that jolly Carl DiOrio has confidently predicted seems like a good guess, especially with Nikki Finke‘s report of a promotional strategy involving 20 cast members fanning out across the country to intro the movie in area theaters.  This can’t hurt. Go to any revival screening in L.A. at a venue like the American Cinematheque or the L.A. County Museum of Art, and you’ll be lucky to see a half-full house. Advertise that a famed cast member will be speaking, and you often get sell outs. Never underestimate the appeal of a live celebrity appearance. If it works with film snobs, it’ll squeeze some more repeat viewings from the Twi-hards.

There’s actually another new genre film debuting this week. It’s the more kid-and-geek-male friendly, PG-rated “The Last Airbender” from M. Night Shameicantspellhisname. The Indian-American director has been pilloried by Asian groups for casting the tale, adopted from an animated series with a definite Asian flavor, with primarily white actors. It’s also been a long time since he’s had a hit, or even a movie that anybody liked much. It gets worse because “Airbender” is getting some of worst reviews of the year, with critics like our own Jason Zingale taking a moment to criticize the film’s retrofitted 3-D as even worse than the film as a whole. Even so, the martial arts fantasy got off to a decent start at midnight screenings Thursday morning with $3 million in the coffer for Paramount.

The Last AirbenderStill, if word gets out that this film is the stinker it sounds like, rather than the franchise-starter it’s supposed to be, it could do very disappointing business. With a $145 million budget, that’s not good tidings for the director or the studio. On the other hand, fans of the animated series could pull the film towards a solid, but certainly hugely distant, second. In any case, it seems clear that the massive and assuredly leggy success of “Toy Story 3” will be nipping at its heels. One thing is certain: the film originally titled “Avatar: The Last Airbender” will not be emulating its former namesake commercially over the long haul.

Among other limited releases this week, we have “Love Ranch,” which is the first film starring Helen Mirren to be directed by her husband, Taylor Hackford (“Ray,” “An Officer and a Gentleman”). Sadly, it’s getting very bad reviews. That is not good for a limited release, even if Joe Pesci is also in the cast. Amazing that a film about murder and legalized prostitution in Nevada is considered dull, but making movies is an uncertain business. Right?

“The Killer Inside Me” starring Casey Affleck as a brutally psychopathic cop is dividing critics in the kind of way that indicates it’s either an honorable near-miss or a cult film in the making. The adaptation of the pulp novel by novelist and Stanley Kubrick screenwriter Jim Thompson, which has a couple of scenes of very brutal and graphic violence that have generated a ton of ink and bloggy pixels, though its admirers tell us there’s lot more to the movie that that, will be expanding significantly from four to seventeen screens this weekend as per Box Office Mojo’s theater counts,. If you want to see it in a theater, I suggest you do so quickly. I don’t think all that many people are in the mood for this kind of thing right now.

UPDATE: Nikki Finke has the Thursday box office which indicates both “Eclipse” and “Airbender” are on track for their respective expected strong performances. Still, I’m curious to see if word of mouth catches up with the latter.

  

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Monday movie news: Sundance redux; the Oscar noms are coming, but the Razzies are already here…and more.

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*  Since I wasn’t there, there’s not much I personally can say about Robert Redford’s annual mega-event. Fortunately, lots of others were and their thoughts are worth taking a look at, starting with Manohla Dargis, chief film critic of the New York Times who finds plenty to recommend in this year’s entries. She also considers a DIY digital new New Wave.

Another good summary of the Sundance fest comes from Indiewire’s Eric Kohn while David Hudson rounds up more reaction. Meanwhile, Mike Fleming takes a look from a more dollars-and-cents perspective and finds no huge “indie bloodbath” at this festival, and a comment points me towards the second Dargis piece linked to above.

* Yesterday, I wrote that the winner of the DGA award for Best Documentary got a “boost,” in its Oscar chances. I qualified that statement a bit, but probably not enough. A.J. Schnack notes that, if one award can be said to predict another award, the DGA victory yesterday for “The Cove” actually might make it less likely to win the Oscar. Weird but, I think, true. Historically, the folks in the documentary side of the Academy seem to like to give the nod to films that have been relatively ignored. Of course, “ignored” and “good” are not the same thing.

* They’ll be announcing the Oscar nominations far earlier than I’m prepared to get up tomorrow morning, according to tradition just after 5:30 a.m. PST, just to make all you east coasters happy by 9 a.m. Of course, I’ll get to that tomorrow. In the meantime, Steve Pond of the L.A. Times has predictions for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing, and — far more entertainingly — you can get an early taste of the inevitable complaints about unfair snubbings from an ahead of the curve Dustin Rowles.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in
* Speaking of being just a bit ahead of things, the Razzies, dishonoring the lamest in Hollywood films, have made their nominations known and, as MTV’s Terri Schwartz points out, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” has the opportunity to get some payback from critical and other detractors for all those fan-based awards it nabbed. In a somewhat older demo, Tom O’Neil of The Envelope points out that Sandra Bullock has a decent shot at winning both a Razzie and an Oscar in the lead actress categories. That would be a first time achievement, for lack of a better word.

* Anne Thompson writes that a biopic about the great George Gershwin starring could be the next Steven Spielberg directorial effort and that nouveau Spock Zachary Quinto could possibly be its star. Speaking of Gershwin, the movie inspired by his music and named after one of his best known suites, “An American in Paris,” is the second film covered in “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Bullz-Eye’s salute to films based in Paris which, of course, I had very little to do with.

* Speaking of matters Parisian AICN’s Capone talks with Pierre Morel, director of the upcoming “From Paris with Love” and, it looks like, the new version of “Dune.” Whatever else is true, the guy is a fan and that’s a good thing.

* “Avatar” did even better than thought yesterday, earning over $31 morning and breaking the all-time cash record for seventh weekends. It also broke $2 billion worldwide. <Yawn.>

  

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Another touchdown for “The Blind Side”

First of all, my apologies for the pedestrian football metaphor in my headline tonight, but all the good ones have already been taken. Add to that the fact that, with my knowledge of sports, you’re likely to end up with “‘The Blind Side‘ hits a grand slam'” or “‘The Blind Side’ scores a 3-pointer.”

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Be that as it may, the up-beat social issue/sports drama starring Sandra Bullock did indeed do extremely well this week. Taking a look at the Box Office Mojo chart, the $29 million film earned a very nice estimated $20.4 million for Warners and Alcon Entertainment in its second weekend and has so far earned a really terrific total amounting to roughly $129,264,00 so far.

As a comparison, my favorite movie of the year (that I’ve seen…I’m way, way behind), “Inglourious Basterds,” was considered quite the success. With a $70 million budget, after 16 weeks it has earned $120,467,000 for Harvey and Bob Weinstein. “2012” cost $200 million to make, a rather obscene sum that was unthinkable not so long ago, and in four weeks in wide release has earned a mere $148,787,000. I haven’t seen “The Blind Side,” but it just makes me happy that a modest movie about people is proving, I think, to be significantly more profitable than at least one pretty obviously bloated spectacle.

As for that other movie about teen vampires, werewolves, and waifs, B.O. Mojo’s Brandon Grey is here to tell us that “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” dropped another 63% this week. However, it’s opening week take was so stunning that meant it still took in a respectable estimated $15.7 million for Summit. It’s total domestic bankroll at this point is about $255.6 million and, as per Variety‘s Pamela McClintock, the worldwide total for “New Moon” is $570.1 so far. All that, with a budget of only about $50 million for a fantasy film. The “Twilight” films might not be seen by anyone as great cinema, but they are pretty awesome business.

Some bad guy in For you schadenfreude fanatics, Nikki Finke reminds us that both “The Blind Side” and the “Twilight” franchise were placed into turnaround by Fox and Paramount respectively. However, it’s always possible that those other studios would have found a way to mess up those pictures or their marketing, so who knows how things would have turned out with different studios?  In any case, no one wins all the time.

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“New Moon” and “The Blind Side” to have repeat box office bout

With a number of mostly rather underwhelming looking new films debuting this post-Thanksgiving/pre full-Christmas insanity week in medium-to-wide-release, box office pros like jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter and Variety‘s Pamela McClintock appear to agree pretty strongly that the battle this week will once again be between the romantic monsters of Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” and the football loving Red State good Samaritans of Warners’ “The Blind Side.” Considering that, as I wrote about last Sunday, “New Moon” dropped by 70% in its second last week while “The Blind Side” actually grew without the benefit of a major expansion — something I’ve never seen in the entire time I’ve been writing these posts — my money’s on the Sandra Bullock feel-good drama.

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Of the four new releases said to be appearing in 1,000 to 2,000+ theaters this weekend, the most promising, both artistically and commercially, is “Brothers,”  a remake of a widely acclaimed Afghanistan war-themed 2005 drama from Denmark. Distributed by Lionsgate, the movie is an intense love triangle involving the not-actually-dead young Afghanistan war vet played by Tobey Maguire, his not-actually-a-widow played by Natalie Portman, and his black sheep brother, Jake Gyllenhaal — who looks so much like a brother to Maguire that he once is supposed to have nearly replaced him in one of the “Spiderman” sequels.  (If they worked Elijah Wood into the cast, they would have achieved the baby-faced, raspy-voiced star trifecta.)

Director Jim Sheridan of “My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father,” and “In America” has a real flair for intense tales that dance around the edges of melodrama and then sometimes dive right in. The one-two-three punch of the very well known youngish stars would make you think this should come in with a decent amount of money — at least in the double digits. However, considering the growing news and controversy around the Afghanistan war, the topic might be a bit too timely for audience tastes. Also, a film like this should probably should at least crack 70% on the Tomatometer, especially, but hitting it of with something  in the neighborhood of 5060% of critics will have to do. Worse reviewed films have received Oscar nominations, however.

Robert De Niro in Next up is another remake of a foreign language hit, this time of an Italian comedy-drama/tearjerker from 1990 that starred the great Marcello Mastroianni and was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore of “Cinema Paradiso.” (Not at all a favorite of mine, by the way.) Disney’s PG-13 “Everybody’s Fine” brings us Robert De Niro as a widower trying to reconnect with his children and grandchildren and costars Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell. A sentimental tale for the holidays with this kind of star power should have some wattage in theory, though  apparently the “tracking” is kind of stinking for this film which isn’t really wowing the critics either. Our own Jason Zingale liked it mainly on the strength of DeNiro’s performance but this one feels like the movie you settle for if grandma, or maybe great-grandma, wants to see something nice and you can’t get into the “The Blind Side.”

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“New Moon” rises while sinking; Thanksgiving box office gets hit on “The Blind Side”

My Wednesday prediction that this would be a healthy Thanksgiving weekend at the box office certainly proved true — and it was nice to see it wasn’t at the rest of the economy’s expense: holiday shopping actually went up slightly this year and went up a lot more virtually. Also, the movie everyone expected to hit number actually did one hit number one. However, looking beneath the surface just slightly, movie consumers were making some interesting choices.

The argument prognosticators were making last week was that Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” pretty much had to come out on top because, considering its $142 million+ opening weekend, even if it suffered a catastrophic drop in its second weekend, it still would be ahead of everything else, and that’s pretty much what happened. The vampire-werewolf-human love triangle dropped a massive 70% but, as reported by Box Office Mojo‘s weekend chart and trade mag writers jolly Carl DiOrio and Pamela McClintock, it still earned an estimated $42.5. That was a mere $2.375 million ahead of this week’s surprise #2 film, “The Blind Side,” which not only actually won the box office race on Thanksgiving day (which is not included in the weekend tallies) but came refreshingly close to winning the weekend with $40.125 million. The five day total for the films offer a bit more air between the #1 and #2 spots, with an estimated $66 million for “New Moon” and just over $57.5 for “The Blind Side.”

blindside

The impressive aspect of the Sandra Bullock-led sports film/cross-cultural family drama combo is that it did something I don’t remember seeing whenever I’ve been paying close attention to grosses.  In a world where we think it’s good if a film drops less than 45-50% on its second weekend, “The Blind Side” actually climbed 17.6% on its second go-round without a significant expansion (it went from being in 3,310 theaters to 3,340). I haven’t seen the film but I will say that this seems to be a sign that it’s possible what attracts most audiences today isn’t so different from what attracted them 50 or 75 years ago.

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