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Weekend B.O. Jan. 1-4 and the ‘Selma’ Non-Controversy

Weekend B.O. Jan. 1-4 and the 'Selma' Non-Controversy

Before
we start, let’s take a look at 2014 box office results overall. What was reported a few months ago, is still true today – that last year was a lousy
year for studios.

Movie
admissions in 2014 were the lowest since 1995, and, despite some big numbers
posted by several movies, such as “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Gone Girl,” some 81
million people did not buy movie tickets last year.

However, the
news isn’t all bad. 2014 was the sixth
consecutive year to surpass $10 billion at the box office. So it’s not like
studio execs are being all suicidal (at least not yet), but they are sweating.
Or, as Universal distribution head, Nikki Rocco, recently said “You’re gonna have good years and you’re
gonna have bad years.”

But getting
to this New Year’s holiday weekend – once again “The Hobbit: The Battle of the
Five Armies” was the No.1 film, with $21.9 million. It was followed by “Into the
Woods,” with $19 million, and “Unbroken” with $18.3 million.

The only new
film that got a wide release this weekend, was the came-out-of-nowhere horror
film “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death.” The rushed sequel for the 2012 sleeper
hit with Daniel Radcliffe, earned $15 million this weekend.

CBS Films,
which picked up the film for distribution, as they did for the first one,
evidently had no confidence in it, since they didn’t screen it in advance to the
media for reviews. This makes sense, since the film only got a 24% critics’ score
on Rotten Tomatoes, and just a 39% audience score, which means, you can expect a
huge drop for the film next week of some 60% or more.

“Annie” is
showing strong legs, despite the naysayers who said it would have limited appeal,
with $11.4 million for the weekend, and $72 million to date, and looks headed for
a $90 million final take.

Clint
Eastwood’s “American Sniper” is still doing spectacular business, still showing on only 4
screens, making some $160,000 per screen, for a $2.2 million total so far. And “A
Most Violent Year” had the second biggest per screen take with $47,000 per screen
in only 4 theaters.

Of course the
film that we’re most interested in, at least on this site, is Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” and how it did this weekend – especially given the controversy it’s attracted
over the accuracy of the film.

In case you
haven’t heard, it all started when Joseph Calfano Jr., who worked as a domestic
policy aide in the Oval Office for President Johnson during the 1960’s, called
out the film in an op-ed piece for The Washington Post, saying that it totally distorted
Johnson’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, even going as far to say
that the Selma march was actually Johnson’s idea, and that “the movie should be ruled out this Christmas and during the ensuing
awards season.”

Guess he’s
pretty sore, huh? And he was followed by a few other people, including even Julian Bond, who said that the film painted an inaccurate portrayal
of Johnson.

Needless to
say, many have answered those critics, including, of course, DuVernay herself, reminding them that Johnson was in fact no saint, and a very complicated man. In fact, he was a man
who held strong racist beliefs and who, yet, somehow did the right thing, albeit
somewhat reluctantly.

As Larry
Schwartz in a recent article on Raw Story last week said about LBJ: “Anyone who has read anything about
the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson knows what a complicated and contradictory
man he was. On the one hand, modern black America can look at LBJ as a partner
in the long and ongoing struggle for civil rights in the United States. It was
LBJ who pushed through the civil rights bills in 1957, 1964 and 1965 that
finally gave African Americans the same rights (at least on paper) as white
America. On the other hand, there can be no question that Johnson was a racist
who looked down on people of color as inferior. In the 1940s, he referred to
Asians as “hordes of barbaric yellow dwarves… During his congressional career, he
was mostly a reliable part of the Southern bloc of politicians who thwarted
civil rights bills at every turn. As president, when he appointed Thurgood Marshall
to the Supreme Court over a lesser-known black judge, LBJ explained in private,
“When I appoint a nigger to the bench, I want everybody to know he’s a nigger.”
He even referred to his own Civil Rights bill as the “nigger bill.” Still,
Johnson had enough self-awareness to say, about the struggle for civil rights,
“It is not just Negroes but all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy
of bigotry.” There is little doubt he included (or should have) himself in that
statement.”

Of course you should realize that all the criticism is really about something else. As Anne Thompson
said in a piece for her Indiewire blog, Thompson on Hollywood (HERE), what’s
really going on here is a secret underhanded campaign by rival studios to
lessen Selma’s chances of getting Oscars nominations. It’s a tactic that sometimes works, as in the case of “The Hurricane” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” and in other times, doesn’t, as was the case in “A Beautiful Mind.”

Of
course, just as importantly, it really disturbs some white people (and Julian
Bond as well) to have a film where black people are the decision makers of their destinies, and not waiting for some benevolent white savior
to help guide them out of the wilderness, to freedom.

This leads
to the question: will the controversy hurt “Selma”? Not in the least. “Argo” was
about as fictionalized as any film I’ve seen about a real historical
event (see its “by-the-skin-of-their-teeth-last-minute-escape-from-the-airport”
sequence which NEVER happened in real life, to start). And, by the way, did you hear one single person criticize that
film about its historical inaccuracies? Of course not; and it went on to win the Best picture Oscar. So
don’t be fooled by this so-called controversy. It’s a game.

But let’s get
back to what I was going to say in the first place – just how did “Selma” do this
weekend? Very well, in fact. The film was up almost 13% from last week, now
playing in 22 theaters across the country, with the third largest per screen
average of $29,300, for a
holiday weekend take of $645,000, and a total of $2.1 million to date.

The film
finally opens nationwide this Friday, and its only real competition will be “Taken 3” which will be the  No.1 film next
weekend, but will not equal the large numbers that the previous installments
opened with. On top of that, the film has gotten awful reviews from critics, and Fox is not screening it for the press in advance, which, as I’ve
said previously, is always a sign of a bad movie.

1) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies  WB  $21,910,000    Total: $220,767,000 
2) Into the Woods  BV  $19,066,000  Total: $91,209,000 
3) Unbroken  Uni.  $18,358,000  Total: $87,801,000 
4) The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death  Rela.  $15,145,000 
5) Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb  Fox  $14,450,000  Total: $89,726,000 
6)  Annie  Sony  $11,400,000  Total: $72,600,000 
7) The Imitation Game  Wein.  $8,111,000  otal: $30,808,000 
8) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1  LGF  $7,700,000  Total: $323,875,000 
9) The Gambler  Par.  $6,300,000  Total: $27,566,000 
10) Big Hero 6  BV  $4,816,000  Total: $211,268,000 
11) Wild  FoxS  $4,500,000  Total: $25,814,000 
12) Exodus: Gods and Kings  Fox  $3,700,000  Total: $61,224,000

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