Conventional wisdom suggests a studio shouldn’t release two films on the same date, or even a week within each other, for fear of cannibalizing business. But this weekend, Sony took conventional wisdom out back and beat the life out of it, smashing records with the nation’s top two movies. Their animation division looks like they’ll have the biggest opening in September history with “Hotel Transylvania,” while through TriStar, “Looper” is set to be a superb debut for a heady sci-fi film.
As was said many times, one of the surest bets in the industry is a CGI-animated ‘toon, as long as the marketing muscle is there and the topic is familiar enough. It doesn’t matter that 'Transylvania' starred Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg, the duo who headed the toxic “That’s My Boy,” which audiences avoided in droves this summer. Of course, this adds more fuel to the idea that animated films continue to waste money on casting big names when Pixar eschews them and still scores massive profits. Though that may be studios hedging their bets by trying to get as many butts in seats domestically, and knowing when the films head overseas they won’t have much appeal without the big names attached, since they’ll have been dubbed in by local talent instead. Whatever, not worth thinking too hard about. It’s “Hotel Transylvania.”
Sandler once tried to expand his base with the animated “Eight Crazy Nights,” though that was the rare flop for his Happy Madison shingle. This is less of a Sandler project overall, and with him doing an elaborate Dracula accent, it’s likely viewers won’t associate the film with his brand. But after the twin disasters that were “Jack and Jill” and “That’s My Boy,” every little bit helps, including having his name above the title of Sony Animation’s biggest opening weekend yet for a fully animated film — not counting the half-animated “The Smurfs“ and not accounting for 3D price inflation. Expect this 'Hotel' to stay open through Halloween, when it will likely outdraw similar lodgings 'Great Marigold' and 'Rwanda.'
TriStar’s “Looper” is the breakout long-in-the-waiting for writer-director Rian Johnson and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Johnson has been sought for a number of big tentpoles that he has since turned down, which is bold considering for all their critical acclaim, both “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom” were surprisingly weak performers during their limited arthouse releases. Gordon-Levitt, meanwhile, has been groomed for stardom for awhile, but his ubiquity did nothing to keep last month’s “Premium Rush” from playing to empty theaters. As for Bruce Willis, who has had two of his 2012 films go direct to DVD, a third buried with zero promotion (“The Cold Light Of Day”) and another pushed to next year (“G.I. Joe: Retaliation”), it’s good to see he still stars in films people actually watch. Even if this is a pitstop between blockbuster franchises.
Reviews were more than generous, while Cinemascore viewers gave the film a B. This isn’t on the high end of box office expectations – think “Inception” or “District 9” – but considering the minimal budget and the convoluted nature of the plot, all involved have to be more than satisfied about the results. And frankly, it's nice to see audiences voting for something original and creative, rather than sticking with the familiar.
Last week was a tangle at the top, and it looks like all three second-week offerings remain close. The victor again is last week’s number one, “End of Watch,” though both “Trouble with the Curve” and “House at the End of the Street” are showing surprising legs. 'Watch' looks like a strong player that not only gives distributor Open Road its second male-centric hit of the year following “The Grey,” but it also puts Jake Gyllenhaal’s name back in leading man circulation following the one-two punch of “Prince of Persia” and “Love and Other Drugs.” While both those pictures were largely considered disappointments, they performed significantly stronger overseas. And if 'Watch' also translates stronger than it does domestically, it could give Gyllenhaal a boost in leading another big blockbuster, given that tentpoles more and more rely on doing the bulk of their business in foreign territories.
Universal knew they had something promising in “Pitch Perfect,” and thanks to buzz on social media, they opened the the film first in limited release before going wide next weekend. On only 335 screens, the picture averaged a stellar $14k per screen, elbowing its way into the top ten. Universal wallpapered the airwaves with TV ads, and slapped the trailer in front of a number of big releases, and the young female demographic certainly responded. It was enough to get the film over free-falling 3D offerings “Finding Nemo 3D” and “Resident Evil: Retribution,” both of which underperformed. As has been reported many times already, however, 'Retribution' continues to register the customary massive overseas grosses for that franchise. Sony will consider 'Retribution' a blip, as plans are likely already underway for the next, and last entry in the seemingly endless 'Resident Evil' series.
Usually box office flops generate a lot of publicity on their own for their piddling receipts. But box office flops don’t get more anonymous than “Won’t Back Down,” a school drama starring two names, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, that have never generated any box office enthusiasm. A year ago, this project had promise, as most figured Davis was headed for Oscar glory with “The Help.” Then The Weinstein Company steamrolled voters with “The Iron Lady” screeners and Gyllenhaal and Davis proceeded to have a year of almost zero exposure, leading to a film that had no business being on 2,515 screens despite a respectable TV ad budget. Among wide releases at 2,500+ locations, this ranks as one of the absolute worst debuts, only barely beating out the third week of “The Master,” itself at only 856 locations. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.
1. The Great Exotic Marigold Hotel Transylvania (Sony) – $43 million
2. Loop de Loop (Sony TriStar) – $21.2 million
3. End Of Swatch (Open Road) – $8 million ($26.2 mil.)
4. If God Is Willing And That Trouble Gon' Curve (Warner Bros.) – $7.5 million ($23.7 mil.)
5. The Hausu At The End Of The Street (Relativity) – $7.2 million ($22.2 mil.)
6. Not Glee (Universal) – $5.1 million
7. Finding Nemo: Retribution 3D (Disney) – $3.8 million ($36 mil.)
8. Resident Nemo 3D (Sony) – $2.8 million ($39 mil.)
9. They Backed Down (Fox) – $2.7 million
10. The Massa (The Weinstein Company) – $2.6 million ($9.5 mil.)