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Top Ten Takeaways: Polarizing ‘American Sniper’ Speeds Past $200 Million; Lopez Trounces Depp

Top Ten Takeaways: Polarizing 'American Sniper' Speeds Past $200 Million; Lopez Trounces Depp

It may take female draw “50 Shades of Gray” to displace the male-oriented “American Sniper” from the top spot when the kinky sensation opens February 13, positioned for Valentine’s Day.  “American Sniper”‘s $64 million weekend gross was down only 28%.

Led by these astounding numbers, the Top Ten gross totaled $137 million, 46% ahead of last year and continuing a January surge. It’s early, but the year to date gross is up about 10% from last year, above any year since the “Avatar” phenomenon in early 2010.

The new releases, all positioned to launch ahead of next week’s Super Bowl and not anticipating a juggernaut to compete against, produced only one decent result. Universal thriller “The Boy Next Door” landed second with $15 million, marking returning star Jennifer Lopez’s best leading-role opener in a decade (since “Monster-in-Law”). Lionsgate’s “Mortdecai,” a Johnny Depp comedy with Gwyneth Paltrow, totally fizzled, while Buena Vista’s release of Lucasfilm’s animated “Strange Land” is a rare cartoon misfire handled by Disney.

The Top Ten

1) American Sniper (Warner Bros.) Week 5 – Last weekend #1
$64,365,000 (-28%) in 3,705 theaters (+150); PSA (per screen average): $17,372; Cumulative: $200,137,000
2) The Boy Next Door (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: D+; Metacritic: 31; est. budget: $4 million
$15,001,000 in 2,602 theaters; PSA: $5,765; Cumulative: $15,001,000
3) Paddington (Weinstein) Week 2 – Last weekend #3
$12,391,000 (-35%) in 3,355 theaters (+52); PSA: $3,693; Cumulative: $40,062,000
4) The Wedding Ringer (Sony) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$11,600,000 (-44%) in 3,003 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $3,863; Cumulative: $39,677,000
5) Taken 3 (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #4
$7,600,000 (-48%) in 2,909 theaters (-685); PSA: $2,613; Cumulative: $76,051,000
6) The Imitation Game (Weinstein) Week 9 – Last weekend #6
$7,136,000 (+5%) in 2,025 theaters (+414);  PSA: $3,524; Cumulative: $60,642,000
7) Strange Magic (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemacore: B-; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 25; est. budget: unknown
$5,534,000 in 3,020 theaters; PSA: $1,832; Cumulative: $5,534,000
8) Selma (Paramount) Week 5 – Last weekend #5
$5,500,000 (-37%) in 2,046 theaters (-189); PSA: $2,688; Cumulative: $39,200,000
9) Mortdecai (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Criticwire; D Metacritic: 27; est. budget: $60 million
$4,125,000 in 2,648 theaters; PSA: $1,558,000; Cumulative: $4,125,000
10) Into the Woods (Buena Vista) Week 5 – Last weekend #7
$3,886,000 (-43%) in 2,270 theaters (-488); PSA: $; Cumulative: $121,494,000

The Takeaways

‘American Sniper’ Provokes Polarizing Political Battle Lines

Bill Maher is the latest media figure to enter the fray surrounding Clint Eastwood’s break out hit. Angry denunciations by a public figures may be aiding the film by increasing awareness and sparking some backlash. But the film’s consistent huge numbers, across the board draw and favorable reaction are the main factors pushing this to greater success.

Where is it headed? At this point, it seems likely to end up the top grosser among all 2014 releases (it needs only $140 million more) and might even get as high as $400 million – which with only under $2 million coming from last year would mean this should rank among the top 2015 grossers as well. And all this without the boost of 3D which enhances many top-grossers.

The drop of 28% is the smallest ever for the second weekend of any film other than those playing over a holiday (and “Sniper” was boosted last week by the long weekend). This marks the third largest January weekend ever, following only its own record last week and “Avatar” over New Year’s. One comparison is “The Passion of the Christ” in early 2004. That film, also with strong heartland appeal (although drawing more minorities and fewer upscale urbanites) dropped 36% its second weekend. At that point it had amassed $213 million, boosted by a first two day pre-weekend total of $42 million.

Compared to other Eastwood-directed films, “Sniper” is already, even inflation adjusted, only a day away from besting “The Unforgiven” as the biggest (his biggest hit as an actor, “Every Which Way But Loose,” computes to just over $300 million). All credit is due to Warner Bros., which since “Dirty Harry” in 1971, has released most of his films either as an actor and/or director, a successful collaboration unparalleled in the history of American film this side of Disney and Mickey Mouse. “Sniper” has passed “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook” among Bradley Cooper’s hits, and soon will surpass both of “The Hangover” comedies (all these domestic comparisons – “Sniper”‘s overseas appeal will be less, though still substantial based on initial limited dates.)

What to expect next? Another round of media discussion, for sure. Eastwood himself has been speaking out, insisting at a luncheon yesterday that this is an anti-war film focusing on the damage done to those who fight. And of course it is an Oscar competitor. Significantly, on a weekend when several lower-grossing contenders bought large ads in both New York and Los Angeles theaters, this had no ad space buy to attract Academy members, with Warners deciding they don’t need to spend the money to attract even the older audience. Its chances of wins remain unclear, though it could be competitive in each of its six categories (ironically, more diversity in recent membership could decrease its chances as the group becomes somewhat younger, less white and less male). Eastwood’s similar “Letters from Iwo Jima” with only a small fraction of the gross managed a Sound Mixing win, likely here. The Academy is grateful that they have at least one huge hit to draw voters on Oscar night. 

Latinos and Women Boosted “The Boy Next Door

$15 million for Oscar-nominated “Whiplash” producer Jason Blum’s non-horror thriller is the sole standout among the new releases. Its reported low production cost ($4 million, but certainly with early gross participation for Blum’s company and star Jennifer Lopez, and more money spent on marketing) mean it likely ends up in profit. It turned out to be the perfect counter-programmed entry — per Universal, its audience was a staggering 71% female, 45% Latino (only 33% white) and strangely 51% over 30 (the young audience remains elusive).

Our review of last year’s studio performance pointed out that Universal, after several expensive flops in preceding years, boosted its showing by having no film costing more than $70 million, very low by current industry standards. Blumhouse Productions is no small part of their recent success with two “Purge” films and “Ouija” providing decent profits. Among these films, “Boy” had the smallest opening (the next lowest $19.8 million), so it’s basically a decent showing, but short of an unexpectedly good hold plus big foreign numbers (many of the company’s films do less overseas than at home), not a major money maker. Still, once again, a female base saved the day and responded to marketing aimed at them, but not enough to make up for the major losses from the studio’s “Blackhat.”

They Once Were Giants

The other debuts weren’t expected to be standout, but the terrible response to both “Mortdecai” (Lionsgate) and “Strange Magic” (Buena Vista) takes some of the glow off of an otherwise strong weekend. And both involved big names, two one-time giants with more appeal than the director/star tandem behind last week’s flop “Blackhat” (Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller starring Chris Hemsworth managed only $3.9 million last weekend and fell to 15th).

“Mortdecai” was a personal project of Johnny Depp, who has mixed eclectic, off-beat films like “The Rum Diary,” “Transcendence” and “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnussus” among his “Pirates” blockbusters. He is coming off a strong cameo in the ensemble musical hit “Into the Woods.” This curious England-based comedy might not lose as much as the higher-budgeted “The Lone Ranger” (which on Depp’s appeal did make it to $260 million), but it’s still a total bust. He might be able to continue to indulge his whims, but they likely will need to be on a much lower budget. Director David Koepp made the edgy “Premium Rush” recently and has written many blockbusters (including “Jurassic Park” and the first “Spider-Man”), but nothing seems to have worked this time.

George Lucas, now out of the “Star Wars” world, but he is still releasing other projects through Lucasfilm’s Disney deal, and “Strange Magic,” a computer animated film, on paper appeared to be a perfect match. It didn’t work out that way. Only given this release date two months ago (which suggested it had limited appeal), this might be his biggest flop as a producer since “Howard the Duck.” The budget hasn’t been revealed, but it has been in production for many years. Its melange of Shakespeare (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” feel), pop music, “Avatar”-like animal kingdom story (written by Lucas) seems to have totally lacked much appeal to kids (competing against “Paddington”) and not even the combination of Disney and Lucas could provide more than a $5 million initial gross.

“The Imitation Game” is the Real Deal

A look at the overall box office totals shows three Best Picture nominees in the Top Ten, five in the top 16, and another just under the top 20 (two others are already on DVD). And of course “American Sniper” is in a league of its own. But a combination of smart timing in its release, careful expansion and clear great audience appeal has propelled “The Imitation Game” way above the rest of the Oscar field.

While long playing “Birdman,” “The Theory of Everything” and Best Actress-nominated “Wild” have now all passed $29 million, and “Selma” more impressively is up to $40 million, even if they score major wins, none is likely to come close to what Weinstein’s “Imitation Game” is headed for. This week it hit 2,000 theaters for the first time, placed sixth, went up slightly, and passed $60 million.

“The King’s Speech” at the same point (nearly exactly the same time and playoff) had reached $57 million. That film with its multiple top Oscar wins got to $135 million (about $20 million post-awards). This is not the favorite in any category (though certainly competitive), so it isn’t likely to reach that level. But it clearly will easily pass $100 million, which none of its other competitors (other than “Sniper”) seems to have a chance of doing. In reality, this makes “Birdman” — very much in the thick of several races — look puny in comparison (that film is also behind “12 Years a Slave” last year as well as “Grand Budapest Hotel,” all three from Fox Searchlight). “Birdman”‘s DVD release date hasn’t been announced, but the film will be done with its theatrical run, irrespective of any wins, while “Imitation” is still thriving in theaters. “Birdman”‘s earlier release date is one reason, but “The Imitation Game” plays better for audiences. 

Holdover Recap

— “Paddington” (Weinstein) was down 35% from last weekend and already is up to $40 million. Successful family films often hold this well or better. The quite similar “Babe” two decades ago dropped only 23% its second week, and never in its entire run more than 30%. This clearly looks like a big success, but not as breakout as seemed possible last weekend.
— “The Wedding Ringer” (Sony) dropped 44%, held slightly better than the bigger initial grossing “Ride Along” last year. It looks headed for around $60 million domestically with not a lot more foreign, so it could recoup but doesn’t look like a major money maker.
— “Taken 3” (20th Century Fox) dropped 48% in its third weekend, has reached $76 million and triple that total worldwide. A hit despite the domestic decline, and if Liam Neeson is willing, likely not the last in the series.
— “Selma” (Paramount) is down 37% (and lost some theaters already), but is approaching a very respectable $40 million already and should get to $60 million, a stellar accomplishment considering its little known director and cast even if not the breakout many hoped for.
— “Into the Woods” (Buena Vista) is losing steam, but should end up around $130 million domestic and more than double that worldwide, and helped by a thrifty $50 million production cost, something of a surprise success.

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