SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM, 5TH UPDATE: It was Russell Brand (Warner Bros’ Arthur remake) vs Russell Brand (Universal’s holdover Hop) atop this weekend’s North American box office. How often does that happen? My bet is: never again now that Arthur bombed. Hop still pops with an excellent hold (-42%) for the weekend that’ll stay strong through Easter. And remember, Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment made this sweetie for only $63M. (You hear that, Jeffrey K and Pixar?) Best question for this weekend: Why did the comedies Arthur and Universal’s Your Highness open against each other? Here’s why: Uni originally dated it for last fall, “then we saw a void in the marketplace for a really raunchy R-rated comedy in April.” Then Arthur moved onto that date. Universal claims YH only cost $50M because of the considerable Irish rebate. And yet by Sunday morning, the holdover horror flick from the Paranormal Activity people, Insidious, which cost $1M — that’s right, $1M — had beaten it. But Friday grosses also contained a shocker: a double whammy of young female power given their pics’ middling releases that a lot of observers didn’t expect. Focus Features’ intriguing Hanna grossed better than what the studio expected for matinees and evenings even though its CinemaScore was only a “C+”. And Sony’s inspirational PG Soul Surfer during Friday stayed No. 2 from strength in the Bible Belt helped by American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. But it predictably lost steam at night, when the church buses went home. It earned a rare “A+” CinemaScore, which bodes well for word of mouth. Meanwhile, it’s yet another down moviegoing weekend overall, looking like $110M, or -9% from last year:
1. Hop (Universal) Week 2 [3,636 Theaters]
Friday $5.4M, Saturday $9.6M, Weekend $21.6M (-42%), Cume $68.1M
OK, I admit it: Illumination Entertainment’s Chris Meledandri had me at an Easter Bunner who poops jelly beans. Which is why I couldn’t believe Universal (aka The Bomb Factory) wasn’t shouting his big numbers on a cheap $63M budget and “A-” CinemaScore from the rooftops last weekend. (I’d asked the studio to help me get early numbers because I was undergoing surgery … They dropped the ball, which I guess is better than my doctors dropping the knife.) This weekend was completely different. Uni knew by midday Friday that Hop would be #1 again in North America and do well in still more international territories. Of course, Fox’s Rio began to hit overseas and showed tremendous strength. That’s shaping up as a worldwide battle between the two kid films for the Easter holidays. Then again, many territories don’t celebrate Easter with traditions like the Easter Bunny delivering candy. Hop was Illumination’s first live-action/animation hybrid film and very different in genre and tone from Despicable Me. And the fact that similar films like Yogi Bear and Marmaduke had not overperformed like the popular animated films released in the same time period made Uni execs guesstimate an only $30M opening weekend. The result was nearly $38M. Because family films tend to play well in holiday corridors, the studio now expects multiples of almost 4 and 5 times the opening because of rolling spring breaks in schools. But how young would Hop play? Marketing partnerships included Burger King, Hershey, Kraft and Bolthouse Carrots, and Walmart co-branded its in-store seasonal program with a movie property for the first time and featured massive and immersive signage in more than 3,000 stores as well as exclusive Hop merchandise. Interestingly, Uni is boasting that Hop’s success is ”a demonstration of how assets across the NBCUniversal and Comcast family can be leveraged to help create marketplace ubiquity.” Then how will the studio explain any future flops? Last weekend, Hop got off to a $7M start day and date in 26 foreign territories. This weekend, Hop grossed an estimated $5.9M in 32 territories for a total $15.1M. Pic still has 27 territories to open.
2. Arthur (Warner Bros) NEW [3,276 Theaters]
Friday $4.5M, Saturday $5M, Weekend $12.6M
This remake of the 1981 classic starring Dudley Moore was positioned as a broad comedy. Just two problems: this version wasn’t funny, and Russell Brand can’t carry a movie. Character actor in small doses, yes. Entire movie? Nope. Arthur was helpless to earn the $18+M Hollywood thought it would this weekend or even the mid-teens the studio expected. But not for lack of trying. “The director was making his film debut; the script was always going to be caught between homage to its predecessor and an attempt to make it pertinent to today; and people feel either hot or cold about Russell Brand,” one of the film’s insiders told me about the failure. “Everyone got involved with the movie knowing its pitfalls, especially the fondness with which so many people remember the original.” The ill-fated marketing campaign started with trailers on films ranging from Just Go With It to The Adjustment Bureau, with the main push coming from a very strong TV campaign that included high-profile sports, particularly NCAA playoffs & finals, and a strong network schedule including American Idol, The Bachelor finale and the Country Music Awards. Warner Bros tried to push what was, in the words of one exec, ”new and relevant” and create an event profile for the film. There really was genuine affection between Russell and Helen Mirren, and Brand did every bit of publicity asked of him (American Idol, Leno, Fallon, Conan, Lopez, Regis and Kelly) which may have been the problem, actually, since a little of him goes a long way. Frankly, it’s rare that even an unfunny Warner Bros comedy falls apart because the studio is such a marketing machine. But the Arthur remake did what the most cynical among us thought it would after seeing those unfunny trailers. Jeez, even Russell’s R-rated Get Me To The Greek opened to $17.5M, and Arthur is PG-13. It earned a “B” CinemaScore. With reshoots, rival studios claimed to me the budget was at least $85M, but an Arthur insider claimed to me: “It was budgeted at $40M and came in $900,000 UNDER … and that’s AFTER the re-shoots.” Nevertheless, marketers around town tell me that Warner Bros spent “a fortune” on advertising this past month especially during March Madness to reach out to males and on comedy sites like Comedy Central and Funny Or Die. The opening-week blitz also featured takeovers of sites like Yahoo, YouTube, Funny or Die, and MTV.
3. Hanna (Focus) NEW [2,535 Theaters]
Friday $4.1M, Saturday $5M, Weekend $12.3M
This is an overperformer considering the middling release. I always hear around Hollywood that women can’t carry non-franchise action movies unless it’s Angelina Jolie. Well, this little gal Saoirse Ronan upended those notions, especially by attracting a 53% male/47% female audience to what Focus Features positioned as an intriguing La Femme Nikita classed up by Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana. Grosses showed strength in major city markets as well as small towns in the South and Midwest. The PG-13 rating helped Hanna to compete aggressively in both these smaller regional markets and the suburbs. Based on a theater-by-theater breakdown, Focus found that Hanna is also playing well to African-American and Latino audiences. Specifically, 53% of the audience was under 30, and 64% under 35. Ethnically diverse, it was 43% Caucasian, 25% African American, 19% Hispanic, and 12% Asian. Tracking had indicated between $10M-$12M this weekend by both services NRG and MarketCast. Between pre-sales (Focus Features International sold major territories to Sony International at Cannes last May), finance deals and tax deals, there was no risk against domestic box office on this one. The trailer premiered during holiday play period and continued through last weekend with extensive in-theater exposure (standees, posters, digital one-sheets, static clings, concession program). That’s more marketing love than most of these smaller films get. Early clips sneaked at NY ComiCon with the cast participating in a Q&A panel. The film was screened early for online influencers among fanboy and fangirl sites. And at WonderCon in San Francisco, director Joe Wright with Saoirse spoke to a full house of 3,500. Teams on the ground distributed promotional items at SXSW, local concerts, highly trafficked retailers, college campuses, bars, clubs, salons, restaurants, gyms, etc. Broadcast media promotions included MTV, Bravo, FX, TNT, Sirius/Howard Stern and G4. The strong soundtrack featuring the Chemical Brothers included an exclusive ringtone written by the Chemical Brothers and iTunes album release.
4. Soul Surfer (FilmDistrict/Sony) NEW [2,214 Theaters]
Friday $3.6M, Saturday $4.6M, Weekend $11.1M
Coming in to this weekend, Sony thought it was releasing through TriStar an acquired micro-budget title from FilmDistrict that had “solid upside potential,” according to a studio exec. “If we do $10 million this weekend (or close to it), it would be a home run for Sony and FilmDistrict.” Mission accomplished. A strong Christian message sometimes works at the box office, sometimes falls flat. This one worked, helped by the strong appeal and personal promotion of American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. Soul Surfer played incredibly well all around the country as Sony had been screening the title aggressively — 350 previews — especially for church groups who arranged for buses to bring in audiences all day Friday. Which is why the movie was a surprise No. 2 all that day until nighttime fell. Exit polls showed 80% of the audience was female and 56% of the total men and women who went were under 25. It was directed by Sean McNamara, who also wrote the screenplay with Deborah Schwartz, Douglas Schwartz and Michael Berk. the film is based on the book by Bethany Hamilton (the young surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack), Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh. The film was marketed extremely well by FilmDistrict by emphasizing the upbeat, positive message although not overtly its religious undertones even though Soul Surfer is the only mainstream movie with a faith-based message during the Easter holidays. Key targets were tweens, teens and moms, and the film tracked well with these groups, and direct engagement was made with Underwood’s fan base, extreme sports enthusiasts and athletes who had overcome personal obstacles.