Weekend box office: “Iron Man 2” holds on in U.S., but “Robin Hood” makes out like a bandit abroad

Seeing as we have two action movies in contention this week, I’ll cut to the chase. Marvel and Paramount’s “Iron Man 2,” as was universally expected back before the weekend started, easily held on to its #1 spot at the box office. Ir scored a weekend estimate of $53 million that nevertheless included a somewhat higher than average drop of over 58%, indicating that the movie, as I imagined, isn’t quite wowing filmgoers the way the first movie in the franchise did.

This week’s big debut, “Robin Hood” has generally received a decidedly mixed reaction from, as far as I can tell, everyone who sees. It came in slightly below expectations at an estimate of roughly $37.1 million for Universal. (Earlier, the box office gurus were talking about figures in the range of $40-50 million.) Nevertheless, though the reaction be “meh,” not all the news for brave Sir Robin is mediocre. Indeed, THR this morning trumpeted a take of $74 million from just under 6,944 screens across the globe, making it the world’s #1 movie.

Russell Crowe is, I guess, It’s been a long, long time since my stint in an International Sales wing of a smallish film company, but it appears that, then as now, the combination of a really well-known star like Russell Crowe, action, and a strong (at least in theory) storyline remains the formula for success in non-English-speaking territories. I’m sure this news is music to the ears of the suits of recently bad luck/bad decision prone Universal.

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Can “Robin Hood” steal some of the shine off “Iron Man 2”?

Well, maybe just a little, seems to be the collective answer for this coming movie weekend. Both Daniel Frankel of the Wrap and THR‘s ever jolly Carl DiOrio seem to agree that those mysterious tracking figures point to a strong, if not really earth-shattering, performance for this “secret origin” tale of the quasi-mythological hero, “Robin Hood.”

Russel Crowe is

The film reteams director Ridley Scott for the fifth time with today’s ultimate A-list macho man, Russell Crowe, but the reception will not be that of a “Gladiator.” The problem, I think, is that there’s another general consensus developing about the film amidst the very mixed reviews: it’s just not a whole lot of fun.

Our own Will Harris, in his 2.5 out of 5 star review, admits the film looks terrific but also that it feels completely unnecessary. Roger Ebert is even more pointed. After opening up his review about the slow death of innocence and joy in movies — something we’ll all forget about the next time Pixar releases something — and remembering great Robins of yore, he moves in for the rhetorical kill:

Have we grown weary of the delightful aspects of the Robin Hood legend? Is witty dialogue no longer permitted? Are Robin and Marion no longer allowed to engage in a spirited flirtation? Must their relationship seem like high-level sexual negotiations? How many people need to be covered in boiling oil for Robin Hood’s story to be told these days? How many parents will be misled by the film’s PG-13 rating? Must children go directly from animated dragons to skewering and decapitation, with no interval of cheerful storytelling?

Okay, so I think Roger is still a bit grumpy that he’s one of the few critics and filmgoers who wasn’t thoroughly charmed by “How to Train Your Dragon,” but his point is well taken. It really does seem at times like the movies have largely ceded real wit and fun to television, and his view of this “Robin Hood” really does mirror the reaction I’m hearing pretty much everywhere. Of course, it’s not like people listen to critics, but critics are, I once again remind you, people. The lack of emotional resonance could hamper the film’s chances of making a large profit over time, especially given its engorged $200 million budget. Universal is a studio badly in need of a home run. This may not be it.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow relate in In any case, at a projected $40-50 million or so, “Robin Hood” stands not much chance of beating “Iron Man 2” in it second weekend. For all the sense of mild-letdown the Marvel-Paramount superhero flick generated from the first film, it’s reviews and word-of-mouth are pretty darn solid. Even with a rather large possible 60 percent drop in attendance, given last weeks $128 million and change (a relatively steep decline from last weekend‘s estimate of $133.6 million), Tony Stark’s take is expected to be well north of brave and oh-so-gritty Sir Robin.

We two have two cannily counter-programmed PG-rated films aimed at girls and women coming out. “Letters to Juliet” features the very-much up-and-coming Amanda Seyfried, living legend Vanessa Redgrave, and some guys. Its reviews are south of “Robin Hood” — but not as much as you’d think, especially considering that there seems to be some confusion about whether or not it’s a comedy. The Box Office Mojo theater count informs us that it’s booked into 2,968 theaters and should earn between somewhere between about $14 and $18 million or so, based on what Frankel and DiOrio have guessed. This one has “female guilty pleasure” written on it to some degree, so it could do reasonably well for Summit Entertainment, given that it benefits from a reasonable $30 million budget. (Though even that figure sounds high to me for this kind of a movie.)

Just Wright” from Fox Searchlight might feature a sports backdrop and a somewhat more unconventional female romantic lead in the extremely talented Queen Latifah, working opposite rapper/actor Common and another living legend, Pam Grier. At heart, however, the film strikes in very similar territory in terms of genre, if not in terms of ethnicity and setting, to “Letters to Juliet” right down to it’s mother-daughter-day friendly PG rating.  It’s also only in 1,831 theaters as compared to over 3,500 for “Robin Hood” and nearly 4,400 for “Iron Man 2.” It’s expected to earn something approaching $10 million.

Just Wright Movie Trailer

  

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Weekend box office preview — how high will “Iron Man 2” fly?

“Pretty high” is the obvious answer. As I write this, the first midnight shows are just finishing up the trailers on the East Coast, fanboys are queuing up in the Midwest, and their West Coast brethren are enjoying their pre-film burgers and Red Bull, but as far as everyone seems to be concerned, the sequel to the surprise “four quadrant” mega-blockbuster of 2008 is already a massive hit.  “Iron Man 2” has been booked into a record number of theaters, 4,380 according to Box Office Mojo.

Robert Downey Jr. in

Moreover, Nikki Finke is reporting that the film has already earned $132 million from 53 assorted countries where it has already opened. The summer solstice is more than six weeks away, but summer-time film madness is, we are informed, very much upon us. (Just btw, Anthony D’Alessandro offers a brief historical look at the outward creep of the summer movie season over the last couple of decades.)

So, the question remains, just how many millions will the second film about billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) fetch. Will it beat the record $158.4 million opening of “The Dark Knight” and crack $160 mill? Or, will it get a mere $140 million or so and send everyone to the immensely well appointed and hugely relative poor house? That seems to be the floor being offered up by the various gurus, including Ben Fritz of the L.A. Times‘ Company Town blog and THR’s jolly Carl DiOrio, who characteristically seems to be leaning slightly towards the possibility of a huge opening for Marvel and Paramount.

Nevertheless, there is a small dark cloud here and that’s the general perception, at least among us press types — who are, I remind you again, people too — that “Iron Man 2” is, while not at all bad, also not as good as the first one. This is a rare case where I’ve actually seen the week’s big movie in advance myself and, quality wise, I’m seeing this one as a glass-half-empty. For me, the story simply fails to find a strong emotional connection between Tony Stark’s troubles and the various threats he’s facing. It all feels a bit vague and disconnected despite director Jon Favreau’s way with humor, mostly good acting, and some very decent action scenes.

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Howard’s End

Featuring Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins, and a heartbreaking Vanessa Redgrave, 1992’s “Howard’s End” was the third (and most star-studded) adaptation of a novel by E.M. Forster from the famed triumvirate of producer Ismail Merchant, Oscar-winning writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and director James Ivory. With the Merchant-Ivory team’s famed talent for exquisite visuals amidst extravagant period settings, it’s also perfect fodder for a Criterion two-disc DVD set.

Thompson and Bonham Carter are sisters Margaret and Helen Schlegel, affluent early 20th century intellectuals who find themselves embarrassingly intertwined with the crassly wealthy Wilcox family. Eventually, the ailing matriarch, Mrs. Wilcox (Redgrave), starts up an intense friendship with the older and more stable Schlegel sister, Margaret. After her death, wry Margaret unexpectedly falls for and marries Mr. Wilcox (Hopkins), not knowing the ardent capitalist had chosen to ignore a death-bed bequest of enormous import. Meanwhile, the younger Helen’s overweening sympathy for a sensitive clerk with intellectual aspirations (Samuel West) inadvertently threatens everyone’s happiness and proves, once again, that it’s money that matters most. A morally complex blend of complex comedy and drama with florid tragedy reminiscent of another great literary adaptation, George Stevens’ “A Place in the Sun,” “Howard’s End” is everything you could ask for in thoughtful period entertainment, with some highly nuanced ideas from novelist Forster on the interplay of economics and emotional life. Critics sometimes downplay the “tasteful” Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala films, but this hugely entertaining winner of three Academy Awards, including a Best Actress statue for Emma Thompson, gives Oscar bait a good name.

Click to buy “Howard’s End”

  

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