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Top 10 Takeaways: Two African-American Movies Draw Crowds as ‘We Are Your Friends’ Plays in Empty Theaters

Top 10 Takeaways: Two African-American Movies Draw Crowds as 'We Are Your Friends' Plays in Empty Theaters

The summer ends with only two August openers over $14 million (smash “Straight Outta Compton” and the disastrous “Fantastic Four”). At least the new releases over the past two weeks haven’t been that expensive (marketing does add up). And faith-based new entry “War Room” not only far exceeded expectations, but will move on and prosper and wind up profitable for all involved.

The next two weekends normally don’t hold hope, but there are boffo openings ahead for Venice titles “Everest” and “Black Mass,” at least. September should test the notion that summer hits will return more moviegoers to theaters. If not, it’s a long time ’til the final “Hunger Games” and “Star Wars.”

Top Ten

1. Straight Outta Compton (Universal) – Week 3; Last weekend #1
$13,240,000 (-50%) in 3,142 theaters (+117); PTA (per theater average): $4,214: Cumulative: $134,126,000
2. War Room (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 25; est. budget: $3 million
$11,000,000 in 1,135 theaters; PTA: $9,692; Cumulative: $11,000,000
3. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Paramount)  – Week 5; Last weekend #2
$8,300,000 (-27%) in 3,095 theaters (-347); PTA: $2,682; Cumulative: $170,387,000
4. No Escape (Weinstein)  NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: C-, Metacritic: 38; est. budget: $5 million
$8,288,000 in 3,355 theaters; PTA: $2,470; Cumulative: $10,349,000
5. Sinister 2 (Focus)  – Week 2; Last weekend #3
$4,650,000 (-56%) in 2,799 theaters (+33); PTA: $1,161; Cumulative: $18,512,000
6. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Warner Bros.)  – Week 3; Last weekend #5
$4,410,000 (-40%) in 2,706 theaters (-967); PTA: $1,630; Cumulative: $34,122,000
7. Hitman: Agent 47 (20th Century Fox)  – Week 2; Last weekend #4
$3,850,000 (-54%) in 3.273 theaters (+12); PTA: $1,176; Cumulative: $15,271,000
8. The Gift (STX)  – Week 4; Last weekend #7
$3,134,000 (-27%) in 1,934 theaters (-369); PTA: $1,620; Cumulative: $35,960,000
9. Jurassic World (Universal)  – Week 12; Last weekend #18
$3,120,000 (+229%) in 1,239 theaters (+665); PTA: $2.518;  Cumulative: $643,088,000
10. Ant-Man (Buena Vista)  – Week 7; Last weekend #8
$3,054,000 (-25%) in 2,016 theaters (-290); PTA: $1,807; Cumulative: $169,187,000

The Takeaways

Reports from the Dead Zone

This is a tricky weekend for comparisons. The closest dates last year came with a big difference — they were on Labor Day weekend, which is a week later in 2015. But a $62 million Top Ten is weak by any measure. It’s way down from $85 million for similar days, but even further shy of around $100 million on the pre-holiday weekend in 2014. Even after the great summer (which came after a very strong January to April), total grosses are now edging closer to only 5% better than last year, and actually are now only barely ahead of three of the five previous years. August, with only “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” and “Straight Outta Compton” showing anything like the success of earlier season smashes, has otherwise proved a let-down.

It’s worse for theaters than studios this week. The three new films combined had pre-marketing budgets (in the case of “We Are Your Friends,” an acquisition cost) of about $10 million. All of course had greater marketing costs, but these likely came in under normal levels (particularly from sleeper hit “War Room.”) But it isn’t healthy, after such a strong summer, for audiences to not keep up the seemingly awakened habit of frequent moviegoing.

Low-budget “No Escape” at least improved on the Weinsteins’ disastrous release of sequel “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” which in the same slot last year only managed to open at  $6.3 million. The smart Wednesday start added $2 million-plus to its opening total. The weekend though is only about half of TWC’s most recent wide release “Southpaw.” The holiday ahead and spotty competition over the next few weeks might get it up to $25 million, but that’s a risky number even with less than a normal $30 million average wide release ad budget.

Warners’ pick up of Zak Efron’s “We Are Your Friends” makes last week’s original younger-star headlining “American Ultra” look like a smash by comparison. “We Are Your Friends” managed only $1.8 million in 2,333 theaters: that’s a PTA $772. If you want to be alone, buy a ticket. The average attendance by theater was under 100 people for all shows.

Why the Media Elite Missed “War Room”– Again

Sony’s success with the last films from the Kendrick Brothers, whose previous faith-based films include “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof” and “Courageous” are not well known in most film circles. That doesn’t mean they are unknown. Their brand now has currency among a wide range of middle-American moviegoers, which fueled interest in this  film from a Sony division that has previously prospered with similar tiles such as “Soul Surfer” and “Heaven Is for Real.”

If you are like most moviegoers, this comes as a surprise. “War Room” initially had no reviews in key papers (it wasn’t screened for them, though the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe did run catch-up reviews; Indiewire’s Criticwire has yet to have a single contributor pipe in). There weren’t any mainstream print, TV or radio ads. And theater placement was not proximate for many of us. In the core Hollywood Hills/Beverly Hills/West Hollywood section of the Los Angeles metro area, the closest theater was five miles away; only seven were within 15 miles. By comparison, “We Come As Friends” had six theaters within five miles, 19 within 10, and 28 within 15.

Sony carefully pinpointed the marketing to reach the core target group that is interested in these films, as well as theater placement (only 1,135 screens, making its gross that much more impressive). The gross compares well to the best in the genre: in the last five years, that’s Sony’s “Heaven Is for Real,” which in double the theaters opened to $22 million. That film, based on a bestseller and directed by “Braveheart”‘s writer had a higher presold interest as well as a better release date around Easter. But “Soul Surfer” did slightly less, also in double the theater count. This bested “Fireproof” in a similar number.

The number to look at now is the groundbreaking “God’s Not Dead,” a more barebones (but adequately supported) release that opened to $9 million in 780, then exploded to $60 million and more than double the number of locations. With its A+ Cinemascore, Sony had reason to ramp up the marketing for “War Room” and expand amid weak competition. This has growth opportunities as well. It might even be a threat to rise to #1 next weekend.

The Kendricks have previously made films with primarily white characters. “War Room” is the story of a prayer circle run by an elderly devout African-American woman. Though it grows to include a wide group of Christians, the trailers and other marketing doesn’t hide the fact of the group’s African-American center. That means the top two films this weekend boasted strong African-American appeal.

To the credit of the marketing team (and indicating the depth of the faith-based demo), audience surveys report that the film attracted more whites than African-Americans. CNN ran a report a while back calling Sunday morning the most segregated time in America. Sony and their Affirm partners have accomplished something the studios have trouble with when releasing African-American themed films.”Compton” clearly has crossed over, but not to the extent of “War Room.”

Holdovers

“Straight Outta Compton” fell 49%, holding on to #1 for a third week and is now at $134 million. With its huge opening number, the slightly larger than usual drops aren’t surprising, but it could also be a seasonal factor. The air has gone out of the moviegoing bag, and Universal would have been thrilled if you told them a month ago its third weekend would be $13 million. 

Three latter-week films managed to hold their drops to under 30%. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is still third in its fifth weekend, and fell only 27% as it clearly is thriving because of uneven competition. “The Gift” held even better, as STX’s initial release (the best-reviewed thriller of the summer, despite Weinstein’s claims for “No Entry”) dropped slightly less, and now could reach $45 million, not bad for their minimal pre-marketing cost. “Ant-Man,” also helped by little competition for younger and family audiences, is only off 25%. Nearing $170 million, it isn’t one of the top Marvel entries, but hardly a disappointment.

Second weekends didn’t fare well. “Hitman: Agent 47” and “Sinister 2” were down 54 and 56% respectively, but the latter number is not bad as horror releases often drop hard. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” isn’t collapsing. Its 40% drop came despite losing nearly 1,000 theaters (mostly to Warners’ new release “We Are Your Friends”).

Meanwhile an IMAX return of “Jurassic World” gives us reason to repeat its jaw-dropping domestic total of $643 million, reminding us once again how gargantuan summer 2015 started out.

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