Box Office Report: July 24-26, 2011

Via Box Office Mojo, The Numbers, Deadline, and other sources:

Overcoming the distinction of being the first negatively reviewed Pixar film ever, “Cars 2″ roared past the field and collected an impressive $66.1 million, besting the start of “Cars” in 2006 when strictly counting dollars. Attendance was down comparatively however with more than 40% of ticket sales for “Cars 2″ coming off its 3-D exhibitions.

In the Pixar family of films, “Cars 2″ looks impressive when compared to other openings from the studio. “Cars 2″ represents the 4th largest June opening of all time and the 5th largest Pixar opening of all time, trailing behind “Toy Story 3″ (2010, $110.3 million), “The Incredibles” (2004, $70.5 million), “Finding Nemo” (2003, $70.3 million), and “Up” (2009, $68.1 million).

And with all the negative reviews levied upon the film, “Cars 2″ represents the always prevalent disconnect between critics and audiences. By the time of this writing, “Cars 2″ had watched its Tomatometer drain down to 33% (?!) but CinemaScore polling of opening weekend audiences found the film score an A-. Additionally, the start for “Cars 2″ also secured Pixar their 12th consecutive #1 wide opening (both “A Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story 2″ opened on one screen initially, only to move to #1 with its wide release the following weekends).

With so much of the news good for “Cars 2″, Pixar and Disney seem unconcerned with the negative response the film received prior to its opening. Nikki Finke at Deadline reports one unnamed Disney source as stating, “Critics not liking a movie doesn’t seem like it will hurt the Pixar brand in my opinion. It will be their 12th #1 film in a row and will rank near the top for opening weekends.” And they were right.

One unexpected benefit from seeing “Cars 2″ in theaters is having the chance to catch “Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation”, a new animated short film which tore the house down at my screening and looks to be a player for the Best Animated Short Film Oscar, if it is submitted for consideration. Additionally, Pixar made the curious decision to launch promotional efforts for next summer’s “Brave”, a action/adventure epic featuring a female lead voiced by Kelly McDonald.

The debut of the teaser is not noteworthy per se, with studios piggybacking their next big project on the backs of their latest releases all the time. This, however, seemed different. Pixar did not just deliver a teaser, but they always sent out stills and production notes and other marketing gimmicks, almost as if to try and deflect attentions away from the increasingly lukewarm and bad PR for “Cars 2″.

For what it’s worth, “Brave” became the hot topic amongst those both in and out of the movie industry and the film, initially, looks fantastic.

Cameron Diaz hits a couple of milestones you may not be aware of, the now-weekly Allen/Malick analysis, and a flood of indie documentaries and dramas look to make their mark and The Weekend Breakdown after the cut!

BAD TEACHER

Blowing away even the most optimistic of expectations, “Bad Teacher” graded high with a strong $31.6 million start. Although not confirmed, sources reported that the film was held to a modest budget of less than $20 million, making this film already a big success. A lot of eyes were looking past “Cars 2″ and felt that the real story of the weekend would be how this film would perform in a post-”Bridesmaids” world of female-led, R-rated adult comedy. The results have to make Sony Pictures ecstatic, as they were anticipating about $20 million for its opening frame.

Deeper analysis must turn towards Cameron Diaz. She has opened many a film with her name above-the-title but rarely as the main attraction. While this film does have A-list supporting actors Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel on board, “Bad Teacher” was solely marketed as a Diaz picture through and through. And for Diaz, it achieved a couple of significant milestones in her now nearly 20-year career.

For starters, it was the largest live-action opening for Diaz appearing above-the-title since 2003′s “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” sequel, which started with $37.6 million, on its way for a gross of $100.8 million. However, if you discount the “Charlie’s Angels” films as not being Diaz openings, since they were obviously ensemble films, then this is the biggest opening for a Diaz-led flick ever.

Additionally, and to some controversy, Box Office Mojo identifies Diaz as the biggest grossing actress of all time, calculating receipts for her films to the sum of $2.7 billion dollars domestically. You can see the complete list here. It is hard to say how “Bad Teacher” will hold up in its second weekend, with females and couples tracking strong for the upcoming Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts’ romantic comedy, “Larry Crowne” arriving this weekend. Regardless, “Bad Teacher” was anything but bad or unpleasant for any and all involved with the project.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

Dipping out of the Top 10, with a small decline of 14.6%, Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris” continued to perform strong despite losing 87 locations in the first theater reduction of its run. Closing in on its production budget of $30 million, “Paris” needs to gross approximately $12 million more stateside to become the largest grossing Allen film of all time (a distinction held by 1985′s “Hannah And Her Sisters”). Oscar buzz continues to swirl around the film’s screenplay but less so regarding its Best Picture chances, with the Academy’s recent overhaul of the Best Picture nomination rules. “Paris” continues to produce the biggest weekend numbers of Allen’s career however and the risk on giving Allen a bigger budget, after a string of disappointments, seems to have paid great rewards for Sony Pictures Classics.

THE TREE OF LIFE

Chugging right along, “The Tree Of Life” missed the Top 10 again, but still banked $1.3 million for a 12th place finish, a rise of 14.1%, as it expanded further into 215 locations. With a North American haul of $5.8 million and international box office of more than $15 million, “The Tree Of Life” is closing in on becoming profitable with its $32 million production budget. There were no indications whether Fox Searchlight were going to expand the film to more theaters heading into July, as the original plans were to have the film at its widest release point by the end of June.

BUCK

Drawing on an impressive start at 4 locations last weekend and strong word-of-mouth, IFC Films pushed “Buck” into 50 additional sites and saw nice success with their small scale documentary of a man who has given his life over to the world of horses and aiding in their interactions with human beings. “Buck” drew a healthy $5,398 per screen average and pulled in $292k, gaining 331.5%, and cracking the Top 20 overall. Those who see it love it and the Tomatometer of 86% is noteworthy. “Buck” seems to fall in line with a steady stream of crowd-pleasing documentaries that have fared well at the box office in 2011 and could be in the conversation when the Oscar Best Documentary contenders are discussed later this fall.

BEGINNERS

With Christopher Plummer’s performance recently being dubbed a “Safe Bet” by IndieWire for a Best Supporting Actor nomination this week, “Beginners” continues to quietly impress in its limited release. Although it dips a notch in the overall rankings, “Beginners” grew its audience 32.7% in adding 29 locations. Only reaching 73 sites in North America, “Beginners” has eclipsed $1.55 million in overall ticket sales and benefits from rapturous support from all who see it. “Beginners” might be that slow rolling hit that pulls a decent little sum and finds a larger audience on home video in the fall. Suffice to say as “Midnight In Paris” starts to fatigue a bit, “Beginners” could be that next dark horse to pull some nice weekend numbers if Focus opts for a wider rollout.

ADDITIONAL INDEPENDENT OPENINGS

A significant number of small scale releases flooded the large cities and were met with mixed reactions.

First off, “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” arrived at 24 sites with a acceptable $97k start and per screen average of just over $4k. The film has been well received by critics and the film takes an unflinching look at O’Brien as he mounted a 2010 comedy tour after being unceremoniously fired from his NBC Tonight Show hosting gig and before the debut of his TBS talk show. Distributed by documentary veterans Abramorama, the film will need strong word-of-mouth and more availability to become an impressive success.

Summit Entertainment saw an impressive start to the quiet and contemplative drama, “A Better Life”, starring Best Actor hopeful Demian Bachir as a father trying to provide a better life for his troubled son. Directed by Chris Weitz, with a healthy $15,522 per screen average, the film launched with $62k on just 4 screens.

Music Box Films saw a nice start for their French comedy import, “The Names Of Love”. Starring Sara Forestier as a left-wing activist who beds her political opponents to convince them to see things her way, the film picked up $30k and a $6k per screen average. Music Box have a way of getting impressive legs out of their marketing efforts, and although reviews are mixed from domestic critics, the film might be quirky enough to earn a few thousand dollars in its run.

“Turtle: The Incredible Journey” opened at 24 locations as well and did not find nearly the same interest as Conan O’Brien did. Documenting a turtle’s perilous journey along the Gulf Stream, the film drew a modest $2,891 per screen average and $69k start.

China Lion dropped the historical Chinese Revolution epic, “The Beginning Of A Great Revival” into 29 locations for a muted $66k start. China Lion’s films are released theatrically in an exclusivity arrangement with AMC Theaters, and despite the smallish per-screen average, the film bested or matched the final box office earnings of five other China Lion/AMC releases.

REMAINING TOP 12 FILMS

Audiences fled from “Green Lantern” in its second weekend. The film hemorrhaged a worse than anticipated 66.1%, undoubtedly hit hard by interest in “Cars 2″. The film has earned $89 MM and now looks as if it has no hope of recovering the $200 million production budget with its domestic haul. Response overseas has been stunted with a global gross totaling approximately $129 million thus far.

Despite seeing its theaters slashed from 2,500 sites to just over 2,000, “Bridesmaids” lost only one-quarter of its previous weekend’s audience and is closing in on $150 million in box office earnings. “Pirates Of The Caribbean” also dropped a quarter of its previous weekend’s audience; rather surprising for a film that has been dropping steadily since its opening weekend.

THE DISCOUNT HOUSE

“Something Borrowed” added 91 locations and saw a modest 11.6% uptick in ticket sales. The romantic comedy salvaged a decent theatrical run after a lackluster opening, grossing a profitable $38.4 million. The film arrives on home video August 16, 2011.

“African Cats” added only one theater, but increased another 241%, grossing nearly $200k at 122 discount locations. DisneyEarth’s documentary has been earmarked for an October 4, 2011 home video release.

THE WEEKEND BREAKDOWN

#1 Film – “Cars 2″, earned $66.1 million in its debut weekend.

Last Year’s #1 Film at this time: “Toy Story 3″, held with a $59.3 million second weekend.

Biggest Per Screen Average: “Cars 2″, $16,072 at 4,115 locations ($66.1 million cumulative)

Worst Per Screen Average (50+ Sites): “The Beaver”, $260 at 66 locations ($17k, $958k cumulative)

Largest Increase (50+ Sites): “Buck”, +331.5%

Steepest Decline (50+ Sites): “The Art Of Getting By”, -80.1%

Films Earning More Than $1m for the weekend: 12

Films Which Surpassed $100m: N/A

Films Which Surpassed $200m: N/A

Films Which Surpassed Reported Budget This Weekend (Domestic): “Bad Teacher” (unconfirmed), “Kung Fu Panda 2″