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Top Ten Takeaways: Brad Pitt Starrer ‘Fury’ Leads Fall Box Office Surge

Top Ten Takeaways: Brad Pitt Starrer 'Fury' Leads Fall Box Office Surge

While this weekend was down a tad from the previous two, it’s still way above average for the time of year, due to the depth of the grosses across a broad number of films, not just the artificial boost from one big opener. Indeed, “Fury” at #1 contributed only around 20% to the full Top Ten total, an unusually low level. Of the other new openings, none domestically are really breakout impressive. “Because of Me” is the real disappointment.

This is healthy. The key to getting moviegoing back on track is to ensure that the relatively small audience segment who are steady moviegoers come back regularly. Providing a variety of satisfying choices for multiple segments of the public will bring them back for more. This summer didn’t do that, but this fall has, and better still for the studios, via less expensive films. 

The Top 10 Grosses

1. Fury (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 63; Est. budget: $68 million
$23,500,000 in 3,173 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $7,406; Cumulative: $23,500,000
2. Gone Girl (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #1
$17,800,000 (-33%) in 3,249 theaters (-35); PSA: $5,479; Cumulative: $107,069,000
3. The Book of Life (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 67; Est. budget: $50 million
$17,000,000 in 3,070 theaters; PSA: $5,537; Cumulative: $17,000,000
4. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Buena Vista) – Last weekend #3
$12,039,000 (-34%) in 3,088 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $3,899; Cumulative: $36,871,000
5. The Best of Me (Relativity) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 27; Est. budget: $26 million
$10,200,000 in 2,936 theaters ; PSA: $3,474; Cumulative: $10,200,000
6. Dracula Untold (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$9,889,000 (-58%) in 2,900 theaters (+15); PSA: $3,410; Cumulative: $40,735,000
7. The Judge (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #5
$7,940,000 (-39%) in 3,003 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,644; Cumulative: $26,843,000
8. Annabelle (Warner Bros.) Week 3 – Last weekend #4
$7,925,000 (-50%) in 2,878 theaters (-337); PSA: $2,754; Cumulative: $74,127,000
9. The Equalizer (Sony) Week 4 – Last weekend #6
$5,450,000 (-44%) in 2,262 theaters (-855); PSA: $2,409; Cumulative: $89,170,000
10. The Maze Runner (20th Century Fox) Week 5 – Last weekend #8
$4,500,000 (-40%) in 2,155 theaters (-917); PSA: $2,088; Cumulative: $90,837,000

The Takeaways

1. “Fury” and the Ongoing Appeal of War Films

“Fury” is a period filmOther than awards-adjacent films or other arthouse entries (“12 Years a Slave,” “The King’s Speech”), movies set in the years between 1900 and 1980 (beyond the first-hand experience of the large majority of the audience) are rare among studio releases– except for war films. “Fury” is the second World War II film of 2014 (“The Monuments Men” opened to $22 million). The same conflict has been seen in films of varying success such as “Inglourious Basterds,” “Valkyrie,” “Red Tails,” and “Australia,” among others over the last decade, and of course the earlier Steven Spielberg movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Other military films have seen some success, including “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lone Survivor,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Three Kings.”

There is always a male audience that wants to see war films, more so if they go beyond just action but are creative and imaginative. When “The Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now” were made, many thought the country had no interest in Vietnam. But those films soared because a middle-class, mid-American male audience are hungry for these, whatever their politics or artistic elements.

“Fury” had a 60% male audience as expected. But what is notable is that half the audience was under 35. This isn’t just an older group of veterans and retirees trying to relive their glory days (or those of their dads). Brad Pitt as the star helped (although this is only his second best live action opening this decade — he tends to participate more in ensembles than to try to carry movies singlehandedly). But what gave this a near-certainty of opening well was its genre, and not being contemporary was no drawback.

2. Stacking up the new releases

Six new releases over the past several weeks — including Sony’s own “No Good Deed” — actually opened up better than “Fury.” Being #1 is always an achievement, and with a $68 million pre-marketing budget, a likely $60-75 million domestic haul and bigger results overseas ahead, this looks to be a modest success. (It is also the third straight #1 for Sony, with “The Equalizer” also scoring recently.) But it did fall short of pre-opening estimates despite having an open field for its core audience. Reviews ended any hope of awards contention, as the film now looks like an OK fall performer. How it holds ahead is an open question.

“The Book of Life” is an original animated feature overseen (though not directed) by the prolific Guillermo del Toro. Its gross is about the same as the Focus/Laika “The Boxtrolls” three weeks ago — in other words, around the expected level for any legitimate strongly market animated release this time of the year (the kids’ audience is among the most reliable). One problem may be a sign of older appeal than the pre-teen base of similar films — is that it only went up 38% Saturday from Friday, far below the bump most similar films get. (54% of the audience was over 25, which of course includes parents.). With a $50 million cost, this will need both crowds for a strong hold and perform better overseas to become a real success.

“The Best of Me” is the one clear dud among the three. This is the ninth (!) young adult romance novel adaptation from Nicholas Sparks, and the lowest grossing opener among them. Among those released in the last five years, the next lowest was “The Last Song” at $16 million in 2010. The same distributor — Relativity — had “Safe Haven” over Valentine’s Day 2013 start at $21 million. The Sparks adaptations have shown above average multiples (usually above three times), but even with a low-end cost ($26 million), additional marketing costs plus a modest foreign take should yield a money-loser.

“Gone Girl” continues to soar 

To give some context, Fincher’s more acclaimed “The Social Network” grossed $97 million, commercial thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” grossed $102 million and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with its Oscar-concurrent release topped out at $127 million. Through its third weekend, the zeitgeist-hitting “Gone Girl” has already reached $107 million, with $150 million domestic and likely more than that foreign is proving to be durable as well. It fell only a third for the weekend after two weekends at #1, ahead once again of important new opening films. It may not be a universally loved film, but even its detractors seem to be encouraging people to see it for themselves.

The second weekend of Disney’s “Alexander…” was off only 34%, less unusual for a family-oriented film, but still an encouraging sign for a lower cost ($28 million) film that will have to rely heavily on domestic returns for its overall health.  “The Judge,” with its adult appeal, also dropped less than 40%, though from a weak start, so not enough to correct its expect fate. Most impressive perhaps is “The Maze” despite losing 900+ theaters still managed to keep its drop to under 40%. It and “The Equalizer” are both heading to $100 million+ with their solid post-opening performances being a big part.

Is Cinemascore reliable?

Cinemascore is a rating given by polling research done at a small number of middle-American theaters that are meant to represent a cross-section of the public. Taken opening night, the results are letter grades from a rare A+ down to a rare F. In reality, nearly all films rank B or better, with anything less than B+ taken within the industry as a troublesome sign (it is an incredibly easy scale because of the huge egos and potential negative public perception possible).

It’s an inexact science — first nights tend to attract people who most want to see a new film, and the single letter rating is a consensus that might not suggest that as many people loved a film as disliked it, so passion and its positive impact is left out. But even with these caveats, the usual guessing as to what word of mouth will be based on this in recent months seems to have little relation to their scores.

The season’s best word of mouth new release with the best holds has been “Gone Girl.” Its grade? B. Two of the four films to get an A in the last three months –“Dolphin Story 2” and “Get On Up” — both failed to get to even three times their opening weekends. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”? It got a mediocre B. It’s going to get to close to $200 million. “Dracula Untold” got an A last weekend — very unusual for a horror film — then fell its second weekend more than did “Annabelle,” which got a B a week earlier. Some films they seem to still get right — “The Maze Runner” and “If I Stay” both earned an A- and have shown strength and holding power consistent with their grades. But overall, it is becoming a misleading and unreliable element in opening weekend box office reporting.

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