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Top Ten Takeaways: What Went Wrong with ‘The Giver’ & ‘Expendables 3,’ Surprise Genre Gains Popularity

Top Ten Takeaways: What Went Wrong with 'The Giver' & 'Expendables 3,' Surprise Genre Gains Popularity

The surprising late summer box office uptick, due to two unusually strong late summer hits, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxyand Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” proved short-lived. They still lead this this week’s Top Ten, which came in at about $125 million, up slightly from $123 million last year. “Mutant” is only the third picture this summer to repeat at number one, after “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

“Mutants”‘s drop, though sizable from its strong start, was in line with most top hits’ second weekend this summer, which have been larger than average compared to past years. “Guardians” meanwhile had an impressive hold — down only 41% and primed to hold for several more weeks and ultimately take the crown for top domestic 2014 grosser (competing with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” later this year). Also holding quite well (down only 35%) was older-appeal “The Hundred-Foot Journey” (Buena Vista), which is headed toward a decent total. Its food and restaurant-centric story is reminiscent of “Chef,” just now wrapping up a four-month run at around $30 million. Another foodie comedy is this week’s best specialized opener, “A Trip to Italy” (IFC). (See specialty box office details in Arthouse Audit).

Less impressive are three new wide releases. The unheralded cop comedy “Let’s Be Cops” (20th Century Fox) led the pack at $17.7 million, with an $8.5 million additional gross from its Wednesday opening. It bested the disappointing, much more expensive The Expendables 3” (Lionsgate), which for a variety of reasons fell short of predictions. Also below its anticipated level was the young adult dystopian adaptation The Giver(Weinstein), which may have proved too similar to”The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.”

The Top Ten Chart:

1. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (Week 2) – Last weekend #1
$28,400,000 (-57%) in 3,980 theaters (+135); PSA (per screen average): $7,136; Cumulative: $117,642,000
2. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Week 3) – Last weekend #2
$24,735,000 (-41%) in 3,697 theaters (-391); PSA: $6,691; Cumulative: $222,281,000
3. “Let’s Be Cops” (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 27; Estimated cost: $17 million
$17,700,000 in 3,094 theaters; PSA: $5,721; Cumulative: $26,107,000
4. “The Expendables 3” (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 35; Estimated cost: $80-100 million
$16,200,000 in 3,221 theaters; PSA: $5,029; Cumulative: $16,200,000
5. “The Giver” (Weinstein) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 46; Estimated cost: $20-30 million
$12,760,000 in 3,003 theaters; PSA: $4,249; Cumulative: $12,760,000
6. “Into the Storm” (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #3
$7,720,000 (-55%) in 3,424 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,248; Cumulative: $31,341,000
7. “The Hundred-Foot Journey” (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #4
$7,109,000 (-35%) in 2,043 theaters (+20); PSA: $3,480; Cumulative: $23,619,000
8. “Lucy” (Universal) Week 4 – Last weekend #5
$5,317,000 (-44%) in 2,520 theaters (-627); PSA: $2,110; Cumulative: $107,537,000
9. “Step Up All In” (Lionsgate) Week 2 – Last weekend #6
$2,700,000 (-58%) in 2,072 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $1,303; Cumulative: $11,849,000
10. “Boyhood” (IFC) Week 6 – Last weekend #13
$2,150,000 (+9%) in 771 theaters (+265); PSA: $2,789; Cumulative: $13,801,000

Three Takeaways:

1. Why didn’t Weinstein Co’s ‘The Giver’ pop? 

This weekend with “The Giver” and next with “Sin City: A Dame to Die For,” the Weinstein Company has returned from an extended hiatus (since “Vampire Academy” in February) for wide openings, an unusual six-month gap. This resulted in a huge drop in their market share and revenues (1.3% through last Thursday compared to 4.5% for 2013) and $90 million so far in 2014, compared to almost $500 million for all of 2013. The decision to release “Snowpiercer,” potentially a $50 million grossing film, on video on demand two weeks after its theatrical release had a negative impact on market share. Long term that might turn out to be a crucial turning point, but short term it took a potential hit away from their distribution side. 

“The Giver” has the feel of a quality Weinstein effort, from experienced director (Philip Noyce, studio helmer of “Clear and Present Danger” and “Salt,” but also Miramax’s “The Quiet American” and “Rabbit-Proof Fence”), who delivered an elegantly mounted film, to recent Weinstein cast regular Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”). No company maximizes awards/review-driven older audience films better than Weinstein. Perhaps coming too late to the dystopian young adult party after “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” the film failed to connect to its large potential audience. Several key changes to the book had an effect as well; they aged up their leading man, added a romance, and turned Streep’s Chief elder into a standard-issue villain. With mediocre reviews, the film didn’t pull adults either. 

Ironically, the Weinstein target demo is flocking to Disney’s “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” directed by Weinstein veteran Lasse Hallstrom and starring Weinstein fave Helen Mirren.  

On the other hand, “The Giver” will by the end of the week surpass the more limited “Begin Again,” which has grossed $14.4 million as TWC’s top 2014 release, and “Sin City” could best both. And both should equal or outgross “August: Osage County,” which took in most of its $37.8 million this year in a slower rollout. But this is a company with five films 2013 releases passing $30 million (led by “The Butler,” released exactly a year ago at $116 million) and of course the huge hits “Django Unchained” and “Silver Linings Playbook” the year before. So this is a rough patch.  

2. The Police Comedy Trend

Police comedies have always been popular on TV, from “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Car 54 Where Are You?” and “Barney Miller” to more recent “Reno 911.” In movies, back in the ’20s saw The Keystone Cops, and the 80s brought “Beverly Hills Cop” and the “Police Academy” series. Lately though, they’re a burgeoning genre, from “Paul Blart – Mall Cop,” and “The Heat” to “Kick Ass,” the two “Ride Along” films and the “Jump Street” entries.

This week’s surprise was the $17 million “Let’s Be Cops,” featuring an unproven cast  (“The New Girls” co-stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr.). And it comes at a time when police/community interaction doesn’t exactly make for a funny subject. Often comedy offers an outlet to relieve fear and pressure, so perhaps this helps to explain this weekend’s response. (Of note from Fox’s audience surveys is that attendees were only 20% African-American, below average for most successful movies, more so one boasting a prominent black leading man.) Expect to see more of this genre in the production pipeline. They tend to be review-resistant (although “22 Jump Street” was well-received) and are relatively cheap to make. 

3. Lionsgate disappoints with two recent franchise films

Though all the top companies are in the franchise creation and extending business, no company has gained as much by its attention to this core business practice than Lionsgate, which has seen its market share annually hover around 10% of the domestic total after in earlier years falling under 5% annually. And this has come with a focus on creating and sustaining series. Eight of their top ten and 20 of their 30 all time biggest-grossing films come from films that started off as anticipated series and their sequels (more if one includes “Enders Game,” which will likely not be continued).

What has been crucial to this success is how most of these films — a wide group that includes “The Hunger Games,” various Tyler Perry films, the “Saw” series, two “Red” films and the final Summit “Twilight” films — have benefited from smart moves to keep each of them alive with tweaking and new elements while still providing the central elements that drew audiences in the first place.

So what to make of the disappointing starts for “The Expendables 3” and the fifth “Step Up” films, all by large margins the weakest in their respective histories? And now only weakest, but big drops — this “Expendables” did just over $16 million this weekend, compared to earlier openings of $34 and 28 million; the current “Step Up” heading to maybe $15 million while earlier films grossed between $35 and $68 million.

In the case of “Expendables” the answer possibly lies in its production roots. Avi Lerner’s international-market influenced Millennium Films (which sometimes releases its product, but often enters into distribution deals with others) has produced the series and played the key role in decisions. The can-you-top-this cast here seems to have been created for maximum foreign appeal, where the top names (Stallone, Ford, Schwarzenegger, Gibson) aren’t as stale as they might be to domestic audiences, with other stars from other regions having specific appeal elsewhere. Meantime, having ten actors all of whom have been leads in major hits at one time or another in film or TV didn’t seem to have big appeal. Finally, the success of this film will be determined outside the U.S.. Two other factors — an PG13 rating this time after R previously, and the widespread illegal availability of an online pirated copy — may have had an impact, but hardly to the degree this fall off indicates.

As for “Step Up All In,” this just seems tired after five entries, and has also not had the carry over of creative players, actors and story lines that a successful series usually demands. It also has come to Lionsgate only for the last two films, previously having been released by Buena Vista in partnership with Summit.

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