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Top 10 Takeaways: Movie Star Brands Tyler Perry and Tom Cruise Boost Box Office

Mainstream audiences played it safe this weekend, flocking to see Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher and Tyler Perry as Madea.

Boo! A Madea Halloween

“Boo! A Madea Halloween”

Lionsgate

This weekend’s openers did not look like standouts on paper. But two star vehicles, Tyler Perry’s “Boo! A Madea Halloween” (Lionsgate) and Tom Cruise’s “Jack Reacher: Never Look Back” (Paramount), both exceeded their expected $20 million openings. The reason? They gave moviegoers, who may be feeling a tad rattled during this tempestuous election season, something familiar and safe.

Add in the middling “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (Universal) and the flop “Keeping Up With the Joneses” (20th Century Fox) and the unusually heavy release schedule (before the must-to-avoid Halloween weekend) reversed recent sliding gross totals. Temporary? We’ll see. But it’s better news for sure.

The Top Ten

1. Boo! A Madea Halloween (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 34; Est. budget: $20 million

$27,600,000 in 2,260 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $12,212; Cumulative: $27,600,000

2. Jack Reacher: Never Look Back (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 47 ; Est. budget: $60 million

$23,000,000 in 3,780 theaters; PTA: $6,085; Cumulative: $23,000,000

3. Ouija: Origin of Evil (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: C; Metacritic: 65; Est. budget: $9 million

$14,060,000 in 3,167 theaters; PTA: $4,438; Cumulative: $14,060,000

4. The Accountant (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #1

$14,025,000 (-43%) in 3,332 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,209; Cumulative: $47,920,000

5. The Girl on the Train (Universal) Week 3 – Last weekend #2

$7,270,000 (-41%) in 3,091 theaters (-150); PTA: $2,352; Cumulative: $58,902,000

6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Unusual Children (20th Century Fox) Week 4 – Last weekend #4

$6,000,000 (-33%) in 3,133 theaters (-702); PTA: $1,915; Cumulative: $74,432,000

7. Keeping Up With the Joneses (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 35; Est. budget: $40 million

$5,600,000 in theaters; PTA: $1,853; Cumulative: $5,600,000

8. Kevin Hart: What Now? (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #3

$4,110,000 in 2,568 theaters; PTA: $1,601; Cumulative: $18,942,000

9. Storks (Warner Bros.) Week 5 – Last weekend #6

$4,085,000 in 2,145 theaters (-921); PTA: $1,904; Cumulative: $64,715,000

10. Deepwater Horizon (Lionsgate) Week 4- Last weekend #5

$3,625,000 in 2,828 theaters (-575); PTA: $1,282; Cumulative: $55,271,000

The Takeaways

Up for Once

Aided by four new openers – three looking like successes, the fourth a total dud – the fall trajectory changed this weekend to the positive side.

The 20% ($18 million) increase is due to the release schedule – last year the pre-Halloween weekend had only two releases, both holiday related (“The Last Witch Hunter” and “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”) that combined took in under $19 million.

This year’s four combined grossed around $60 million, above overall expectations. What happened is in part consistent with recent trends, particularly a central one in other recent successes.

Two Veteran Stars Score

What elevated the otherwise different appeal “Boo!” and “Never Go Back” was the presence of two long-term appeal actors. Tyler Perry and Tom Cruise, like Tom Hanks, Ben Affleck, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg have been central to the $20-mid 30 million openers this fall. This retro trend to story-based films with established actors, primarily originals, differs from the high-concept, comic book and action releases of the summer.

Some of these middle-of-the-road films have been disappointments compared to cost, but each is a straight-forward play to capitalize on an established long-term actor and past similar successes to bring in audiences.

This seems counterintuitive to recent trends where safe, conservative modes without variation or originality have seen lackluster results, with or without top stars.

In a season with overall down grosses, the result (with “Sully” the sole $100 million-plus domestic grosser so far among all of these) isn’t spectacular. But it does suggest that all of them boasted a movie star brand to overcome the familiar content.

This will be tested next weekend when “Inferno” (in the “Da Vinci Code” series) debuts (after already doing well in foreign markets) with Tom Hanks returning for a second film in two months. Beyond that, with rare exceptions (“Allied” with Brad Pitt) most potential breakouts ahead are either franchises, high concepts, female stars, or family-oriented. The oddity is the bunching all these mostly last-century superstars within a few weeks, and generally performing decently at the same time despite possible overlapping appeal.

“Madea” Makes a Surprise Return

Tyler Perry’s alter ego had seemed to have run its course after 10 movie entries (as well as other media). Grosses had been declining from the high (“Madea Goes to Jail – opening $41 million, total $90 million) to the most recent “A Madea Christmas” ($16 million/$52 million). And to some extent there seemed to be some backlash – a derisive joke in Chris Rock’s “Top Five” actually suggested this recent plot, and Nate Parker made generalized negative comments in interviews about African-American actors playing roles wearing dresses.

Perry, who has diversified into roles in other people’s movies (“Gone Girl,” this year’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sequel) and his own directed-efforts (“Alex Cross”), took a much longer than usual time to return to this role. It has been nearly three years since the last one, much longer than the often annual appearance.

That could be one factor in the surprisingly big gross. And the promise of slapstick comedy, however crude and sometime unoriginal, looks like it hit the right time to hit the market. The Halloween timing didn’t hurt, but other horror-related comedies by the Wayan Brothers and others haven’t been a sure thing.

It appears that Perry and Madea just came as a safe choice for enough core moviegoers who needed a laugh.

Reacher 2 vs. 1

The second “Jack Reacher” film on paper looks bigger than the first because of a release date anomaly. The first one was released on Dec.21 in order be positioned for Christmas. Its $15.2 million gross was below what its normal initial gross would have been (it did as much Monday-Thursday, then fell only 10% the second weekend.) It ended up with an $80 million total, a much higher than normal multiple.

The new film’s $23 million start should lead to a $65 million total (+/-$5 million). But the initial foreign dates are grossing ahead of the previous film (the last overseas total was $138 million). That likely means the $218 million reached last time can be equaled. If the reported budget is $60 million again, it looks like Paramount’s bet on Tom Cruise paid off.

“Ouija” a Bit Off

In a period where horror has thrived of late, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” took a 30% opening drop from the 2014 Halloween released original.

With the expansion of major horror films (originals and sequels) to key summer time dates, the appeal of launching in late October had faded (look at last year’s same-date releases). And it could be the audience for these has had enough after the multiple hits, or at least demands more than something that despite favorable reviews (the best of any new wide release this weekend) this had to offer.

The best news? It only cost $9 million. It will make money even with higher marketing costs.

“The Joneses” Don’t Keep Up

The most recent of several underperforming suburban middle American family comedies spawned by “Neighbors” (exception: “Bad Moms”) and the second flop from Zach Galifianakis (“Masterminds” less than a month ago) had a reported budget of $40 million. It looks like it will struggle to gross a third of that.

Horrible reviews hurt, but at this point, it just appears that the whole concept of wackiness in the ‘burbs (in this case a complicated spy plot) isn’t working. And adding an eclectic cast not necessarily associated with comedies (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Isla Fisher) didn’t pique interest.

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