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Box Office Surges on Sandler vs. Bieber Weekend Duel

Box Office Surges on Sandler vs. Bieber Weekend Duel

Just Go With It‘s established comedy stars Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston dueled teen music phenom Justin Bieber’s 3-D concert doc Never Say Never at the surging weekend box office, which had been in the doldrums compared to last year’s Avatar-fueled winter frame. Anthony D’Alessandro reports:

Adam Sandler and Justin Bieber drew lines in the sand at the weekend box office as the comedian’s Sony rom-com Just Go With It took No. 1 by an inch with an estimated $31 million over the pop icon’s 3-D concert docu Never Say Never which counted $30.26 million.

While the media seem to be fixated on the brawl between Sandler and Bieber, Disney’s Miramax moppet leftover Gnomeo and Juliet smashed through projections, kissing $25.5 million in third to become the highest opening for a February animated film. Placing fourth, Focus Features’ prestige Roman epic The Eagle sacked $8.6 million, despite less-than-stellar reviews.

Sandler’s box-office track record is consistently strong with Just Go With It marking his eleventh No. 1 opening as a leading man.  By this point in most comedic actors’ careers, especially Saturday Night Live alums, their jokes get stale and their hip factor is null. But team Sandler knew how to tickle the nation’s funny bone with this offbeat premise of a guy pretending to be married so he can pick up chicks. Just Go With It charted slightly less than Sandler’s previous Valentine’s Day opener 50 First Dates ($39.9 million bow, $120.9 million domestic), and was trashed by critics, but with an A- Cinemascore, this comedy should easily turn a three to four times multiple.  

Just Go With It boosts Aniston’s B.O.; she was key in luring in women, who repped 58% of attendees. The actress’ ticket sales had sagged in the wake of her 2008 holiday hit Marley and Me ($36.4 million opening, $143.2 million domestic).  Sandler and Aniston worked the talk show circuit with Sandler providing guffaws about his mother on The Late Show With David Letterman while Aniston hysterically displayed some eye-brow raising moments: accidentally showing her bloomers to Conan O’Brien, wearing a bra vibrator on Ellen and standing in Tila Tequila’s shadow on Zach Galifianakis’ web show Between Two Ferns.
Counting the $30 per ticket advance screening presales, Never Say Never yielded a $31 million domestic cume – an opening that’s just under the $31.1 million posted by the previous 3-D concert champ Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour.  84% of all Bieber fans–which tend to be girls, also marking 84% of attendees–watched the hunky tween in 3-D.  67% of the crowd was under 25.  Released under Paramount’s Insurge label, a brand reserved for low-budget films, $13-million Never Say Never was always expected to be profitable, the question was by how much.  Typically concert films get their legs chopped off.  Best of Both Worlds ended its domestic run at $65 million. Never Say Never earned middling reviews but an A+ Cinemascore.  In addition, Paramount’s marketing team has a rep for taking a film that appeals to a specific demo, i.e. Paranormal Activity and Jackass 3D to lofty heights. “If you watch Never Say Never, teenage girls are screaming, reaching out to the screen,” points out Paramount exec distrib vp Don Harris. “This is an instance where 3-D actually improves the moviegoing experience. People are willing to pay for the ticket upcharge and it’s better than a seat at a concert.”

Bieber is no child when it comes to his career. The kid worked tirelessly, appearing on Extreme Home Makeover, working the AM shows back in January, showing up at advance screenings and even crashing Johnny Depp’s Rango junket Saturday where the actor proclaimed himself a “Belieber.”  The Kardashians also urged their fans to have a girl’s night out at Never Say Never. See his appearances on Saturday Night Live and Jon Stewart below. Bieber’s PR efforts drove the P&A spend for Never Say Never down to an estimated $20 million.  That’s cheap.  Typically it costs double that to open a film at $30 million.

Disney’s Gnomeo and Juliet won over children too young to be impressed by Bieber’s wavy hair. It was apt timing on Disney’s part, as there hasn’t been a wide-release kid pic in the market since Christmas.  The studio has previously thrown Disney titles such as Jungle Book 2 ($11.4 million opening, $47.9 million domestic) and Pooh’s Heffalump Movie ($5.8 million opening, $18.1 million) into the mid-February frame, but Gnomeo easily outstripped the opening results of those franchise properties. Exec producer Elton John was instrumental in marketing, slotting his songs from the film in all promos. Gnomeo & Juliet lured in 72% of the family crowd, despite lukewarm reviews.

Releasing a sword-and-sandal Channing Tatum film in the midst of a busy frame might appear risky, however, Focus Features aimed to get a head start on the long Presidents weekend. They also capitalized on the under-35 male demo (62%) put off by both Bieber and a Sandler/Aniston rom-com. Overall men’s share on Eagle numbered 64%; 47% of the crowd was under 30.

The Eagle was looked at as a wide release, even at script stage,” insists Focus distrib chief Jack Foley, who wisely skipped a platform rollout on the Kevin Macdonald second-century battle epic, which scored wildly divergent reviews. “It has the narrative and character that appeals to a general audience.” The film was driven in part by a vivid print campaign featuring leading men Tatum and Jamie Bell in a dramatic-warrior pose.  Focus even booked a Super Bowl spot to promote the film. Eagle scored a respectable B+ Cinemascore.

Focus’ mandate has always been to produce films for a global audience, and should Eagle fall short of its $25-million budget stateside, historical action epics have a track record for overperforming abroad: Kingdom of Heaven pulled in $164.3 million foreign to $47.4 million domestic while Oliver Stone’s Alexander cumed $133 million abroad compared to the U.S. $34.3 million. The U.K. is seen as the prime territory for Eagle given the film’s Scottish period setting; the film will fly there in another four weeks.


Top Ten Chart: 
1. Just Go With It (Sony): $31 million in its first weekend at 3,548 theaters.  $8,737 theater average. Domestic total: $31 million.
2. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (Paramount): $30.26 million in its first weekend at 3,548 theaters.  $9,746 theater average. Domestic total: $31 million.
3. Gnomeo and Juliet (Disney): $25.5 million in its first weekend at 2,994 theaters.  $8,517 theater average. Domestic total: $25.5 million.
4. The Eagle (Focus Features): $8.6 million in its first weekend at 2,296 theaters.  $3,741 theater average. Domestic total: $8.6 million.
5. The Roommate (Sony/Screen Gems): $8.4 million down 44% in its second weekend at 2,534 theaters.  $3,315 theater average. Domestic total: $26 million.
6. The King’s Speech (Weinstein Co.): $7.412 million down 4% in its twelfth weekend at 2,263 theaters.  $3,275 theater average.  Domestic total: $93.9 million.
7. No Strings Attached (Paramount/Spyglass): $5.6 million down 29% in its fourth weekend at 2,756 theaters.  $2048 theater average. Domestic total: $59.9 million.
8. Sanctum (Universal/Relativity): $5.1 million down 46% in its second weekend at 2,789 theaters.  $1,840 theater average. Domestic total: $17.5 million.
9. True Grit (Paramount/Skydance): $3.8 million down 19% in its eighth weekend at 2,072 theaters.  $1,819 theater average. Domestic total: $160.3 million.
10. Green Hornet (Sony): $3.6 million down 40% in its fifth weekend at 2,090 theaters.  $1,722 theater average. Domestic total: $92.3 million.

The Never Say Never trailer:

Here’s Bieber on Jon Stewart:

And on SNL with the Church Lady:

The Eagle trailer:

Just Go With It trailer:

Gnomeo and Juliet trailer:

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