SATURDAY PM, 4TH UPDATE (includes full analysis): Seriously, do movie moguls get into showbiz just to greenlight unnecessary remakes of teen movies, prequels to horror movies, or unfunny comedies that humiliate big stars like Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin? Apparently so, based on this weekend’s trio of major opening films. Maybe that’s why audiences are rebelling. Paramount’s rebooted Footloose was sucker-punched by DreamWorks/Disney’s bot-battling holdover Real Steal for No. 1. But the truly alarming news is how very weak the North American box office performed again. I’ve been reporting how younger males — which used to be Hollywood’s target audience — have been no longer consistently (and indiscriminately) going to the movies since August. As a longtime studio exec worried out loud to me Friday night: “I’m really concerned about how soft things are. I’m sitting here looking at grosses and I’m concerned for the Industry. What’s worrying me is where are those hardcore movie fans at this point?” Well, I say Hollywood should expect the worst when they release a succession of mostly dreadful pics. This weekend’s total gross won’t edge much over $80M — which is a whopping -35% from last year when Jackass 3D opened to $50M. (I know what you’re thinking: Who are the jackasses now?) This is not a good situation for the studios to be in as moviegoing enters the all-important holiday season:

1. Real Steel (DreamWorks/Disney) Week 2 [3,440 Theaters]
Friday $4.4M, Saturday $7.2M, Weekend $16M (-41%), Estimated Cume $51.7M

Nice hold, and this feel-good film is now successfully marketing itself as family fare. Witness the +64% jump from Friday to Saturday because parents and kids were attending matinees. But this costly pic is still not the big hit DreamWorks needs it to be.

2. Footloose (Paramount) NEW [3,549 Theaters]
Friday $5.6M, Saturday $6.3M, Weekend $15.5M

Ask Paramount why a reboot of Footloose was even necessary and the sheepish answer is that the 2011 version cost just $24M and the bosses expected to make their money back this first weekend. But they didn’t: it’s a really mediocre opening even if the pic is #1. ”Ultimately there are a number of elements to a studio’s portfolio,” one exec explained to me. “Some movies are original. Some movies are risks. And sometimes you look for opputunities for good investments like this.” This spreadsheet mentality is exactly the sort of bloodless filmmaking which drives creatives crazy about Hollywood. But it’s not only the moguls at fault: Craig Brewer went from writing and directing such edgy fare as Black Snake Moan and Hustle & Flow to helming and earning a screenplay credit on this script from Dean Pitchford who authored the book of the Footloose musical on Broadway. (I can only surmise that Brewer needed a gig.) Of course the studio has told me 4 times in 12 hours that audiences gave the remake an ‘A’ CinemaScore which justified the positive reviews of this virtual shot-by-shot update. Marketed first as an inspirational story of empowerment, the campaign was craven enough to sell Footloose-styled sneakers on the Home Shopping Network. Traffic at first lagged despite high awareness of the iconic original until wannasee picked up at the end because of the relentless promotion.

There had been an extensive word-of-mouth screening program for young girls  during the summer at places like cheerleading camps and then a follow-up Facebook/Twitter campaign to get them talking about this virtual shot-by-shot update. Exit polls showed it appealed to females (75%) and  captured 28% of the teen market. As many as 60% of moviegoers were over age 25 and 46% over age 35 because of the nostalgia factor. As expected, the film with its more fundamentalism-friendly makeover played best in the Midwest, Southwest, and South: the American heartland which Hollywood generally derides as ‘flyover’ country. As a result, Paramount bought deeper in Southern/Middle American 30 local TV markets and outdoor to take advantage of this film’s appeal there. For instance, the studio put key art on over 1 million Greyhound bus jackets, with Footloose posters and counter cards at 90+ depots. I’m told the 20 highest grossing locations Friday were in Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Knoxville, Kansas City, and San Antonio. And remember that Paramount’s Viacom sister company is Country Music Television where there was considerable hardsell including a Footloose takeover, a CMT-hosted Nashville film premiere, and an on-air “Footloose Week”.

Also utilized was sister company MTV’s VMA Awards including pushes during the pre-VMA original Jersey Shore, VMA Pre-Show, and during the live VMA show. MTV also promoted vignettes showing how MTV’s talent/prime time shows “Cut Loose”. Still another sister company, Nickelodeon, showed custom spots featuring Nickelodeon’s star Victoria Justice talking about her role on the Footloose soundtrack. Paramount used all those TV dance contests to pitch the pic, kicking off the campaign with the debut of the Footloose trailer on June 22nd’s So You Think You Can Dance and culminating with lead Julianne Hough’s emotion-exploiting stunt returning to October 11th’s Dancing With The Stars to perform a 4-minute number to Footloose music with co-star Kenny Wormaid. Speaking of Wormaid, he’s no Kevin Bacon (who blessed this reboot). After seeing something like 30 TV spots of him gyrating, I still can’t pick this new guy out of a police lineup.

3. The Thing (Universal) NEW [2,996 Theaters]
Friday $3.2M, Saturday $3.4M, Weekend $8.5M

Like Footloose, Universal’s The Thing was low cost with low turnout. Audiences gave the No. 2 movie only a ‘B-’ CinemaScore. And yet they were primed for a Halloween-timed horror film. (The economy is frightening enough for me…) This prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 film – which itself was a remake of the 1951′s The Thing From Another World — was supposed to be a suspenseful take on the shape-shifting creature’s origins set in icy Antarctica. Tracking suggested the thriller could open in the low double digits. But it underperformed to only single digits. Universal integrated the movie with wannabe stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton from new director Matthijs Van Heijningen into its famed Halloween Horror Nights with mazes at both Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resorts (September 23-October 31). Even the junket was held in the Hollywood maze. So what does this have to do with filmmaking? Nothing. And that’s the point. I bet hundreds of the millions of user-generated scare videos uploaded at ItWillBecomeYou.com were better than this pic. Substantial online resources were utilized like social networking and gaming and full-page takeovers and custom creative on sites like XBox, Vevo, Break, IGN, Metacafe, ESPN, Syfy, YouTube, Yahoo, AOL, Fandango, Movietickets and others. The studio released a red-band online trailer for fans of harder horror, as well as a green-band, using the familiar synth score from the original film. There was a customized outreach to the Hispanic market, who typically overindex for horror films, around the idea of “La Cosa Pronto Vivira En Ti”. Universal is distributing The Thing for Morgan Creek in 28 international territories including UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, and Latin America.

4. The Ides Of March (Cross Creek/Sony) Week 2 [2,199 Theaters]
Friday $2.2M, Saturday $3.3M, Weekend $7.5M (-29%), Cume $22.2M

Excellent hold for George Clooney’s intelligent political thriller that adults are still discovering and welcoming.

5. The Dolphin Tale (Alcon/Warner Bros) Week 4 [3,286 Theaters]
Friday $1.6M, Saturday $2.8M, Weekend $6.3M, Cume $58.6M

6. Moneyball (Sony) Week 4 [2,840 Theaters]
Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.5M, Weekend $5.5M, Estimated Cume $57.7M

7. 50/50 (Summit) Week 3 [2,391 Theaters]
Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.8M, Weekend $4.5M, Cume $24.5M

8. The Big Year (Fox) NEW [2,150 Theaters]
Friday $1.1M, Saturday $1.3M, Weekend $3.2M

I still can’t believe that big stars Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin, or David Frankel who directed big hits The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, could possibly have opened a movie that bombed this big-time at the box office. Yet first Friday’s and then Saturday’s grosses were tantamount to only $1 million per movie star. Geez. I agree with the reviewer who complained that the trio have contracted the “comedy-suppressing disease” demonstrating “terminal blandness”. Even audiences weren’t amused and gave it only a ‘B-’ CinemaScore. The Big Year would be a come-to-Jesus moment in big Fox filmmaking – until you realize that there have been so many of these come-to-Jesus moments in Fox filmmaking in recent years. Yet the studio still refuses to change the way it makes creative decisions. (To be fair, Twentieth at least made successful prequels this summer…) 

Credited screenwriter Howard Franklin’s script is a fictionalized adaptation of Mark Obmascik’s non-fiction book of the same name about of all things – birdwatching — but more so about a mid-life crisis, a late-life crisis, and a no-life crisis among men. Co-produced by Ben Stiller’s and Stuart Cornfeld’s production banner Red Hour based at Twentieth Century Fox, this is a pic that “maybe was too sophisticated and subtle for a big studio release and probably should have been a Searchlight movie,” one of my insiders tells me. “But Twentieth made it because of our relationship with the director who made Prada and Marley for us, both of which were quirky adult movies, too, and a ton of money.” The Big Year cost $41M before co-financier Dune’s investment and Canadian tax credits, which brought the studio’s stake down to $28M — or so Fox claims.

The studio had little or no expectations for The Big Year this weekend. “It’s a good film that has proved impossible to market because of the subject matter. The bird-watching aspect just seems to repel people…” one source told me. When I saw the trailers and TV ads, I didn’t realize what the pic was about: just that the combination of Owen, Jack, and Steve seemed like the kind of adut comedy I would want to see. Problem is, reviews were mixed: The New York Times really liked it, for example, but other influencers not so much. Recognizing that adults, and men especially, is a slow build audience, marketing was targeted to them. But why should I bother giving details of the plan when it was an epic fail?

9. Courageous (Sherwood/Sony) Week 3 [1,214 Theaters]
Friday $1M, Saturday $1.2M, Weekend $3.2M, Cume $21.2M

10. Dream House (Universal) Week 3 [2,172 Theaters]
Friday $740K, Saturday $1.2M, Weekend $2.6M, Estimated Cume $18.5M

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...

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