Box Office Report: September 23-25, 2011

"The Lion King 3D" (Disney/Buena Vista)

Reprinted with kind permission from AwardsCircuit.com

A burgeoning teen movie star, a big budget political drama-slash-action film, an inspirational family drama from the producers of “The Blind Side”, and a highly anticipated Oscar hopeful receiving some of the year’s best reviews all failed to unseat a film first released 6,311 days ago. “The Lion King 3D” has pulled off a second improbable box office victory with a weekend gross $21.9 million. Although the four major new releases for the weekend fell short of the top, the success of “The Lion King” and those new films led to potentially the biggest grossing September weekend on record.

People were intrigued by the weekend’s new releases and for the first time ever, three films nearly scored more than $20 million in the same September weekend. Disney is reportedly surprised, delighted even with their victory, and the classic animated feature is closing in on $400 million in domestic grosses since its original debut in 1994. The success of the re-release has blown up the quick-and-easy marketing strategy Disney had in place for their “Lion King 3D” release. Originally the film was supposed to see a quick 10-day/2 weekend release schedule and then transition to a Blu-Ray/3D Blu-Ray release on October 4, 2011. However, by outlasting “Dolphin Tale” and looking at having one more weekend where they can retain a majority of their 3D exhibitions, Disney/Buena Vista is now holding over the film for one last weekend to have what they envision to be a perfect lead-in to their new home video release next Tuesday.

"Moneyball" (Columbia Pictures)

MONEYBALL

Although it did not take the weekend, Columbia Pictures’ “Moneyball” performed quite well for the studio and earned distinction as having the second-biggest opening ever for a baseball themed movie. Some, myself included, wondered how this film would appeal across stereotypical lines of males and sports/baseball fans but the results could not have been better for Columbia Pictures, both critically and from audience reactions. With a film that many felt had unadaptable source material and a storied trajectory to the big screen, the $8.3 million Friday opening was called a triumph by Sony executives. Equally as impressive, CinemaScore polling showed an “A” grade from all demographics – men, women, older viewers, younger viewers. “Moneyball” also may have inserted itself to the rapidly declining shortlist of films still in the conversation for a Best Picture nomination this year. In addition, while Bennett Miller’s name did not draw a lot of Best Directing notices, Brad Pitt’s leading turn received accolades as a Best Actor contender and possible winner this year. Jonah Hill also received some attention for a Best Supporting Actor nod, playing Pitt’s assistant in the film.

For Pitt, this was a success for him as both a producer and a movie star. Apparently, he also withstood some heat he received in the tabloids for making some arguably disparaging comments about his ex-wife Jennifer Aniston. Any controversy, puffed up or genuine, did little to affect the unilateral interest in the project. Skewing older, the film has a demographic seemingly all to themselves for another several days until the political thriller “The Ides Of March” looks to utilize George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti as a big box office draw. Columbia is confident that “Moneyball” could become a success that grosses $75-$85 million domestic. Such a haul would certainly keep it in the conversation for awards season and might heighten its chances. Realistically, the tracking would indicate this film would land in the $60 million range, but time, as always, will tell.

"Dolphin Tale" (Warner Bros.)

DOLPHIN TALE

Warner Bros. may have lost out on its bid to steal the weekend box office crown, but they are enthusiastic at the response their inspirational family drama “Dolphin Tale” received, with receipts totaling $19.2 million. As “Moneyball” became the second biggest-opening ever for a baseball film, “Dolphin Tale” scored the second-biggest opening ever for a live action film featuring an animal. Certainly 3D ticket prices helped but so did the CinemaScore grade of “A+” from families, which foretold a strong weekend for the film.

And despite all the success, the film could have likely been a bigger success. Originally, Disney/Buena Vista had planned to release “The Lion King 3D” on a platform release for one weekend and targeted September 16 as their date. Then, noting that “Dolphin Tale” was arriving and Warner Bros. was converting the film for 3D exhibitions, Disney altered their strategies and successfully booked the film for a second weekend and landed even more theaters. Although the tracking proved wrong on “Dolphin Tale”, indications were that the film would not be a big hit and Disney went for as many theaters as they could, freezing out sites otherwise available to Warner Bros. Warner Bros. booked what they could 3D wise, but bolstered their 2D showings and ultimately, everyone seems none the worse for wear.

All in all, what might have been is what might have been. But for a film likely to bank $55-$60 million on a $37 million budget, drawing rave reviews from audiences and critics alike, Warner Bros. have little, if anything, to complain about with “Dolphin Tale”.

"Abduction" (Lionsgate Films)

ABDUCTION

Oh boy. Taylor Lautner may still salvage a film career post-”Twilight”, but not yet 20, Lautner seems to be receiving the wrong kind of advice. Ripped to the gills physically, with his image plastered on bedroom walls around the world, Lautner may present as an A-list star, but as Robert Pattinson as showed us thus far with his film career, if you take the actor out of “Twilight”, is there any interest left at all? Well no…apparently not yet.

Let’s start with the good. “Abduction” opened modestly well at $10.9 million and will likely finish right at or just below its $35 million production budget. The film’s profitability is no longer in question it seems as the film has, or will be, opening at #1 in several international markets. Taylor Lautner is reportedly well-respected within the industry and despite the film scoring a 3% TomatoMeter (yes – as in 1…2…3…percent?!?), Lionsgate and director John Singleton cited him as a joy to work with. “Abduction” is also the first film co-produced by Lautner’s production company, Quick Six Entertainment and Lautner pocketed a healthy $5 million salary.

(Wait…how old is this kid?).

The bad? Everything else. That 3% approval is disfiguring and the film was immediately thrust into Razzie discussions for all their top categories. If you discount the Razzies, fair enough, but writers took to the internet and their outlets to dismantle the film’s illogical plot, wooden acting, and nonsensical screenplay and direction. John Singleton was an Oscar-nominated director for the groundbreaking 1989 film, “Boyz N The Hood”, and has seemingly lost his identity.

The ugly? For Lionsgate, this is another huge misfire for a studio that has had a disastrous year. Coming off of their nice success with “The Lincoln Lawyer”, the studio has bungled everything else. “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big, Happy Family” was a notable drop off from the Madea franchise, “Conan The Barbarian” was an unmitigated financial black hole for the studio, an inspirational sports drama and fleeting Oscar contender, “Warrior”, was mismanaged, mismarketed, and perhaps mistimed in its release strategies, rendering one of the more well-received films of the year dead and gone. The edgy and controversial “The Devil’s Double” never saw more than 100 screens in its theatrical run, which resulted in a significant loss for the studio. And lastly, their efforts to partner with Spanish broadcasting entity Televisa in bringing targeted cinematic films to North American Latino audiences – films such as “From Prada To Nada”, “Saving Private Perez”, “No Eres Tu, Soy Yo”, and “Go For It!” have met dismal critical reception and middling returns at best.

“Abduction” is likely the least of Lionsgate’s worries right now.

"Killer Elite" (Open Road Films)

KILLER ELITE

Another huge misfire came for new distributor Open Road Films, a partnership between AMC Entertainment and Regal Theaters. For “Killer Elite”, which premiered to lukewarm reception at the Toronto International Film Festival and poor reviews, the film is a big loser for the conglomerate. Budgeted for $70 million and starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen, and Robert DeNiro, the film was billed as a political actioner, but turned out to be a political thriller with some action thrown in. Reports indicated that the film was picked up by Open Road as its inaugural release, but was financed through 8 different production companies. Open Road paid a small fee to acquire the film and apparently structured the arrangements where they will make a profit and the production companies likely will not.

Shrewd dealings I suppose, but the record books will still show that a $70 million film grossed likely no more than $25 million stateside and the decision-making of Open Road Films, a company with AMC and Regal’s braintrust, folks who should have some sense of knowing what moviegoers are desiring, certainly must be called into question.

"Pearl Jam Twenty" (Abramorama)

ELSEWHERE…

“Straw Dogs” was the big loser in the Top 10 holdovers, sliding 60% and seeing its 10 day total reach a tepid and unremarkable $8.8 million. Screen Gems did not restructure the theater counts and the per screen average of the film was second lowest amongst the Top 10 – second only to Sarah Jessica Parker’s bomb, “I Don’t Know How She Does It”, which slid 54.5% and has a 10 day total of $8.0 million.

Two highly acclaimed musical documentaries finally hit theaters with wildly different reactions. After playing exclusive one-night engagements all around the country, “Pearl Jam Twenty” was scaled back to a 7-city release by fledgling documentary company Abramorama. Earning an impressive $14,635 per screen average the film grossed $102k over the weekend to add to its $280k opening night engagements. The film has already become Abramorama’s second biggest grossing film of all time, trailing only the well-loved 2009 documentary “Anvil! The Story Of Anvil”. Directed by Cameron Crowe, the film will arrive on home video October 25.

Nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary this past spring, “Thunder Soul” was highly anticipated as well. Narrated by Jamie Foxx and telling the story of the Kashmere Stage Band, a Houston, Texas high school performance band who received national attention in the 1960s and 1970s for their extraordinary talents. The film depicts former students reuniting with their leader, Conrad “Prof” Johnson, aged 92 in the film, and discussing their experiences. Despite all the goodwill and accolades, the film registered nothing more than a small blip on the radar. Roadside Attractions believed in the film and placed it in 35 locations, only to see it turn back a tepid $1,464 per screen average. The $51k gross was a major disappointment for the upstart studio.

“Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain” gained more theaters and slid a mere 4.7%, raising its 17-day haul to $5.2 million.

Despite reviews that questioned the sincerity and honesty of the film’s message, Gerard Butler got some attention for the attention grabbing “Machine Gun Preacher”, which Relativity Media tried to make some believe was an Oscar contender for Butler and the Best Actor race. Audiences were certainly intrigued and the film banked more than $44k on just 4 screens. If the film widens, perhaps this will be another example of the disconnect between reviewers and audiences.

THE MILLION DOLLAR CLUB

14 films grossed more than $1 million this weekend, a decrease from 18 last weekend. The steepest decline amongst them was “Warrior”, which fell to 14th place and lost 60.8%.

“Drive” added screens but lost nearly half of its opening weekend audience, making this a profitable, but modest hit. Oscar talk is swirling for Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks still, but attentions are starting to shift away from the film.

MILESTONES

After 10 days, Sony yanked “Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star” completely from all theaters. Somehow and someway, that is indeed a milestone.

IFC Films may have something big on their hands as “Weekend”, described as a gay “Before Sunset/Before Sunrise” by some reviewers, received near unanimous praise from critics and opened on one screen, but to a sold out $27k opening. Look for this to be rolled out wider week by week.

The Hong Kong import, “Detective Dee and the Mystery Of The Phantom Flame” has generated some rumblings, building on its beloved following in Hong Kong to emerge as a nice breakout for Indomina Media. Set in 690 A.D. and adapted from a popular series of stories, the film widened to 48 sites and grossed $161k and a solid per screen take of $3,395. 24-day total now stands at $263k.

THE WEEKEND BREAKDOWN

#1 Movie Of The Weekend: “THE LION KING 3D” (Buena Vista), earned $21.9 million in its re-released second weekend. In three theatrical releases, “The Lion King” has grossed $390.0 million in 312 total days in theaters.

Largest Per-Screen Average (50+ Sites): “THE LION KING 3D” (Buena Vista), $9,412 at 2,330 locations for a total gross of $21.9 million.

Smallest Per-Screen Average (50+ Sites): “CONAN THE BARBARIAN” (Lionsgate), $336 at 56 locations for a total gross of $20k. Total gross stands at $21.2 million in 38 days time.

Largest % Increase (50+ Sites): Shockingly, no film playing at more than 50 sites made any increase whatsoever!!!

Largest % Decrease (50+ Sites): “APOLLO 18” (Weinstein/Dimension), Decreased 82.9% with a reduction in theaters from 1,795 to 339.

Now Profitable – Domestic v. Production Budget: “DRIVE” ($21.4 million/$15 million).

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