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Weekend Box Office: 'Battleship' & 'The Dictator' Flop Hard As 'The Avengers' Continues To Dominate

Box Office
by Gabe Toro
May 20, 2012 1:12 PM
8 Comments
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Disney sure picked the right time to get in on that Marvel action. After the first Marvel films proved to be decent-sized hits, Disney came in like a shark, swiping the studio up for a few billion, expecting similar results. But not only has “The Avengers” handily outdrawn every other superhero film thus far, it's number one at the domestic box office for a third weekend running, with a $55 million haul, and is actually now Disney’s highest grossing film of all time. Take that, “Flubber”!

On the one hand, this is a shared victory with Marvel, so it’s not exactly the in-house success story that Disney was hoping for. Moreover, there are large back-end deals in place for most of the other participants, particularly the $50 million Robert Downey Jr. is set to take in. And yet what remains is still one sick piggy bank to divvy up. It’ll take some serious giddyup for another 2012 release to eclipse this phenomenon, as it only dropped another 50% from last weekend. The film is losing momentum, which is to say it peaked early, but the only negative thing to say about this is that it proves “The Avengers” might not be another “Avatar” (James Cameron's film retains the third-weekend record, with $68.1 million). Oh drat.

What’s next? While Marvel head mixmaster DJ Kevin Feige spoke about “Phase Two” of the Marvel films leading up to another “Avengers,” he’s hinted that would be something in the order of a five-year wait. But Disney isn’t about to sit on its prized franchise for another half-decade. The other expectation is that Disney hopes audiences are revitalized to see not only new “Iron Man” and “Thor” films, but also new entries in the “Captain America” and “Hulk” sagas, as those two were the studio’s lowest grossing hero pics thus far.

A new “Cap” hits in spring 2014, while sources say another “Hulk” is in the cards, but what this represents in the history of blockbuster filmmaking is intriguing: stuffing one brand name into another in the hopes of revitalizing it, particularly since “The Incredible Hulk” had a meager final tally only somewhat surpassed by “Captain America: The First Avenger” via 3D-inflated prices. Could we see studios now begin to resurrect dormant franchises by crossing characters over? Could James Bond finally cross paths with “XxX”? Would “John Carter” spend “A Night At The Museum”? Might “The Terminator” try to kill whomever is behind those “Saw” traps? We hope that last one is found footage!

For a while there, it did look like Hollywood would continue to confuse “brand name” with “built-in audience.” Universal’s partnership with Hasbro was not unlike Marvel’s union with Paramount: this was an independent company that had long permeated pop culture and had a host of “brand names” that could conceivably boast strong audience recognition. Like Marvel, its strongest brands were already set up at other studios, however. For Marvel, that meant “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” were stuck at Sony and Fox. For Hasbro, that meant “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” were taken. But while Marvel’s bench was made up of solid b-stringers that could conceivably launch new franchises, Hasbro had… “Battleship,“ which opened with a miserable $25 million.

While Paramount yielded great success with their stable of superheroes, who later fled the coop for Disney, Universal saw dailies for “Battleship” and immediately begged out of their joint partnership with the toy company. It was bad enough the film cost somewhere between $150-$200 million to make, but then, as soon as it was announced, the general audience regarded it as a joke. It was a lark, a snaky aside, a snide reference on “The Critic,” maybe, but not something the audience would ever go for.

Then the marketing campaign: for all the flak star Taylor Kitsch received for his part in “John Carter,” the trailers for that film promised a less familiar movie than the sub-Michael Bay navy-porn “Battleship” presented. They did what it looks like the marketing people did to another IP, the upcoming “The Amazing Spider-Man”: let’s make this very different looking from what you associate this property with, but also make it resemble a hundred other generic movies. So the “brand name” value of “Battleship” was eventually punted in favor of making the umpteenth alien invasion picture of the last few years, despite the fact that the only reason this was being made was because it was based on a damned board game. Ask audiences seeing the TV ads for the first time, and they’d never guess any relationship between the game of their youth and this wet CGI fart in front of their eyes.

This knocks director Peter Berg down a few pegs, casting doubt on his ability to make his dream project “Lone Survivor.” Though his biggest problem might be that film’s co-star alongside Mark Wahlberg: a certain Mr. Kitsch. The young actor has had a rough go of it since the end of “Friday Night Lights,”-- as it turns out, a forgettable and forgotten cameo in the terrible “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” might have been the best it gets. He’s already guided two ‘12 films, 'Carter' and “Battleship,” into the likely realm of history’s all-time biggest turkeys ("Battleship" cost less, and has done better internationally, but opened $5 million south of the disappointing number for Andrew Stanton's film; they'll likely lose similar amounts of money, in the nine-digit range), standing proficiently as the lead character in both. Producers of the upcoming “Savages” might need to reconsider Kitsch’s place in their marketing efforts, though it’s hard to be a negative element to the general audience if they don’t know who you are: both of his 2012 efforts did their best to drown the young actor in ugly, negligible special effects, and even “Battleship” seemed more interested in promoting the fact they had Rihanna in a supporting role, with Kitsch getting nowhere near most of the ads or posters.

Critics considered it largely toothless in comparison to previous Sacha Baron Cohen efforts, but “The Dictator” was more than a little ballsy. Pitching the audience a story revolving around an ugly, self-centered genocidal world leader, the type you really only see on world news, the hopes were that non-political young people and irreverent older crowds would be drawn to the film, as well as Cohen’s more erudite base. And yet, unlike “Borat” or “Bruno,” both of which revolved around familiar types (the grabby foreign tourist and the aggressively gay provocateur), “The Dictator” was working with more narrow, difficult material, and it showed: the film took a very disappointing $17.4 million over the weekend, and only $24.5 million since opening on Wednesday, which is even less than the disappointing "Bruno" made in three days back in 2009. 

Not to mention the fact that many who are familiar with what Cohen was parodying this time were probably turned off. Having a gag in your trailer about bombing the Empire State Building does that to some people. Political dimensions or no, however, “The Dictator” simply didn’t seem like big-screen material, more familiar shock comedy from Cohen that the audience had become hip towards. “Borat” had gotta-see-it-heat, and while audiences fled from “Bruno” after the opening weekend, they did so after attending based on the comedic strength of “Borat.” Comedies usually play strong in the summer, where they serve as counter programming to whatever CG-heavy action spectacles are hogging screens and selling out, but “The Dictator” registered a ‘C’ Cinemascore, suggesting “Borat” goodwill is spent. Early overseas results are strong, however, so perhaps Cohen’s got one more starring effort in him, though he’s probably best suited to take a flashy supporting role to boost his profile.

Johnny Depp In "Dark Shadows"

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Johnny Depp In "Dark Shadows"

  • Johnny Depp In "Dark Shadows"

It’s weekend two, and “Dark Shadows” has taken a serious punch to the gut. Whatever promise that first weekend held for a rebound was overestimated, as the two-week tally, and the 60% drop, suggest that when he does films for older audiences, Johnny Depp is now out of his depth. Tee hee. “Dark Shadows” didn’t seem scary enough for the horror crowd, skewed too dark for audiences seeking comedy, and, most importantly, it was too square for younger folks. He’s from the 1800’s and has been reborn in the 1970s? Great. Nobody under the age of thirty gives a shit about the 1800’s or the 1970s. Tim Burton’s got “Frankenweenie” coming up, which should be a hit of a certain size, but Depp needs to go back to the drawing board, maybe take some supporting roles, even if it means foregoing the type of Disney paychecks he has gone on record classifying as “stupid money.”

What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” opening in fifth place with a $10.3 million start, most likely suffered for the same reason as “Battleship.”  Based on an extremely popular best-selling book, one with no story or characters and found in the non-fiction section, audiences likely recalled the title and said, “Huh. That’s not a movie.” It didn’t even really look like one, merely yet another in the endless array of b-list celebrity get-together films like “Valentine’s Day” where a bunch of famous people show up for five minutes at a time and quip around a pencil-thin plot. And if “New Years Eve” proved anything, it’s that some audiences have begun to rebel against this type of thing.

Did people know they were buying tickets to a big screen movie, and not Redboxing a programmer from 2004? Seriously, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Chris Rock and Dennis Quaid? Casting a film like that ensures you’re reminding everyone they’ve seen this film before, and it may have been a couple of years ago. Probably on a plane. Couldn’t squeeze an Efron in there? An Apatow player? Someone from “The Big Bang Theory” or “Community” maybe? Stuffing your film with names in an attempt to be a rom-com “Expendables” probably plays to the tabloid crowd, but the general audience is getting wise to this sort of thing, as evidenced by a ‘B-’ Cinemascore. Not that it matters: in today’s climate, studios make about five to eight versions of this sort of picture every day. By the end of Sunday, this will be long forgotten. Wait, which movie were we even talking about?

The rest of the lineup is just trying to get by. “Think Like A Man” and “The Hunger Games” are both chasing benchmarks of sorts -- 'Man' has an outside shot at $100 million domestic, though it has already become one of the highest grossing domestic release in Screen Gems’ history. 'Games,' meanwhile, is making the limp to $400 million, though it may need two or three more weekends to do it. Wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Lionsgate surrender some “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” screens somewhere down the line in order to reach that figure. It’s just that important to investors: what would you rather hear? “Let’s celebrate our $397-million domestic hit” or “$400 million, bitches! Maseratis for everyone”?

Bringing in some serious limited release cheddar is “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Despite sounding like a book you’d find on the shelves next to “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” the British old-codger film, a major hit overseas, is providing some solid counter programming at only 354 theaters, the only film in the top ten at less than 1700 locations. Globally, the film’s already kicked a solid amount of ass, and with this weekend’s showing, it’s certainly a possibility the American numbers take it past $100 million global, which is impressive considering the film looks like it has zero appeal to anyone under the age of fifty. Might as well take your mother to see something this summer that isn’t aggressively loud or unpleasant, and it looks like “The Raid: Redemption” has already run its course, so, yeah.

In limited release, the biggest platform was given to the Brandon Routh-starring "Crooked Arrows." The Native American sports drama (yes, really) opened on fifty-five screens for a not-bad $280k take. However, it was not able to outdraw current arthouse breadwinner "Bernie." After four weeks in release, the film has expanded to 95 locations, grossing $511k to boost its total to over $1.1 million. Both films lorded it over a so-so slate of indie releases, the most notable being "Hysteria," which collected a little under $41k at five theaters.

Also opening was the thriller "Polisse," which grabbed $17.7k at three locations, and the horror picture "Lovely Molly," which only managed $15k at five theaters. Similarly quiet results were shown by a host of other films, as "Elena" registered $6.4k on one screen, and the stupefyingly awful "American Animal" collected $6k at a single location. Weakest of all was the opening of the long-delayed "Virgina," from Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Despite some big above-the-title names, the film only grossed $6.3k at five theaters. Support your local arthouse theaters, boys and girls.

1. Disney’s Marvel’s Franchise Brand Namepalooza (Disney) - $55 million ($457 mil.)
2. Hasbro’s Universal’s Board Game Movie (Universal) - $25.3 million
3. The Dictator (Paramount) - $17.4 million ($24 mil.)
4. Darkest Shadowest (Warner Bros.) - $12.8 million ($51 mil.)
5. What To Expect When You’re Making Lazy OnDemand Selections In About Five Months (Lionsgate) - $10.5 million
6. The Best Exotic Old White People Hotel (Fox Searchlight) - $3.2 million ($8 mil.)
7. Games, They Be Hongreh (Lionsgate) - $3 million ($392 mil.)
8. Pink, Like A Man (Sony/Screen Gems) - $2.7 million ($86 mil.)
9. The Lucky One (Warner Bros.) - $1.8 million ($57 mil.)
10. The Pirates! Band Of Misfits (Sony) - $1.5 million ($25 mil.)

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8 Comments

  • CJ | May 25, 2012 6:44 PMReply

    Americans are usually pretty good-natured and willing to laugh at themselves when they are satired in films (Borat, for example), but I think The Dictator goes a little too far. Terrorism is understandably a touchy subject in the States. Couple that with Cohen's usual tactic of making fun of Americans, and you have a recipe for disappointment at the US Box Office. Anything that even touches on 9/11 does not sit well with most Americans. I guess people over seas don't really understand just how raw Americans are about 9/11. It is also the reason why 'Extremely Load and Incredibly Close' flopped. It is, and will always be, a subject that they are uncomfortable with and will not want to watch a movie about. I don't know why the entertainment industry has not learned this fact yet. When they showed that joke about taking down the Empire State Building, I believe it turned off a lot of people from wanting to see the movie.

  • padre | May 21, 2012 12:30 PMReply

    It's good to see that box office articles still make commenters so angry here. Never change. Also, Taylor Kitsch = Jude Law. It is now complete. Lesser persons, who warned of this over a year ago, might say, "I TOLD YOU SO!" but superior persons will refrain and take solace in the glow of satisfaction of BEING RIGHT.

  • Huffy | May 20, 2012 10:43 PMReply

    How is The Dictator a disappointment now? If anything it was a success considering its limited budget and the fact that most people believed that Bruno damaged Cohen's marketability. For a comedy to gross that much, especially a comedy which will do well internationally, isn't bad at all.

  • Mike | May 20, 2012 10:27 PMReply

    Actually, here's a 3rd thing, Captain America was the "second lowest grossing" in the leadup films by a whopping $4m to Thor in the US, and for being a patriotic character dressed up like the American flag, it actually managed to make more internationally than at home. So it's a tad silly to act like there's this huge gap between CA and Thor, at the box office for the lead up films, there's Iron Man, and then there's all the others. And from the way you wrote it, you act like it's a wing and a pray that it'll get a sequel like another potential Hulk movie, when the sequel to Captain America is already greenlit with a release date. Plus he's very much the lead in the Avengers, the sequel will swell quite a bit as a result.

  • Glass | May 21, 2012 1:34 AM

    Hey Mike, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Too_long;_didn%27t_read ... Great writeup, Gabe. Fuckin hilarious as usual.

  • Mike | May 20, 2012 10:23 PMReply

    2 things, Avatar's early weekends were all during the holidays, yes Avengers will come up short of that but it's laughable to say a movie that opened to $200m and fell less than 50 in its second weekend, and fell an even smaller percentage this weekend without any holidays is front-loaded and losing momentum. It'll barely fall at all next weekend with the holiday. Not too many big opening blockbusters get to 3x their opening weekend, and none of them got to $600m, which this will.

    The other thing is, people have to stop hanging these things on Taylor Kitsch, the man clearly owes Peter Berg for Friday Night Lights & so he did this movie, please tell me any actor that could have played a part in a screenplay so bland & sold a movie that was laughed at from the very rumors of its preproduction years ago? This misfire lands solely on the executives at Universal for signing checks for a budget this big for a movie with no audience. Kitsch clearly worked better with ensemble drama, and likely more of a supporting actor than leading man, but he's not the reason this movie failed, though he needs to avoid the studio tentpoles because they've all been terrible. At least he got to show some charisma in his role in Wolverine, didn't save the movie from being terrible though.

  • art vandelay | May 20, 2012 3:41 PMReply

    there are reports out that taylor kitsch just shot himself in the face

  • Michael | May 20, 2012 2:03 PMReply

    "What To Expect When You’re Making Lazy OnDemand Selections In About Five Months" - I laughed so hard when I read that, so thanks for that. Best box office coverage I've read in quite some time.

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