The writing was on the wall as soon as director Bryan Singer retreated to the “X-Men” franchise for next year’s “X-Men: Days Of Future Past.” “Jack The Giant Slayer” was destined to be a money-loser, looking like just another post-”Alice In Wonderland” fantasy epic but costing somewhere in the vicinity of an improbable $200 million. With Warner Bros. putting out a quiet ad campaign for the film, scrimping money off the ad budget was the only way to save face: 'Jack' is poised to take a major bath this weekend, coming in under the minimum $30 million the studio was hoping for.
Originally conceived as a D.J. Caruso project (whatever happened to that guy, asked no one), “Jack The Giant Killer,” as it was originally known, was meant to be a darker retelling of the popular fantasy. Somewhere along the line, Singer’s involvement led to a more traditional, family-friendly approach. The problem was that some people in the production didn’t get the memo, resulting in a film that feels commercially schizophrenic. There’s the colorful high adventure save-the-princess element for the kids, but there's also gnarly giant monsters, CG creations with cartoonish appearances who nonetheless engaged in some heavily PG-13 medieval throw downs. Classic tweener problem: too violent for the kiddies, too ridiculous for the teens, and with nothing of interest to adults.
Maybe the project was simply too old-fashioned. No matter what was the case, we knew this was going to have a basic structure dictated by a giant CGI beanstalk. The heroes will climb up. They’ll fight the giants. They’ll escape. Except the giants will probably follow them down, because what else could they do? Not a lot of narrative complexity, and this likely felt like something audiences had seen before. Print ads established the hook being tiny Jack (Nicholas Hoult) contrasted with a towering giant, which used to be a novelty but is now something seen in almost all fantasy films. How spoiled we are that the sight of towering CGI giants is now passé?
The plus side is that star Hoult has had two straight $20 million plus opening weekends within a month, the last project being “Warm Bodies.” He doesn’t deserve to be the fall guy for this, even if these piddling 'Jack' numbers were boosted by 3D and IMAX prices. Though perhaps Warner Bros. might want to distance themselves from Singer: after this and “Superman Returns,” that’s two straight Legendary Films projects with Singer that have underperformed at the studio. Singer’s lucky to have the safety parachute that is “X-Men”: he’s one more mismanaged budget away from falling back into the indie world. And after this year‘s “Gangster Squad,“ “Bullet To The Head” and “Beautiful Creatures,” Warner Bros. might have to rethink some of their upcoming ad campaigns, particularly as 'Jack' prepares to be pummeled by next weekend’s “Oz The Great And Powerful.”
Last year we already had a raft of early year hits, but in 2013, we pretty much have “Identity Thief.” The picture crossed $100 million with ease, with some of the strongest audience retention numbers in the top ten, suggesting world of mouth is definitely in play. Universal played this thing like pros, and this is now director Seth Gordon’s third straight $100 million domestic grosser, putting him in the catbird seat for any big comedy in the industry. Which is unfortunate, if you’ve seen “Four Christmases,” “Horrible Bosses” or “Identity Thief,” but money talks louder than us.
“21 And Over” was being released on the exact same weekend as last year’s “Project X” but lightning didn’t strike twice, and this opening is less than half of that found footage hit. You can only boast the same associations before it starts becoming nakedly opportunistic -- “Project X” was pushed as being produced by Todd Phillips, director of “The Hangover.” “21 And Over” not only pulled a similar stunt, as it was written and directed by the original “The Hangover” writers, but it also very much looked like “Hangover Jr.” with its plot focused on a night of drunken debauchery centered around a missing friend. Perhaps too many people thought the movie was supposed to be called “Jeff Chang,” which was gratuitously repeated throughout the ads to the point of obscuring the film’s generic title.
Audiences likely crossed their arms in frustration, citing, “I thought LAST TIME it was supposed to be the last exorcism!” “The Last Exorcism Part II” played up to its entirely cynical existence by opening to less than half of the first film’s gross. Even though it’s a gimmick highly familiar to audiences by now, found footage remains a way to visually distinguish your film to audiences. By contrast, this 'Part II' was conventionally shot, putting greater pressure on the visuals during the ads to wow moviegoers. It didn’t work. While the film was an independent pickup from CBS Films, this is well below expectations.
Producing modest second weekend results was “Snitch,” which held steady after a quiet debut. The Dwayne Johnson thriller only cost $14 million, and a small ad budget suggests this is going to turn a modest profit. Generic star-centric vehicles like this also have solid appeal on DVD, and overseas, Johnson’s “Fast Five” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” both had warmer receptions than they did stateside. In other words, as modest as the final domestic gross may be (likely $40 million or so), this cements Johnson as a legit A-List presence, a status which should only be confirmed by the upcoming “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.”
“Dark Skies” collapsed to the bottom of the top ten, as most horror films tend to do. At least it was able to finish above “Phantom.” Not sure what’s going on when a submarine thriller with a decent cast including Ed Harris and David Duchovny gets put on 1,118 screens and sees almost zero promotion. With such a wide release, the worst case scenario should be $2-$4 million, and yet “Phantom” is going to finish its first weekend with less than half a million. If a movie is released and bombs but no one sees it, did it exist? Yes, but you can’t tell: it’s a “Phantom”!
Most of the Oscar-nominated films had run their course, so there weren’t any major bumps to be had by the films honored during last week’s ceremony. “Silver Linings Playbook” is the one film in that group still in the widest release, and it held steady just as it has the last few weeks, a feat that’s pretty unprecedented; the last wide-release film to hold steady like this with either weekend growths or less-than-10% drops is probably... what, “Titanic”? 'Playbook' won’t reach those heights, but there’s a good chance it could become the highest-grossing Best Picture release stateside if it continues this pattern for a few more weeks -- “Lincoln” is a considerable distance ahead, however. Also receiving a 49% boost was “Life of Pi” with $2.4 million outside of the top ten, bringing its domestic total to $117 million, helping the hit inch closer to $600 million worldwide. And “Argo” is on DVD already, but somehow it still pulled in $2.1 million at 985 locations, bringing the domestic total to $133 million.
1. Jack The Profit Slayer (Warner Bros.) - $28 million
2. Identity Thief (Universal) - $9.7 million ($107 mil.)
3. Lil’ Hangover (Relativity) - $9 million
4. We Left Out One Exorcism (CBS Films) - $8 million
5. Snitch (Lionsgate/Summit) - $7.7 million ($24.4 mil.)
6. Safe Haven (Relativity) - $6.3 million ($57 mil.)
7. Escape From Planet Earth (The Weinstein Company) - $6.2 million ($43.2 mil.)
8. Silly Whining Playbook (The Weinstein Company) - $5.9 million ($115.5 mil.)
9. A Good Day To Hold Hands And Say Nice Things About Each Other (Fox) - $4.5 million ($59.6 mil.)
10. Dark Skies (The Weinstein Company/Dimension) - $3.5 million ($13.4 mil.)