The late Labor Day this year made distributors less wary of the normally secondary placement of new films right after. And it seems to have paid off, at least in part. Both new wide releases — Sony’s stalker thriller “A Perfect Guy” and Universal’s “The Visit,” a comeback attempt by recently fading M. Night Shyamalan — opened to over $25 million, a first for the post-holiday September weekend, and not common at any point during the month historically.
The top two dominated the scene, an otherwise positive but more mixed bag with no clear signs of what lies ahead as much higher-budgeted films loom. Still, it’s an up weekend and a good start for the fall season.
The Top Ten
1. The Perfect Guy (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 40; Est. budget: $12 million
$26,700,000 in 2,221 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $12,022; Cumulative: $26,700,000
2. The Visit (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 56; Est. budget: $5 million
$25,690,000 in 3,069 theaters; PTA: $8,371; Cumulative: $25,690,000
3. War Room (Sony) Week 3 – Last weekend #1
$7,400,000 (-22%) in 1,647 theaters (+121); PTA: $4,493; Cumulative: $39,188,000
4. A Walk in the Woods (Broad Green) Week 2 – Last weekend #3 (#2 for 4 days)
$4,620,000 (-44%) in 2,139 theaters (+179); PTA: $2,160; Cumulative: $19,877,000
5. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Paramount) Week 7 – Last weekend #5
$4,150,000 (-43%) in 2,649 theaters (-200); PTA: $1,567; Cumulative: $188,173,000
6. Straight Outta Compton (Universal) Week 5 – Last weekend #2 (#3 for 4 days)
$4,090,000 (-53%) in 2,812 theaters (-282); PTA: $1,454; Cumulative: $155,712,000
7. No Escape (Weinstein) Week 3 – Last weekend #6
$2,879,000 (-47%) in 3,022 theaters (-393); PTA: $953; Cumulative: $24,156,000
8. The Transporter Refueled (Eurocorp) Week 2 – Last weekend #4
$2,700,000 (-63%) in 3,424 theaters (no change); PTA: $786; Cumulative: $13,343,000
9. 90 Minutes in Heaven (Goldwyn) NEW – Cinemascore:; Metacritic: 25; Est. budget: $5 million
$2,161,000 in 838 theaters; PTA: $2,461; Cumulative: $2,161,000
10. Un Gallo con muchos huevos (Lions Gate) Week 2- Last weekend #9
$1,900,000 (-44%) in theaters (+221); PTA: $3,084; Cumulative: $6,667,000
Overview – From Little Seeds Big Acorns Grow, Even Off-Season
With the Sunday start of NFL an extra burden, the post-Labor Day weekend is usually a studio and theater dead zone. But never has this particular weekend had two films gross over $20 million. This year, two pushed over $25 million (with a close battle for number one still to be determined). As suggested last week, the late holiday date (Sept. 7) factored, and likely advanced the start of more important releases. Still, a female-centered African-American thriller and another comeback attempt for M. Night Shyamalan hardly suggested this sort of result at the top.
Here’s how the raw Top Ten numbers compare to last year: the $82 million total is $9 million better than the calendar year date in 2014, and a very impressive $34 million over last year’s post-Labor Day weekend. But more encouraging is that not only were there two grosses over $25 million in a single September weekend for the first time ever, but last year there were only two such grosses for the whole month, as was the case in 2013. And these aren’t even supposed to be the big releases of the month (if they were, they’d likely not have been slated this particularly weekend), suggesting that copycat distributors may be more likely to make the date more prominent, usually a healthy development for exhibition.
“The Perfect Guy” – Not Without Precedent
Sony’s low-budget production unit Screen Gems has thrived with African-American films over several years, released in either “down” weeks or around the MLK Birthday or the Easter period. “The Perfect Guy,” at just under $27 million, is actually not unusual. April openers “Think Like a Man” ($33.6 million) and “Obsessed” ($28.6 million) did better, and “No Good Deed” (similarly a thriller) two years ago in September came close ($24.2). Those all had names perhaps more familiar to non-African American audiences (particularly media tastemakers). “Perfect Guy” leads Sanaa Lathan and Michael Ealy aren’t draws like Chris Rock, Idris Elba, Beyonce or Tarija J. Henson (who appeared in one or more of the aforementioned films), and the September date — particularly with a horror film, often with an overlapping audience — made for lowered expectations.
So what made the difference? The stats provided by Universal, though limited to the following, show this drew 69% female, 58% over 25. Both are stronger demos these days. Older audiences are adequately served at the moment, but the late summer didn’t fully provide a strong female release to follow mid-July’s “Trainwreck,” as “Rikki and the Flash” never really connected beyond a core Meryl Streep audience. Even if there is another strong release ahead to drawn a significant African-American audience, this is the time of the year that has seen crossover, but also strongly appealing, films like “The Help” and “The Butler” soar (in part because of their placement in a less coveted period).
While many female-driven releases falter on the first Saturday, “Perfect” went up 5% from opening day.
“The Visit” – The Way to Revive a Career
Here’s another oddity: “The Visit” is M. Night Shyamalan’s lowest opening weekend since “Lady in the Water” nine years ago. Yet this marks a comeback coup for both Universal and Shyamalan, and from that perhaps more struggling big-name filmmakers can benefit.
The horror genre has been struggling, most recently with the so-so but still disappointing “Sinister 2” and the decently opening “Insidious: Chapter 3” (both down from their predecessors, both released in prime periods). Shyamalan’s problem has been his budgets. The previous two “After Earth” and “The Last Airbender” costing $280 million combined, with his earlier, less expensive “The Happening” just barely breaking even. “The Visit” had no stars, likely with heavy salary deferrals, and averaged a cost of $5 million, close to the usual budget of a Blumhouse-produced film. This too is a Blumhouse co-production, and looks like yet another smart Universal entry, even if it did fall just short of number one. (The studio is still maintaining about a 28% year-to-date market share.)
As a PG-13 film in a market where some fans are tired of being ripped off with cookie cutter sequels, originality and a sense of a more professional, clever oversight might have helped, along with a simple, “evil grandparents” concept (seniors really are taking over movies, aren’t they?). Per Universal, this drew, like “Perfect Guy,” strong female (60%), non-white (39% Latino, 18% African-American or Asian). But unlike “Perfect,” it played young, with 48% of the audience under 21. For a film not made for kids, that’s a rarity these days.
Most filmmakers who are used to top budgets struggle to adapt to allowances above the level of craft services on their usual efforts. But with this success, Shyamalan has given his career a big boost.
Most remarkable is that two films, which wouldn’t normally be slated prime time, clicked very well on the same mostly scorned September weekend, suggesting that the rigidity in preconceived notions about when to open films should be loosened.
Considering this weekend follows a holiday, with two big openings and the usual competition from everything else in the world working against the success of movies, several films stood out. It’s hard to deny the story that “War Room” is turning into for Sony and its partners. Helped a little by added theaters, but mainly by positive response, it dropped a minor 22%.
Two second weekend wide releases had different results. “Walk in the Woods” was off 44%, perhaps a bit more than hoped (older-oriented films often hold better than others), but still credible. “The Transporter Refueled,” lousy to start with, and at more theaters than any other film right now, was off 63%, with a per-screen-average of only $786. That means the average attendance all weekend was around 90 people, five or six per show.
“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” continues to please people and benefit from its less competitive late summer release date, managing to move ahead of “Straight Outta Compton” to achieve fifth place and a 43% drop. “Compton” keeps losing over 50%, but at $156 million, plus an early $25 million international, it’s already high up among the profitable films of the year.