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Box Office Takeaways: Top 3 Plummet, ‘The Duff’ and ‘McFarland, U.S.A.’ Show Promise

Box Office Takeaways: Top 3 Plummet, 'The Duff' and 'McFarland, U.S.A.' Show Promise

The Top 10 dropped about $1 million at the weekend box office, a rare shortfall in what has been a robust early 2015.

Last year’s Oscar show arrived a week later, and Sunday’s events may be dampening the numbers, but the top three films saw steep post-holiday drops, especially “Fifty Shades of Grey” (Universal) at 73%. Even so, it repeated at number one, and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (20th Century Fox) and “The SpongeBob Movie” (Paramount) also replicated their positions last weeks.

Three modestly budgeted new wide releases had variable openings, with both “The DUFF” (Lionsgate) and “McFarland, U.S.A.” (Buena Vista) could hold well domestically, although they boast limited international potential. “The Hot Tub Time Machine 2” (Paramount) met with indifference.

The three top films will wind up outgrossing all but one of this year’s Oscar nominees in any of the top categories. Stay tuned for our scorecard on how the Oscar films finally performed. Only two of the Top Ten competed Sunday. To be determined will be the future of the winners. 

The Top Ten

1. Fifty Shades of Grey (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$23,246,000 (-73%) in 3,655 theaters (+9); PSA (per screen average): $6,360; Cumulative: $130,148,000
2. Kingsman: The Secret Service (20th Century Fox) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$17,525,000 (-52%) in 3,266 theaters (+62); PSA: $5,366; Cumulative: $67,106,000
3. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Paramount) Week 3 – Last weekend #3
$15,500,000 (-51%) in 3,680 theaters (+26); PSA: $4,212; Cumulative: $125,172,000
4. McFarland, U.S.A. (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B Metacritic: 60; Est. budget: $25 million
$11,315,000 in 2,755 theaters; PSA: $4,107; Cumulative: $11,305,000
5. The DUFF (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 56; Est. budget: $8 million
$11,025,000 in 2,575 theaters; PSA: $4,282; Cumulative: $11,025,000
6. American Sniper (Warner Bros.) Week 9 – Last weekend: #4
$9,650,000 (-41%) in 3,235 theaters (-201); PSA: $2,983; Cumulative: $319,607,000
7. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: C-; Cinemascore: D; Metacritic: 31; Est. budget: $14 million
$5,800,000 in 2,880 theaters; PSA: $2,014; Cumulative: $5,800,000
8. Jupiter Ascending (Warner Bros.) Week 3 – Last weekend #5
$3,660,000 (-60%) in 2,503 theaters (-678); PSA: $1,462; Cumulative: $39,517,000
9. The Imitation Game (Weinstein) Week 13 – Last weekend #8
$2,565,000 (-26%) in 1,408 theaters (-143); PSA: $1,822; Cumulative: $83,921,000
10. Paddington (Weinstein) Week 6 – Last weekend #7
$2,289,000 (-43%) in 1,837 theaters (-407); PSA: $1,246; Cumulative: $67,661,000

The Takeaways

1. Things are Looking Up for Women in Hollywood

On most Oscar Sundays, the Los Angeles Times runs a Page One movie feature about the film industry. This year they put the spotlight on the lack of women directing studio releases. Certainly this continues to be an embarrassment for the studios, particularly at a time when in the rest of the industry — TV, cable, documentaries — women are thriving (including four winners in top categories at this year’s Directors Guild Awards).

But to take the glass half-full approach, looking at this week’s top new releases, there are signs of progress. In just over four months, five wide release films: “Beyond the Lights,” “Unbroken,” “Selma,” “Fifty Shades of Grey” and now “McFarland, U.S.A.” were directed by women. Two have grossed over $100 million, three so far over $50. Three are totally removed from the romantic genre and have male leads. The three from last year all have at least one Oscar nomination.

And at the end of 2014, two bright new talents making low-budget genre films (Jennifer Kent of “The Babadook” and Ana Lily Amapour of “A Girl Walks Home at Night”) got the kind of attention that usually leads to significantly higher-budget work. Studios basically play a low-risk, follow-the-leader  strategy, but it is possible that the confluence of this recent surge, more than a negative media spotlight, will see a real change in how studios treat women directors.

“The DUFF” was directed by a man, but its creative elements include two producers (along with McG) and a woman as editor. Its audience was 75% female and skewed young, just as the more male oriented “Hot Tub” flopped badly. And “Duff” was driven by social media marketing, often mistakenly considered a largely male domain. (CBS Films, who produced “Duff” and is now releasing through Lionsgate, cites a 95% positive response among the 41,000 citations on ListenFirst).

Plus there’s the huge worldwide play for “Fifty Shades of Gray,” in under two weeks already at $410 million worldwide, which puts it just behind the longer-run “American Sniper.” This is the kind of success that is a game-changer.

[Editor’s note: The movie was nabbed and largely produced by Universal chairman Donna Langley, written by Kelly Marcel and directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, who tussled with author EL James, who wants to write the sequel, and while the director will not continue with the series, Hollywood accords her some credit for the film’s success and is chasing her.] 

2. Kevin Costner vs. Michael Keaton

“McFarland, U.S.A.” is the seventh in a long series of Kevin Costner‘s sports films (“American Flyers,” “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “Tin Cup,” and “Draft Day”). The genre is uneven at the box office, more so these days with the emphasis on international play. In Costner’s recent career rebound after his cable success with “The Hatfields and McCoys,” this one feels like a comfortable fit.

“McFarland” is yet another sports-related family story (“Million Dollar Arm” only reaching $36 million last year). Its appeal and marketing were heavily aimed at the large domestic Latino audience. It tells the story of a coach who rustles up a rural California cross-country team made up of the children of farm workers. The exit polls show an even split between men and women, and 64% over 25 (26% over 50). Credit Costner for broadening its appeal and giving it a chance to find its audience even if its initial number isn’t spectacular.

Costner, 61, has been around for more than 30 years. This year’s Best Actor nominee Michael Keaton, 63, is enjoying his career high point now with “Birdman” (24 years after Costner’s victories). They both appeared in 1982’s “Night Shift.” Both were major players by the late 1980s, with Keaton an arguably bigger player for a brief period (“Beetlejuice,” the two Tim Burton “Batmans”). Both showed both comedy and dramatic chops.

But Costner, who was a more conventional romantic lead (“The Bodyguard”), capitalized smartly on his massive success as the producer-director-star of Best Picture and Director winner “Dances With Wolves,” while Keaton struggled to maintain his identity as a leading man, and by the late 90s was struggling to find good roles until the huge turnaround with “Birdman.” Looking over their credits, they may have been competing for many of the same roles (Costner would have been credible and slightly more bankable in “Birdman”). But both deserve credit for sustaining long careers, along with 59-year-old Tom Hanks, another star who has balanced comedy and drama.

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