For the first weekend in a while, there's been a real uptick in business. The top 10 films on Friday grossed over $30 million, compared to $23.5 million last Friday and $26 million a year ago. Led by two Sony releases in the top positions, followed by indie holdover "End of Watch," the wide range of films prove that outside-the-box production decisions can deliver –and broaden the kind of non-sequel, non-franchise series films that get made.
The big surprise of the week is the strong opening of Universal's college-set relationship comedy "Picture Perfect." Without the benefit of the usual marketing elements included in most limited releases, especially any big-name draws, and as importantly appealing to primarily female audiences, it opened in sixth place in only 335 theaters, with a Friday PSA that is just below what "The Master" had for its first full weekend (in twice as many theaters).
1. Hotel Transylvania (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 46
$11,000,000 in 3,349 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $3,285; Cumulative: $11,000,000
The Halloween season starts earlier every year in theaters. This 3-D animated horror comedy is the latest in Sony Pictures Animation's solid-or-better entries in this lucrative genre. The Friday gross is $2 million below that of summer opening "The Smurfs" last year, but this could be heading to a better opening weekend. It is $3 million better than September opener "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." This could be the biggest opening since August's "The Bourne Legacy."
Sony Animation's production costs, though high, fall somewhat below those of some other studios (this film reportedly came in between $65-100 million). This looks, with additional significant foreign appeal, like a big success.
What comes next: "The Smurfs" ended up with $142 million domestic/$563 million worldwide, which might not be challenged. But for an original concept, this is a promising start.
2. Looper (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic score: 84
$6,900,000 in 2,992 theaters; PSA: $2,306; Cumulative: $6,900,000
With the highest Metacritic score of the year of any initial wide release, this time-travel thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis boasts a core target audience tof under-35 males that tends to be less-critic oriented. The gross indicates better-than-normal appeal than its two leads on their own would be expected to attract (Gordon-Levitt's "Premium Rush" last month grossed less than $20 million for its full run), so Sony's marketing has connected.
Financed by Endgame Entertainment with a reported cost of around $30 million, this looks like it will be by far their most successful venture so far (others they've produced either solely or in partnership include "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," Rian Johnson's last film "The Brothers Bloom," "Hotel Rwanda" and "I'm Not There.") In a time of tricky financing, succeeding on a risky bet with a smart, well-received original film stands as an important development.
For director Johnson, the Friday gross is bigger than the combined total domestic take for his first two films ("Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom") so this marks a major leap forward. For Gordon-Levitt, who has balanced his supporting roles in big-budget hits ("Inception," "The Dark Knight Rises," "G.I. Joe) with indies of varying success ("500 Days of Summer," "50/50") this melds both in a career-boosting way. Bruce Willis is going through a renaissance after the two "Expendables" films, "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Red," and has passed the 25-year mark as a major global draw.
What comes next: The big question — will word of mouth attract a wider, older audience that could sustain this down the line? This, like "End of Watch," is an intelligent genre film aimed at general audiences, combining a modest budget with a smart script, an up and coming director and a known but not always big grossing young lead actor. Any significant success (throw in "Lawless" with Shia LeBoeuf as well) will encourage young actors to pursue films that aren't as cookie-cutter automatically "safe" as many of the larger budgeted studio releases aim to be.
3. End of Watch (Open Road) Week 2 – Last Friday: #2; Last Weekend: #1
$2,400,000 (-48%) in 2,780 theaters (+50); PSA:; Cumulative: $20,269,000
Holding better than Open Road's biggest hit so far ("The Grey," which fell 53% its second weekend, while opening much higher than "End of Watch"), this is a decent performance considering it is competing with two new solid openers.
What comes next: Open Road's game plan is to acquire films and put most of its money into marketing. This weekend's performance suggests they've made another successful investment.
4. House at the End of the Street (Relativity) Week 2 – Last Friday: #1; Last Weekend: #2
$2,300,000 (-50%) in 3,083 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $756; Cumulative: $17,401,000
A normal second week drop for a horror film, with signs that Jennifer Lawrence's starring role continues to be the big draw for this.
What comes next: After "The Hunger Games" and with "Silver Linings Playbook" opening soon, this will be the last time we see Lawrence in a film like this for a long, long time.
5. Trouble With the Curve (Warner Brothers) Week 2 – Last Friday: #3; Last Weekend: #3
$2,300,000 (-45%) in 3,212 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $716; Cumulative: $18,496,000
"Gran Torino," Clint Eastwood's last film as star, fell only 25% its second wide weekend (after opening to much more than double what "Curve" did on its way to a stunning $145 million domestic gross.) This film doesn't seem so far to have anything like the great audience response "Torino" had.
What comes next: Eastwood's last three films as a director (without him as an actor) grossed between $32-37 million, which this likely reaches or surpasses slightly. But three of his last four as an actor grossed over $90 million (going back to "Space Cowboys"), so at age 82 his appeal as a star seems to have taken a big drop.
6. Pitch Perfect (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore:; Metacritic: 65
$1,750,000 in 335 theaters; PSA: $5,224; Cumulative: $1,750,000
An extraordinary opening for what could be the sleeper of the year. Opening in targeted theaters, particularly in areas with college audiences (particularly female), this comedy about an a capella national singing competition had an amazing PSA and a #6 position with only 335 theaters.
Most films that platform and do this well come with a festival/review/awards oriented pedigree appealing to older audiences. Though the reviews came in at a consensus mildly favorable level (the NY Times buried its mixed take among its "also opening" lesser-film group). Universal found alternative marketing to reach its audience. (There was no display ad in yesterday's LA Times, a close to unprecedented marketing decision). Yet the film performed, big time.
This is the first feature film for director Jason Moore, who was Tony-nominated for "Avenue Q" and also has TV experience. Three years after her Oscar nomination as a young executive in "Up in the Air," Anna Kendrick heads up the cast here as a college freshman. She also stars in well-received hit "End of Watch."
Actress Elizabeth Banks and her husband Max Handelman made up 2/3s of the producing team along with Paul Brooks ("Because I Said So"). Banks joins a growing trend of actresses stepping up into producing and/or writing, a significant development this year.
What comes next: This goes wide next Friday, with this week meant to establish word of mouth in advance. This unusual release pattern could become a model for future films. It was risky, but if as is likely "Picture Perfect" turns into a hit expect to see selected films take this route.
7. Finding Nemo 3D (Buena Vista) Week 3 – Last Friday: #4; Last Weekend: #4
$1,017,000 (-41%) in 2,639 theaters (-235); PSA: $362; Cumulative: $33,426,000
After lagging far behind the performance of "The Lion King 3D" last year its first two weeks, this actually will have a smaller third weekend falloff, but its gross is still much weaker (on its way to a reissue gross of $94 million, "King" still did over $10 million its third weekend).
What comes next: A total reissue gross of about half of "The Lion King."
8. Won't Back Down (20th Century-Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 43
$921,000 in 2,515 theaters; PSA: $366; Cumulative: $921,000
Surrounded by controversy because of its perceived anti-teacher's union story line, this inner city story of parents fighting for their children's education flopped despite a cast including Viola Davis in her first lead role since "The Help."
Financed by Walden Media (which also backed the documentary "Waiting for Superman," and whose films almost always aspire for middle-America/family audiences ("Chronicles of Narnia," "Bridge to Tabitha," "The Water Horse") this had a production budget of just under $20 million.
What comes next: Unless word of mouth kicks in quickly, this is likely to quickly disappear.
9. Resident Evil: Retribution (Sony) Week 3 – Last Friday: #6; Last Weekend: #5
$810,000 (-58%) in 2,381 theaters (-635); PSA: $340; Cumulative: $36,515,000
Another big falloff in a crowded genre film market, but Sony is not unhappy.
What comes next: This has already grossed over $100 million in the rest of the world.
10. The Master (Weinstein) Week 3 – Last Friday: #7; Last Weekend: #7
$787,000 (-43%) in 856 theaters (+68); PSA: $919; Cumulative: $7,676,000
Not an encouraging falloff (with additional theaters coming on) for Paul Thomas Anderson's acclaimed drama, only two weeks after its huge platform openings. The weekday grosses last week were promisingly consistent (which suggested sustained interest and good reaction). But the PSA here for the quality of theaters this is playing at suggest that this is not in for a long run and an initial gross (before a planned wider reissue around nominations) under $20 million.
What comes next: This will need major critics' groups support in December (which is quite likely) to help reinvigorate this later on.