If you bet any money on this weekend’s box office, you'll have to wait on Monday’s actuals, because this is a tight race between three new releases jockeying for the top spot with lukewarm grosses. Also, maybe see someone for your gambling problem.
Expectations were a bit higher for Clint Eastwood’s "Trouble with the Curve," given that the baseball postseason nears and because of Eastwood’s increased visibility in the wake of the Republican National Convention. Stronger earlier results were shown for “Gran Torino” and “Million Dollar Baby,” but both those films weren't following a movie like last year’s “Moneyball," which stood out for having a significantly stronger pedigree, including “Capote” director Bennett Miller and acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. 'Curve' comes from Eastwood collaborator Robert Lorenz, making his directorial debut. “From The Writer Of ‘The Social Network’” sounds a lot better than “From A Friend Of Clint Eastwood.”
Also, baseball generally doesn’t draw. Despite the number of classics that have emerged from the most cinematic of sports, the opening weekend highwater mark for the genre at $19.6 million is “The Benchwarmers,” that embarrassing Adam Sandler-produced gag-fest that we only remember because of a montage set to a choice Devo track. Audiences will warm to movies about stars on the field and they’ll cotton to those behind the bench as long as they’re played by Sandra Bullock or Brad Pitt. But 'Curve' spotlights a baseball scout, an insular, nerdy profession that seems to run counter to the attitudes towards Eastwood, the Last Hard Man. Audiences flocked to “Million Dollar Baby” once the strong accolades came in (and because of Morgan Freeman’s delicious caramel voice), but “Gran Torino” very clearly tapped into the primal appeal of Eastwood as a take-no-prisoners shit-kicker. To most of the audience who enjoyed that film, Clint starring in 'Curve' as a cranky old codger in a zero-violence setting probably held little appeal.
Open Road’s “End of Watch” finds writer/director David Ayer trying to overcome diminishing returns from writing “Training Day” to directing “Street Kings” and “Harsh Times,” all based around the same topic. But the film, with Ayer again tackling law and disorder in Los Angeles, benefited from a micro-budget “found footage” approach, where filmmakers save millions simply by leaving their tripods at home. Open Road shelled out only $2 million for the domestic rights, though their ad budget was somewhat muscular, suggesting the picture will have to avoid the second weekend plummet of the usual found footage film. An A- Cinemascore will help, though that may come from the film’s core audience of brosephs and dudettes.
Friday’s top grosser was “House at the End of the Street,” but the horror genre is usually top-heavy. The way to achieve mid-to-lower budget success in Hollywood seems to be to make your film with a loaded production company and sell the rights to various territories for a tidy sum, which is how the sub-$10 million film is a victory for everyone. Relativity purchased the rights to distribute for only $2.5 million, and similar sums were probably garnered by producer FilmNation across the world, sold on the commercial appeal of the star of “The Hunger Games.” And depending on how the numbers work out, it could even be the number one movie in America on Monday.
“Finding Nemo 3D” took a fall sharper than Disney’s other recent 3D re-releases, and after two weekends, the gross has not yet reached $30 million. These are not the results these 3D re-releases bank on, especially given the costs of converting these pictures and utilizing a significant P&A budget. However, international audiences remain agog at these re-issues, and this year’s overseas receipts generated by “The Phantom Menace” and “Titanic” suggest the practice will still have legs.
“Dredd 3D,” ironically the best-reviewed film of the weekend, was also the one that looked the most like a cheap, violent cash-in thriller. To hear it from critics, the strongest attributes of “Dredd 3D” were the ones that made it a tough sell to the base — a cold, passionless commitment to dead-serious violence, and a dialed-down, unspectacular sci-fi look at a scary future filled with drug dealers and menacing cops. On paper, “Dredd 3D” was selling something that had been sold to audiences hundreds of times before (particularly in 1995’s “Judge Dredd”), and because Lionsgate can’t sell anything that isn’t a kiddie franchise or a Tyler Perry movie, most saw the trailer and gladly stamped this one “See On Cable.” Studios sometimes forget that movies are expensive for some people, even moreso if they’re 3D. You can’t convince someone to pay those prices if they aren’t seeing something they’ve never before experienced. Why go to the Peach Trees of Mega-City One when you can go to Pandora?
“Dredd 3D” looks like it will be in a drag-out fight with “Resident Evil: Retribution” for the five spot, though neither Lionsgate nor Sony have to be pleased with this. Depending on final numbers, 'Retribution' could have an even steeper second weekend fall than the last film, and may even struggle to outgross the first film in the series ten years ago. Of course, here we go again — stateside, audiences aren’t too fond of the 3D 'Retribution,' but worldwide the gross has already sailed above $100 million. International box office, the American box office thinks maybe you should see other people.
After a record-breaking weekend in limited release, “The Master” made its presence felt, as a ballsy expansion by The Weinstein Company got the film in the top ten. A tough job considering it's arguably the least accessible film of Paul Thomas Anderson's career, an enigmatic "difficult" movie without the meme-ready awesomeness of Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead. Regardless, the picture has posted the best averages of any PTA movie to crack the top ten, with $5,701 per screen in 778 theaters. And that in itself is perhaps the greatest victory for the Weinsteins, who will be eager to see this one leg out.
“The Possession” and “Lawless” are both happily tapdancing to your local Redbox after modestly successful theatrical runs. “Possession” certainly counts as a hit for Lionsgate, while “Lawless” might need the support of a strong DVD run, which it most surely will have. Films with big stars that are even moderate successes tend to have long ancillary lives, which works in favor of "Lawless." Meanwhile, “The Bourne Legacy” fell out of the top ten, with "ParaNorman" clinging to the last spot.
Support your local arthouse girls and boys.
1. House Two Blocks Down, After You Make A Right, Pass The Squirrel Hole, And Head Down The End Of The Street (Relativity) – $13 million
2. End Of Cops (Open Road) – $13 million
3. Trouble With The Coffee Table (Warner Bros.) – $12.7 million
4. Aquarium 3D (Disney) – $9.4 million ($29.9 mil.)
5. Resident Evil: Don’t Lie, You’ve Seen Them All (Sony) – $6.7 million ($33.4 mil.)
6. Dredd 3D (Lionsgate) – $6.3 million
7. Il Maestro (The Weinstein Company) – $5 million ($6 mil.)
8. Scary Antiques (Lionsgate) – $2.6 million ($45.2 mil.)
9. Tom Hardy's Knitwear (The Weinstein Company) – $2.3 million ($34.5 mil.)
10. Zombies…For Kids! (Focus) – $2.2 million ($52.5 mil.)