Box Office Report: September 30-October 2, 2011

"Dolphin Tale" (Warner Bros.)

Reprinted with kind permission from AwardsCircuit.com.

A spunky romantic comedy, a mindbending suspense/thriller featuring Oscar winning talent, and one of the best received films of the year about a young cancer patient struggling with a life-altering diagnosis all could not match the interest and appeal of dolphins, baseball, animated lions, and Christian firefighters this weekend. As box office receipts were tallied, Warner Bros. “Dolphin Tale” swam past “The Lion King 3D” and “Moneyball” and took the top spot at the box office this weekend, tallying $13.9 million in its second weekend of release.

For Warner Bros., “Dolphin Tale”‘s victory over the weekend was sweet vindication for a film and a project that seemed to be frozen out of its potential box office success by Disney’s surprising reception for their “Lion King 3D” re-release, which I reported on last week. After initially claiming they would not hold “The Lion King 3D” in theaters for a third weekend, after winning the previous two weekend box office crowns, Disney went for the trifecta and but became victims of attrition and perhaps, ironically, their own marketing. With “The Lion King 3D” arriving on home video today, October 4, 2011, the inevitable television campaign certainly stunted attendance. While “Dolphin Tale” did not deliver a strong per screen average, the inspirational family drama did hold off “Moneyball” and four new contending films. One of which, quickly and against expectations, became the talk of the weekend.

"Courageous" outperformed all newcomers this weekend (TriStar Pictures)

COURAGEOUS

Produced by Atlanta-based Christian-film company Sherwood Pictures, “Courageous” is the third film made by the production house, following 2006′s “Facing The Giants” and 2008′s “Fireproof”. In terms of Christianity-themed films, “Courageous” was a massive success, scoring the biggest opening of all time when you eliminate Mel Gibson’s “The Passion Of The Christ” or the three previous “Narnia” films. Much of this can be banked on the fact that “Fireproof” was a beloved film for the faith-based community and achieved big numbers not only in box office, but also in home video sales. Simply stated, tagging “Courageous” as the new film from the makers of “Fireproof” wet the whistle of church groups, youth groups, and other religious folks who feel that films of this nature are must-see events at their local theaters.

TriStar, who handled theatrical distribution for this film and the Bethany Hamilton faith-based hit biopic “Soul Surfer” earlier this year, played their hand conservatively and selectively placed the film at only 1,161 sites. And yet, this was the largest Sherwood Pictures opening ever and their first film to play on more than 1,000 screens ever. For co-star, writer, and director Alex Kendrick (who has held that position on all three of these efforts), the reception levied upon his film afforded him and his film the biggest new opening of the weekend. As CinemaScore rankings go, “Courageous” polled an A+ grade across all demographics and attendance increased as the weekend went along. In fact, Sunday attendance far outweighed expectations and the film grossed nearly an additional $1 million more than estimated.

Produced for $2 million, the film turned profitable before the first day of release had been recorded and has already quadrupled that benchmark for profitability. If “Courageous” simply matches the percentages that “Fireproof” realized for its theatrical run, the film could land near the $45-$50 million range for its total theatrical stay. That would place it as one of the most profitable films of the year and those previously unknown leads in the film – Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel, Ben Davies, and Kevin Downes might see some unforeseen stardom if the film retains its opening weekend interest.

"50/50" proved a tough sell... (Summit Entertainment)

50/50

Arriving with a handful of “Best Of The Year” pronouncements, my own 4 1/2-star review being amongst them, and significant Oscar talk for the film’s screenplay and Lead Actor performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “50/50″ had a middling start, seeing its attendance slide a bit through the weekend and conclude with an $8.6 million opening frame. Summit Entertainment, who have a huge reputation and track record of failing to properly promote their films, went all out with their promotional efforts. After a standing ovation greeted the film at the Toronto International Film Festival and people throughout the industry praised the film’s delicate balancing act between comedy and drama on a topic, cancer, that is anything but funny to most people, Summit felt that a breakout hit was on their hands.

In the end, all of the social media work, ad buys on web sites targeted by the 18-34 year old demographic and television shows appealing to the same group, along with the delivery of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and co-star Seth Rogen to late night, day time, and cable entertainment talk shows, seemed to pique the young adult audience, but failed to draw with older demos. Ultimately, older audiences shied away and Summit needed those audiences to help the film achieve double-digit opening weekend success. Some criticized that Summit delivered the film wide, instead of opening it on a smaller scale and developing buzz and word-of-mouth interest to build off the impressive notices the film received. Budgeted at just $8 million, the film is already a profitable success in its opening weekend and will likely finish between $22-$24 million, if averages bear out. Championing “50/50″ as their Oscar heavy-hitter this fall (sorry, Twi-hards!), Summit reps are talking about how the film will have legs, outperform expectations and retain a strong audience into the following weekend. Perhaps, but older audiences are likely going to seek out George Clooney and Ryan Gosling’s political thriller “The Ides Of March” and the 20-something crowd will likely turn their attention to the science-fiction/action/family hybrid “Real Steel”.

"Dream House" proved a nightmare, both on screen and off... (Universal)

DREAM HOUSE

A mess of a film and a mess of a production, “Dream House” is, for most of the parties involved, the annoying party guest you simply want to kick out of your life and never allow back. 6-time Oscar nominated filmmaker Jim Sheridan directed the film, although he unsuccessfully lobbied to have his name removed from the production prior to its release. Reports have surfaced which validate the internal rumblings that Sheridan clashed frequently and often with Morgan Creek Productions Chairman James G. Robinson, with the two of them battling over editing, final cut, and scene and story structure. Sheridan has disavowed the film and if available, might have taken an Alan Smithee credit. The stars of the film, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, along with co-star Naomi Watts and of course Sheridan himself, refused to promote the film because of all the tension off screen. Additionally, Morgan Creek could not effectively market the film because they filed for bankruptcy in May 2011 and were operating under the most limited of resources.

What resulted on screen was a debacle of its own sorts, with the film receiving some of the worst reviews of the year – issued post-release as Universal refused to screen the film for critics. “Dream House” was also too expensive a production to simply relegate to home video, saddled with a $50 million budget. Essentially for Morgan Creek and Universal, this was a film that got as wide a release as it did because of the talent involved and some interest drummed up by a confounding spoiler-laden set of trailers, which initially made the film seem like a psychological thriller and later, more like a knockoff of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”. Doomed from the beginning, “Dream House” will likely conclude a domestic theatrical stint in the $20-$22 million range.

Anna Faris fails to make a connection with "What's Your Number?" (20th Century Fox)

WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?

As we have seen with the R-rated comedy in 2011, perhaps the saturation point has been reached. And sadly, as likable and talented as she seems to be, perhaps Anna Faris is just not the A-list name-above-the-title actress some still feel she should be. Another lead performance for Faris failed to register with audiences as “What’s Y0ur Number?” had a dismal start. With a $5.4 million open, the romantic comedy, which also featured Chris Evans as a love interest could not even draw the interest of Evans’ “Captain America” fanbase to see a film that received tepid response from critics and audiences alike. The CinemaScore rankings came in at a “B” grade, which is decent but not remarkable. Even shot for a low $20 million budget, the film will not earn more than $13-$15 million domestically with these beginnings and for Faris, this falls right in line with “Observe & Report” and “Take Me Home Tonight” as films featuring her as a co-lead that failed to connect with audiences.

Although Faris was front and center as the lead of “The House Bunny” most view that film as an ensemble piece and Faris has clearly never cashed in on the Oscar buzz she received for her spirited comedic turn in 2003′s “Lost in Translation” or the potential box office stardom she should have reaped from the massive success of the “Scary Movie” franchise. For Faris, while she may stand at a commercial crossroads, all may not be lost yet. Lined up for 2012, she has prominent roles in the sketch comedy film “Movie 43″, Sacha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator” and recently landed a role in “Ghostbusters III”.

Oscar hopeful "Take Shelter" had a strong start in New York and Los Angeles for Sony Pictures Classics

ELSEWHERE…

Within the Top 10, most holdovers performed well and/or better than anticipated. Only one film, “The Lion King 3D” declined more than 50% and even the critically lambasted “Abduction” with Taylor Lautner retained more than half of its opening weekend audience. Although “Drive” slid nearly 43%, its $3.3 million weekend is actually quite impressive seeing as how FilmDistrict and major chains stripped away 930 locations from the film’s visibility – a rather inexplicable reduction in sites for a still-talked about film. “Drive” had, far and away, the most reductions any of the Top 12 films experienced this weekend.

“Take Shelter”, an Oscar buzzed cerebral thriller about a man having post-apocalyptic hallucinations which may or may not be steeped in reality, saw that oscar talk continue for lead actor Michael Shannon, supporting actress Jessica Chastain, and found critics mostly in unanimous praise at the level of 94% via Rotten Tomatoes.  Opening in New York and Los Angeles, the film pulled a massive $52k start from only 3 locations – averaging $17,347 per site.

“Munger Road”, a strange little independent production about supernatural activities occurring near the famed titular road in Illinois played in one place – …. – and took home $36k from one venue!?! Easily this was a stunner of a performance as audiences in the Chicag0-area were clearly stoked to see it. Will this play anywhere else though? For indie Freestyle Releasing, I would have to think they plan on expanding this based on its opening weekend and a solid *** review from Roger Ebert.

Shot for $18k...Grossing $86k...Success! (Nocturnal Pictures)

Shot for $18,000 by a first-time feature film director, Paul Morrell, whose last directorial effort was a multiple DVD series focusing on Zumba Fitness (!!!), “Filth To Ashes, Flesh To Dust” banked $86k at 11 locations and became a success for Morrell and low-budget horror group, Nocturnal Releasing. Starting in 2009, Nocturnal have delivered 7 films for theatrical distribution and “Filth…” is their biggest hit to date already, besting “God Of Vampires”, which is an unwatchable amateurish production available on Netflix Instant Watch for anyone interested.

Although the film has been available as a torrent and On Demand for awhile now, “Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil”, a much anticipated and well-reviewed horror comedy, which ramps up the gore and humor in healthy portions, tanked upon receiving its traditional theatrical release. Debuting on 35 screens, a meager $1,781 per screen average only translated to $53k taken in for Magnolia Pictures. Promoting the film on fanboy and related film websites did not seem to make people go out and find the film, which played in some pretty big markets to a whole host of apparently empty theaters.

“Sarah Palin – You Betcha!” was a failure, another Palin documentary which registered little to no interest at the box office. Although this summer’s “The Undefeated” at least pulled a decent first weekend comparatively, this $6,911 beginning for Nick Broomfield’s documentary is a non-starter and will likely send the film to home video by the end of the year.

After a well-documented and storied 6+ year journey to the big screen, “Margaret” finally saw its theatrical release and in its two New York locations scored a modest $7,525 start for Fox Searchlight. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan and exhibiting with a final Lonergan-approved edit by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, the film played to a muted critical response.

THE MILLION DOLLAR CLUB

12 films grossed more than $1 million this weekend, a decrease from 14 last weekend. The steepest decline amongst them was the aforementioned “The Lion King 3D”, which fell from 1st place to 3rd place and lost 51.6%. Curiously, the Top 12 films all cleared in excess of $3 million, while the 13th most attended film, “Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain” failed to crack $750k.

Oscar hopeful “Moneyball” held well in its second weekend, declining 38.3%. While some feel the box office needs to grow much higher for it to gain the widespread attention of the Academy, others feel that a sustained stay in the Top 10, a healthy final gross above its production budget of $50 million will do just fine in helping it remain in the Best Picture conversation.

MILESTONES

  • After limping it along week after week, and ramping up its visibility on multiple occasions, “Bad Teacher” finally crossed the $100 million mark for Sony Pictures. Surging ahead another 194.3%, Sony added more discount house and selected full price theaters and saw the film cross the threshold after 101 days of release. Budgeted at a modest $20 million, the film was the best ROI of the summer movie season and comes home on DVD/Blu-Ray and VOD on October 18.
  • “Weekend”, the much talked about gay-themed romance, which many have described as good and impressive as “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”, and is even regarded by some as one of the best films of 2011, moved from 1 theater to 6 screens and saw a healthy $8,070 per screen average and a business uptick of 77.7%. IFC Films feel they may have something with this film and will continue a platform release plan going forward.
  • The second run performances of “Conan The Barbarian” and “Captain America…” helped see an increase in business for both films, but “Conan” still achieved infamy in scoring the lowest per screen average for films playing at more than 50 locations. Paramount is rushing “Captain America” out to home video, recently dropping an October 25 date for its release date.

THE WEEKEND BREAKDOWN

#1 Movie Of The Weekend: “DOLPHIN TALE” (Warner Bros.), earned $13.9 million in its second weekend. Overall, the film has a total domestic gross of $37.2 million.

Largest Per-Screen Average (50+ Sites): “COURAGEOUS” (TriStar), $7,806 at 1,161 locations for a total gross of $9.1 million.

Smallest Per-Screen Average (50+ Sites): “CONAN THE BARBARIAN” (Lionsgate), $439 at 115 locations for a total gross of $51k. Total gross stands at $21.3 million in 45 days time.

Largest % Increase (50+ Sites): “BAD TEACHER” (Sony), Increased 194.3% with an increase in theaters from 232 theaters to 354.

Largest % Decrease (50+ Sites): “I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT” (Weinstein/Dimension), Decreased 79.9% with a reduction in theaters from 2,490 to 745.

Now Profitable – Domestic v. Production Budget:

  • “DOLPHIN TALE” ($37.2 million/$37 million).
  • “COURAGEOUS” ($9.1 million/$2 million).
  • “50/50″ ($8.6 million/$8 million).
  • “CONTAGION” ($64.6 million/$60 million).
  • “FILTH TO ASHES, FLESH TO DUST” ($86k/$18k)

TOP 40 MOST ATTENDED FILMS (9/30/11 – 10/2/11)
Dollar amounts listed below are in millions

RK

FILM

WKND

TOTAL

% +/-

DAYS

1

Dolphin Tale

13.9

37.2

-27.4

10

2

Moneyball

12.0

38.0

-38.3

10

3

The Lion King 3D

10.6

79.2 / 407.8

-51.6

17 / 319

4

Courageous

9.1

9.1

NEW

3

5

50/50

8.6

8.6

NEW

3

6

Dream House

8.1

8.1

NEW

3

7

Abduction

5.6

19.1

-48.7

10

8

What’s Your Number?

5.4

5.4

NEW

3

9

Killer Elite

4.916

17.5

-47.4

10

10

Contagion

4.907

64.6

-41.9

24

11

Drive

3.3

27.0

-42.9

17

12

The Help

3.0

159.4

-31.0

54

13

Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain

.735

6.3

-35.2

24

14

The Debt

.629

30.1

-50.1

31

15

Rise Of Planet Of Apes

.541

174.5

-53.4

59

16

Bad Teacher

.474

100.2

+194.3

101

17

Warrior

.460

13.1

-58.9

24

18

Captain America: First Avenger

.436

175.3

+44.4

73

19

Straw Dogs

.427

10.1

-79.2

17

20

Colombiana

.407

35.9

-56.4

38

21

I Don’t Know How She Does It

.402

9.2

-79.9

17

22

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

.398

82.8

-49.2

66

23

Cars 2

.382

190.0

RE

94

24

Spy Kids: All Time In World

.360

37.5

-49.9

45

25

The Smurfs

.336

138.8

-38.0

66

26

Harry Potter/Hallows Pt. 2

.273

379.2

-29.5

80

27

Zookeeper

.211

79.9

-32.0

87

28

Transformers: Dark Of Moon

.201

352.2

-50.0

94

29

The Guard

.193

4.5

-22.5

66

30

Cowboys & Aliens

.187

99.6

-32.7

66

31

Midnight In Paris

.181

54.7

-18.8

136

32

Horrible Bosses

.172

117.2

-35.7

87

33

Shark Night 3D

.142

18.5

-69.6

31

34

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

.129

23.7

-63.5

38

35

Born To Be Wild IMAX

.112

13.2

-3.3

178

36

Sarah’s Key

.110

6.8

-17.2

73

37

Mausam

.103

.552

-77.6

10

38

My Afternoons With Marguerite

.88

.219

+14.3

17

39

Filth To Ashes, Flesh To Dust

.86

.86

NEW

3

40

Machine Gun Preacher

.85

.143

+87.8

10