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Weekend B.O. Brawl! ‘Lion King 3D’ Still #1, ‘Moneyball’ Edges ‘Dolphin Tale’ For #2, Twilighter Taylor Lautner’s ‘Abduction’ #4, De Niro/Statham/Owen’s ‘Killer Elite’ #5

SUNDAY AM, 7TH UPDATE: I’m told this is the first time there are three $20 million pics on a September weekend. No wonder it’s been shifting like quicksand at the North American box office, with the Top 3 order changing and then changing again. Everyone agrees that Lion King 3D is now No. 1, but Moneyball and Dolphin Tale were neck-and-neck for No. 2 going into this morning. At first, Warner Bros had its Alcon Entertainment fish story ahead of Sony Pictures baseball tale — but only by $110,000. Nevertheless Sony and other studios and eventually Alcon have Moneyball ahead by as much as $500K. So I’m calling it for Moneyball. Friday night also had no clarity because of Rentrak hiccups during the day. Can’t we all just get along, especially when I’m on vacation?

1. Even Disney is surprised that its Lion King 3D is king of the jungle again in 2,330 theaters after its huge 1st-place finish last weekend. Rival studios tell me it got a boost Friday from the rain back East for a $6M Friday for an excellent hold. And another giant kiddie matinee bump on Saturday for $9.2M and on Sunday a projected $6.8M. That’s a $22.1M weekend and only a modest -30% decline from a week ago. This re-release can hit a cume of $61.6M by Monday. This is the first reissue to open #1 in 14 years. An interesting story is how Disney’s original release plan called for one weekend on 500 3D screens. Then, the studio saw the tracking for Dolphin Tale and decided to expand to two weekends on 1,500 3D screens, thus hogging most of the high-priced 3D venues. It was a shrewd targeted hit on Warner Bros, and probably cost Dolphin Tale at least $5M-$10M in box office. So here’s my question: Why is it that in all the promotional hype I’ve been sent by the studio, no one at Disney is thanking Jeffrey Katzenberg for micro-managing the original Lion King? C’mon, Mouse House, give credit where credit is due. Even if Jeffrey is a big pain in everyone’s ass.

2. Sony’s much-hyped newcomer Moneyball is now officially the best baseball-themed opening ever. (Not accounting for inflation or higher ticket prices, it beat Benchwarmers‘ $19.6M, The Rookie’s $16M, and A League Of Their Own‘s $13.7M.) It opened No. 1 Friday with $6.7M and then soared +24% to $8.3M Saturday from 2,993 theaters. (As a Sony exec told me, “$6 million would be great. $7 million amazing. $8 million would be a triumph.”) With that healthy adult bump, it scored a $20.7M weekend which is on target with the studio’s expectations. That solid number helps keep Brad Pitt’s star wattage shining and his awards chances climbing because of this well-reviewed male-centric sports movie that scored 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. (As Deadline Hollywood’s Awards columnist Pete Hammond opined out of the Toronto Film Festival: “This is a classic movie star role in the tradition of something that Robert Redford or Paul Newman would have done in their prime. He has never been better, and the movie is the best sports film since Bull Durham, a real triumph considering the long and winding road it took to get to the screen.”) Audiences really liked this pic: it received all A’s — male, female, young, old — from CinemaScore. By age, 36% were under 35 and 64% were over 35. But a rival studio exec points out that almost 60% of the audience was over age 50. Sony believes Moneyball could play strongly through the Fall generating a multiple that could very well exceed 4X and 5X its opening.

Marketing targeted adult moviegoers and was designed to appeal to both men and women. Call me sexist, but I thought targeting women was hopeless for a pic based on the true story of Billy Beane who rebuilt the Oakland A’s in 2002 through computer-driven statistical analysis long ignored by the baseball establishment. (This stuff makes my eyes glaze over…) But exit surveys showed the film was almost evenly split with 51% male and 49% female moviegoers. To build awareness among men, Sony had a strong presence in sports programming, especially baseball where the campaign kicked off during the MLB All-Star Game in July. Trailers aired on the MLB Network, while spots also ran in high-profile NFL games including the season opener. In recent weeks, Moneyball‘s presence was in MLB games across FOX, ESPN, and TBS and select NCAA football games. The TV campaign took advantage of primetime premieres and high-impact specials, including the Emmys and MTV’s VMAs. On cable, Moneyball had sneak peeks on Sons of Anarchy, Tosh.0, Conan and ESPN’s SportsCenter. To reach women, Sony bought spots on Dancing With the Stars and Glee while Pitt appeared on Ellen this week and was pretty much omnipresent as both producer and star.

Like most movies these days, Moneyball had a twisted and tortured history to the big screen. Michael Lewis wrote a great book, and producer Rachael Horovitz recognized the bones of a great movie. Initially, baseball freak Steven Soderbergh was involved but passed because of other commitments. Eventually Sony brought in producer Michael De Luca to join Horovitz and, 5 years later in 2009, Soderbergh was back to direct. But in a well-chrincled case of creative differences, the Oscar-winning director was jettisoned from the film just 72 hours before production was to begin when the studio changed its mind about his changes to Steven Zaillian’s adaptation. (Soderbergh’s primary addition included Reds-like testimonials from real-life players which mae it more like a documentary.) Studio chief Amy Pascal felt Soderbergh’s version wasn’t commercial enough and pulled the plug. Conventional wisdom had it that the pic was a goner. But Pitt stayed on board throughout and Pascal stuck with this project instead of taking a writedown. Funny how women are often seen as not knowing anything about sports, yet in this case it took two Hollywood females to push this one through. The project got back on track with executive producer Scott Rudin along with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who did a polish on Zaillian’s script (both get credit now). Pitt himself praises director Bennett Miller (an Oscar nod for Capote first-time out), who replaced Soderbergh and then had the vision to “crack” the film’s outsider/insider themes by making an unconventional film about them.

3. Incredibly close behind is Alcon Entertainment’s Dolphin Tale 3D distributed into 3,507 theaters by Warner Bros. It opened with $5.1M Friday and zoomed to $8.6M Saturday for a $20.2M weekend. Alcon expected the heartstrings-pulling pic to jump 60% on Saturday because of the family film bump. It did a staggering +70% more. Remember, it’s also playing in the most theaters. According to CinemaScores, parents and kids audiences are giving it an A+. The film now becomes the highest opening weekend for a live action film with an animal, passing Disney’s Eight Below. With its inspirational story, Warner Bros expected to own the family marketplace this weekend and give Moneyball a run for No. 1 this weekend. But no one anticipated the continued strength of Lion King 3D. The strategy for Dolphin Tale was to reach primarily parents and kids with this real-life story and fine ensemble cast. The studio devised a very long trailer campaign in order to get maximum exposure beginning in April and playing through the summer on everything from Rio to Cars 2. The TV strategy was robust, covering everything from kids cable in late summer before school started, through key season premieres such as Dancing With The Stars and Biggest Loser, to a wide array of sponsorships with Discovery, Teen Nick, Lifetime, Nation Geographic, Disney XD, MTV, and more. Warner Bros crafted an aggressive word-of-mouth screening program that involved 3 full rounds in the top 60 markets. Military and home schoolers were targeted as well as youth groups and other family-oriented orgs. The director and cast completed a 7-market PA tour that included a junket to accommodate Winter, the real-life star of the film who had her own live Winter-cam. Online, there was a first-time integration with the Spongebob Squarepants Facebook page given the sea theme.

4. Lionsgate’s Abduction in 3,118 theaters ended up with  $3.8M Friday but went up +21% Saturday for $4.6m and an $11.2M opening for the weekend. But I’ve just learned it’s #1 this weeknd in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia as it begins its day ad date foreign rollout. Through Sunday, Hollywood eyes have been focused on its star Taylor Lautner in his first leading man role in an action thriller because he’s been very much in demand — presumably because of his enormous Twi-hard fan base and aggressive promotion of his films – but not because of any solo box office which the 19-year-old has done yet. Yes, Tay-Tay received $5M for this pic which his production company also produced. Then again, I’ve learned that Lautner’s $36M-budget action thriller was outspent 4-to-1 in marketing dollars by both Sony and Warner Bros leading up to this weekend. (Shame on Lionsgate’s Jon Feltheimer for tying everyone’s hands even after powerless Alli Shearmur pleaded.) So the jury is still out on whether this Twilight kid can open an envelope, especially in as rotten a reviewed movie as this one was based on Shawn Christensen’s $1M spec script and directed by John Singleton. (“Silly” and “convoluted” were the words used most often to describe it.) Audiences didn’t think it was quite as bad as critics, giving it a B- CinemaScore. Lionsgate can’t seem to make a decent movie (Conan The Barbarian) or market one anymore (Warrior). Read More »

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Toronto: Sellers Rush To Get Into Oscar Race But Buyers Want Them To Slow Down

Pete Hammond

The 9/11 anniversary was a strong memory in Toronto because it happened right in the middle of 2001′s film festiva – even though it was business as usual today. In fact the pace of this place just seems to be quickening. Deals, as Deadline’s Mike Fleming reports, were slow to percolate but may be picking up. Most buyers I talk to are irritated by some sellers’ insistence that their film be released this year in time for Oscar consideration. That’s a tall order and leaves little time for creating a marketing campaign, much less an awards strategy. Nevertheless, that was one of the demands made by the sellers of the controversial Shame during negotiations. Fox Searchlight agreed, others didn’t. In fact I was told that Sony Pictures Classics, which wanted the picture, came up with a smart strategy they compared to The Weinstein Company’s for Colin Firth. That consisted of Firth doing a lot of campaigning and earning a nomination for A Single Man in 2010, thus laying the groundwork for his The King’s Speech win the next year. SPC was going to put Michael Fassbender out there and get him recognition for their November release of David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and then release Shame later in 2012 for a one-two punch that the Academy would notice. No go. The sales people behind Shame insisted it be released this year, thereby throwing the Venice Film Festival’s Best Actor winner into an already overcrowded awards race that among others includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, and Leonardo DiCaprio who are better known — at least at this point.

One former studio head-turned-producer complained loudly to me today that this kind of strategy is not necessarily what’s good for the movie and asked, “Isn’t that what we should be concerned with over anything else?” For example, Open Road’s Tom Ortenberg is here with his first release Killer Elite but is not rushing into a year-end release if it might end up hurting the bottom line. “Isn’t the 2012 Oscar race just as good as this year’s?” he asked. He might consider putting the Liam Neeson film The Grey into a year-end qualifying run since Neeson’s performance is said to be so strong. But only if it was in the best interest of the film. When he was at Lionsgate, Ortenberg acquired Crash at Toronto but held it for a May release. Then he did a now-legendary and successful Oscar campaign almost 1 1/2 years after the Toronto buy. The same strategy worked for The Hurt Locker two years ago. Both went on to win Best Picture.

Nevertheless, several films for sale in Toronto are said to be eyeing a 2011 release in order to get into the Oscar race. These include Luc Besson’s The Lady, which premieres Monday night and which I have already seen. It contains two powerhouse performances from Michelle Yeoh who could jump into the lead actress race. There’s also David Thewlis for Supporting Actor. The Lady will certainly be part of any sales discussion, but I know of at least one mini-major who would like the film but just not for this year. As I mentioned yesterday, Barrymore with its sensational title performance from Christopher Plummer also wants to make a deal that includes a 2011 year-end release. Also director Zhang Yimou’s epic The Flowers of War (formerly Nanking) starring Oscar-winner Christian Bale had a 20-minute footage presentation here and hopes to get a domestic deal in place in time for a possible year-end run at Oscar. I am told it could certainly be ready what with its debut in Beijing in December. Read More »

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Hot Trailer: ‘Killer Elite’

By | Thursday August 4, 2011 @ 1:12pm PDT

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Open Road Makes Netflix Deal

Mike Fleming

Well, now we know that Open Road is for real. The upstart distribution company run by Tom Ortenberg and funded by theater chains Regal and AMC have made a streaming deal with Netflix that will begin with its first film, Killler Elite, with Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro. Here’s the announcement:

Los Angeles, CA, June 28, 2011 – Netflix, Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and Open Road Films today announced a multi-year agreement to bring movies distributed theatrically by Open Road Films exclusively to Netflix for digital streaming in the “pay TV window,” after their release on DVD. The deal will allow Netflix members to instantly watch OpenRoad Films titles on various devices streaming from Netflix.

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Hot Trailer: ‘Killer Elite’

By | Friday June 24, 2011 @ 3:30pm PDT

Here’s the first look at Killer Elite, a fact-based action thriller starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro that opens Sept. 23. Gary McKendry directed. It’s also the first release from AMC and Regal’s joint-venture distribution outfit Open Road, led by Tom Ortenberg.

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Open Road Inks Home Entertainment Deal With Universal

Open Road Films, the recently launched theatrical distribution company from exhibitors AMC and Regal, has signed a multiyear agreement with Universal Studios Home Entertainment to handle all marketing, sales and distribution services for Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms of Open Road’s titles. The first film to be covered in the deal is also Open Road’s first film: Killer Elite, the actioner starring Jason Statham, Robert De Niro and Clive Owen that will be released Sept. 23. The announcement of the home entertainment deal was made today by Open Road CEO Tom Ortenberg and USHE president Craig Kornblau.

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Open Road Sets First Release With Fall Date On ‘Killer Elite’

By | Wednesday June 8, 2011 @ 9:47am PDT
Mike Fleming

Open Road, the distribution company hatched earlier this year by theater chains AMC and Regal with Tom Ortenberg at the helm, has set its first release. Open Road set a September 23, 2011 date for Killer Elite, the Gary McKendry-directed action thriller that stars Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro. The fact-based thriller is about an ex-special ops agent (Statham) lured out of retirement to rescue his mentor (De Niro). To do it, he must lay waste to three assassins with a cunning leader (Owen). The film was financed by Omnilab Media and produced through its Australian production arm Ambience Entertainment. Inferno is selling it around the world.

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Cannes: Tom Ortenberg Makes First Big Open Road Acquisition With ‘Killer Elite’

Mike Fleming

Open Road, the new distribution company launched by theater chains AMC and Regal to find films that can play in wide release, has made its first major deal as Tom Ortenberg closed U.S. rights to the action film Killer Elite, which stars Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro. Here’s the official announcement:

Cannes, May 11, 2011 – Open Road Films has acquired all U.S. distribution rights to Omnilab Media’s film Killer Elite, an action thriller starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro and directed by Gary McKendry. Financed by Omnilab Media, the film was produced by Michael Boughen through Omnilab’s Australian production arm, Ambience Entertainment alongside Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Steve Chasman, and Tony Winley. Killer Elite is slated for a fall 2011 release nationwide and will be the first film for the newly launched U.S. distribution venture Open Road Films.

Inspired by true events, Killer Elite is an action adventure spy film following Danny (Jason Statham), one of the world’s most skilled special-ops agents. Lured out of self-imposed exile to execute a near-impossible feat of retribution and personal salvation, Danny reassembles his old team of operatives to help rescue his former mentor (Robert DeNiro), and to penetrate the highly feared and respected military unit, the British Special Air Service (SAS). Facing off against a covert group of ex-SAS soldiers known as “The Feather Men,” who, under their leader Spike (Clive Owen), provide a deadly cloak

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