Robert Zemeckis and Disney’s new CGI “A Christmas Carol” was pretty much destined to take the weekend, and it did with an estimated tally of $31 million. However, Nikki Finke noted that the film was expected to make, she says, at least $4 million more. I am inclined to think that the word that this version of Dicken’s holiday classic might be too scary for very young viewers might have given this entry a bit of a winter chill.
Variety, however, added insult to injury and the #1 movie found itself a subhead on its opening weekend. The trade paper of record instead led with the record-breaking per-screen average of the first new Oscar contender of the winter season, Lions Gate’s “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” which only placed 13th on the Box Office Mojo charts with an estimate of $1.8 million — but did so with an truly awe-inspiring per-screen average of $100,000 on 18 screens in L.A., New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. For comparison, the week’s second highest per-screen average went to “La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet,” a new dance documentary by cinema vérité legend Frederick Wiseman with $14,000 on a single screen. This is obviously a ridiculously good start for a dysfunctionality-driven drama with some markedly uncommercial aspects to it. I also have to wonder if the theaters it was playing in were somewhat larger than the usual arthouse venues.
The association of “Precious” with after-the-fact executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who both literally bought into the film after seeing it but will be reportedly donating whatever money they make on the film to charity, obviously paid off here with largely African-American audiences. There’s little reason, however, to expect that the film won’t “cross over” with all ethnicities thanks to Oscar buzz and mostly great reviews. Still, I’d also argue that more traditional art-house style numbers later in its run are a real possibility. It is worth noting that the nine theaters it’s playing in the L.A. area are demographically fascinating, straddling predominantly black areas and the liberal, indie-friendly west side of town and have me resisting the urge to give you a history of Los Angeles ethnic politics. Somebody knows what they’re doing.
Holding up the #2 spot is, not surprisingly, the Michael Jackson documentary, “This Is It,” which has ridden good worth-of-mouth to drop less than 40% and earn an estimated $14 million on its second weekend. Doing perhaps a bit better than expected, given that stars — at least stars with an average age north of 40 — no longer seem to have much impact at the box-office, the name-laden satirical comedy, “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” managed an estimated $13.3 million in the #3 spot. Considering the $25 million budget, pretty modest for a film with four fairly major actors, and the “meh”-to-sub-“meh” reviews for a movie that should be critical cat-nip, that’s really not bad at all. Being the only new comedy in some time probably helped.
Nipping at the goat-starers’ heels was “The Fourth Kind,” which engages in some “based on a true story” quasi-mock-doc shenanigans. Though I made sport of it last time, there really is a sucker born every minute and enough of them had $10.00 handy this weekend for the science fiction flick to net an estimated $12.5 million. Somewhere, the ghost of William Castle is smiling.
The weekend’s other new release was one-time “Donnie Darko” whiz kid Richard Kelly’s dark science fiction tale, “The Box.” Not too surprisingly, the “Twilight Zone”-like tale fell short of “Paranormal Activity” — hanging in very nicely with an estimated $8.6 million and sure to cross the $100 million mark shortly — and came in at sixth place with an estimate of roughly $7.9 million.