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Top Ten Box Office Takeaways, as Action Star Scarlett Johannson in ‘Lucy’ Lays Out The Rock in ‘Hercules’

Top Ten Box Office Takeaways, as Action Star Scarlett Johannson in 'Lucy' Lays Out The Rock in 'Hercules'

Two new openings led by Number One Grosser “Lucy” stood out among this weekend’s Top 10 grosses. But this fresh new blood wasn’t enough to staunch the overall ongoing box office bleeding. The leading films grossed around $130 million, another significant shortfall ($22 million) from the same time last year. The year to date total now is almost 7% below 2013, and even worse, behind every year since 2008.

Adding to these concerns, both of the top two films (“Hercules” came in second) fell Saturday from their opening day totals, suggesting neither will hold any better than most of the summer’s top films. This remains one of the biggest factors in overall box office decline, along with a lack of repeat business. 

Top 10 Grosses:

1. “Lucy” (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: C-; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 60; Est. production budget: $40 million
    $44,025,000 in 3,173 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $13,875; Cumulative: $44,025,000
2. “Hercules” (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 46; Est. production budget: $100 million
    $29,000,000 in 3,595 theaters; PSA: $8,067; Cumulative: $29,000,000
3. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #1
    $16,400,000 (-55%) in 3,668 theaters (-301); PSA: $4,471; Cumulative: $172,089,000
4. “The Purge: Anarchy” (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
    $9,896,000 (-67%) in 2,856 theaters (+51); PSA: $3,465; Cumulative: $51,272,000
5. “Planes: Fire and Rescue” (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #3
    $9,303,000 (-47%) in 3,839 theaters (+13); PSA: $2,423; Cumulative: $35,121,000
6. “Sex Tape” (Sony) Week 2 – Last weekend #4
    $5,975,000 (-59%) in 3,062 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $1,951; Cumulative: $26,877,000
7. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (Paramount) Week 5 – Last weekend #5
    $4,600,000 (-53%) in 2,476 theaters (-748); PSA: $1,858; Cumulative: $236,352,000
8. “And So It Goes” (Clarius) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 39; Est. production budget: $30 million
    $4,552,000 in 1,762 theaters; PSA: $2,583; Cumulative: $4,552,000
9. “Tammy” (Warner Bros.) Week 6 – Last weekend #4
    $3,400,000 (-54%) in 2,562 theaters (-840); PSA: $1,537; Cumulative: $78,147,000
10. “A Most Wanted Man” (Roadside Attractions) NEW – Criticwire: B+, Metacritic: 74; Budget & acquisition price unknown
    $2,717,000 in 361 theaters; PSA: $7,526; Cumulative: $2,717,000

This week’s takeaways

1. Vive La Femme “Lucy”
If moviegoers were asked, most in this country at least would describe “Lucy” as an American film. Actually, it is nearly entirely French. It comes from French director/producer Luc Besson, financed and (except for some Taiwan locations) shot in France with a French crew. Shot in today’s lingua franca, English, the film will be dubbed in many countries. Besson has become a major international force as a producer, including impressive U.S. showings led by the “Taken” series, but also with “Brick Mansions,” “The Family,” “Three Days to Kill,” “Columbiana” and the “Transporters” films, all of which star American actors but are French films.

Besson was a leader in internationalizing French high-gloss action films as far back as “The Professional” (AKA”Leon”) in 1994, starring youthful Natalie Portman as a hitwoman. But unlike his American action/genre counterparts (two of whom, Brett Ratner and Michael Bay, also rank in the Top 10 this weekend), Besson does not fear female leads, featuring them in such films as his breakout, “Nikita” (retitled “La Femme Nikita” in the U.S. by Goldwyn, fearing American audiences would think it was a Khruschev biopic), “The Fifth Element” and “Angel-A,” but also his biopics “The Messenger” and “The Lady.” So it is no surprise that, in a year when one of the few bright developments has been the ascension of female-led hits, a Besson-directed entry also ends up one of the top openers among them.

Since October, a raft of films (all but one outside the female romantic and/or comedy ghetto), starring Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Shailene Woodley and now Scarlett Johansson all have opened at #1. In 2013 were Melissa McCarthy and Jessica Chastain (in two films). In 2012, by comparison, only Lawrence and Kristen Stewart (twice) were leads in #1 ranked films. Throw in Rooney Mara and Meryl Streep and that’s at least 11 actresses who can be counted on to open a wide release film.

And what makes these films even more lucrative is that on average, their production costs have been well below many of the tentpole/franchise films that are male-dominated in terms of cast and appeal. “Lucy” is reported to have come in around $40 million.

2. Solid as The Rock?
Speaking of expensive films, Brett Ratner’s “Hercules” (shot in Hungary) reportedly cost $100 million. Justifying this expense was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s proven track record (although he is usually part of an ensemble) in a range of international showings led by the “Fast and Furious” series. One poll listed him as the biggest star in the world for 2013 based on his hits.

But this is the most expensive film with him as the sole major draw. Is he the real deal? The full story won’t be known until it plays out internationally — this grossed around $28 million reported so far in 26 territories, with many top ones like Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan and hopefully China yet to come. But even in domestic terms, it does show his strength.

Why? This is the second Hercules film out this year. Like last year’s “White House Down,” which followed “Olympus Has Fallen,” being second in the market can hurt a film. Lionsgate released “The Legend of Hercules” starring Kellan Lutz in January to an $8.8 opening weekend and an ultimate total of $18.8 million. That release (already on DVD and streaming) has to have cut into the interest in this version, yet it still opened three times bigger. It’s more than double the gross for “Snitch,” the previous best opening for a film built around him as the sole lead. So the evidence is that he earned his hefty paycheck for this.

3. Above Average Falloffs Continue
This weekend last year, only two of eight holdover non-expanding films in the Top 10 dropped more than 50%, and then only barely. Of the six holdovers this weekend, only one dropped less than 50%. And that more than anything is the story of the summer. Despite the top end openings being on average a bit under what they likely would have done last year, a whole range of films with few exceptions have fallen more than they should have, even well-regarded films like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” are outgrossing their predecessors. (When a film’s budget nearly doubles and it gets a better initial reception, doing somewhat better doesn’t exactly negate a sense of being part of an overall slowdown.) But “Dawn,” even with its 54% third weekend drop, is the least of the problems (clearly it will end up as a money-maker).

Here are some other comparisons for same point in release, keeping in mind that sequels are often more expensive than previous films where relevant:

“Hercules” vs “Wrath of the Titans” (Mar 2012 release, both with Greek God characters) – $29  vs 33 million (despite a much bigger star)
“Dawn” vs “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – $172 to $105 (see above)
“The Purge: Anarchy” vs “The Purge” – $51 vs $52 million (last year’s version actually fell much more)
“Planes: Fire and Rescue” vs “Planes” – $35 vs $45 million
“Sex Tape” vs “Bad Teacher” – $27 vs $60 million
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” vs “Dark of the Moon” – $236 vs $338 million
“Tammy” vs “Identity Thief” – $78 vs $123 million
“22 Jump Street” vs “21 Jump Street” – $186 vs $132 million

Even with some positive numbers there, that comes among these eight films a lag of $113 million below films these new projects were likely projected to outgross when greenlit. And that’s a problem.

4. A Veteran Director With a Rookie Company
Rob Reiner has been one of the most commercially success directors across a wide range of genres over a 30 year period. His most recent success, “Bucket List” in 2007 grossed $93 million appealing to older audiences. His most recent film “And So It Goes” (two others since 2007 – “Flipped” and “The Magic of Belle Isle” disappeared with little impact) had been seen as a potential comeback vehicle. Starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, it aimed at the same audience that made “Last Vegas” (also costarring Douglas, who also of course has also gotten recent acclaim for his portrayal of Liberace in HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra”).

This time out he partnered with new distributor Clarius to release the film. That company, formed by various Los Angeles-based agent and film finance veterans, got out of the box weakly with earlier “Legend of Oz.” It’s tough for a new operation, even after hiring longtime industry insiders, to gain a foothold in summer, although the weakness of the current slate improved their chances. The result is disappointing – $4.5 million compared to the $16.3 million opening for “Last Vegas” (the more established CBS managed to get about 1,300 more dates). It’s not impossible for a new distributor to make its mark, although the biggest recent success, Open Road, had the strong edge of being owned by the top two exhibitors. Clarius gets another shot at the market with the thriller “Before I Go to Sleep” with Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth on the much less competitive Sept. 12

5. Limited Releases Have an Impact
With Roadside Attractions placing in the Top 10 for the first time with “A Most Wanted Man” in only 361 theaters, and IFC’s “Boyhood” only $1 million short while still only in 107 theaters (more analysis here), some other more niche films are bubbling just below the chart.

Open Road, which before “Chef” only released wide, released “The Fluffy Movie,” a comedy concert film with Manny Rodriguez in 432 Latino-audience adjacent theaters for a $1,314,000 gross, an OK performance for this inexpensive film. Among other non-specialized aimed indie films, “America” (Lionsgate), though not holding as well as its creators’ earlier “2016” among right-wing audiences, still added another $875,000 and has now reached $13.2 million. The low-budget fundamentalist-as-victims film “Persecuted” (Millennium) however is failing to replicate the success of the similar “God’s Not Dead” earlier this year (which remains the year’s top indie film, outgrossing even “Grand Budapest Hotel”). It dropped 78% from its weak opening, taking in only $181,000 with a $1,450,000 total.

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