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Weekend Box Office: Audiences Get Their Strings Attached To ‘No Strings Attached’

Weekend Box Office: Audiences Get Their Strings Attached To 'No Strings Attached'

Not much news to report during this quiet January weekend. One wide release opened to numbers that a studio would expect given two publicity-heavy stars in January ($20.3 million). “No Strings Attached” matched industry expectations, bringing good news to all involved, though if you’re the only wide release in a single weekend, you’re really banking on at least $20 mil. Budget numbers on this film go from $25 to $35 million, but there were extensive reshoots and it couldn’t have been too cheap to get these two multi-tasking stars in the fold.

Nevertheless, a $30m-ish cost seems believable given that it’s a studio movie where absolutely nothing of consequence really happens, but R-rated sex comedies are a marketing challenge. Credit to Paramount, who spent enough to get this film a bigger opening than last weekend’s similar “adult comedy” “The Dilemma”. Romantic comedies usually have strong legs, so getting this to $70m seems possible, but the B Cinemascore rating suggests audiences were a little taken back by the acidity of the premise. You can’t exactly take Mom and Dad to a movie from a script that originally went by the title “Fuckbuddies.”

Does this mean director Ivan Reitman is locked and loaded for “Ghostbusters 3” over at Sony? Only if they look at the numbers without watching the movie, because this guy’s running on fumes. Fortunately for Ashton Kutcher, he earns another lease on his leading man status, which was in a holding pattern after the expensive “Killers” was a non-hit. If he stays within the realm of mid-budgeted studio movies, he’ll be fine, since Kutcher-fronted films usually pull in somewhere between $50-$80 million domestic and he isn’t above popping up in notable ensemble pieces. That’s a lot of career mobility for a guy who can’t act.

And Natalie Portman? It’s certainly her time, and pushing a movie like this as a leading lady over $20 is a big deal. Portman’s been beloved with genre-heads who not only saw the “Star Wars” prequels but also goosed “V For Vendetta” to $132 million global while renting “The Professional” repeatedly. She’s had her first huge solo hit with “Black Swan”, but here she is fronting a bad movie with terrible material and a deadweight costar in a questionable box office season during east coast snowstorms. Zooey Deschanel gets this sort of material to $12m, and Katherine Heigl maaaaaybe pushes the number to $18m. It might be time to put her in league with the Sandra Bullocks of the world. Which is good, because Bullock herself has a tin ear for projects that Portman clearly doesn’t.

Being pushed into January might have been the best plan after all for “The Green Hornet.” The holiday hits that crowded 3D screens are on their way out, so “Hornet” gets to be the sole movie in the marketplace fully utilizing those hefty 3D surcharges, softening a second weekend fall that could have been precipitous. “Hornet” slowed quite a bit in weekend two, but the film will play for two more weeks before “Sanctum” arrives to steal those 3D screens, and by then “Hornet” could be in the neighborhood of $100 million. With the solid international start, the film might end up avoiding the “fiasco” tag many were ready to employ before it came out, though it will probably need DVD muscle for a significant profit.

“The Dilemma” isn’t holding nearly as well as films of that genre usually do. Clearly “No Strings Attached” absorbed a chunk of that audience. Of course, this is a big studio movie about infidelity. These numbers would be a victory if the film didn’t cost so much. Maybe next time you don’t spend $10 million to spring for Ron Howard when you can probably get Jon Amiel or somebody for half a mil. Or was Ron Howard’s artistry really needed for what feels like the eighth Vince Vaughn failed-marriage comedy in the last couple of years?

Still in less than 2000 theaters, “The King’s Speech” is approaching $60 million and could make a play for $100. This is one of the few Oscar movies still playing, so with the nominations announced next week, a small bounce might be all that is needed to get this picture to nine digits. “True Grit” and “Black Swan” are in similar positions, with “Swan” poised to become Fox’s highest grosser since “Avatar”. Last year, the only awards season movie really still in play was James Cameron‘s Na’vi Epic, and the week the film received a Best Picture nomination was the period where it finally fell out of first place at the box office, suggesting the Oscar bump isn’t what it once was.

Still, all three films are notable anomalies. “The King’s Speech” is one of the first “Oscar” movies to score legit box office numbers in the last couple of years, indeed it’s the first Tom Hooper film that audiences haven’t completely ignored, so it’s a big deal for The Weinstein Company, seemingly forever in a state of flux. “True Grit” is on pace to become the biggest box office western of all time, and, awards or no, represents the Coen Brothers entering the realm of Blank Check Auteurs. They should have little difficulty putting together funding for their next studio film.

And Darren Aronofsky’s nightmarish art house ballet drama will likely become the biggest 2010 grosser amongst all Fox releases. We’re still puzzled by the audience love for the Natalie Portman hit – without deeper knowledge of demographics, we’ll guess most viewers are women. This is a phenomenon worth observing closely, given the film’s abstract views on feminism and the intense, abrasive storytelling. Are mothers and daughters finding as much to discuss coming out of “Black Swan” as fathers and sons are leaving “True Grit”?

The Fighter” might also get an Oscar bounce, but right now $100 million seems like a longshot, and if the movie gains awards traction, it’s gonna have a lot of competition from the aforementioned likely-nominated films, as well as “127 Hours”, which will expand next week, awards windfall or not. “Little Fockers” looks tapped out and will finish with a lower gross than any of the films in the “Focker” series, unfortunate considering it was the most expensive. Given the sour reception to this entry, we do hope the series is being relegated to basic cable hell. Still, the worldwide take for the entire franchise has long surpassed a billion dollars, so a lot of people have seen these movies, most likely Obnoxious Library Clerk Who Wears Kitten Sweaters, That Douchebag In The Corner Cubicle and Grabby Uncle Todd.

Warner Bros. has somehow goosed “Yogi Bear” to the outskirts of $100 million. Do you know anyone who paid to see it? Meanwhile, “Tron: Legacy” remains a solid grosser for what is likely a giant portfolio of expenditures related to this relaunched franchise. Disney may not be sweating the film, since it’s approaching $170 million, and they have probably moved on to the marketing for the next wave of “Tron”, which includes a sequel, a television series, and all sorts of toys, breakfast cereals, theme park attractions, NASCAR decals and incestuous corporate sponsorship deals. Mission accomplished. Probably.

The limited release slate was particularly weak this weekend. “The Way Back” debuted to tepid numbers, pulling in $1.5 million on 650 screens, while “The Company Men” wasn’t much more promising, with $767k at 106 engagements. Both films seemed to suffer from uncertain ad campaigns that failed to showcase the mundane subject material as fodder for a compelling movie – in this one, they walk a lot, and in that one, rich white guys get fired. “Blue Valentine” is still doing solid business after four weeks of release, nabbing $938k for a $4.5 million total, a holiday counterprogramming strategy that has seemed to work out for the anti-romance indie.

A wider expansion into 45 theaters greeted “Another Year,” pulling in $228k for a four week total of $734k in very limited release. And for the second straight weekend, the best per-screen average belonged to “Barney’s Version,” which averaged $10k on sixteen screens for a $161k take. In further debuts, “The Housemaid” opened in two theaters, grossing $18.2k. Support your local arthouses, boys and girls.

1. No Strings Attached (Paramount) – $20.3 million
2. The Green Hornet (Sony) – $18.1 million ($63 mil.)
3. The Dilemma (Universal) – $9.7 million ($33 mil.)
4. The King’s Speech (Weinstein Company) – $9.2 million ($59 mil.)
5. True Grit ((Paramount) – $8 million ($139 mil.)
6. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) – $6.2 million ($84 mil.)
7. The Fighter (Paramount) – $4.5 million ($73 mil.)
8. Little Fockers (Universal) – $4.4 million ($141 mil.)
9. Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.) – $4.1 million ($89 mil.)
10. Tron: Legacy (Disney) – $3.7 million ($163 mil.)

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