The weekend after Angelina Jolie propelled “Maleficent” (Buena Vista), an expensive summer tentpole, to significant success, Shailene Wooley did the same with the low-budget romance-amid-illness “The Fault in Our Stars” (20th Century Fox).
Building on a core of interest from the young adult novel and then adding smart casting and imaginative, significantly social-media based marketing, “Fault” came in significantly ahead, at least in domestic totals, of Tom Cruise’s “Edge of Tomorrow” (Warner Bros.), whose budget was about 15 times more. The end result is a Top 10 total of $152 million, ahead of the $141 million a year ago (when the even lower budget “The Purge” was #1) and, for the second straight weekend, an improvement after a May loaded with action and gadget movies fell significantly from 2013 (the first full month drop this year). With two likely major hits coming next week — “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “22 Jump Street” — concerns about a weaker than usual summer look at least for the moment to be receding.
1. “The Fault In Our Stars” (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 69
$48,200,000 in 3,153 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $15,191; Cumulative: $48,200,000
Somewhere in the List of Rules for Studio Releases is the section about movies with romantic themes and/or primarily aimed at younger females: release them in November or on Valentine’s Day or sometimes March. The summer is for boys of all ages (more so overseas). Another rule is: reserve summer for your biggest budget films, since they need maximum advantage to make back their money.
Those rules are taking a hit this month. Last week, an actress-centered top budget film (“Maleficent”) exceeded expectations worldwide and looks like it will end up somewhere in the same territory as four April-May, more male-oriented action and/or comic book character tentpoles. This week, “The Fault In Our Stars,” with a targeted marketing campaign that went full bore after a young female profile (many familiar with the love story in the middle of fighting cancer) and having (by studio standards) a micro-budget ($12 million), showed that counter-programming can work any time. With confidence and social-media smarts, the Fox team created strong buzz for this, then pushed a “special event” opening on Thursday (not only early shows, normal these days, but some $25 screenings with a simulcast with actors and other talent to elevate the excitement and gross). This led to a front-loaded result– $26 million combined for Thursday/Friday, then $12 million yesterday. The result is a terrific weekend gross, though one that came in below the high end of predictions based on initial reaction (yesterday was down about one-third from the isolated Friday gross, not normally a positive sign).
Whatever the minor negatives, the most important comparison is to other recent romantic genre films. The best opener in recent years was “The Vow” which took in $41 million for Valentine’s Day 2012 weekend. The best of the rest of similar films opened to $30 million or less (usually much less). And most had higher budgets as well, making them less profitable. It is a breakout film for director Josh Boone (whose 2012 Toronto Film Festival film “Stuck in Love” had a minor play last summer). It confirms the rising stardom of Shailene Woodley, who has built on “The Descendants” and “The Spectacular Now” with two #1 films already this year (“Divergent,” the first of an expected series from Lionsgate). She and Jennifer Lawrence, both not yet 25, have achieved a level of stardom that no male actors under 30 currently command.
Fox provided some intriguing stats to go along with the gross — the audience was a staggering 82% female, and 79% under 25. And reflecting the diversity of younger America, it was also 44% non-white, suggesting that this love story has a very wide appeal.
What comes next: With two strong openers next week, this could be very good next weekend and still be only #3. Even with a fall-off, it should be an easy $100 million+ domestic gross, with international (a bigger question – initial territories opened in some cases strong this weekend).
2. “Maleficent” (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$33,523,000 (-52%) in 3,498 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $9,583; Cumulative: $127,370,000
With a second week drop less than other recent tentpoles, despite the competition from “Fault in Our Stars” among females, this continues to justify its high-end budget ($185 million). The $335 million worldwide take in under two weeks, with the two biggest foreign territories yet to open, makes this even more standout (and helps negate the industry belief that male stars are needed to carry a film abroad).
What comes next: “How to Train Your Dragon 2” will cut into this next weekend, but this should be headed to over $200 million domestic and $600 million+ total worldwide.
3. “Edge of Tomorrow” (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 71
$29,105,000 in 3,490 theaters; PSA: $8,340; Cumulative: $29,105,000
With this film costing a reported $175 million-plus, in a vacuum this domestic initial weekend qualifies as weak to disastrous. But that’s not the way the world operates these days. With much of the world having opened last weekend, and China leading in new dates (Japan doesn’t come until July), this looks like it will have amassed over $100 million by some margin through today outside the U.S. (with of course more to come).
The domestic total is below the April opening last year for Cruise’s “Oblivion” ($37 million). That film ended up at just under $200 million international. “Edge” looks headed for lower at home total (it needs to reach $87 million to equal that film) but likely a good deal higher abroad. But it will need all the foreign gross it can manage to have a shot at profit. That pre-marketing budget is a steep hurdle to overcome.
That said, it still appears that in total Cruise can carry a vehicle on his name worldwide better than fellow multi-decade A listers Johnny Depp and Will Smith did recently. And in both of those cases (“The Lone Ranger” and “After Earth”) it was domestic weakness that ultimately did their films in. (“Edge” opened at home around the same levels).
Based on early numbers, this actually looks like it could be Cruise’s biggest success in worldwide gross, apart from “Mission: Impossible,” sequels since “War of the Worlds.” The problem again is expense. To the film’s credit, part of that comes from other talent — director Doug Liman has made smart entertainments like “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (which, similar to Emily Blunt’s role here, had a significant female character, not always front-and-center in the actor’s films), talented writers (“The Usual Suspect”‘s Christopher McQuarrie among them). But the kind of high concept movie he likes to make (this time around, he is battling aliens, with the “Groundhog Day”-like twist that his character keeps replaying the same events in a loop) need to have everything break right to overcome the accumulated resistance to three decades of stardom and a sense of some lack of variety in his films. (Not that variety is the right alternative, as “Rock of Ages” showed). The quality is there — the reviews rank among his recent best (the Metacritic score is the same as “Collateral,” for example).
It’s hard to argue the release date, with this opening at #1 in most top markets so far. But apart from expense, it may be that the amount of top end action films, mainly presold sequels, over recent weeks makes this less essential.
What comes next: Next weekend, with no new actioner to compete with and earlier heavyweights fading, could gives this a shot at stabilizing a bit. But the main action will remain foreign. Meantime, “Mission: Impossible 5” for Christmas 2015 sounds like a safe bet to keep Cruise front and center.
4. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #2
$14,720,000 (-55%) in 3,639 theaters (-362); PSA: $4,040; Cumulative: $189,101,000
A steep third weekend drop, but with an international total looking like it could approach $700 million or even more, the “X-Men” team won’t worry too much.
What comes next: With no action competition until the end of the month, this still could stabilize ahead.
5. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #3
$7,200,000 (-59%) in 3,160 theaters (+2); PSA: $2,278; Cumulative: $30,100,000
To give director/actor Seth MacFarlane credit, he didn’t immediately follow up his massive success with “Ted” with an immediate sequel (a la similar recent comedy smash series “The Hangover”). But the failure of his next comedy will unfairly be used as a cudgel against recalcitrant hit-makers to play it safe. This deep drop, coming off a disappointing start, after last year’s “The Lone Ranger” will reinforce the notion that contemporary audiences (at least Americans) have little interest in Westerns.
What comes next: “Ted 2,” naturally.
6. “Godzilla” (Warner Bros.) Week 4 – Last weekend #4
$5,950,000 (-50%) in 3,110 theaters (-392); PSA: $1,913; Cumulative: $185,043,000
This will reach $200 million domestic, though far fall short of the positive 3 times opening multiple studios look for (it won’t do much more than double). Worldwide has reached $400 million, with the good news that China and Japan, both which should had considerably to the total, have yet to open.
What comes next: Hard to see the justification though for a franchise, at least at a similar cost to this entry.
7. “Neighbors” (Universal) Week 5 – Last weekend #6
$5,200,000 (-36%) in 2,674 theaters (-265); PSA: $; Cumulative: $137,800,000
Holding well still, and looking to easily surpass $150 million (and perhaps $300 million worldwide) on an initial $18 million budget.
What comes next: The obvious sequel.
8. “Blended” (Warner Bros.) Week 3 – Last weekend #5
$4,050,000 (-50%) in 2,928 theaters (-627); PSA: $1,383; Cumulative: $36,509,000
The good news is that this is performing much better than Adam Sandler’s worst grossing film, “That’s My Boy,” two years ago. That film fell 71% its third weekend and topped out at about where “Blended” is now. But that’s about the extent of the good news.
What comes next: Change of pace time for Sandler – his next two films (already shot) were directed by Tom McCarthy and Jason Reitman.
9. “Chef” (Open Road) Week 5 – Last weekend #9
$2,660,000 (+36%) in 1,298 theaters (+674); PSA; $2,049; Cumulative: $10,362,000
The theater count nearly doubled, which helped “Chef” maintain the #9 slot for the third straight week. More significantly, the PSA remains passable as more dates in smaller territories open. The key for this to reach its hoped for potential is for word of mouth — with at this point little other competition from any other recent adult-oriented film — to keep the film in play for a month or more and get it over $20 million. It looks like it stands a good chance to succeed.
What comes next: No reason to think this won’t expand further.
10. “Million Dollar Arm” (Buena Vista) Week 4 – Last weekend #8
$1,822,000 (-%) in 1,643 theaters (-686); PSA: $; Cumulative: $31,347,000
If last weekend’s drop didn’t confirm it, this weekend’s seals the fate of this projected “sleeper” that Disney hoped would become the word of mouth hit of the early summer. With about $25 million in production costs and perhaps similar in domestic marketing, the ultimate $40 million or so gross won’t be a big money loser (and later foreign grosses, though not likely to be substantial, and non-theatrical revenues ahead will help), but this ranks as a disappointment for the studio.
What comes next: Baseball joins westerns on the list (often too simplistic) of subjects and genres to be wary of (even though “42” did quite well last year.