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Top 10 Takeaways: Holiday Business Is Soft; ‘A Walk in the Woods’ Scores

Top 10 Takeaways: Holiday Business Is Soft; 'A Walk in the Woods' Scores

Always the worst performing holiday for moviegoing, this Labor Day weekend marks the end of an overall strong summer. But it’s one of the lowest since 2004 (longer if you don’t adjust for inflation). The three-day total of $60 million is down a fourth from the $80 million for 2014’s holiday (actually about a week earlier then). It is only 20% better than the exact date in 2014, the traditional post-holiday worst-grossing weekend of the year.

The dearth of top studio product beyond “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal) and “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (Paramount) allowed a handful of lower-budget, targeted audience films to do stand out more. “War Room,” Sony’s surprising #1 faith-based success, Broad Green’s first wide release “A Walk in the Woods” hit with older audiences and the Mexican animated film “Un Gallo con muchos huevos” placed both higher in position and better than expected. EuroCorp’s actioner “Transporter Reloaded” fell short.

But it reinforces the recent slowdown pattern: the surge from May through late July has not sustained. The fall slate on paper promises to skew adult until the arrival of such event franchises as “The Hunger Games” and “Star Wars” later on — but it will have to be very strong to continue the overall gains this year so far. 

A couple of other outside the box Top Ten entries showed up. Lionsgate’s Mexico partner Pantelion provided an animated release, “Un Gallo con muchos heuvos” in only 395 theaters, yet took eighth spot with over $3.4 million. And Disney did a victory lap with “Inside Out,” bringing it back and managing tenth place with $3.1 million. The Pixar production had already secured top 2015 animated position over “Minions” domestically (Universal can’t win every contest), but this will push the acclaimed film to over $350 million.

The Top Ten  (Fri-Sun estimates)

1. War Room (Sony) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$9,350,000 (-18%) in 1,526 theaters (+391); PTA (per theater average): $6,127; Cumulative: $24,663,000
2. Straight Outta Compton (Universal) Week 4 – Last weekend #1

$8,850,000 (-33%) in 3,097 theaters (-45); PTA: $; Cumulative: $147,786,000
3. A Walk in the Woods (Broad Green) NEW – Cinemascore:B ; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 51; Est. budget: $
$8,400,000 in 1,960 theaters; PTA: $4,286; Cumulative: $10,459,000
4. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Paramount)  Week 6 – Last weekend #3
$7,150,000 (-12%) in 2,849 theaters (-246); PTA: $2,510; Cumulative: $180,387,000
5. Transporter Reloaded (Eurocorp) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 31; Est. budget: $22 million
$7,130,000 in 3,434 theaters; PTA: $2,076; Cumulative: $7,130,000
6. No Escape (Weinstein)  Week 2 – Last weekend #4
$5,445,000 (-33%) in 3,415 theaters (+60); PTA: $1,594; Cumulative: $18,446,000
7. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Warner Bros.)  Week 4 – Last weekend #6
$3,445,000 (-22%) in 2,102 theaters (-604); PTA: $1,639; Cumulative: $39,374,000
8. Un gallo con muchos huevos (Pantelion) NEW – Cinemascore: A+
$3,400,000 in 395 theaters; PTA: $8,608; Cumulative: $3,400,000
9. Sinister 2 (Focus)  Week 3 – Last weekend #5
$3,377,000 (-28%) in 2,651 theaters (-148); PTA: $1,274; Cumulative: $23,717,000
10. Inside Out (Buena Vista)  Week 12 – Last weekend #20
$3,146,000 (+133%) in 2,967 theaters (+2,204); PTA: $1,060; Cumulative: $348,219,000

The Takeaways

Overview – Where Are the Studios?

This weekend saw a scramble to grab whatever bucks were out there, with a number of opportunistic choices paying off for several distributors and other longer run films benefiting from the general sparseness of top mainstream audience new product. It’s a confusing date, which might account in part for the weak showing. Labor Day comes at its latest possible point this year, elongating the summer and providing less of a gap until prime early fall releases hit theaters (genre entries “The Perfect Man” and “The Visit” should do better than most early September releases next Friday, and the slate gets stronger quickly with “Black Mass” and “Everest” among the September 19 openers). This seems to in part have been a factor to scheduling this year.

Making an exact weekend-to-weekend comparison (again to the post-Labor Day one last year), business did improve by 25% from 2014 but that’s the bare minimum. It doesn’t help that only two releases over the past month or so –“Compton” and “Mission: Impossible” — both opened and have held well. Last year had the even bigger “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” as well as a third decent size success (“Let’s Be Cops”). No other August 2015 release is going to pass even $50 million (unless “War Room” has incredible staying power).

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studios will use the numbers this year as a reason not to push potentially big films during this time frame, rather than see the opportunity to score with lesser competition. But the result is perhaps a lost opportunity, one that at least some more enterprising distributors took advantage of.

The totals are close, and small shifts might occur when today’s actuals and tomorrows grosses are reported. How close? Since Wednesday, when “A Walk in the Woods” opened, four different titles have taken an individual day’s #1 spot (with “War Room” leading yesterday and projected for today). It’s unusual but not unprecedented (it happened in June when “Entourage” opened on a Wednesday and then fell quickly). But it does reinforce the notion that there is money being left on the table waiting to be taken by a studio willing to risk an important film.

Opportunistic Newbies Try to Take Advantage

This summer to some extent seemed to bring back the broad-based, including younger and more male, movie audience to a range of major hits. But throughout the summer, the higher overall numbers were sustained by strong minority, female and older audience attendance. And all of these stood out on this off weekend.

The strongest, “War Room,” came from the under-recognized faith-based crowd (with particular appeal among African-Americans). Though a studio (Sony) release, the production and marketing both come in partnership with outside groups (in this case, Kendrick Brothers Productions, Provident Films and Affirm Films) who know how to pinpoint the core audience, and do so efficiently and at far less expense than most films that reach the Top Ten, let alone the top spot. Similar films have done well at other times (Easter is a popular choice), and clearly choosing this weekend gave them a better shot at top theaters. But this should have had appeal whenever it went, although Sony and others still face resistance when putting a niche film in other than an “off” play period.

Unusually two new distributors both had their first wide releases the same less than competitive weekend. It made sense for Broad Green (a well-financed and ambitious start-up that has accumulated a backlog of sought-after festival successes beginning with Toronto last year, and since June has released only limited acquisitions) to make their biggest expenditure to date. “A Walk in the Woods” premiered at Sundance (unusual for a Robert Redford-involved venture) and was acquired for a reported over $10 million investment (including guaranteed marketing). 

Though its pedigree suggested a platform start, the decision to go wide seems like the correct one. The reviews were tepid, while the project, both with its (older) star power and the awareness of its non-fiction book source, had built-in appeal. And the Labor Date holiday as a place to release certain mid-level broader appeal specialized-audience films — Focus for one utilized it for both “The Debt” and “The Constant Gardener” — made sense. And while they got lucky with many of the late summer’s high-end films performing lower than expected. Last year, six films competed for the same audience as “Walk” grossed over $500,000 this weekend: “Boyhood,” “Begin Again” and “Magic in the Moonlight” grossed all over $1 million, “Chef,” “A Most Wanted Man” and “Calvary” were not that far behind. This year, only the younger-skewing “Mistress America” and to a lesser extent “Learning to Drive,” (along with a still more limited “Grandma”) posed competition. 

Despite his status as one of the last active superstars of his era — most others are gone or infrequently seen–Redford has not been a box office draw for years. This is his best (by far) weekend gross since “Spy Game” in 2001. The six-day figure will double the full run total for his bravura solo effort in “All Is Lost,” which never seemed to connect with audiences (though it reportedly ended up breaking even). In an era when the somewhat younger Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and Judi Dench can open a film, only octogenarian Clint Eastwood has any prayer of propelling a 2,000-theater release to this sort of number, and without strong review support! Whether it sustains a run and brings dividends to all involved remains to be seen, but so far it looks promising.

Eurocorp is a different kind of newbie. Luc Besson’s French production company has been making movies since 2000 (including the “Taken” series, “Lucy” and “The Homesman”), handling the distribution of most of them in France while making distribution deals with other companies stateside. They have decided to be their own boss going forward (just at a time when Relativity is vacating the scene). They chose a supposedly reliable franchise entry to start off with “Transporter Reloaded,” though missing the key central element of past star Jason Statham. The first three (first two released by frequent Besson partner 20th Century Fox, the third by action franchise masters Lionsgate) opened to much better results. The top one (#2) also opened on Labor Day a decade ago to more than double the business. 

But it has been seven years since the last iteration, and since then the bottom has fallen out of the young male action franchise business in this country (particularly when not star-driven and having little other appeal). Besson is a smart, inventive producer over a wide range of films, and they likely will have better luck in the future. If they have a “Taken,” they then don’t have to share the profit with the huge bite a distributor takes out of the rentals, and control the future ancillary revenues as well. And “Transporter” could do much better overseas (the most recent one did $31 million domestic, $77 million in the rest of the world).

Both these companies join STX, coming off a surprisingly strong performance of “The Gift” as new players who should be able to compete with the big guys. Though neither “Walk” nor “Transporters” in particular are breakout domestic successes (the former again having a chance to grow), all three have passed their initial hurtle towards legitimacy.

The Holdovers

Holiday weekends usually mean better holds (with Sundays playing more like Saturdays). Only “Compton,” still strong, and “No Escape” dropped more than 30%, while under performing films like “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” and “Sinister 2” kept their drops under 30%. “War Room” was aided by a 391 theater increase to keep its drop to 18%. But the standout? Once again, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” only 12% down and now with a real chance to pass $200 million (it is over half a billion already worldwide). Tom Cruise is the comeback kid of the summer (along with some dinosaurs).

The other extreme? “We Are Your Friends.” A disaster last weekend, it dropped 64% and, despite holding all of its theaters somehow (studio strength helps), dropped to #27, perhaps a record low for a second weekend of a wide major distributor release.

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