Led by “Lone Survivor,” which grossed double its expected amount and looks to be a powerhouse for weeks to come, this weekend continued the steady business of the last few weeks. The Top 10 grossed about $114 million, up a tick from last year, when three new wide releases grossed better than all but one of this year’s two new ones. But despite the low take of flop “The Legend of Hercules,” the top holdover films show strength above what is normally seen post-Christmas–before the upcoming boosts from awards and nominations.
Several more limited releases expanded this weekend to varying results. Weinstein’s “August: Osage County” was the clear standout, with a high PSA after a strong Saturday jump landing it at #7 despite being on only 905 screens, way above pre-weekend expectations. The much more acclaimed “Her” didn’t even make the top 10, with a weak showing across the board. “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Nebraska,” two other awards hopefuls, both expanded to higher theater counts and much smaller per screen averages, as “August” clearly took over as the leader among more limited releases.
Three other Christmas releases, all only in their third weeks, failed to make the top 10: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “The Grudge Match” and “47 Ronin” all dropped quickly after soft launches below expectations.
1. Lone Survivor (Universal/EOne in Canada) Week 3 – Last weekend: #38
$38,500,000 (+45,283%) in 2,875 theaters (+2,873); PSA (per screen average): $13,395; Cumulative: $38,900,000
The year is young, but 2014 already has its first surprise hit. Second only to “Cloverfield” in unadjusted January opening weekend totals, and likely hampered by a lack of seats and multiple screens, “Lone Survivor” once again proves that well-made upscale military films have a ready and eager audience across the country.
Universal initially thought this taut actioner might be strong enough to gain awards traction, premiering the film at the AFI Film Festival in November, with a two-theater New York/Los Angeles qualifying run on opening on Dec. 27. The results were solid, particularly with an appeal that was not necessarily big coast city, but nothing in the numbers suggested the movie would break this big. And the awards haul has been non-existent thus far, except for a surprise WGA nomination. Yet with most of the film community’s eyes focused on the Golden Globes Sunday and Oscar nominations Thursday and multiple films scrabble for a limited audience, Berg and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg are enjoying much better results without having to worry about getting dressed up in formal wear.
The same weekend last year saw the expansion of “Zero Dark Thirty,” which grossed $24 million at #1 and was considered an initial success (it went on to $95 million). But that film had much more hype plus considerable review and awards support (“Lone Survivor” received at best mixed/favorable notices and much less attention overall). But a wide cross-section of America clearly was attracted to this true story of one Navy Seal’s daunting experience when he and his colleagues met with tragedy in Afghanistan. (Universal reports 43% female, unusually high for the genre, 57% over 30, 33% Latino).
This is a triumph for Berg, whose last film was big-budget flop “Battleship.” It isn’t his biggest opening (“Hancock” did $62 million its initial weekend), but this is more unexpected (his other films are “The Kingdom,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Rundown.”) For Wahlberg, this looks like his biggest success as a producer (past efforts include “Broken City,” “Contraband” and “The Fighter,” as well as HBO’s “Entourage”). The $40-million production was cobbled together from eight different companies, suggesting that a lot of studios now regret passing after being offered the project.
What comes next: The A+ Cinemascore suggests that this could be in a for a long, healthy run that could push this way past $100 million and become the biggest January wide release of all time. It could stay at #1 for 2-3 weeks more.
2. Frozen (Buena Vista) Week 8 – Last weekend: #1
$15,070,000 (-23%) in 3,239 theaters (-79); PSA: $4,653; Cumulative: $317,661,000
“Frozen” just refuses to thaw. Now clearly past the holidays, this dropped less than a quarter to still rank #2 almost two months into its run. This film has totally owned the family market for weeks, and shows little sign of letting up.
What comes next: This could be around during most of the run up to the Oscars, where it is the clear favorite to win Best Animated Feature.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount) Week 3 – Last weekend: #4
$9,000,000 (-32%) in 2,521 theaters (-36); PSA: $3,570; Cumulative: $78,587,000
Surprisingly losing a tiny number of theaters in its third week (despite pockets of resistance to the film’s tough aspects), the Martin Scorsese picture is on a roll. It dropped only around a third, and actually managed to rise to its best position yet (it started at #5, then #4 last weekend). Paramount’s gamble to switch the release date late in the game to Christmas has clearly paid off in terms of gross, and now stands positioned if Oscar nominations come through as hoped to have momentum equal to any other contender going forward, with significant more business still possible.
What comes next: With likely lucrative foreign results still to come, this $100 million gamble seems like to pay off with strong dividends.
4. (tie) American Hustle (Sony) Week 5 – Last weekend: #5
$8,600,000 (-31%) in 2,629 theaters (+111); PSA: $3,271; Cumulative: $101,563,000
Dropping even less than “Wolf” (the additional theaters helped), this Oscar-frontrunner’s total take is already over $100 million even before it gets its expected boost with nominations. This looks like it could outgross director David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” within weeks — that film didn’t reach $100 million until near the end of February, ultimately reaching $132 million. This is already a public-driven film on its own, which can’t hurt its awards chances.
What comes next: This could rise to the top 3 next weekend as the next step in its race to a possible $200 million total.
4. (tie) The Legend of Hercules (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: D; Metacritic: 24
$8,600,000 in 2,104 theaters; PSA: $4,087; Cumulative: $8,600,000
“Hercules” star Kellan Lutz might look at the “Lone Survivor” grosses and ponder a better future if he can follow Mark Wahlberg’s career. Both started out getting attention for their muscular shirtless physiques with little expectation of long-term success. Wahlberg smartly managed to parlay a successful part in “Boogie Nights” into becoming a serious actor and producer. Lutz’s movie career actually has been full of hits — the “Twilight” series, “The Immortals,” the “Nightmare on Elm Street” reset — as mainly a supporting actor before this lead turn, which opened up flat and is going nowhere fast.
Produced by Millennium and distributed (but not financed) by Lionsgate in the U.S. (but not Canada, where this didn’t open, reducing the gross by about 10%), this had a modest wide-release theater count in this crowded market. Exit surveys indicate this failed to score the expected younger audience — 55% of attendees were over 25, with about half the revenue from 3-D screens. Production expense estimates have a wide range, from $40-70 million suggested.
This was hoped to be something of a comeback for director Renny Harlin, who came to the U.S. from Finland in the 1980s and had significant success with action hits “Die Hard 2,” “Cliffhanger” and “The Deep Blue Sea.” In recent years he has made quickly forgotten films like “12 Rounds,” “The Covenant” and “Mindhunters.” Back to the drawing board.
What comes next: This will be offscreen quickly in the U.S., with upcoming international openings spread out over upcoming months needing to be much bigger to make of the difference.
6. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros.) Week 5; Last weekend: #3
$8,015,000 (-49%) in 3,075 theaters (-655); PSA: $2,607; Cumulative: $242,219
Finally beginning to come down to earth after its dominant position over the last month, Peter Jackson’s middle film of the “Hobbit” trilogy is still solid, performing better still than several other later Christmas releases that have quickly faded.
What comes next: This looks like it will come in at about 85% of the very successful initial entry.
7. August: Osage County (Weinstein) Week 3 – Last weekend: #31
$7,315,000 (+5,128%) in 905 theaters (+900); PSA: $8,083; Cumulative: $7,860,000
Forget placement but look at very good PSA. With a big jump Saturday over Friday, the initial expansion of the film version of Tracy Lett’s acclaimed play outpaced several other films that are searching for audiences right before Oscar nominations are announced. This is a superheated market for the limited audience for these films. TWC has had multiple strategies for releasing this film, switching from a November opening to Christmas, then deciding to only open New York/Los Angeles, before deciding on this plan to widen in stages (a further expansion is planned for this Friday).
This became an unexpectedly tricky film, despite its talent’s high pedigree, after it became apparent that reviews were going to be mixed. That meant that maximizing core interest in the film became a question of threading the needle. It needed to open in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for awards, irrespective of reviews. The grosses there were ordinary compared to other recent limited releases (in PSA below “Lone Survivor” head to head), and with better reviewed films like “Her,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and “Nebraska” also expanding this week, and new reviews in many major cities similar to the initial ones, its fate was uncertain.
This number of theaters for an initial expansion is unusual and comparisons are imperfect. Two years ago, Focus opened “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” in early January at 809 theaters for a PSA of $6,772. “August” is better than that, and more significantly, faced greater competition as well as lacking “Tinker”‘s reviews. Its Saturday jump was 20% above “Tinker”s, suggesting importantly better word of mouth at this early stage.
Two things now are key for the film after this successful expansion. First, an A- initial Cinemascore is a positive early sign for building strong word of mouth. Second will be scoring key anticipated Oscar nominations for Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts as well as a long-shot chance at Best Picture (as the even worse reviewed and weaker opening “Extremely Loud and Dangerously Close” pulled off two years ago). But these initial results at least are substantially above pre-release expectations whatever the future holds.
What comes next: With further expansion next Friday, TWC is betting that the nomination haul will add to the momentum.
8. Saving Mr. Banks (Buena Vista) Week 5; Last weekend: #7
$6,578,000 (-24%) in 2,671 theaters (+561); PSA: $2,463; Cumulative: $68,949,000
A sizable jump in theaters helped keep the dropoff to a low level as Disney’s second holiday success continues to do well even if it never has has ranked better than fifth. Despite that, it looks like it should hit $100 million by the time it is through.
What comes next: This is another film awaiting nomination results, which will have a key role in its further attention.
9. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (Paramount) Week 2; Last weekend: #2
$6,300,000 (-66%) in 2,883 theaters (+16); PSA: $2,185; Cumulative: $28,471,000
It’s not all good news this week, with a nearly 2/3s drop and fall to #9 added to last week’s less than expected opening making this an early 2014 disappointment.
What comes next: Nothing much left for this film other than foreign, which might make this low-budget entry more successful.
10. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount) Week 4; Last weekend: #6
$6,100,000 (-43%) in 3,012 theaters (-395); PSA: $2,025; Cumulative: $118,518,000
Still holding in better than three films released a week later, this comedy hit has sustained a much better run than expected.
What comes next: The series’ legacy has been reinforced, with more likely to follow.
11. Her (Warner Bros.) Week 3; Last weekend: #17
$5,410,000 (+600%) in 1,729 theaters (+1,682); PSA: $3,129; Cumulative: $8,809
Though this opened to decent platform grosses, then expanded over the holidays to key cities with respectable results, Spike Jonze’s acclaimed off-beat rom-com totally fizzled in its wide release, with a gross only about 75% of “August: Osage County” though it played at almost twice as many theaters. This is one of the big disappointments of the season. Though this had a precious storyline, Joaquin Phoenix hasn’t proven to be a big draw. Warners clearly hoped a young, urban audience would discover this, and quickly. They didn’t, and the film faces a bleak future.
What comes next: The B- Cinemascore indicates a mixed response. Even a better than expected Oscar nomination haul might not make a lot of difference.