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Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: Will Smith Tests Star ‘Focus,’ ‘Lazarus’ Doesn’t Rise, Oscar Breakdown

Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: Will Smith Tests Star 'Focus,' 'Lazarus' Doesn't Rise, Oscar Breakdown

The Top Ten

1. Focus (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 56; Est. Budget: $50 million
$19,100,000 in 3,323 theaters; PSA (per screen average); $5,748; Cumulative: $19,100,000
2. Kingsman: The Secret Service (20th Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #2
$11,750,000 (-36%) in 3,282 theaters (+16); PSA: $3,580; Cumulative: $85,696,000
3. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Paramount) Week 4 – Last weekend #3
$11,200,000 (-32%) in 3,467 theaters (-213); PSA: $3,230; Cumulative: $140,322,000
4. Fifty Shades of Grey (Universal) Week 3 – Last weekend #1
$10,927,000 (-51%) in 3,383 theaters (-272); PSA: $3,230; Cumulative: $147,764,000
5. The Lazarus Effect (Relativity) NEW – Cinemascore: C-; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 33; Est. Budget: $5 million
$10,600,000 in 2,666 theaters; PSA: $3,976; Cumulative: $10,600,000
6. McFarland, U.S.A. (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #4
$7,797,000 (-29%) in 2,765 theaters (+10); PSA: $2,820 Cumulative: $21,981,000
7. American Sniper (Warner Bros.) Week 10 – Last weekend #6
$7,700,000 (-23%) in 2,914 theaters (-321); PSA: $2,642; Cumulative: $331,108,000
8. The DUFF (Lionsgate) Week 2 – Last weekend #5
$7,150,000 (-34%) in 2,622 theaters (+47); PSA: $2,727; Cumulative: $20,053,000
9. Still Alice (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 7 – Last weekend #11
$ (+24%) in 1,318 theaters (+553); PSA: $2,045; Cumulative: $11,984,000
10. The Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Paramount) Week 2 – Last weekend #7
$2,400,000 (-60%) in 2,901 theaters (+21); PSA: $827; Cumulative: $10,268,000

The Takeaways

No More 2015 BO Surge

The Top Ten came in around $91 million, down about 13% from last year. The increase over 2014, led by the astonishing “American Sniper” but also buttressed by several other bigger-than-expected successes, had reached over 11% – even more impressive because last year started strong before sputtering over the summer. But the market is entering a rough patch. A year ago, two routine openers — “Non-Stop” and “Son of God” — opened to $25 million or better, while the fourth stanza of “The LEGO Movie” reached $20 million. The following weekend featured two even bigger — “300: Rise of an Empire” at $45 million and “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” at $32 million. This weekend boasts nothing over $20 million, a limp Will Smith-starrer and a routine Blumhouse horror entry placing only fifth. This suggests that bread-and-butter items continue to struggle. (Distributors cite weather in the South and Midwest for poor turnout.)

Recent box office strength was due to a broad swath of genres drawing moviegoers outside the standard young male and adjacent demos. “Sniper” picked up older and infrequent moviegoers, “Fifty Shades of Grey” attracted women of all ages, “SpongeBob Squarepants” scored far above expectations with kids and families, and actioner “Kingsman” drew an unexpected broad-based sophisticated audience. What kept this weekend from being even worse was the strength of several of these holdovers (not fast-falling “Fifty Shades”).

We’ll see in the next few weeks if things get back on track, starting with Neill Blomkamp’s robot adventure “Chappies” next week, followed by Disney’s live-action comedy “Cinderella” and Lionsgate sequel “Insurgent,” which is tracking ahead of “Divergent.” But last year saw a strong March and even stronger April, so keeping up the pace could be a challenge.

Why Will Smith Now?

For the first time since the Valentine’s Day release of “Hitch” a decade ago, a Will Smith film opened outside of summer or late year holiday playtime. Take away the “Hitch” date selection, and “The Legend of Bagger Vance” was the last to debut on such a nondescript week. The gross is similar. Only the Christmas releases (when opening grosses often don’t represent the full strength of a film) of “Seven Pounds” and “Ali” brought in less (both more than quadrupled their initial numbers) this century.

Is this bad news for the one-time top dog Smith? Not necessarily. He seems to be the overwhelming reason that audiences showed up for his follow-up to the disastrous sci-fi “After Earth,” so he can still draw. This might be his “The Tourist,” which starred Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and only managed a $16 million opening. But that film — also a romantic international thriller–did 75% of its business overseas (it got to $278 million). And that film was double the budget. Luckily, “Focus” came in at a thrifty reported $50 million (Smith has had several successes at this range of investment), and if it gets to $60 million domestic and doubles that foreign (possible), this will end up in the black.

And Smith’s audience is aging–along with him. Warners reports 88% over 25. In part it’s the film’s stand-alone/character-driven plot, but also, at 46 can’t be depended upon to draw younger audiences.

Is the Blum Off the Horror Rose?

Jason Blum is no one-trick pony. Last Sunday he attended the Oscars as a producer for Oscar-winning “Whiplash.” But his bread and butter is horror, and over recent years he has propelled nine low-budget entries to domestic grosses over $50 million (led by the “Paranormal” and “Insidious” series.) He now hangs his hat at Universal (“Ouija,” two “Purge” films and “The Boy Next Door” so far), but coproductions already in the works are still popping up.

With somewhat older appeal, “The Lazarus Effect,” about scientists bringing the dead back to life, ended up at the low-end of Blumhouse entries (only The Weinstein Co.’s “Dark Skies” grossed less). In context, the gross is ahead of similar recent releases “Seventh Son,” “Project Almanac,” and “The Loft.” And Blum made the flick for $5 million, then sold it domestically to Relativity for a reported $3.3 million plus marketing commitment (the producers then sold foreign for additional earnings). For the distributor, it looks at best like a breakeven recouper. Relativity’s third release this year (they open fewer than ten a year) is a disappointment among their frequent horror entries. As for Blum, let’s see how he fares at Universal. 

What If They Had an Oscars and Nobody Cared?

After the Oscars, one contender alone, “American Sniper,” added $7 million, but it didn’t need the Oscar attention to get that gross. The rest of the Oscar players added over $8 million. 

Fox Searchlight’s “Birdman,” already playing on home platforms, similar to their Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave,” grossed a bit under $2 million, compared to “Slave”‘s $2.1 million in about 150 fewer theaters. The difference is that “Birdman” had bigger potential — through last week it had barely reached $38 million, while “Slave” had earlier taken in $50 million. And unlike last year, “Birdman” was a big Oscar winner. A high-end estimate was that its wins might boost it to $50 million. That’s not happening.

Unencumbered by any home competition, Best Actress winner Julianne Moore’s “Still Alice” (Sony Pictures Classics) has only in the last two weeks crossed over into mainstream theaters. It managed ninth place, and $2.7 million. But its PSA managed to fall $800, and the gross, despite the win and 553 more theaters, managed to climb only 24%. Thoughts that it could have new life and reach $25-30 million now look unrealistic. (This was a low-budget production and SPC’s expense is mainly in the marketing, not cheap but also not high-end because it was never a competitive race.) Last year’s SPC winner in the category “Blue Jasmine,” also mostly specialized, grossed $33 million and was already available on DVD and elsewhere long before the heat of the competition.

Though it now looks unlikely to quite make it to $100 million, Weinstein’s “The Imitation Game” remains a standout, far above all of the other nominees and winners than “Sniper.” It took in another $1.9 million, just under “Birdman” (though it is still a theatrical exclusive) and at $87 million. This is the film that had it won more than its Adapted Screenplay nod was primed to soar the most. Still, TWC has squeezed about all that could have been out of their run.

Not as certain is whether Focus has done the same with “The Theory of Everything.” Now also competing with streaming and DVD sales, the Best Actor win only managed to add $649,000 this weeked. That’s about 75,000 additional people inspired to go out and buy tickets for the film, hardly anything special. “Whiplash” (also on Netflix already) actually did slightly better, though its total gross is less than a third of “Theory” at $35 million.

This year ends up with only one of eight Best Picture nominees grossing over $100 million. Last year had four of nine, 2012 six of nine. Other years since the roster expanded have had less, but none as low as for 2014. This is the exact opposite of what the Academy was going for when they expanded. And the minor added dollars this weekend and beyond reinforce what an off year it ha been.

The Holdovers

“American Sniper” (Warner Bros.) once again leads the way, down only 24% despite losing 321 theaters. It has reached $331 million, and should become the top 2014 release by next weekend and end up around $350 million for a career best for Clint Eastwood, even adjusting for inflation, in any capacity.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” (20th Century Fox) opened behind “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but leaped ahead of it as both played their third week. It held on to second spot, falling 36%.

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” (Paramount) also jumped ahead of “Grey,” dropped 32% in its fourth weekend. And look out – it could easily end up with an ultimate domestic take higher than “Gray” (at $140 million, it is only $7 million behind),

“Fifty Shades of Grey” (Universal) needs no pity though, as it heads toward a half billion worldwide.

“McFarland, U.S.A.” (Buena Vista) dropped 30%, probably about as much as it could risk to lose after a passable opening. This needs to do at least as good a hold next week to continue much longer. At $22 million total and little international appeal (although it could score in some Spanish-speaking territories), its fate remains uncertain.

“The DUFF” (Lionsgate) The first CBS Film released by LG had a decent 34% drop, looking better because of the film’s sub-$10 million budget. This looks to get over $30 million and should have better than average non-theatrical appeal to its core young female base.

“Hot Tub Time Machine 2” (Paramount) Down 60% and likely to lose most theaters before long, with a weak sub-$15 million total, about its initial cost.

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