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‘Man of Steel’ Hits Its Marks; ‘This Is the End’ Is Counterprogramming Hit

'Man of Steel' Hits Its Marks; 'This Is the End' Is Counterprogramming Hit

Last week Steven Spielberg predicted that the movie business could soon implode– speaking to film students at USC with George Lucas–should a handful huge-budgeted films flop at the same time. So far, among this summer’s tentpoles, only Sony’s “After Earth” faces a potential loss (full international returns not yet certain).

The second-best opening weekend of the year (and actually since last July), at a $113 million estimate, is exactly where “Man of Steel” should be, despite low-ball estimates prior to the weekend. Films that cost over $200 million are becoming common, and they need to open at the $100 million or better level to be guaranteed hits. Thus the media ballyhoo over “Man of Steel”‘s success feeds into the inexorable studio push to focus on expensive, franchise films as their raison d’etre. Box office pundits leave out the fact that “Man of Steel” HAD to reach $100 million or better or it would be a failure.

No one is lavishing similar praise on the achievement of two standalone, non-franchise releases: “This Is the End” and “Now You See Me” both pulled audiences and competed well against the “Man of Steel” juggernaut. This should be another lesson learned, although it is a tougher one to recreate.

The success of “Man of Steel” brought the total for the top 10 to $195 million, way up from $110 million a year ago. This reduces the gap of the year to date total by a third (2013 now lags by a bit under $200 million, with the summer overall a bit up after a terrible first four months).

1. Man of Steel (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 55

$113,080,000 in 4,207 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $28,879; Cumulative: $125,080,000

Perfectly marketed, playing on built-in audience expectations and with producer Christopher Nolan participating (he worked closely with writer David S. Goyer), anything less than this super-gross would have been a problem.

With 3-D surcharges aiding the total (about 40% of the gross came from these locations), this is a new non-inflation adjusted record gross for a June opening (more tentpoles have delivered in May and July in recent years). Without premium 3-D Nolan’s last two Batman films took in $158-161 million their first weekends; “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3” releases, also 3-D, did $207 and $174 million, significantly more.

Warner Bros. wouldn’t have made this film, with its $225 million budget before marketing expenses, with an anticipated opening gross any less than this. It was risky, after their Bryan Singer-directed “Superman Returns” failed to relaunch the franchise. Nolan’s involvement added a darker tone to the project, and Warners go-to director Zack Snyder (R-rated “300” opened to $70 million in March, while “Watchman” and “Sucker Punch” were disappointments in relation to cost) aimed this mainstream commercial action picture at fanboys, if not critics.

Openings in 24 other territories — most of the major ones still to come — took in around $25 million, #1 for the weekend in all. Superman has never been as big a draw outside the U.S. as other comic-book characters, although Warners has pushed to change that. Unlike other recent blockbusters, international isn’t dominating this story. Upcoming results will go a long way toward knowing what size of a hit this will be, though it looks like a profitable start to a multi-picture enterprise.

What comes next: This is unlikely to best “Iron Man 3” as top 2013 release, but should place in second or even third (look out for “Despicable Me 2”).

2. This Is the End (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 68

$20,500,000 in 3,055 theaters; PSA: $6,710; Cumulative: $32,800,000

In its first five days, this all-star comedy from first-time directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (long time buddies and writing collaborators) has already grossed almost its entire production budget. Rogen and pals James Franco, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Danny McBride and Jay Baruchel (veterans of previous Rogen-starring comedies like “Pineapple Express” and “Super Bad”) all play exaggerated versions of themselves as they face the end of the world at Franco’s Hollywood Hills home. The laugh-fest received better than expected reviews given its raunchy, over-the-top content, and joins “Now You See Me” as a better-than-expected non-franchise entry in the middle of release schedule packed with action and kids movies.

The gross on its own for the weekend isn’t eye-popping (although the solid first two days makes the total so more impressive). The key here will be whether, having gained traction against “Man of Steel” (no easy task with that film grabbing so much attention) it can hold on with word of mouth and push its way towards a $100 million gross. There’s also a question of how much international appeal this will have (this opened first in U.S./Canada, with staggered foreign openings over the next several months; it will likely score the majority of its gross domestically). But in the wake of the disappointing initial grosses for Sony’s four times as expensive “After Earth,” this marks a rebound for the studio.

This is Emma Watson’s second opening of the weekend — she is the lead in Sofia Coppola’s limited opener “Bling Ring.” And after Joss Whedon shot his “Much Ado About Nothing” at his house, setting this at Franco’s residence suggests, if not a trend, at least a curious same-time coincidence.

What comes next: This is bigger than “The Internship,” last week’s comedy release, and comes two weeks before the more female-centric “The Heat,” so it should have a shot at sustaining a run that could approach $100 million if enough word of mouth continues.

3. Now You See Me (Lionsgate) Week 3 – Last weekend: #3

$10,320,000 (-46%) in 3,082 theaters (+62); PSA: $3,348; Cumulative: $80,009,000

The new openings provided strong competition, but this sleeper magician/caper film managed to hold on well enough to be the top holdover (ahead of two films it trailed last weekend). These excellent numbers are crucial for Lionsgate with the $75 million production cost (before marketing added) and an uncertain international interest (scattered territories have grossed $10 million so far, with most major countries yet to open). Still, this, even more than “This Is the End,” wasn’t projected by most people as a potential $100 million + domestic release, which this now will comfortably achieve.

What comes next: This could hang around the top 10 for the month, crucial for getting its gross to a maximized level in a very competitive market.

4. Fast & Furious 6 (Universal) Week 4 – Last weekend: #2

$9,400,000 (-52%) in 3,375 theaters (-396); PSA: $2,795; Cumulative: $219,600,000

The worldwide total is up to $637 million, best yet for the franchise and positioning this is one of the top films of the year. Universal did a great job of choosing its spot for its release and in particular in its worldwide marketing. It is now dropping quickly at home, but it’s had a great run.

What comes next: Will they keep using numbers for the sequels? Many series have had more entries, but six has been the outer limits for title use. Not a bad dilemma for Universal to be facing.

5. The Purge (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend: #1

$8,200,000 (-76%) in 2,591 theaters (+55); PSA: $3,165; Cumulative: $52,000,000

As expected, this dropped like a rock the second weekend, with the first three days (which came in $2 million+ less than Universal pushed as their estimate) comprising more than half of what this will take in domestically, below normal even for usual for low-budget horror-oriented films.

What comes next: With a $3 million budget, social-media marketing and most foreign markets still ahead, this will provide a nice profit, although back-end participants (Ethan Hawke and other principals included) will take a lot of that. But this shows once again how producers with any sort of experise can drop in any time and get a healthy return in this genre.

6. The Internship (20th Century-Fox) Week 2 – Last weekend: #4

$7,000,000 (-60%) in 3,399 theaters (+33); PSA: $2,059; Cumulative: $30,951,000

A big drop after a soft opening, not a happy result for this $58 million negative cost comedy that will end up one of the lowest grossing from the normally reliable Shawn Levy. “This Is the End”‘s initial response was no help.

What comes next: One more week in the top 10, with foreign returns yet to come, but not guaranteed to rescue this project.

7. Epic (20th Century-Fox) Week 4 – Last weekend: #5

$6,000,000 (-49%) in 3,151 theaters (-443); PSA: $1,904; Cumulative: $95,429,000

Nearing the $100 million mark, with foreign grosses doubling the take so far, this $100 million cost animated film is doing passable business for its cost as it faces significant new competition in the weeks ahead.

What comes next: Both “Monsters University,” which opens next week, and “Despicable Me 2” right after, look to be the two breakout animated films of the summer. So Fox was smart in getting this played off in the spot they did, even if this hasn’t been an overwhelming success.

8. Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount) Week 5 – Last weekend: #6

$5,660,000 (-50%) in 2,331 theaters (-821); PSA: $2,048; Cumulative: $210,491,000

Also nearing the end of its run at a decent domestic total, which will not quite get to the $257 million that J.J. Abrams’ series restart took in, but has still be quite solid. International is a little behind (“Trek” films in the past have had less appeal abroad) with most territories having played (Japan and China are still to come), so the worldwide take should be around $500 million, likely enough to justify when all revenues are counted the expensive $190 million budget.

What comes next: This series might have trouble sustaining itself at this level of budget.

9. After Earth (Sony) Week 3 – Last weekend: #7

$3,750,000 (-65%) in 2,432 theaters (-969); PSA: $1,542; Cumulative: $54,200,000

Over and out after three weeks, with international — not all territories open yet — doing a little better, but likely not close to enough to make up for its $130 million cost + marketing. This will end up only a bit more than $60 million in the U.S./Canada, far below what a Will Smith summer film should do.

What comes next: Smith has “Winter’s Tale,” a more conventional actioner, opening later this year.

10. Iron Man 3 (Buena Vista) Week 7 – Last weekend: #9

$2,908,000 (49-%) in 1,649 theaters (-702); PSA: $1,762; Cumulative: $399,610,000

Making its stand to be the #1 film of the year, which it looks likely to be, particularly in worldwide totals. 

What comes next: Next stop, $400 million.

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