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Top 10 Takeaways: Holdover ‘Ant-Man’ Tops Blah Week, Summer Slot for ‘Southpaw’ Pays Off

Top 10 Takeaways: Holdover 'Ant-Man' Tops Blah Week, Summer Slot for 'Southpaw' Pays Off

Neither a great weekend at the summer box office nor a disastrous one, among the openers, “Pixels” was just OK while “Paper Towns” failed to recreate the success of its author John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.” The Weinstein Co. showed smart timing by giving “Southpaw” a summer berth with promising results. 

Ant-Man” repeated at #1 partly by default, though its hold was hardly stellar. “Trainwreck” held better with strong word of mouth and looks to be around for the rest of the summer.

“Mr. Holmes” placed in the Top Ten for real this week (it actually dropped to 11th when the actuals came in last Monday).

READ MORE: Arthouse Audit: Is ‘Phoenix’ This Year’s ‘Ida’?; ‘Mr. Holmes’ Stays Strong’

The Top Ten

1. Ant-Man (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$24,765,000 (-57%) in 3,868 theaters (+12); PTA (per theater average): $6,403; Cumulative: $106,075,000
2. Pixels (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: D+; Metacritic: 27; est. budget: $88 million
$24,000,000 in 3,723 theaters; PTA: $6,446; Cumulative: $24,000,000
3. Minions (Universal) Week 3 – Last weekend #2
$22,100,000 (-55%) in 4,066 theaters (-245); PTA: $5,435; Cumulative: $261,620,000
4. Trainwreck (Universal)  Week 2 – Last weekend #3
$17,300,000 (-42%) in 3,171 theaters (+13); PTA: $5,456; Cumulative: $61,545,000
5. Southpaw (Weinstein) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 57; est. budget: $30 million
$16,500,000 in 2,772 theaters; PTA: $5.952; Cumulative: $16,500,000
6. Paper Towns (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 57; est. budget: $12 million
$12,500,000 in 3,031 theaters; PTA: $4,124; Cumulative: $12,500,000
7. Inside Out (Buena Vista)  Week 6 – Last weekend #4
$7,356,000 (-36%) in 2,717 theaters (-546); PTA: $2,707; Cumulative: $320,335,000
8. Jurassic World (Universal)  Week 7 – Last weekend #5
$6,900,000 (-40%) in 2,645 theaters (-472); PTA: $2,609; Cumulative: $623,803,000
9. Mr. Holmes (Roadside Attractions)  Week 2 – Last weekend #11
$2,849,000 (+17%) in 686 theaters (+325); PTA: $4,153; Cumulative: $6,432,000
10. Terminator: Genisys (Paramount)  Week 4- Last weekend #7
$2,400,000 (-56%) in 1,702 theaters (-1,112); PTA: $1,410; Cumulative: $85,666,000

The Takeaways

Overview – Even the Off Weekends Are Positive

Even with some signs of weakness (two of the three openers did not impress compared to similar past ones), it’s a sign of the summer box office’s strength that business held equal to the same weekend last year. Strength in the holdovers made up for an unusually low gross for the #1 film (“Ant-Man,” itself a second week film). At less than $25 million, it is the smallest number for a summer season #1 (May-August) this year so far. Last year, it took until the slow dog days of mid-August to see such a modest number take top spot.

Still, this year’s three new wide studio openers totaled only $53 million (a number that by itself has been lower than many #1 titles), while last year two pictures– “Lucy” and “Hercules” — managed $73 million combined. “Hercules” in second bested any gross this year, and it was considered at best a modest success.

Have we passed the peak summer? Considering the successes so far, yes. The new “Mission: Impossible” sequel this Friday is one of several potentially strong late season entries still to come. But nothing is likely to approach the success that last August’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” had, so expect some comparative declines in the weeks ahead.

Sandler’s Mixed Bag

Adam Sandler has been laughing all the way to the bank (with audiences laughing with him) for two decades now, a longer period than his quasi-role model, the influential and more highly regarded Jerry Lewis (who to this day draws similar derisive reaction). Sandler has had an astounding 14 movies with grosses over $100 million (15 adjusting for inflation) over the last 20 years (a longer sustained period of lead success than Lewis). Compare this to other top name actors — Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp each have had 12, George Clooney six — over the same time frame.

That said, $88-million VFX-packed “Pixels,” which is at the high end of expense for his releases, is not going to mark a Sony profit-center (they co-financed this with others, including Chinese money) even if foreign — doing better so far — carries the day. But despite gleeful cheering from some quarters about Sandler’s career decline, this actually represents a mid-level Sandler recent opening. Only “Grown Ups 2” was really strong ($40 million), and two of his last three films actually didn’t even hit $15 million. 

Notably, Sandler’s now on a par with frequent co-star Kevin James, whose “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” opened to about the same result in April. And significantly, in an off summer for comedies so far, both “Spy” with Melissa McCarthy and “Trainwreck” with Amy Schumer opened better (and combined they cost only a bit more than “Pixels”).  Sandler’s high-end studio success looks to have passed its peak after a wildly successful run.

Though he makes dumb films, Sandler himself has always exhibited smarts. Before announcements from the likes of Pitt and Angelina Jolie that they had projects with Netflix, he got there first, with a four-film non-exclusive deal (likely lucrative for him). He should be a good fit with the broad-based service, with extra attention for being first out of the box. Those expecting him to disappear any time soon will be disappointed.

Who Needs Oscars? Harvey Weinstein’s 2015 Success Story

No distributor is more associated with Oscar campaigns and success than Harvey Weinstein, though Fox Searchlight has recently outpaced Weinstein Co. But quietly this year, they have done well by maximizing the commercial potential in somewhat niche films. Mid-summer release “Southpaw,” led by an awards-worthy performance from Jake Gyllenhaal that with a later release might have been elevated to Oscar status (still possible, but less likely with the summer time frame), seems to have scored well.

The Weinsteins haven’t had a major category nominee for a pre-fall prime time release since “Frida” in 2002; Gyllenhaal was a serious contender for a nod last year for his more lauded film “Nightcrawler,” which opened to $5 million less in late October.

With a $30 million budget (a cost significantly covered by foreign sales) and the potential for long run success (A Cinemascore, stabilized Saturday gross), “Southpaw” overcame mixed reviews that might have made more of a difference with a later release against a stronger slate of review-oriented films. It also reached an audience different than the usual TWC fare – 60% under 35, with heavy (45% combined) Latino and African-American interest. (It also broke 50/50 male-female, higher among women than expected).

Similarly, “The Woman in Gold,” a different film, but also without much critical support, did well for TWC earlier this year. A Helen Mirren vehicle appealing to old folks normally would have had a late year Oscar push (TWC does plan to push for her), and had they gone late last year with potential room in that category, she might have sneaked in. But instead, by going in spring, they played in a post-awards period with less competition, room to play off of positive audience response, and spend far less in marketing without Oscar campaign expense. (“Gold” has grossed only slightly less than Best Actor winner “The Theory of Everything” and much more than Best Actress winner “Still Alice,” as well as outpacing multiple other top category nominees.)

TWC’s biggest grosser this year, “Paddington” actually quietly qualified for a week last December (in hopes of a song nomination), but despite its strong reviews never likely had much Oscar hopes. Instead, they avoided an appropriate but extremely competitive Christmas period and instead chose mid-January and Martin Luther King Day Weekend to open. And they timed it perfectly.

Last fall they got Bill Murray vehicle “St. Vincent” out early in the awards season (early October, prior to most top contenders) and despite not getting a nomination for Murray, managed to achieve a $44 million gross, in part because they beat the crowd among the post-Toronto adult oriented films.

Expect TWC to continue to make appropriate pushes for awards and time their releases accordingly. But a smart shift — finding the right date to maximize gross– looks to be trumping their Oscar hunger somewhat. And it’s working.

Three Reasons Why the Young Adult “Paper Towns” Fell Short

With a $12 million pre-marketing expense, Fox should turn out OK with “Paper Towns” with any sort of a decent hold. But coming in at only 25% of the $48 start for sleeper smash “The Fault in Our Stars” last summer, also from young adult novelist John Green, it comes as a disappointment.

The audience skewed female (71%) and young (78% under 25) as expected. They just didn’t turn out in the same numbers. 

Is this a sign of problems in the (often cheaper to make) young adult fiction world? Three elements separate this from “Fault.”

1. Timing
That adaptation came fairly quickly on the heels of the novel’s success (itself much bigger than the earlier “Paper Towns”). “Fault” with its highly dramatic romance between two attractive young cancer patients likely had more of a hook than the missing girlfriend story in “Paper.”

2. Star
But it is hard to overlook that a key element to “Fault” was star Shailene Woodley, already established and a major marketing focus. The lesser known cast here added to its smaller upfront appeal.

3. Competition.
More movies lured female audiences, from R-rated “Trainwreck” to “Southpaw.” 

This makes a much smaller opening seem more logical. “Paper Towns” seems to have been produced at lightning speed, with Fox 2000 greenlighting it shortly before “Fault” opened (but had likely tested strongly) and then began shooting in September. At this level of expense, taking a shot of getting a similar film open within a year made sense. But it does suggest that a bit more planning and perhaps bigger draws in the cast might have increased its appeal.

Holdovers

Once again, dominant summer smashes “Inside Out” and “Jurassic World” led the way with under 40% drops, despite both losing multi-hundred theaters. This is a sign not only of their continued strong word of mouth, but their also being safe alternatives (including repeat viewings) to new films.

“Ant-Man” went from a first-week-strong but less-than-Marvel-level opener to a second week drop of 57%, hardly disastrous, but reaffirming after last week that this isn’t a top tier Marvel draw. Worldwide it’s at $226 million, so it will eventually make money, but will return a much lower level of profit than many other recent Marvel releases.

“Trainwreck,” dropping 42%, held better than the second weekend of “Spy” (down 46%) after slightly outgrossing its first weekend. Figure an easy $100 million for this, though foreign results are still to come (where Amy Schumer is a complete unknown).

“Minions” continues to drop more quickly than “Despicable Me 2,” which fell 43% its third weekend compared to 55% this time.

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