'The Rite' Leads Weak Winter Box Office

by Gabe Toro
January 30, 2011 7:31 AM
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Box office receipts were down in 2010, and the early winter season of 2011 is already vastly trailing the opening of last year. Of course, most people are forecasting doom, forgetting that early 2010 was when "Avatar" was still raking in billion dollar profits, and it would be the remaining non-"Avatar" seasons of 2010 that would shit the bed, so to speak. So the industry is in fine shape for the winter, at least, as this year has more spillover successes from the previous year still playing, as well as the somewhat-blockbustery success of "The Green Hornet" leading the way.

So a weekend like this, with the not-hotly-anticipated "The Rite" leading the box office with $15 million, is commonplace for this type of season. The Anthony Hopkins chiller, which Cinemascore audiences apparently are not a fan of, was aiming for the crowd that's usually present for what seems to be an annual exorcism picture, but this one is opening much closer to fare like "The Haunting of Molly Hartley" instead of "The Last Exorcism." If the WB is smart, they've locked down Rutger Hauer to return for the direct-to-DVD "The Rite 2: GhostRiter."

"No Strings Attached" almost pulled away with a second weekend at #1, but still nestled in with a two-weekend total of $40 million. The picture held around 30% from last weekend, which is pretty impressive and suggests the film will have stronger-than-usual rom-com legs. If the film does $70 million, everyone can chalk this up as a hit and they can chalk mark Natalie Portman's name on the list of bona fide leading ladies. Somehow, Ashton Kutcher will continue to exist.

CBS Films opened "The Mechanic" to pedestrian numbers, which was expected considering their marketing department is run by monkeys. The company hasn't had a hit yet, but "The Mechanic" was a small investment, with domestic rights going for only $5 million. As a result, this might end up being CBS's biggest hit from a profit standpoint. Because films like this shoot independently and sell their distribution rights individually to foreign territories, it's hard to label them hit or flop as every region has their own level of enthusiasm for the film, especially considering the producers can end up in profit long before the film sees release. So for someone like Jason Statham, who exclusively seems to do tough guy leading men, it doesn't really hinder his career if "The Mechanic" stalls at less than $30 million domestic.

"The Green Hornet" had a strong hold in weekend three, and could end up passing "The Mechanic" when official numbers are released tomorrow. The superhero blockbuster has landed at a $79 million total in three weeks, which bodes well for the film possibly crossing $100 million. The 3D screens appear to be a boon for the Seth Rogen action comedy, as the inflated prices certainly give off the illusion that this thing is a big ticket project. Considering the bad buzz, Sony's probably pretty happy with barely reaching nine digits, but don't expect a "Green Hornet 2."

The popular narrative is that audience interest increases in a film when it picks up Academy Award nominations. The truth is that the studios look at the opportunity to add more screens to a film without having to promote very much, as the Oscars is essentially one big commercial that the studios don't have to pay for. As a result, "The King's Speech" had another solid weekend, aided greatly by an 877-theater expansion that really any movie would benefit from.

The numbers do suggest, in fairness, that "The King's Speech" is playing really well to audiences, but it's this strategic platforming (it can't be said enough -- brilliant work by the Weinsteins there) that remains the real story. 'Speech' opened to art house blockbuster numbers, but The Weinstein Company wisely kept it out of multiplexes until the award season hit fever pitch. The film is headed towards $100 million and a possible Best Picture Oscar, and if that's not brilliant marketing and release tactics, we don't know what is.

"True Grit" finally surpassed "Little Fockers" this weekend in total gross, nestled just underneath $150 million stateside. It currently stands as the highest grossing film in the Academy Best Picture Ten that stands a legit chance of winning (sorry "Toy Story 3" and "Inception") and nobody has failed to notice the film making a run at becoming the highest grossing western of all-time. The film eclipsed "The Dilemma" this weekend, the Vince Vaughn-Kevin James pairing looking like it could make a run at $60 million but probably fall short. This project may have been a mistake, Universal.

"Black Swan" hit $90 million, actually losing theaters this weekend while pirouetting towards $100. It barely beat out "The Fighter," which had to lose a few screens but held steady after the award nominations, though at $78 million, the film's going to need a heavy push by Paramount to get to nine digits. Not happening. And finally, Jesus, "Yogi Bear" is still playing. Though it feels like forever, the film has only spent seven weeks in the top ten, with Warner Bros. trying to will the film to $100 million, currently standing at $93.

"127 Hours" expanded into 916 engagements, but the film registered no juice, only tallying $2 million, bringing the film's total to $13.4 million. Man, no one wanted to see this movie. "Blue Valentine" also parlayed its Oscar nod into 415 locations, but its per-screen of $2.8k means it barely stayed ahead of new release "From Prada to Nada," which pulled in $1.1 million at 256 locations.

After a tiny Oscar-qualifying run, "Biutiful" opened at 57 locations, averaging a decent $8k per screen for a $461k total. It almost matched the piddling second weekend of "The Way Back," which is doing disastrous business, averaging $973 per location for a two-week tally of $2.2 million with screens already beginning to disappear. With no Oscar nominations, Newmarket might just yank the film from theaters as quietly as possible. On 20 screens, "Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster" grabbed $63.5k, while Gregg Araki's "Kaboom" technically recorded the week's best per-screen average, pulling in $13.7k at the IFC Center in New York City. Support your local arthouse, boys and girls.

1. The Rite (WB) - $15 million
2. No Strings Attached (Paramount) - $13.7 million ($40 million)
3. The Mechanic (CBS Films) - $11.5 million
4. The Green Hornet (Sony) - $11.5 ($79 million)
5. The King's Speech (Weinstein) - $11.1 million ($72 mil.)
6. True Grit (Paramount) - $7.6 million ($148 mil.)
7. The Dilemma (Universal) - $5.5 million ($41 mil.)
8. Black Swan (Fox) - $5.1 million ($91 mil.)
9. The Fighter (Paramount) - $4.1 million ($78 mil.)
10. Yogi Bear (WB) - $3.2 million ($93 mil.)

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