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‘Ender’s Game’ Tops Weekend, ‘Last Vegas’ Lures Adults, ‘Bad Grandpa’ Holds Tight

'Ender's Game' Tops Weekend, 'Last Vegas' Lures Adults, 'Bad Grandpa' Holds Tight

November got off to a string start as a stronger than expected Saturday boosted the weekend box office. Three openers grossed $16 million or better for the first time since mid-August, and last week’s #1, “Bad Grandpa,” enjoyed a great hold. The top 10 scored $115 million, down from $119 last year (which boasted “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Flight”). The fall season is looking up after a disappointing October (despite “Gravity”) as two massive openings are coming in the next weeks (“Thor: The Dark World” next Friday and “Catching Fire” on 11/22) which should spread business through varying demographics.

Audiences flocked to “Ender’s Game,” (Lionsgate/Summit), “Last Vegas” (CBS) and “Free Birds” (Relativity), although they carried a range of budgets (“Vegas,” the least expensive, looks to have the easier path to profit). Their strongest competition is yet to come — “Thor” started opening around the world last weekend, and has already taken in over $100 million in foreign revenues, while “Catching Fire” is expected to be a massive domestic hit. 

1. Ender’s Game (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 51

$28,000,000 in 3,407 screens; PSA (per screen average): $8,218; Cumulative: $28,000,000

This is a reasonable gross considering the cast and lack of awareness of the 1980s futuristic sci-fi novel from Scott Orson Card.  Summit Entertainment (now merged with Lionsgate), which was seeking to replace the “Twilight” series, partnered with Odd Lot and VFX house Digital Domain to produce this $110 million venture–and that’s before global marketing costs. The movie may not recoup. 

The project credits a staggering eight producers, but the main driving force was Odd Lot’s Gigi Pritzker (“Drive,” “The Spirit”) who nurtured this for a decade after it gestated for a long time at Warners. Gavin Hood, the South African director of “Tsotsi” and “Rendition” came on board after he made “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (worldwide gross $373 million). The leads skew young, with ‘True Grit”s Hailee Steinfeld and ‘Hugo”s Asa Butterfield joining veterans Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, and Ben Kingsley.

Despite the success of the “Twilight” series and “Hunger Games,” the teen-character market is tricky and demands an intensity of interest from a younger demographic. Audience surveys actually indicate that this had a majority of attendees over 25. International started slowly, with last week’s U.K. release only landing in at #5.

What comes next: “Thor: The Dark World” will provide major competition next weekend, so this is going to need good word of mouth to be able to compete, and “Catching Fire” over Thanksgiving also will prove tough. Much better international results will be needed to make this a success.

2. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Paramount) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$20,500,000 (-%) in 3,345 screens (+9); PSA: $6,129; Cumulative: $62,058,000

An outstanding second week hold for this latest “Jackass” entry, falling far less than any of the three previous films. This huge success in relation to cost ($15 million) is shaping up to be one of the biggest studio successes of the year, with an $100 million domestic total looking easy now. The word of mouth is leading to repeat business.

What comes next: This is a real shot in the arm for this franchise just at the point where it might have been expected to fade away.

3. Last Vegas (CBS) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 48

$16,520,000 in 3,065 screens; PSA: $5,390; Cumulative: $16,250,000

The fall focus on older characters continues, as this “Hangover” for
the Medicare set scored a big jump on Saturday to yield a modestly
upbeat opening with the chance of real success if it hangs on. This
adult-skewed comedy stands a chance as decent counter-programming to
action sequels in the next few weeks. With a majority (83%) of 25 and
older ticket buyers– and less than stellar reviews–this initial
reaction is a credit to CBS Films’ marketing team. The Cinemascore
suggests a better audience reaction than critics. With a reasonable $28
million production cost, an original comedy, as proven by “Bad Grandpa,”
“We’re the Millers” and “The Heat,” is always in demand.

ensemble cast of five Oscars winners (Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman,
Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Mary Steenburgen) combined aided its
credibility. Director Jon Turteltaub’s nine previous films–all made at
Disney– have grossed over $1 billion domestically (including “While You
Were Sleeping” and the two “National Treasure” entries). His Disney run
came to an end with the failure of “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The “Last
Vegas” writer was Dan Fogelman, who came out of animation (“Cars,”
“Bolt,” “Tangled”) before making an impact in comedies (“Crazy Stupid
Love,” “Guilt Trip.”) This looks like a positive transition for both of
these filmmakers, a rare case of veterans moving somewhat outside their
past comfort zones.

What comes next: Should this maintain a decent hold through the lucrative Thanksgiving period.

4. Free Birds (Relativity) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 38

$16,200,000 in 3,736 screens; PSA: $4,336; Cumulative: $16,200,000

The first entry from Relativity’s partnership with Reel FX Animation cost $55 million, not wildly expensive for 3-D animation. This initial gross is not bad for an original (not pre-sold) Thanksgiving holiday story about turkeys at risk. This has a long way to go before it becomes a success, but its A- Cinemascore should help.

Director Jimmy Hayward had a major hit with “Horton Hears a Who” for Fox in 2008 ($154 million) before flopping with “Jonah Hex” two years later. Producer Scott Mosier has been known mainly for producing Kevin Smith’a oeuvre through “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.”

What comes next: Relativity has only “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” as competition for young kids until Disney’s “Frozen” comes the day before Thanksgiving. That should give this feature a shot at accumulating a significantly higher total before then and then still hanging on through the holidays.

5. Gravity (Warner Bros.) Week 5 – Last weekend #2

$13,130,000 (-36%) in 3,024 screens (-683); PSA: $4,342; Cumulative: $219,196,000

The biggest drop for the fall’s biggest hit so far came in part because of the loss of most of its IMAX screens to “Ender’s Game” as well as the beginning of attrition from small-town/lower-grossing theaters. In its 5th weekend “Gravity” still pulled a larger gross than many of the season’s films’ openings. Worldwide after this weekend should be over $400 million with a handful of major territories yet to come.

What comes next: Though upcoming weeks feature tough competition, this should manage to hold many key theaters through the lucrative Thanksgiving period.

6. Captain Phillips (Sony) Week 4 – Last weekend #3

$8,500,000 (-27%) in 3,021 screens (-122); PSA: $2,814; Cumulative: $82,551,000

An excellent hold for Paul Greengrass’s Somali pirate thriller, which now looks to blast past $100 million domestic by some distance and outgross such previous Sony late year awards contenders as “The Social Network” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”

What comes next: This also will benefit from upcoming holiday playdates.

7. 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight) Week 3 – Last weekend #8

$4,600,000 (+116%) in 410 screens (+287); PSA: $11,200; Cumulative: $8,760,000

The screen count nearly tripled this weekend, and showed continued ongoing success for Steve McQueen’s compelling drama that is getting an audience reaction similar to its rapturous critical response. The drama still lags behind the performance of “Precious” (which had a PSA of $17,300 in 659 theaters its third week) as well as “The Descendants” (which did $18,835 when it expanded to 390 theaters on its second weekend, which was Thanksgiving).

The important news for Searchlight is that although the toughness of the subject may have deterred some audiences, at this point it is clear that word of mouth has been strong enough to encourage reluctant moviegoers to see this. The “Precious” comparison, though still valid, is beginning to look less than the whole story. (That film did most of its gross in its first few weeks.) Despite both films having significant awards potential, ultimately “12 Years” looks like it is heading to a much higher level of potential wins. It also, on a lesser scale but still similar to last year’s “Lincoln,” seems to be resonating with a part of the public eager to explore the past, as difficult as some of it may be to watch. All this suggests that the measured aggressive release of the film so far is working, and the ultimate gross — playing across the country in some form from now through February — could achieve a significantly higher gross, potentially above what both “Precious” and the Best Picture winning “The Artist” achieved ($47 and $44 million respectively.)

What comes next: This will more than double its theaters to close to 1,000 this weekend, reaching nearly every market in the country.

8. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Sony) Week 6 – Last weekend #5

$4,200,000 (-33%) in 2,430 screens (-681); PSA: $1,728; Cumulative: $106,195,000

A surprisingly strong hold while losing a quarter of its dates and facing a new animated film in the market, “Cloudy 2” now looks like it will get unexpectedly close to the first entry’s domestic total of $124 million, with a $20 million+ reduction in cost.

What comes next: With international and kids’ films still lucrative in the post-theatrical market, this will join “Captain Phillips” as Sony’s second success story of the full.

9. Carrie (Sony) Week 3 – Last weekend #6

$3,400,000 (-43%) in 2,252 screens (-905); $1,510; Cumulative: $31,973,000

This actually held a bit better than expected, particularly with the big reduction in theaters, which suggests that it actually had better word of mouth than initially thought. It’s too late to give this hit status domestically but a curious wrinkle later in the run.

What comes next: Foreign is just beginning to open, which might open the door to break-even status.

10. The Counselor (20th Century-Fox) Week 2 – Last weekend #4

$3,250,000 (-59%) in 3,044 screens (unchanged); PSA: $1,068; Cumulative: $13,638,000

A big drop after its bad opening as Ridley Scott’s film quickly fades after some promising expectations.

What comes next: The rest of the world — most of yet has yet to open — will need a totally different result to turn this relatively inexpensive production into a success.

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