Usually, studios will look for any possible reason to blame the weather for a film’s poor box office showing. Heat waves only mean audiences will seek the air conditioning of a theater, at least when something exciting is playing. And people will withstand non-apocalyptic snowstorms simply to get away from the cold while enjoying the blockbuster of their choice. But there aren’t a whole lot of options when almost half of a movie’s proposed locations are under siege by a vicious hurricane. Many large chains didn’t even bother to stay open during Irene’s reign, meaning that these quiet end-of-August releases could find no traction heading into the typically-comatose Labor Day weekend.
“The Help,” which has found traction with Midwestern audiences, saw no downturn in its fortunes from the storm, collecting $14.5 million and approaching $100 million domestic. Like it or not, this impressive late-summer run firmly plants “The Help” in the Oscar race, as it already has the public’s vote in a year short of mass-appeal award contenders. At least until “The Ides Of March” breaks box office records, or the critics stumble over themselves praising “Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.”
Leading a weak pack of newcomers, the Luc Besson-produced “Colombiana” performed about as well as you’d expect from a secondhand actioner released at the end of August during a hurricane. Besson’s name still doesn’t carry the sort of weight bestowed by super producer names like Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson or Albert Pyun, though he’ll have another shot at the “Taken” audience next spring with “Lockout,” and then later with “Taken Again: The Re-Takening.” “Colombiana” carried no appeal beyond “generic actioner” as the trailer essentially spelled the premise as “You Know, It’s That Sort Of Thing.” Expect a strong ancillary life from undemanding customers who, you know, don’t want to stress over things that much.
The anecdotal answer to the C- Cinemascore for “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark” is that audiences generally don’t react to genuinely scary movies, which is why the hermetic funhouse appeal of the “Saw” films allowed that franchise to persevere. The goal of any sharp horror film is to produce a sense of dread and unease in its audience, and it’s this sort of response that turns off the fair-weather filmgoers, keeping the genre in the ghetto. “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark” was going for low-fi, old-school haunted house frights, but a vague advertising campaign and a bad release date suggests a lot of goreheads stayed home, and those that did show up were perplexed by the old-school approach. In other words, no one should have expected a high Cinemascore or gross, though it’s unfortunate that the film should be released on a weekend where it was impossible to find publicity.
The simians stayed in the picture, as “Rise Of The Planet of The Apes” capped weekend four right on the cusp of $150 million. The Foxbuster handily outdistanced the wide release of “Our Idiot Brother,” which The Weinstein Company essentially dumped at the end of summer, with an ad campaign that positioned the film as the slapstick comedy for no one. Even with the hurricane affecting this film moreso than the other big releases, this is a major marketing fumble for the Weinsteins. In kiddie fare, “Spy Kids” barely out-dueled “The Smurfs,” though it took a hefty weekend two tumble and, likely, kills the “Spy Kids” franchise on the big screen, though a Troublemaker Studios intern could easily end up shooting a direct-to-DVD spinoff in the near future. “The Smurfs” continues its unlikely run and should finish in the neighborhood of $140 million, though the global gross is borderline unfair. People really like this garbage, apparently.
“Fright Night” continued to underperform, but it didn’t belly flop quite like “Conan The Barbarian,” however, as the sword-and-sandals actioner lost almost 70% of its tepid first weekend business. Marcus Nispel, we hope you find the accommodations of Director Jail to your liking. Ask if you need a pillow. Meanwhile, “Crazy Stupid Love” remains unkillable at the bottom of the top ten, and next weekend, it could be crossing $80 million domestic
A note about 3D: studios still haven’t figured out exactly how to spread out distribution of 3D screens for their releases. As such, when “Fright Night” and “Conan” laid an egg last weekend, studios made the decision to cut the amount of 2D engagements instead of the pricier screenings. As a result, it was a test to see whether the audiences willing to pay premium would overcompensate for the general lack of interest towards these titles. The hurricane likely makes this weekend inconclusive, but anecdotal evidence suggests 3D is for the birds.
It was a small-scale period for art house releases, particularly considering most of them were located on the coasts. “Circumstance” debuted to $43.5k on seven screens, while “Higher Ground” opened at three locations for a $22.9k take. While most of the other specialty releases were quiet, “Sarah’s Key” and “The Guard” continued to be the big winners, their $636k and $404k takes building their totals to $4 million and $1.8 million, respectively, while documentary “Senna” sported the weekend’s best per-screen average of $8k for a $227k gross at twenty eight locations. Support your local arthouse theaters, boys and girls.
1. Bless You, White Savior (Disney) – $14.3 million ($97 mil.)
2. Colombiana (Sony) – $10.3 million
3. Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark (FilmDistrict) – $8.7 million
4. Rise Of The Damned Dirty Apes (Fox) – $8.7 million ($148 mil.)
5. Our Idiot Brother (Weinstein) – $6.6 million
6. Spy Kids: We Tempted Fate, Didn’t We? (Weinstein) – $5.7 million ($22 mil.)
7. The Smurfs (Sony) – $4.8 million ($126 mil.)
8. Conan The Equestrian (Lionsgate) – $3.1 million ($17 mil.)
9. Fear Evening (Disney) – $3 million ($14 mil.)
10. Sane, Educated Love (Warner Bros.) – $2.9 million ($70 mil.)