SUNDAY AM,  4TH UPDATE: Younger males used to be Hollywood’s target audience. But as I’ve been pointing out recently, they’re just not consistently (and indiscriminately) going to the movies anymore. The reason is either financial or too many other entertainment choices. That was the gist of internal conversations inside studios all summer when uncompelling fare fell short with young guys who stayed away from the malls. But would this troubling pattern continue into fall? It’s fuzzy so far. DreamWorks/Disney’s Real Steel required a mammoth marketing push to pump up mediocre tracking so it could dominate the North American box office all weekend. Grosses went up +25% from Friday to Saturday for a $27.3M opening weekend and an ‘A’ CinemaScore. Problem is Hollywood would have impressed if the result was $35M because of its family overlay and $110+M budget. By contrast, George Clooney’s newcomer The Ides Of March had only a $12.5M production budget after rebates. But this R-rated adult political thriller co-starring Ryan Gosling was hard to sell even for Sony Pictures. The pic eked out $10.4M, less than the modest weekend which Hollywood expected after it was a hit at both the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. Though well-reviewed, audiences gave it just a ‘B’ CinemaScore though those under age 25 bestowed a ‘B+’. The rest of the box office held well for an overall weak weekend.
Here are the Top 10 movies:

1. Real Steel (DreamWorks/Disney) NEW [3,440 Theaters]
Friday $8.5M, Saturday $10.8M, Weekend $27.3M, International $22.1M

This Shaun Levy-directed bot battle starring Hugh Jackman received a rare ‘A’ CinemaScore overall and ‘A+’ from moviegoers under age 25. But its awareness and wannasee going into this weekend concerned DreamWorks because, if anything of late, tracking has been overperforming box office, not the other way around. This was considered a crucial weekend financially for the rebooted studio. Sources told me as recently as Friday that Real Steel needed to make $125+M all in domestically to keep India’s Reliance funding on track (even though CEO Stacey Snider claimed the partnership is solid). But even though it placed #1, the $27.3M weekend opening (with $3.2 million from IMAX) is soft for the PG-13 father-son drama if it hopes to recoup its $110+M costs. Disney believes Sunday and Monday business could push the cume higher because of the Columbus Day holiday when one-third of kids are out of school. Which is why the pic was sold as feel-good family fare (Levy directed Night At The Museum et al) simultaneously with the Rocky With Robots rock’em-sock’em. Hugh Jackman stars as the relatable “everyman” — that is, if everyone had a hardbody and Sugar Ray Leonard as a boxing trainer — with Dakota Goyo plucked from thousands of 10-year-old boys who auditioned to play son Max.

The pic is based on the 1956 short story “Steel” by Richard Matheson, who seven years later adapted it for a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone starring Lee Marvin in a futuristic world of android combatants. John Gatins received screenplay credit with Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven getting story credit, and Don Murphy, Susan Montford, and Shawn Levy producer credit. Marketing was predictably omnipresent and expensive, including cast personal appearances at Comic-Con, CinemaCon, Super Bowl XLV, NBA finals and NFL fall games. Demonstrating the airline will do anything for a few bucks, Virgin America permanently branded its new Airbus A320 “Real Steel” and wrapped the plane with image from film. Extensive integration took place on ESPN including homepage takeover across all platforms the day before the film’s release. ESPN Deportes, Boxeo Telemundo sponsorship, Univision tie-in to Futbol Liga Mexicana, Solo Boxeo, and more were aimed at Hispanic audiences. Overseas, the pic made $22.1M as it rolled out to 25% of the international market this weekend including Jackman’s native Australia following a global press junket in Los Angeles, and international press tours in France, Russia, Germany, UK, Latin America, plus Toronto and Down Under.

2. The Ides Of March (Sony) NEW [2,199 Theaters]
Friday $3.4M, Saturday $4.2M, Weekend $10.4M

Let’s be honest: George Clooney can’t marquee a major movie anymore unless it’s an ensemble. But even though he’s only modest box office, Hollywood still wants to be in business with him and his classy low-budget films that get attention at awards time. So $11M-$13M grossing pics (his average without frequent co-star Brad Pitt) are acceptable as long as the production budgets stay in that range as well. Like The Ides Of March did. Sony Pictures acquired rights to distribute while the project was still in development. It’s based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, a writer who’d worked on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. It’s the first film with Sony since Clooney and his Smokehouse Pictures partner Grant Heslov moved from Warner Bros to Sony in 2009. The Ides Of March was fully financed by Cross Creek Pictures so Brian Oliver shares producer credit. Millimon’s first Farragut North draft came in so clean that Clooney and Heslov committed immediately. They re-wrote the script with Willimon and renamed it The Ides Of March, perhaps a too-obvious reference to all that Shakespearean plotting in Julius Caesar. Film had a 23% uptick from Friday to Saturday. Ultimately, Sony hopes the pic can do a 5X multiple because of word of mouth and the standout cast’s Oscar chances including Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood.

The film’s first trailer went up with Crazy, Stupid, Love in July. But the real buzz launched at the Venice Film Festival at the end of August, and built to the Red Carpet gala at Toronto. Nevertheless, marketing a political film from the liberal Clooney — especially when he’s director, producer, and writer — is a tough task in this deeply divided 2012 election climate. (Supposedly the script would have made it to the big screen sooner but it was deemed too cynical to release when President Obama first took office. Not so now…) Interesting how Ryan Gosling is featured more prominently on the one-sheet than Clooney even though George appeared on Time magazine’s cover in real life. This also explains why, in the TV ad, Sony took great care to barely show Clooney or even hint at the specific ideology behind The Ides Of March. (Like, duh.) The media campaign targeted adults of both sexes and its highlights included the Emmy Awards, new season primetime premieres, NFL fall games, and the MLB divisional playoffs. Trailers were aired during CNN’s Piers Morgan talk show as well.

3. Dolphin Tale (Alcon/Warner Bros) Week 3 [3,478 Theaters]
Friday $2.4M, Saturday #3.7M, Weekend $9.1M, Cume $49M

4. Moneyball (Sony) Week 3 [3,018 Theaters]
Friday $2.2M, Saturday $3.1M, Weekend $7.5M, Estimated Cume $49.2M

5. 50/50 (Summit Entertainment) Week 2 [2,479 Theaters]
Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.2M, Weekend $5.5M (-36%), Cume $17.3M

6. Courageous (Sherwood/Sony) Week 2 [1,161 Theaters]
Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.8M, Weekend $4.6M (-49%), Cume $15.8M

7. Lion King 3D (Disney) Week 4 [2,267 Theaters]
Friday $1.2M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.5M, Cume $85.9M

8. Dream House (Universal) Week 2 [2,664 Theaters]
Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.4M (-46%), Cume $14.4M

9. What’s Your Number? (Fox) Week 2 [3,011 Theaters]
Friday $1M, Saturday $1.2M, Weekend $3M (-44%), Estimated Cume $10.3M

10. Abduction (Lionsgate) Week 3 [2,591 Theaters]
Friday $852K, Saturday $1.2M, Weekend $2.9M, Cume $23.3M

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.