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Weekend Box-Office: Is ‘Green Lantern’ The End Of The Superhero Gravy Train?

Weekend Box-Office: Is 'Green Lantern' The End Of The Superhero Gravy Train?

Perspective is necessary. $53 million is a whole lotta money. $53 million could buy several houses, it could feed many people, it could save lives. $53 million is also a pretty good opening for a somewhat higher-budgeted film, provided advertising isn’t through the roof and there aren’t a massive amount of back-end benefactors involved. But for “Green Lantern,” which cost upwards of $200 million before a massive ad campaign even by superhero standards, this is not a strong opening.

With the 3D surcharge, “GL” could only score in the vicinity of the last comic book extravaganza, “X-Men: First Class.” Warner Bros. definitely got the movie out there, but the issue is if they could entice enough people into buying into a half-hearted space opera that’s equal parts “Iron Man” and “Thor” (by design, no less). This will no doubt be treated as a referendum on the star power of Ryan Reynolds, which is ludicrous considering bigger stars like Denzel Washington have never opened a picture beyond $43 million. But Reynolds’ third comic book venture so far (after bit parts in “Blade Trinity” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) was released in a similar timeframe with “Thor,” which sported a similar appeal and an unknown star, so he will probably take the hit on this, as he was front and center promoting the picture tirelessly. Reynolds will be alright: with “Safe House” (with Denzel!) and “R.I.P.D.” coming up, so he was smart enough to set up a diverse post-superhero plate.

“Green Lantern” is going to need that 3D buffer. Reports suggest that the audience is siding with the critics on this one, as “GL” has not received the fan support awarded “X-Men” or “Thor.” Take away those inflated numbers, and this opening is more in the range of “Ghost Rider” among comic films. While Friday’s number wasn’t terrible, the Saturday tallies were a big drop, and with these films being so frontloaded, “Green Lantern” might be a contender for the season’s biggest flop by midweek. It’s early, but international is also soft, meaning that Warner Bros. may have made the right move in putting the kibosh on solo superhero movies from their DC stable in favor of a 2013 “Justice League” film. The question is, how many “Green Lantern”s will it take before audiences sour on these films completely?

Holding strong in the second position was last week’s number one, “Super 8.” The buzz-heavy sci-fi film has been earning plaudits from audiences, and with this 50%+ hold, it bucks the trend of the usual genre pictures, crossing over from young boys into a broader demographic. The staying power is especially impressive considering “Lantern” is courting the exact same audience. While “GL” opened almost $20 million better, don’t be surprised to see “Super 8” become a bigger hit.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins” had a much milder debut. This just about falls in line with the recent offerings of former megastar Jim Carrey, who hasn’t had a real out-of-the-box hit since “Bruce Almighty.” Of course, not only is this about perception, but it’s about Carrey’s ego, as people will still gladly plunk down cash to see this faded joker do his tired schtick one more time. He nuked the “Lemony Snicket” franchise with a vain scenery-chewing performance before contributing his unreasonable salary to the all-too-expensive “Fun With Dick And Jane,” a popular film theatrically that nonetheless lost a lot of money. When the budgets dropped, he made an ill-advised decision to believe in the balderdash of “The Number 23” before taking a heinously massive back-end deal for “The Yes Man” that sapped the film of any potential profit. “A Christmas Carol” became Carrey’s twelfth $100 million+ grosser, but, again, the massive price tag meant another money loser.

While this wasn’t exactly an expensive film, when you release a big family film starring an A-Lister in the summer, you’re hoping for double the numbers of the “Penguins” debut. Maybe the season is to fault, as kids would have been more excited about seeing those little critters stumbling about in the colder months. It wasn’t a surprise to hear Carrey talking sequels recently, as he’s extinguished all his goodwill at the studios regarding original projects. If this has legs and somehow stumbles to a nine figure final gross then you can bet it will begin rebranding Carrey as a less-caring Eddie Murphy, but most likely “Cars 2” will strike the deathblow next week.

“X-Men” hung on in the top five, though it’s clear this one has already reached its core audience. With their ersatz marketing, Fox seemed certain this would be the lowest grossing of the X-films, and while it’s caught on a bit overseas, globally it’s behind even the original film eleven years ago. If Fox spent $120 million on this as it has been rumored (Fox claims $160 million, but that seems a little screwy), then they hope for big DVD sales, and this works as a transition into a new slate of X-pictures. An expensive way to wipe the taste of “Wolverine” out of everyone’s mouths, but it works.

The Hangover Part II” looks dunzo at around $250 million, though it’s the highest grossing picture of 2011. Meanwhile, “Kung Fu Panda 2” might be a franchise killer even at $160 million domestic. The encouraging idea behind a film like “Kung Fu Panda 2” underperforming but not loudly flopping (overseas audiences are eating this up) is that you don’t kill the franchise as much as you transition it. You make less, but you spend far far less if this stops being a series of movies and starts being a series of cartoons, video games and toys. And hey, then Dreamworks doesn’t have to tolerate Jack Black any longer.

Bridesmaids” only lost a quarter of its audience again and will finish at “Knocked Up” numbers, while “Pirates Of The Caribbean 4” is a success in America, but internationally one of the top three highest grossing non-American performers. America will surely bring this up at the UN meetings. “Midnight In Paris” lost 10% of its audience as it moved into more than a thousand screens, and while it’s no longer doing the arthouse blockbuster numbers from its debut, the film easily crossed $20 million, with plenty more coming overseas.

Did you know “The Art Of Getting By” was opening on over six hundred screens this weekend? Clearly you didn’t. The apathetically-titled indie grabbed a tepid $700k at 610 disaffected, dispassionate locations. It couldn’t best reigning indie champ “The Tree Of Life,” which grabbed a muscular $1.1 million on 114 screens for a strong $9k average after a month of release.

Also opening in limited release were the docs “Buck,” “Jig” and “Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times.” “Jig” grabbed $65k on five screens, but “Buck” and “Page One” were more impressive. “Buck” grabbed $64k for a $16k per-screen average, while “Page One” was at $33k on two screens, the $16.5k per-screen registering as the best average of the week. Neither matched a couple of strong holdovers, as “Beginners” has quietly grossed a little under a million in three weeks of release, scoring $355k at 44 locations. Meanwhile “The Trip” expanded onto thirty screens for $189k and a $6k per-screen average in week two. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.

1. Superheroes. Again. (Warner Bros.) – $52.7 million
2. Super 8 (Paramount) – $21.2 million ($73 mil.)
3. Jim Carrey, Uncaring (Fox) – $18.2 million
4. X-Men: Bringing Laser Fights Into The Cuban Missle Crisis (Fox) – $11.5 million ($120 mil.)
5. Prelude To Rehab Part II (Warner Bros.) – $9.6 million ($233 mil.)
6. Kung Fu Panda 2 (Dreamworks/Paramount) – $8.7 million ($143 mil.)
7. Bridesmaids (Universal) – $7.5 million ($137 mil.)
8. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Fourth Movie In A Series Based On A Theme Park Ride (Disney) – $6.2 million ($220 mil.)
9. Midnight In Paris (Sony) – $5.2 million ($22 mil.)
10. Judy Moody And The Not Bummer Summer (Relativity) – $2.2 million ($11 mil.)

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