If you’re looking for a surprise at the box office…

…I suggest you got to the front of your local multiplex, remove your pants, sing “La Cucaracha” at the top of your voice, and see what happens. You certainly won’t get anything too unexpected from the weekend’s movie grosses based on what I wrote Thursday night.

Avatar

According to Box Office Mojo , once again the 3-D science fiction fable that just won’t quit, “Avatar” continues to “hold” fabulously for Fox and is down only 14.1% from last weekend for a very nice total of $30 million in its seventh week atop the box office. Jolly Carl DiOrio reminds us, however, that while James Cameron‘s previous “Titanic” record is about to be demolished in terms of raw cash, that mega-blockbuster stayed on top of the box office for an astonishing 15 weekends. (I’m glad I wasn’t writing these back in 1997-8; I might have gone insane from the repetition.) Of course, all it takes to end the record is one really sizable new hit movie to make into the high twenties or low thirties. We’ll see.

For now, that sizable new hit remains a mere phantom. This week’s silver medalist is the thriller “Edge of Darkness, starring Mel Gibson” The film managed an estimated $17.12 million in 3,066 theaters for Warners, making for an unexciting per screen average of $5,584. This is not a terrible performance, but given the film’s $80 million budget, it ain’t great. Some of you (you know who you are) may recall that, when the space opera “Serenity” opened with about $10 million some years back, it was deemed a fairly major disappointment with a budget of less than half that much. Ol’ Sugar Tits and company are going to have to hold on very well at the box office in subsequent weeks if he wants this to be seen as anything resembling the start of an acting comeback.

Kristen Bell in
Speaking of movies related to great-but-canceled television shows with high geek appeal, what does it mean that, just as I was starting to write this post, the Dandy Warhols’ “We Used to Be Friends” came on the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s Muzak? Yes, the theme to “Veronica Mars” put me in mind of the performance of the critically drubbed romantic comedy “When in Rome.” Still, the appeal of former TV teen detective Kristen Bell may have counted for enough to get the film a non-terrible estimated opening weekend of $12+ million for Disney, which might be enough, or not, depending on the budget.

There was some interesting blowback from prior weeks. Last week’s surprising situation where the killer-angel film “Legion” came in at a strong #2 with over $28 million, defeating the family appeal of Fox’s “The Tooth Fairy” was reversed this week. The PG-rated Dwayne Johnson comedy vehicle stayed in the #4 position and earned an estimated $10 million dropping a relatively very modest 28% in its second week. “Legion” from Screen Gems sank by a whopping 61.1% and came in at the #6 spot, beneath “The Book of Eli,” with only an estimated $6.8 million.

The only other news of much note is the strong performance of the slowly expanding country-music themed drama, “Crazy Heart” — featuring a multi-award-winning performance by Jeff Bridges that really seems like an Oscar lock. In 239 theaters as of this weekend, the film earned one of the weekend’s best per-screen averages ($9,414) for an estimated total of $2.25 million. That will be sweet, soulful music to the ears of the suits of Fox Searchlight.

1111045_CrazyHeart_scene_03

  

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Weekend box office: “Avatar” gets the double three-peat; “Legion” ascends to #2

Do I even need to tell you that “Avatar” once again topped the weekend box office? Well, I’m telling you anyway. I’m also adding that, as per the good people at Box Office Mojo, it suffered only a very modest 15.9% drop from last week and made a healthy estimated $36 million over this weekend, topping the box office for the sixth time running. Moreover, Jolly Carl DiOrio reports that, barring worldwide calamity of some sort, as of tomorrow, James Cameron‘s science fiction adventure looks to beat the record of his “Titanic” and be the number one worldwide moneymaker of all time.

Meanwhile, Nikki Finke, never anyone’s cheerleader, is quick to remind us that the film is actually only the 26th most popular film of all time when you adjust for inflated ticket prices, and I’m wondering if it’s possible to adjust for population growth over the century or so history of the movie business. Still, a buck’s a buck and there’s no taking away from James Cameron’s achievement in connecting in an intense and emotional way to the masses and getting them to part with not too small sums of money in fairly hard economic times.

We do have a bit of a surprise in the #2 spot. If you were here for the weekend preview, you’ll perhaps guess that¬† I am slightly surprised that the killer-angels movie, “Legion,” managed an estimated $18.2 million for Screen Gems with a very good per-screen average of $7,351 (it was on about a thousand fewer screens than most of the other top pictures). It managed this despite about zero buzz and some withering early responses. I guess young men just wanted to see a movie about buffed angels killing people and each other.

I just wonder if any religious types will take notice of it now. I simply have a hard time imaging a movie about kick-ass emissaries of God fighting each other and slaughtering people not offending someone, but that’s just me. On the other hand, Paul Bettany’s career as well as that of its first-time feature director Scott Stewart would seem to be newly blessed.

Following Warner Brothers’ “The Book of Eli,” which endured a fairly typical drop of 48.2% percent in its second week for an estimated $17 million, was the movie I pretty much expected to be in the #2 spot, “The Tooth Fairy.” The family-factor failed to come to the rescue for the PG-rated Dwayne Johnson comedy vehicle, which managed a fairly soft estimated $14.5 million. Considering it’s budget was $48 million as opposed to the $22 million for “Legion,” it has to be something of a disappointment for Fox.

Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford in Still, that’s nothing compared to the drubbing the newly formed CBS Films took for the Brendan Fraser/Harrison Ford medical drama, “Extraordinary Measures.” A topical subject matter couldn’t erase the fuzziness pervading the film’s profile and came in at the #7 spot and made a matching $7 million in its first week. And here comes my obligatory medical metaphor….At this point, the prognosis for CBS’s movie foray might be a little shaky.

  

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Zzzzz….”Avatar”…zzzz

We’re deep, deep into the January doldrums this week with the studios putting out three new movies that will be lucky to be fodder for late night cable or very hard trivia questions after a few weeks. We also, of course, have one true-blue blockbuster dominating the box office for the sixth week in a row.

Sam Worthington in And so THR’s jolly Carl DiOrio is beyond certain that James Cameron will, by Sunday, not only be the director of the #1 and #2 moneymakers of all time (not adjusted for inflation) but also will be matching his own “Titanic” record of six consecutive #1 showings at the U.S. box office. He also says “Avatar” will make roughly $25 million. That sounds about right to me, but all I can really say for sure is that it does seem reasonably sure to wipe the floor with the three fairly lackluster looking films on tap for this weekend.

The Tooth Fairy,” at least, benefits from a quickly understandable premise which has some comic potential, as well as a very strong supporting cast. Dwayne “no longer ‘the Rock'” Johnson is an unpleasant hockey star forced to become the winged pixie of everyone’s childhood. Playing M to his emasculated James Bond is a slightly stern Julie Andrews, with Billy Crystal and Stephen Merchant of “Extras” as his Q branch operatives, while Ashley Judd performs love interest duties. The consensus on this one is that, while¬† it’s the very rare critic who will go so far as to admit to actually liking the thing — it has a lousy 11% “fresh” Rotten Tomatoes reading — it could have been worse. Talk about faint praise. The trailer isn’t exactly huge on laughs, but Crystal variation on his old Miracle Max shtick got a chuckle out of me. Considering the family factor and Johnson’s appeal, I suspect this Fox comedy will stand up nicely to the weak competition of the other new releases.

Speaking of weak competition, every review I glanced at, including the one from our own David Medsker, compared “Extraordinary Measures” to a TV movie. This fact-inspired maiden voyage for the newly formed CBS Films stars Brendan Fraser as a corporate executive with two children suffering from a rare disease who joins forces with Harrison Ford‘s curmudgeonly scientist to find a cure while battling the medical and corporate establishment.

Brendan Frasher and Harrison Ford take

This type of material can work in theatrical films as was proven by both Steven Soderbergh with “Erin Brockovich” and, before that, George Miller with the underrated “Lorenzo’s Oil.” (Nick Nolte’s Italian accent wasn’t all that bad, besides, he got the emotions right.) The consensus here, however, is that pedestrian execution destines this film to fairly instant obscurity — a familiar face and an aging superstar won’t be enough to attract major audiences to a film that really could have used a few some good reviews. Instead, it got only 23% percent of critics at Rotten Tomatoes admitting to even a mild liking for the film.

Only one critic we know of has even seen “Legion.” Released by Sony and made by a first time director with a background in effects work, this one sounds to me like an action/horror remake of Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” or “Wings of Desire” gone very, very wrong. The film has very literal killer angels besieging a diner — because hashhouses are always the best place to start an apocalypse. Starring Paul Bettany as the week’s second ass-kicking winged mythological being and Dennis Quaid as a sick looking middle-aged guy, DiOrio says this is “tracking best among young males” and I can’t imagine who else would see this one. Judging by Mr. One Critic’s ultra-harsh review, even they may find better better things to do. As for what religious people will make of a film which has angels wielding machine guns, I can only imagine.

  

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So, guess what’s topping the box office this weekend

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in Yes, the holiday weekend is barely half-way over and tonight’s Golden Globes could alter things slightly. Nevertheless, the Box Office Mojo’s weekend estimates are out and, don’t even bother to wait for it, Fox’s “Avatar” was once again the box office leader with a solid $41.3 million estimated take and a still very low drop of only 17.9% on its fifth go-round. Domestically, “Avatar” is already the #3 all-time moneymaker with a total of $491,767,000. Worldwide it has defeated, “The Return of the King” and is now #2 at just over $1.6 billion, just a couple billion shy of another movie you might have an opinion about, “Titanic.” James Cameron might have to buy an additional Malibu estate for his self-esteem to live in.

Just to keep us from falling completely asleep, however, there were some new members of the top 3 this week. The post apocalyptic actioner with a spiritual tint, Warner Brothers’ “The Book of Eli,” performed as per the expectations I described last time and has a current weekend estimate of roughly $31.6 million. That will definitely be happy news not only for star Denzel Washington but for directors Allen and Albert Hughes, whose last film, “From Hell” was not a box office success despite the presence of another big star, Johnny Depp. (Indeed, one of that film’s producers left the film business and has gone on to become one of the most powerful and annoying members of the left hand side of blogosphere, but that’s a story for another time and place.)

Denzel Washington in

As for the #3 spot…it’s not really a weekend if I don’t make an completely wrong predictive comment — when will I learn to keep my trap shut? Anyhow, the marketing strategy turning a critically dissed piece of Oscar bait into a film aimed at female tweens and teenagers has paid off with a very decent estimated third place showing of just over $17 million for “The Lovely Bones” and Paramount/Dreamworks. The film has been out in limited release for several weeks, but went into over 2,500 theaters and apparently the timing was correct.

A brand new wide release, “The Spy Next Door,” a frankly lame looking vehicle for Jackie Chan, did fairly unimpressive business for a wide release film on its opening weekend despite . It came in the #6 spot with an estimated $9.7 million for Lionsgate, which might be enough if the film’s budget is low enough. In other “cudda been worse” news, it’s 0% on the Tomatometer on Friday has blossomed to 9% with four critics failing to dislike it.

Michael Cera in Finally, the vampire role-reversal flick a la Monty Python’s “Bicycle Repairman” sketch, “Daybreakers,” which did rather well last week, suffered a huge 67% drop in its second time out, going from a $15 million last week to about $5 million this week. And, because I’m a nice guy, I’ll keep the word on “Youth in Revolt” to myself.

  

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“The Reign of the Na’vi IV”

The humans of Yes, if this weekend at the box office were a movie, it would be a less than super-imaginative sequel. Once again, “Avatar” ruled at the U.S. box office. As seen on the mighty weekly chart of Box Office Mojo, James Cameron‘s mythic, politically pointed, science fiction adventure once again took the crown with an estimated $48.5 million for Fox. That’s a drop of only 29.2% in its fourth box office weekend, following a huge and long prior holiday weekend. No doubt helped out by those premium 3-D and Imax ticket prices, it also enjoyed the nation’s highest per screen average at about $14,173. In the relatively short time I’ve been doing this, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen on a movie’s fourth week.

As reckoned by the Mojo, “Avatar” is the now the #1 domestic moneymaker for 2009 and the #7 cinematic cash cow of all time, with a very definite bullet considering its signs of considerable ongoing strength. In others words, this is a movie people actually enjoy, not merely tolerate because it offers enough explosions to distract them for a couple of hours.

On the other hand, just to keep things in perspective, adjusted for inflation, “Avatar” is still a 56 steps down from the all-time ticket seller, “Gone With the Wind.” On the other hand, lest James Cameron should be threatened by any momentary bouts of untoward humility, at least in terms of raw cash he really is box office king of the world right now. “Avatar” is already the #2 grosser of all time at $1.331 billion, $500 million and change behind “Titanic” — written and directed by you-know-who. Can I still wish Cameron had brought in a competent wordsmith/dramaturg to smooth out the very rough edges on both films?

As for the second and third place positions, we had another photo-finish in which Warner’s “Sherlock Holmes” narrowly edged out Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” by a rodent hair. The world’s greatest literary detective brought in just a hair more than an estimated $16.6 million and the musically inclined woodland creatures managed an estimated $16.3 million. With the holiday weekends at an end, they both exhibited more typical drops for typical Hollywood product, with “Holmes” dropping by 54.6% and “Chipmunks” by 53.7%.

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