SUNDAY 8 AM, 6TH UPDATE: A total of 4 major releases this weekend amounted to a soft domestic box office with total moviegoing slightly below last year’s. Sony Pictures Animation’s 3D sequel to its 2009 instant children’s classic, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2, managed to meet the studio’s lowball expectations of almost $35M, ahead of the first Cloudy‘s $30.3M opening even though sequel didn’t open in IMAX like that did. Result was the 4th biggest September opener of all time, but only a so-so toon result considering the big ones should manage $40+M debuts. The ‘A-’ CinemaScore, same as the original’s, helped word of mouth for the all-important Saturday kiddie bump which amounted to +63% over Friday since parents and their offspring lately have been underserved in the marketplace. Of course, it was also a massive release compared to the middling runs of the other newcomers this weekend. Studio said 80% of the audience was families - 37% parents, 43% children under age 12 and 20% were general moviegoers aged 12 and up. With a budget of $78M on CWACOM2, Sony Animation is taking a page from Universal’s Illumination Entertainment (makers of the hugely profitable Despicable Me franchise) and keeping costs modest. The division which turned 10 last year is now under Bob Osher and his head of production Michelle Raimo Kouyate. In the past five years, toon unit has created 3 franchises: Smurfs (whose sequel is crossing $300M worldwide), Hotel Transylvania ($348M), and CWACOM ($245.8M). Cloudy 2 opened day and date in only 3 territories – Central America, Chile, and Vietnam – this weekend. Directed by Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, pic has a large voice cast including Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, and Benjamin Bratt. Not sure why I should describe the pic’s marketing campaign since Sony Pictures unfairly fired film marketing chief Marc Weinstock when the fact is the studio’s 2013 product has mostly underwhelmed and the brass didn’t want to blame themselves. Even in this case, critics gave Cloudy 2 only 58% fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes complaining that the sequel wasn’t as “clever or inventive as its predecessor but compensates with enough dazzling visuals”.
Ron Howard’s Formula One R-rated adult actioner Rush from Imagine Entertainment and Revolution Films, with Universal distributing in the U.S. only, expanded after platforming a week ago. It earned an ‘A-’ CinemaScore from audiences to add to stellar reviews from critics. But ticket sales remained slow and disappointing – only an $10.3M weekend and $10.6M domestic cume - so the curse of car racing pics lives on. Note that Rush‘s negative cost to financiers Exclusive Media and Cross Creek was only $38M. Movie should do better overseas where Formula One is a major sport. It was #1 in the UK and has banked $17.6M in 21 territories where Exclusive is distributing. Entertainment One Group is releasing in Canada. When you’re a 2-time Academy Award winner (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon) and rich and successful to boot, you’ve earned the right like Ron Howard to pursue your passion projects especially when his directing debut was Grand Theft Auto back in 1977. Even more so when you find your own financing for them like he’s done here. Rush was directed by Howard who reteams with Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan to rev the 1970s true story rivalry between Grand Prix racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. It stars Chris Hemsworth who if he’s truly the next worldwide action star (after success in Thor and The Avengers and Snow White And The Huntsman) should have opened this film far bigger helped by a full frills TV campaign. Problem is pic is only appealing to older males and building among older females but not drawing younger moviegoers. Howard directs and Morgan scripts to much acclaim as well as produces with Andrew Eaton, Eric Fellner, Brian Oliver, and of course Imagine partner Brian Grazer. But the low gross could affect the pic’s Oscar chances despite awards buzz since its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and 90% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Fox Searchlight’s PG-13 waste-of-time rom-com Baggage Claim also won an ‘A-’ CinemaScore despite dismal critical reviews – only 18% positive on Rotten Tomatoes and opened with $9.2M. The studio was so embarrassed by this dopey premise pic that it never bothered sending me any pre-release or post-release intel about it. That said, films about a flight attendant’s love life belong back in the 1960s. The 2013 twist that she’s African-American is just lame. Written and directed and produced by David E. Talbert (whose first movie was 2008′s First Sunday and who gave his wife an exec producer credit because he cribbed from her female friends’ conversations), pic stars Paula Patton who co-starred in FSL’s 2010 Just Wright and whom many believe wouldn’t have such a thriving movie career if she weren’t married to Robin Thicke. Unfortunately Taye Diggs and Djimon Hounsou also co-star in this crapfest. I rarely praise Tyler Perry but he would have found a fresher way to position this.
Still, at the box office it beat out Relativity’s R-rated Don Jon‘s $8.8M weekend. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing, writing, and starring vehicle, pic followed its January Sundance debut with a late night bidding battle that ended with Relativity paying a $4 million advance and a $25 million P&A commitment for a film financed by Voltage Pictures’ Nicolas Chartier on just a $3 million budget. (Although Relativity says it’s $5M-$6M.) Even an interesting supporting cast of Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, and Rob Brown didn’t help. Too bad pic received a disappointing ‘C+’ CinemaScore with audiences despite 81% positives on Rotten Tomatoes with critics. A HitRecord/Ram Bergman production, it looks like a mistake to have bowed to Gordon-Levitt’s wishes and distributed Don Jon in 2,422 theaters in North America without platforming first. (Remtrack is releasing in Canada, and Voltage International overseeing international.) What’s sad here is that a film called original, unexpected, and daring for trying to reinvent the tired rom-com genre was overlooked by audiences despite a plethora of TV advertising and other awareness. Marketing kicked off with the MTV audience via the VMAs a month ago followed by very heavy and high profile cable including Comedy Central’s James Franco Roast and the usual sports games. Interestingly, Relativity was the first studio to drive audiences from a TV spot directly to the film’s official Tumblr Page. Gordon-Levitt took over IMDB.com as guest editor and Xbox Live: Home Channel hosted a full-day roadblock right after Grand Theft Auto V was released. Despite Don Jon‘s low gross this weekend, Relativity claims this is one of the highest recent openings for a directorial debut by an actor. Let’s remember that Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone only did $5.5M its first weekend – and he became a major helmer.
Here’s the Top Ten list based on weekend estimates:
1. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 3D (Sony) NEW [Runs 4,001] PG
Friday $9.2M, Saturday $15.0M, Weekend $35.0M
2. Prisoners (Alcon/Warner Bros) Week 2 [Runs 3,290] R
Friday $3.3M, Saturday $4.8M, Weekend $11.0M (-46%), Cume $38.8M
3. Rush (Imagine/Universal) Week 2 [Runs 2,297] R
Friday $3.6M, Saturday $4.3M, Weekend $10.3M, Cume $10.6M
4. Baggage Claim (Fox Searchlight) NEW [Runs 2,027] PG13
Friday $3.2M, Saturday $3.8M, Weekend $9.2M
5. Don Jon (Relativity) NEW [Runs 2,422] R
Friday $3.2M, Saturday $3.4M, Weekend $8.8M