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Top Ten Box Office Takeaways: Why Women Like ‘Insurgent’ and No One Wants Sean Penn as ‘The Gunman’

Top Ten Box Office Takeaways: Why Women Like 'Insurgent' and No One Wants Sean Penn as 'The Gunman'

So despite two strong films (Lionsgate opener Insurgent and Disney’s week-old Cinderella), yet again the Top Ten total fell a sizable amount (8.5 per cent) from the same weekend last year. Year-to-date is now up 4.3 per cent over 2014, down from 11 per cent at the end of February. Reason for concern? Clearly, much-hyped new films are not meeting expectations.

Increasingly, we keep seeing feast or famine. The best films do fine, but not the routine films aimed at international male audiences. And the drop from the top is severe. The third and fourth place films both grossed just over $5 million, with per screen averages way under $2,000 (meaning 200 or fewer customers per screen). Not a positive sign.

The Top Ten

1. The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A-, Criticwire: C+, Metacritic: 42; Est. budget $110 million
$54,025,000 in 3,875 theaters; PSA (per screen average); $13,942; Cumulative: $54,025,000

2. Cinderella (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$34,492,000 (-49%) in 3,848 theaters (+3); PSA: $8,964; Cumulative: $122,041,000

3. Run All Night (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #2
$5,115,000 (-54%) in 3,171 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $1,613; Cumulative: $19,722,000

4. The Gunman (Open Road) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 39; Est. budget $40 million
$5,009,000 in 2,816 theaters; PSA: $1,779; Cumulative: $5,009,000

5. Kingsman: The Secret Service (20th Century Fox) Week 6; Last weekend #3
$4,600,000 (-26%) in 2,233 theaters (-402); PSA: $2,069; Cumulative: $114,570,000

6. Do You Believe? (PureFlix) NEW – Criticwire: D; Est. budget $ Unknown, but likely under $5 million
$4,000,000 in 1,320 theaters; PSA: $3,030; Cumulative: $4,000,000

7. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Fox Searchlight) Week 3; Last weekend #6
$3,450,000 (-39%) in 2,016 theaters (-6); PSA: $1,711; Cumulative: $24,125,000

8. Focus (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #4
$3,300,000 (-42%) in 2,055 theaters (-800); PSA: $1,606; Cumulative: $49,403,000

9. Chappie (Sony) Week 3; Last weekend #5
$2,650,000 (-53%) in 2,429 theaters (-772); PSA: $1,091; Cumulative: $28,300,000

10. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Paramount) Week 7; Last weekend #7
$2,350,000 (-42%) in 1,980 theaters (-679); PSA: $1,187; Cumulative: $158,794,000

The Takeaways

How Does “Insurgent” Stack Up”?

“The Divergent Series: Insurgent” rallied after Friday to come back and nearly equal the total of last year’s series opener. This mid-level cost tentpole cost in $20-25 million more, so coming close doesn’t qualify, at least domestically, as satisfying. But at least it’s a credible start.

But most second entries of long-term franchises are expected to go up. Among young adult novel adaptations, “Twilight” doubled second time out, “The Hunger Games” went up $6 million (the first one did $152 million, so it didn’t have much room for growth). Among the Marvel comic films, the second time around normally sees an increase of between $20-30 million their second weekends (again, usually starting from a higher level).

This time “Insurgent” had the benefit of rising star Shailene Woodley, whose performance in last summer’s sleeper hit “The Fault in Our Stars” was a big factor in that film’s success. And supporting actor Miles Teller starred in Oscar contender “Whiplash.” “Divergent” had a strong run, getting to nearly three times its opening number, so it enjoyed a positive overall response.

International openings were up 33 per cent in head-to-head situations from last year, so once again domestic is lagging. This time the marketing emphasized action scenes and elevated the male actors, aimed at overseas audiences (“Divergent” atypically grossed a less in foreign markets).

That “Insurgent” didn’t improve at home over last year suggests continuing non-growth (or worse) in the American market more than any specific problem with the film or the marketing. 

“The Gunman”: Sean Penn Is No Liam Neeson (or Colin Firth)

Penn and Neeson both are veteran, respected, rugged actors, and the former has two Best Actor Oscars (putting him with Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks and Daniel Day-Lewis during the last four decades). “The Gunman” shows though it takes more than a big name and long-term acclaim to make a credible action lead.

Sure, the genre is showing signs of exhaustion (as Neeson’s “Run All Night” reveals), and overall films aimed at men are in steep decline at the moment. But $5 million for a high-end marketed conventional new release over what should be a decent early spring weekend (the NCAA only hurts so much)? By comparison, last year the fourth weekend of Neeson’s “Non-Stop” grossed $6.4 million. It’s the second-worst opening among 17 films Open Road has opened in over 2,000 theaters. That’s just plain bad.

This $40 million European production (directed by “Taken”‘s Pierre Morel) might end up doing better overseas. Open Road’s participation is usually marketing/advertising outlays. And perhaps Penn will help it more there. But at home, he really isn’t a draw. And that’s one reason he’s belatedly trying to diversify his career.

Unlike Nicholson, Hanks or even Day-Lewis, Penn has had few breakout hits as the lead. His best (in unadjusted dollars) is Clint Eastwood’s Oscar contender “Mystic River” in 2003. Since then, only Sydney Pollock’s big-budget studio entry “The Interpreter” a decade ago even topped $60 million. Both “Gangster Squad” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” saw him doing ensemble work, which were both failures domestically.

Compare that to Neeson’s build-up before becoming the go-to older action star. Both actors actually debuted the same year (1981), but the Northern Irish-born Neeson has shown up in a lot more major hits than Penn. “Schindler’s List,” “The Phantom Menace,” “Gangs of New York,” “Batman Begins,” “The Clash of the Titans,” “The Dark Knight Rises” as well as genre successes “Darkman” and “The Haunting” made him a bigger star than Penn, even though the latter has his two Oscars. Penn’s cred is as a chameleon character actor, not a movie star. Audiences didn’t buy him with bulging muscles and a machine gun. 

Ironically, it comes right at the time when more unlikely Colin Firth carries the surprise action smash “Kingsman,” despite having as little background in the genre as Penn. But he does it with Brit James Bond elan, wearing a dapper suit and tie. The role fits him better. 

PureFlix Sells Christianity

PureFlix’s website leaves no doubt as to its mission as “a Christian movie studio that produces, distributes and acquires Christ-centered movies for the sole purpose of changing our culture for Christ, one heart at a time.” Totally avoiding big city media marketing or screenings even as it played all major markets, PureFlix’s newest film “Do You Believe” opened exactly one year after their stunning success with “God’s Not Dead.” That managed, on a $2 million production budget, to reach $60 million in domestic gross –better than all but two of this year’s Best Picture nominees or the films that won any other major Oscar.

That film had hands-on distribution by Freestyle, a veteran company that takes on independently produced complete films as a freelance player, getting films into theaters and otherwise providing expertise, but usually no financial commitment. (They collect a percentage of the receipts or film rental if done by usual means.) This time around, PureFlix is self-distributing, and similar to “Dead” added some vaguely familiar names (Mira Sorvino, Sean Astin, Lee Majors, Ted McGinley, Cybill Shepard) in a story about multiple believers dealing with faith crisis. 

Lightning didn’t exactly strike twice. The film did come in sixth with $4 million, but “Dead” exactly one year ago did over $9 million in 780, 540 fewer theaters. This time the film went up 8 vs 18 per cent on Saturday. “Dead” ended up nearly tripling its theater count and getting to more than five times its first weekend.

Both films scored horrible reviews. No question the film should be able to maintain and even add to its theater count. PureFlix, going it alone, will be lucky to do a third of “God’s Not Dead”‘s business, if even that. At their relative low costs, and handling their own distribution, they should make a profit. But now all the studios are chasing after religious-based content.


“Cinderella”‘s 49 per cent drop is in line with previous Disney live action film’s second weekends. It is benefiting from scattered spring vacations. Last week’s other opener “Run All Night” dropped 53 per cent from its weak start, but still good enough for third place among lesser grossers. The holding leader remains “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” down only 26 per cent though it is beginning to lose theaters by the hundreds. It’s good to be a well-liked film in later weeks when there isn’t much else to see.

The only other sub-40 per cent decline belongs to “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (Fox Searchlight), off 39 per cent. At this point, it appears the second trip to Jaipur will end up with a very respectable $35 million or better, a bit more than three quarters of the first.

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