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Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: Ben Affleck’s ‘The Accountant’ and Kevin Hart Score

Will 2015's peak record $11 billion year ever be topped at the domestic box office? This year is looking unlikely.

The Accountant Ben Affleck

“The Accountant”

This weekend brought some welcome news: Ben Affleck’s latest, “The Accountant” (Warner Bros.), came in better than expected. And though “Kevin Hart: What Now?” (Universal) grossed only about half as much, they both did well compared to their cost.

But the overall box office continues to lag against 2015’s peak record numbers, dominated by such fourth-quarter entries as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a Bond film and the final “Hunger Games.” It’s hard to imagine that 2016 totals can beat them, even with Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” in early November, J.K. Rowling’s latest “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” from Warners and Disney’s “Moana” closer to Thanksgiving.

The Top Ten (+1)

1. The Accountant (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 51; Est. budget: $45 million

$24,715,000 in 3,332 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $7,417; Cumulative: $24,715,000

2. Kevin Hart: What Now? (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A- ; Metacritic: 61; Est. budget: $10 million

$11,894,000 in 2,568 theaters; PTA: $4,669; Cumulative: $11,894,000

3. The Girl on the Train (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #1

$11,974,000 (-51%) in 3,241 (+97) theaters; PTA: $3,241; Cumulative: $46,559,000

4. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #2

$8,900,000 (-41%) in 3,835 (+130) theaters; PTA: $2,321; Cumulative: $65,833,000

5. Deepwater Horizon (Lionsgate) Week 3 – Last weekend #3

$6,350,000 (-45%) in 3,403 (+144) theaters; PTA: $1,866; Cumulative: $49,335,000

6. Storks (Warner Bros.) Week 4 – Last weekend #5

$5,600,000 (-32%) in 3,066 (-542) theaters; PTA: $1,826; Cumulative: $59,144,000

7. The Magnificent Seven (Sony) Week 4 – Last weekend #4

$5,200,000 (-42%) in 3,210 (-486) theaters; PTA: $1,620; Cumulative: $84,828,000

8. Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (Lionsgate) Week 2 – Last weekend #7

$4,250,000 (-38%) in 2,822 (no change) theaters; PTA: $1,506; Cumulative: $13,761,000

9. Sully (Warner Bros.) Week 6- Last weekend #8

$2,960,000 (-%) in 2,211 (-847) theaters; PTA: $1,339; Cumulative: $118,372,000

10. The Birth of a Nation (Fox Searchlight) Week 2 – Last weekend #6

$2,715,000 (-61%) in 2,105 (no change) theaters; PTA: $1,290; Cumulative: $12,243,000

11. Max Steel (Open Road) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 23; Est. budget: $

$2,164,000 in 2,034 theaters; PTA: $1,064; Cumulative: $2,163,000

The Takeaways

"The Accountant"

“The Accountant”

Warner Bros.

The Down Trend Accelerates

The Top Ten grossed about $85 million. That’s a level more typical of certain weekends shunned by distributors for new films (Super Bowl, early September, Halloween, early December) rather than mid-October. That’s a sad 22% below the $109 million last year. It’s the worst third weekend in October since at least 2008, and if ticket prices are adjusted, likely with the lowest number of tickets sold checking back to 2000.

This comes with three new wide releases. Two had positive results, particularly compared to costs and in the case of “The Accountant” foreign results. The third, Open Road’s acquisition of “Max Steel” (the Mattel toys come to life) was stillborn and didn’t even make the Top Ten.

Weeks that have low totals usually have one or two new releases. Three with about 8,000 theaters among them usually by default result in better totals. But with these three grossing around $25-12-2 million respectively, and normal falloffs from earlier films, the result is all around weakness.

No significant weather excuses this weekend. Baseball likely did damage to Los Angeles, Chicago and Cleveland in particular (though that comes around every year around now).

After a strong start to the year—buttressed by “Star Wars” and “Superman v. Batman” —for the last six months the numbers continue to fall. Interrupted by the upsurge in 2015, it’s hard to deny that regular domestic moviegoing is in decline. The evidence is right in front of us.

Why Did “The Accountant” Over Perform?

The $24.7 million for Warners’ latest mid-budget release came in a few million above the consensus estimate around $20 million. The big worries – mixed reviews for an adult-oriented film, uncertainty about its complicated financial crime thriller plot and unsexy title – look to have been overcome by a number of factors.

One is its star. Like Tom Hanks with “Sully,” and Denzel Washington with “The Magnificent Seven,” Ben Affleck this time of year in a film with some older audience appeal seems like a reliable bet. He’s coming off “Gone Girl” and “Batman v Superman,” both much bigger. But “Argo” ($19 million) and “The Town ($24 million) also set precedents.

But other than the pre-sold “BvS,” this had no festival and/or strong review push to add credibility. It was actually a late-review film (only midweek), and they came in mixed, which normally might have hurt. But the marketing made people want to see the film.

Nearly everyone who saw Warner Bros.’ hit “Sully” saw an attached trailer for this, reaching its core audience. Another secret to the gross is the absence of much else for a smart adults to see. A segment of the older population – hardly a majority, but a significant part – does go out to the movies regularly.

At the moment, there is a dearth of alternatives compared to usual. A year ago, the offerings in theaters —“The Bridge of Spies,” “Sicario,” “Steve Jobs,” “Black Mass,” “Everest,” and “The Walk” —were all grossing over $1 million for the weekend. This year there are fewer such films and most have been around long enough to sample. And the specialized front is the bleakest it has been in memory for where we are in the calendar.

So throw together an actor usually associated with smart films, good marketing, an original story line and mixed reviews don’t hurt so much. Films like this have usually had strong multiples way above the normal 3X.

Baseball might be a factor, but Saturday was up only 5% from Friday, with similar titles improving between 15 and 45% (not that unusual for older appeal films).

Warner Bros.’ Steady Run

The ship seems to have been steadied at a usually reliable studio after a rough patch that included some executive turmoil at a normally stable company.

Warner Bros., with more new wide releases (14) than any other studio this year so far, has eased into a clear #2 spot for 2016, far closer to #1 Disney with 17.4% market share (Disney at 24.3%) and easily ahead of earlier-year stronger 20th Century Fox (13.6%).

Market share doesn’t pay the bills. But the way it has reached this level has been smart.

At the top are their two D.C. Comics releases, “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad.” Both were at the high end of expense ($425 million combined pre-marketing). But worldwide, though each fell a little short of expectations, they’ve taken in $1.6 billion.

But their other four $100 million-plus domestic grossers – “Central Intelligence,” “Sully,” “The Legend of Tarzan,” and “The Conjuring 2”— include three that cost between $40-60 million, with the one higher (“Tarzan” at $180 million) hitting $356 million worldwide. So that’s three films in clear profit plus the riskiest one likely to break even.

Most of the rest of their lineup is in the same range of budget (with the bargain basement “Lights Out” grossing 30 times its budget worldwide) with few real flops, none of them high budget.

“The Accountant” falls into their smart formula – reliable elements (Affleck, a regular Warners partner), throw in enough originality (the plot line here) and most importantly contained costs.

That isn’t different from how Warners has operated for decades to a more consistent extent than their peers. But what they have avoided of late are the expensive duds – “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “In the Heart of the Sea,” “Jupiter Ascending,” all last year that began to make their output suspect. They’ve rebounded nicely.

Kevin Hart: What Now?‘What Now’ Among Comedy Concert Films

The modern stand-up comedy film sub-genre originated with Bette Midler. Her “Divine Madness” in 1980 grossed, inflation adjusted, $17 million, still good enough to place among the ten best ever.

But it really took off with two Richard Pryor efforts (“Live on the Sunset Strip” and “Here and Now”) shortly after. “Sunset” adjusted took in $107 million, the best until “Eddie Murphy Raw” took over as tops in 1987 with what now would be $109 million.

With “The Original Kings of Comedy” and two Martin Lawrence efforts, two earlier Kevin Hart efforts make up nine of the ten best, all featuring African-American performers. It’s a huge drop other than Midler among the rest (Margaret Cho, Andrew Dice Clay, Sarah Silverman among them).

What’s the difference? Originally it came from two raunchy top stars (Murphy and Pryor) having no comparable venues to reach wide audiences in their very adult routines. Broadcast TV, though open to both, didn’t capture their essence. And although cable was already around, the demographics for premium cable, which incorporated comedians early on, didn’t include much of the potential audience.

So Kevin Hart, nearly alone, has brought back an older tradition. Since much of his audience includes older generations familiar with past greats, his films unlike equivalent comedians don’t seem unusual.

And the audience is more concentrated. Their top theaters have grosses better than the top rated film of the week. That’s crucial. Who wants to see a comedy act in an empty theater? So a core audience showing up restores the communal experience core to movie viewing pleasure, particularly for comedies.

Kevin Hart seems to succeed in whatever he does these days. He is coming of “Central Intelligence” (his biggest hit), “Ride Along 2” and “Get Hard” – all grossing over $90 million.

“What Now?” is the best opening of Hart’s three concert films, edging out “Let Me Explain” ($10 million opening in 2013). And at a $10 million pre-marketing budget, the 3X multiple it could reach (last time out totaled $32 million) and long-term play on other venues, it was a solid bet worth taking, even for a third time.

But as in earlier years it likely won’t lead to others following suit. Hart stands apart at the moment, and again it’s hard to see how outside of one audience segment it works.

"The Girl on the Train"

“The Girl on the Train”

Holdovers

“The Girl on the Train,” like so many of the fall’s decent openers, fell more than similar thriller titles, going down 51%. “Middle School” in its second weekend dropped less (38%) but wasn’t strong to start. “The Birth of a Nation” imploded with a 61% drop, with no signs of any wider audience. “Storks” held best, with the absence of any other animated film its best asset. It looks to end up with $75-80 million in domestic totals, which with better foreign results and below average for animation ($70 million) cost getting it closer to profit.

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