Weekend Box Office Top Ten: Originals and Innovative Marketing Rule UPDATE

Weekend Box Office Top Ten: Originals and Innovative Marketing Rule UPDATE

For the first weekend in a while, there's been a real uptick in business. The top ten films grossed $105 million, compared to last week's $71 million and $84 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 "Pitch Perfect." Without the benefit of the usual marketing elements included in most limited releases, especially any big-name draws, and with primrily female appeal, the movie opened in sixth place in only 335 theaters, with a weekend gross that is almost $1 million better than "The Master" had for its initial expansion (in twice as many theaters).

1. Hotel Transylvania (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 46

$43,000,000 in 3,349 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $12,840,000; Cumulative: $43,000,000

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 weekend gross is $7.5 million above that of summer opening of "The Smurfs" last year, and almost $13 million better than September opener "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." This is the best weekend since "The Dark Knight Rises."

Sony Animation's production costs, though high, tend to fall 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.

Sony is correctly boasting that this is the best gross ever for a September opening (beating "Sweet Home Alabama"). However, ticket prices (more so with the 3-D premium) are more than 35% higher now than 10 years ago, so adjusting for inflation this is not a record setter.

What comes next: "The Smurfs" ended up with $142 million domestic/$563 million worldwide. That film had the advantage of late summer playtime to its advantage. With Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie" opening Friday, this will face some competition. This isn't a question of whether it's a hit, but how big.

2. Looper (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic score: 84

$21,200,000 in 2,992 theaters; PSA: $7,085; Cumulative: $21,200,000

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. This gross is good enough to have easily scored #1 any of the past six weeks.

Financed by Endgame Entertainment with a reported cost of around $30 million, this is 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, they've succeeded on a risky bet with a smart, well-received original film. FilmDistrict, which a year ago released the equally smart "Drive," was a production partner with Sony's Tristar division.

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 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) will encourage young actors to pursue films that aren't cookie-cutter studio formulas–and might earn better reviews.

3. End of Watch (Open Road) Week 2 – Last Weekend: #1

$8,000,000 (-38%) in 2,780 theaters (+50); PSA: $2,878; Cumulative: $20,269,000

Holding much 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 against two robust 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. Trouble With the Curve (Warner Brothers) Week 2 – Last Weekend: #3

$7,530,000 (-38%) in 3,212 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,344; Cumulative: $23,726,000

"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). However, a 38% second weekend drop is better than average, indicating at least some good word of mouth.

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 slightly surpasses. 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 is on the wane.

5. House at the End of the Street (Relativity) Week 2 –  Last Weekend: #2

$7,154,000 (-42%) in 3,083 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,320; Cumulative: $22,225,000

A not bad second week drop for a horror film that is pulling audiences thanks to lead Jennifer Lawrence.

What comes next: After "The Hunger Games" and with "Silver Linings Playbook" opening soon, we won't be seeing Lawrence in a film like this for a long, long time.

6. Pitch Perfect (Universal) NEW – No Cinemascore; Metacritic: 65

$5,200,000 in 335 theaters; PSA: $15,560; Cumulative: $5,200,000

An extraordinary opening for what could be the sleeper of the year. Opening in targeted theaters, particularly in areas with college audiences and aimed primarily at females (74% of the audience), this comedy about an a capella national singing competition had an amazing PSA and a #6 position with only 335 theaters. Not only does this compare well with "The Master," it also beat the PSA of the expansion of "Perks of Being a Wallflower" (which did a strong $11,150 in 102).

Most films that platform this well come with a festival/review/awards pedigree and older audience appeal. Though the reviews came in mildly favorable the NY Times buried its mixed take among its "also opening" group). Universal found alternative marketing to reach its audience, with an emphasis on on-line outreach and advance screenings.  (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 expands to 2,800 theaters Friday, with this week meant to establish word of mouth in advance.This unusual release pattern could become a model for future films – it effectively serves as a full week of sneak previews. It was risky, but if "Picture Perfect" turns into a hit expect to see selected films take this route.

7. Finding Nemo 3D (Buena Vista) Week 3 – Last Weekend: #4

$4,066,000 (-58%) in 2,639 theaters (-235); PSA: $1,541; Cumulative: $36,475,000

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. Resident Evil: Retribution (Sony) Week 3 – Last Weekend: #5

$3,000,000 (-55%) in 2,381 theaters (-635); PSA: $1,260; Cumulative: $38,700,000

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.

9. The Master (Weinstein) Week 3 – Last Weekend: #7

$2,745,000 (-37%) in 856 theaters (+68); PSA: $3,207; Cumulative: $9,633,000

A modest 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 with major new openings in October. The initial gross (before a planned wider reissue around nominations) looks like it won't pass $20 million.

What comes next: Major critics' groups support in December (which is quite likely) will be needed to help reinvigorate this later on.

10. Won't Back Down (20th Century-Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 43

$2,700,000 in 2,515 theaters; PSA: $1,070; Cumulative: $2,700,000

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 education documentary "Waiting for Superman," and whose films usually target middle-America and families ("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 will quickly disappear.

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