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‘Fahrenheit 11/9’ and ‘Life Itself’ Flop Loudly, While Eli Roth Dominates With ‘The House With a Clock in Its Walls’

Success can come from strange places. A torture-porn auteur hits with a family film, while Michael Moore struggles with his latest documentary.

"The House with a Clock in Its Walls"

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls”

Success can come from strange places. Eli Roth, whose name became synonymous with torture porn, will likely see family film “The House With a Clock in the Walls” become his biggest hit. Produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin, “House” comes after nearly two months after the last major family release. (That was “Christopher Robin,” which should could cross $100 million with a strong quadrupling of its opening weekend.) However, its 47 percent Saturday increase shows initial strong positive reaction as well as successful marketing.

The story combines sorcery, magic, a haunted house, and comedy as an orphan boy is sent to live with his uncle, played by Jack Black. With Cate Blanchett along to give it even more heft, it clicked during a period when original projects have taken over after the siege of summer sequels. Its total — for a film with half the budget — is better than last weekend’s “The Predator.” A sign that fresh material is more appealing than franchise titles?

Case in point: The weekend was down 29 percent from the same one in 2017. That saw two openers at over $20 million, with “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” at nearly $40 million and “The Lego Ninjago Movie” just over $20 million. Those, plus a nearly $30 million third weekend for “It,” couldn’t be matched by this year’s menu, despite some very good holdover titles.

Dog Eat Dog Films

This marked the second weekend of wide openings of titles that premiered at recent film festivals — with results ranging from disappointing to disastrous. These include last weekend’s “The Predator” and “White Boy Rick” and new releases “Fahrenheit 11/9,” “Life Itself,” and “Assassination Nation.”

Of the three, only Michael Moore’s “11/9” even made the top 10 (at #8). Unlike most documentaries, this one comes with a proven brand. Moore has compiled more box office than any documentary director in history. He was omnipresent last week, and the new distributor created to handle the film got him a wide national release in top theaters.

So while the operation was a success, the patient isn’t doing well. It is unusual for documentaries to open wide or even play this many theaters in one week. Both the gross and theater count are greater than “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” “RBG,” and “Three Identical Strangers” — the year’s top documentaries — managed in any one weekend.

There is one positive sign: a 12 percent increase from its initial Friday — could give it hope for some life ahead. With most of the gross coming from its 500 best theaters, they have to hold on to these to recover. The Cinemascore was an excellent A.

"Life Itself"

“Life Itself”

Amazon Studios

Whatever issues Moore’s films faces pale beyond comparison to “Life Itself” from “This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman. The multi-layered human drama, which Amazon acquired for $10 million, failed to make the top 10 with $2.1 million in about 900 more theaters after brutal reviews. (Fogelman didn’t help, drawing more attention to them with false claims that they reflected male bias against “emotional films.”)

The result was a per-theater average of around $800. That’s about 90 people spread over three-plus days of showings. It did see a four percent increase Saturday, but with its adult appeal that’s not particularly impressive. This one has even less chance of recovery.

"Assassination Nation"

“Assassination Nation”

Sundance Film Festival

Neon, the biggest story among new distributors since A24, tried and failed to push hot Sundance title “Assassination Nation.” The low-budget comedy targeted to a millennial audience had all the smart marketing Neon has become known for. But it failed to justify its release in 1,403 theaters, where it ended up with an even lower PTA of $703.

The second-weekend holdovers had radically different results. At the top was “A Simple Favor,” which stayed in second spot, with a decent hold down only 35 percent. “The Predator” fell all the way to #4 from #1, dropping a hefty 65 percent. “White Boy Rick” fell in between, with a 44 percent drop. That gives it a shot at more play, but not enough to sustain much more than a week.

And there’s “Crazy Rich Asians.” Projections to get it to $180 million domestic included week-by-week drops of 35 percent. This weekend, its sixth, fell only 25 percent, retaining the #5 spot. Although $200 million still seems a bit of a stretch, $190 million seems attainable.

The next-best top 10 hold — and beating two openers — is “Searching.” The Jon Cho starring internet mystery dropped 32 percent, with the lower budget Sony-released title with a shot of getting to $27 million or more.

 Top Ten

1. The House With a Clock in Its Walls (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 59; Est. budget: $40 million

$26,850,000 in 3,592 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $7,475; Cumulative: $26,850.000

2. A Simple Favor (Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$10,400,000 (-35%) in 3,102 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,353; Cumulative: $32,562,000

3. The Nun (Warner Bros.) Week 3; Last weekend #2

$10,250,000 (-44%) in 3,707 theaters (-169); PTA: $2,765; Cumulative: $100,895,000

4. The Predator (20th Century Fox) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$8,700,000 (-65%) in 4,073 theaters (+22); PTA: $2,138; Cumulative: $40,435,000

5. Crazy Rich Asians (Warner Bros.) Week 6; Last weekend #5

$6,515,000 (-25%) in 2,802 theaters (-583); PTA: $2,325; Cumulative: $159,439,000

6. White Boy Rick (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #4

$5,000,000 (-44%) in 2,504 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,997; Cumulative: $17,410,000

7. Peppermint (STX) Week 3; Last weekend #6

$3,720,000 (-38%) in 2,680 theaters (-300); PTA: $1,388; Cumulative: $30,333,000

8. Fahrenheit 11/9 (Briarcliff) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 71; Est. budget: $4 million

$3,101,000 in 1,719 theaters; PTA: $1,804; Cumulative: $3,101

9. The Meg (Warner Bros.) Week 7; Last weekend #7

$2,350,000 (-39%) in 2,003 theaters (-808); PTA: $1,173; Cumulative: $140,523,000

10. Searching (Sony) Week 5; Last weekend #8

$2,175,000 (-32%) in 1,787 theaters (-222); PTA: $1,217; Cumulative: $23,115,000

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