The order for the top three is uncertain until Sunday actuals are reported Monday, with an unusual tie as of now for #1. Among those two films – "House at the End of the Street" and "End of Watch" – the latter, in fewer theaters, had the higher per screen average. For their modest level of expense and ability to grow audiences in upcoming weeks, both "End of Watch" and "Trouble With the Curve" show promise.
But positive studio balance sheets won't make theater owners happy when they see a continuation of several weeks of box office slump that shows signs of getting worse, not better. There's no getting around it: business continues to be terrible. Although the top ten grossed 13% above last week's mediocre numbers, by this point most year's numbers are recovering with new, stronger releases upgrading performance. But compared to a year ago, grosses are down by a disastrous 29%! Last year, three films grossed over $19 milliion or more for the weekend, including two new ones.. This year, the best was only around $13 million.
1. (tie) House at the End of the Street (Relativity) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic score: 37
$13,000,000 in 3,083 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $4,217; Cumulative: $13,000,000
For the fourth straight Friday, a horror film was at the top of grosses. Unlike "The Possession" or "Resident Evil: Retribution," this was a star-driven success.
Jennifer Lawrence shot this film before getting her best actress nomination for "Winter's Bone" or getting cast in "Hunger Games." Relativity paid between $2-3 million for US rights to the $10-million independent production. Marketing costs will be several times that, so any quick gross playoff and brief run would make this a marginal performer despite the decent first day.
What it means: It made sense to delay the film until after "The Hunger Games" made Lawrence a big draw. But coming out as the third horror wide release this month likely tempered interest, more so when the main attraction was the star more than any distinctive story or series hook.
1. (tie) End of Watch (Open Road) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 70
$13,000,000 in 2,730 theaters; PSA: $4,762; Cumulative: $13,000,000
Likely heading to #1 for the weekend, in a bleak month this film is cause for excitement. Opening wide right after its Toronto Film Festival premiere, its genre (policier) and stars (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) didn't immediately suggest breakout sucess. Yet this looks like it might not only win the weekend but be set up for a solid lengthy and profitable run.
This is another strong opening for Open Road, a distribution venture created by top exhibitors Regal and AMC to add product (mainly) to fringe periods in the release schedule. Open Road acquired indie-financed "End of Watch" for $2 million plus a guaranteed wide release spend abive $20 million (in-theater support cuts down costs).
Getting a career boost is director David Ayer, who moved from strong scripting credits ("The Fast and the Furious," "Training Day," "SWAT") to directing ("Harsh Times," "Street Kings,"). Not only is this opening above expectations (studios passed on the film before Open Road bought it), the film also scored well with critics, who raved about the performances from Gyllenhaal and Pena.
Since "Brokeback Mountain," other than the big budget "Prince of Persia" ($350 million worldwide), Gyllenhaal's films have grossed between $9 and $54 million in the US/Canada. But all of these cost considerably more than "End of Watch" and reinforced a sense that he had failed to establish himself as an A-lister. This could be a step towards elevating him once again.
What it means: In a period when studios are getting increasingly wary of "risky" non-horror or family-oriented lower-budget dramas, "End of Road" shows that a smart, well-reviewed film can still find a theatrical audience and make profits. And for Open Road, after some success (particularly the equally surprising "The Grey"), their appeal to producers will just get stronger.
3. Trouble With the Curve (Warner Brothers) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic score: 58
$12,720,000 in 3,212 theaters; PSA: $3,960; Cumulative: $12,720,000
These are not great grosses for this Clint Eastwood/Amy Adams baseball story. Opening wider than any Clint Eastwood starring film ever, and unlike the previous two ("Gran Torino," "Million Dollar Baby"), opening wide from the start, the PSA is going to fall below at least five.
Some caveats: Eastwood's audience is older, not as inclined to rush out opening weekend, so if this shows strong word-of-mouth, its legs and length of run could be better than its other competitors. The reviews were below most Eastwood films (this one was not directed by him), so that may have cut into the initial gross. The critic-influenced audience may have overlapped with those less inclined to see this after his recent political brouhaha.
And, from a financial perspective, although the production cost for this has not been published, Eastwood's Malpaso is known for making economical films, far below industry average, so that even with marketing costs the domestic box office likely doesn't need to be anything near $100 million to be a success.
What it means: "Moneyball," another baseball-centered film, opened a year ago to an opening weekend of just under $20 on its way to $75 million domestic and $110 million total worldwide (the sport limiting interest in most markets). Based on these early numbers, this likely comes in less. Still, considering its star is 82 years old (has there ever been a wide release with a lead over 80?), other than the high standards set by earlier Eastwood films, this is still an impressive take.
4. Finding Nemo 3D (Buena Vista) – Week 2; Last Week: #2
$9,400,000 (-43%) in 2,904 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $3,253; Cumulative: $30,000,000
The 3-D reset of "The Lion King" not only opened much bigger than "Finding Nemo," but its second weekend only fell one-third, compared to 43% for "Finding Nemo." After a strong summer of multiple animation smashes, this counts as a disappointment.
What it means: Even still, the cost of the 3-D redo was minor relative to gross, and this performance – with most of the rest of the world yet to come – will not prevent future endeavors.
5. Dredd (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic score: 57
$6,300,000 in 2,506 theaters; PSA: $2,514; Cumulative: $6,300,000
Lionsgate, which is having a strong year once again, is said to have acquired this British/South African production with a marketing commitment north of $20 million, an investment not looking lucrative with this weak initial gross (enhanced by 3-D ticket prices). From the same comic book series that the 1990s Sylvester Stallone "Judge Dredd" came from (that grossed an OK for its time $34 million for Disney), this was a test of star Karl Urban's ability to carry a potential action franchise after establishing himself as a memorable physical force in films like "Star Trek," "The Bourne Supremacy" and "Red" as well as leading roles in films like "Doom" and "Priest." These grosses won't help his cause.
For British director Pete Travis, who came out of the festival circuit with "Omagh" to make "Vantage Point" and then the barely released "Endgame," this also won't be the breakout success he likely wanted. (It also played at the recent Toronto Film Festival, in the Midnight section).
What it means: This has opened in the UK, to (relative to population) somewhat better results. For the producers (not Lionsgate, whose participation is limited to US/Canada) this could bear more fruit around the rest of the world.
6. Resident Evil: Retribution (Sony) Week 2 – Last Weekend: #1
$6,700,000 (-68%) in 3,016 in theaters (+4); PSA: $647 Cumulative: $33,468,000
This is one of the bigger weekend falloffs for a #1 film in recent months, both in terms of PSA drop and position, but not much worse than 2010's "Resident Evil: Afterlife," so it doesn't come as a surprise, particularly competing against a strong new horror entry.
What it means: This has earned most of its domestic gross already. The foreign first week already had brought in $50 million though, so more from the franchise is likely.
7. The Master (Weinstein) Week 2 – Last Weekend: #19
$5,000,000 (+579%) in 788 in theaters (+783); PSA: $6,345; Cumulative: $6,056,000
After its record setting NY/LA platform openings last week, and with reviews in new cities at the year's best level already established, Weinstein quickly turned this into a much wider film with multiple theaters in a wide range of cities nationwide.
The weekend result is not at the same level of success as the extraordinary exclusives last week, but better than comparable films at this level of theater play. The gross is $1 million more than when "Moonrise Kingdom" first reached this level of playoff (the latter with 66 more theaters, and a PSA of $5,769 ). But that came in its sixth week of release, when many of the theaters had already been playing for a week or longer, so it isn't the ideal comparison. Director Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" at 885 theaters (its fifth week, boosted by multiple Oscar nominations) grossed $4.9 million for three days, again greatly expanding after having already been somewhat wide.
Though the reviews have been at the highest levels, some indications of a more love it/don't love it quite so much divide came in the weekday figures in NY/LA. From a $103,000 Monday, this fell steadily to $62,000 total in its five initial theaters. With a much wider release, though still drawing a sophisticated audience, this less striking performance isn't unexpected.
What it means: Per Weinstein, the game plan is to keep at this level of theaters or a bit higher, then return with an even wider awards run in early January, backed by more TV than this break, based on anticipating that this will be among the leaders in nominations and awards by that point.
8. The Possession (Lionsgate) Week 4 – Last Weekend: #3
$2,630,000 (-54%) in 2,598 theaters (-262); PSA: $1,012; Cumulative: $45,280,000
Lionsgate likely didn't expect this to be a top 10 film in its fourth week.
What it means: This is all gravy by this point.
9. The Lawless (Weinstein) Week 4 – Last Weekend: #4
$2,321,000 (-47%) in 2,614 theaters (-449); PSA: $888; Cumulative: $34,512,000
Still hanging in there, this Weinstein acquistion continues to hold on better than initially expected.
What it means: It's going to end up close to $40 million, quite good for an early September opening.
10. The Bourne Legacy (Universal) Week 7 – Last Weekend: #8
$1,650,000 (-44%) in 1,431 theaters (-739); PSA: $1,154; Cumulative: $110,400,000
The steady performance continues, as what once looked like a problem hitting $100 million in US/Canada now is a good deal beyond near the end of its run.
What it means: With $90 million additional in already and several major countries still to open, this series entry will be the first to do better overseas than at home, which helps chances that it there could be at least one more sequel.