By Gabe Toro | The Playlist May 27, 2012 at 12:36PM
Four years have passed since Will Smith’s last starring vehicle, the Oscar-reaching “Seven Pounds.” That film was a creative low point in a particularly poor filmography of blockbusters, as well as a heavy financial underperformer as far as Big Willie starring vehicles. Since then, Hollywood Experts have spent the time crowing that Smith was the Last Movie Star Left, pointing to the fact that “Seven Pounds” was by far the highest grossing film where an A-List star died by jellyfish (spoiler). Indeed, Smith in 2008 was the only leading man that could lift that sudser anywhere in the vicinity of its $168 million worldwide gross.
But Smith circa 2012 is a different beast. He’s spent his time away from the cameras making stars out of both son Jayden (“The Karate Kid”) and daughter Willa (neck spasms) as well as reportedly getting wife Jada Pinkett’s cable series canceled (“HawthoRNe”). When it came time to return to the big screen, he had his choice of projects (with some believing “Django Unchained” was chief amongst them), but settled on a third go-round with the “MiB” despite a toxic reaction from fans regarding the second one.
At this point, it’s borderline legend how this film came together, with Sony planning a long production schedule based around a halfway point hiatus to prep the cast and crew for a shift from the film’s modern setting to 1969. However, this hiatus was also planned to settle the film’s long-existing script issues, leading to a fleet of rewrites that postponed the later shooting dates.
Of course, high-grossing bad movies still earn sequels, and after the strong “Men In Black II” returns ($440 million), most would've expected a swift follow-up, not a ten year delay. However, Sony made very little off part two due to massive back-end deals for Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld. The suggestion is that Sonnenfeld took less this time around (as his last big screen venture was the awful “RV”), but Smith and Jones still earned their customary piece of the pie. Even if the budget is close to the studio’s estimate ($225 million, which some say is very conservative), “Men In Black 3” would have to do huge numbers to make a profit. But reviews have been surprisingly kind toward the third entry, and clearly Smith's international star power hasn't waned, so perhaps this could leg it out to a respectable figure at the end of the day.
Lost in the celebration of the massive grosses for “The Avengers” is the fact that, so far, this summer is a major dud, with each new wide release this May seriously underperforming. Don’t weep for Disney, however, who this weekend watched their superhero epic tap dance past the $1.2 billion mark, surpassing $500 million domestically nearly ten days faster than “Avatar.” While the past two weekends saw the film drop off around 50%, this weekend it looks like only a 35% loss despite direct Will Smith-sized competition. “The Avengers” surprised in its ridiculous opening weekend, sure, but this picture isn’t done over-performing, as each of its four weekends have outdone prognostications thus far.
Including its early overseas release, “The Avengers” has needed only five stellar weeks to become the fourth-biggest film of all time. There’s a large gap between number two and number three on the list of the all-time highest grossing films (“Titanic” and the final “Harry Potter,” respectively), and the numbers suggest “The Avengers” could shorten that gap considerably when it comes to a halt. But both “Avatar” and “Titanic” were comparatively slow-starters, and they played consistently for weeks and weeks throughout late-year holiday periods, with the former crushing some impressive competition (“Sherlock Holmes,” “Alvin And The Chipmunks,” all of 2010’s first-quarter offerings) and the latter becoming The Date Movie Event Of The Millennium. “The Avengers” is registering impressive holds, but at some point it will have to plateau in order to do the legwork to crack that top two. Whether it can do that, in a summer loaded with blockbuster fare that will begin to take 3D screens away shortly, seems unlikely. Wah wah. Someone light a candle for Marvel.
Amongst the river of this summer’s fallen blockbusters, the bloated corpse “Battleship” glides along quietly. The best you can do after a disastrous opening is to cross your fingers and hope the damage is minimized in a second weekend, but alas. “Battleship” is expected to lose a good 60% of its piddling opening (by blockbuster standards, of course), slowly fading out of memory just as it had become a ripe late-night talk show joke. Folks at Universal must be killing themselves -- first they become a home to challenging genre-friendly stuff that’s simply too expensive to sustain (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Green Zone,” “Hellboy II”). Now, with “Battleship,” they’ve tried to make dumb lowest-common-denominator blockbusters that are also too expensive. Hmm, what could be the common thread here? Our finest minds are on the case.
“The Dictator” proved to be more “Bruno” than “Borat” in weekend two. While the latter exploded in limited release and kept pace with an aggressive second weekend expansion, the former became a box office pariah in week two. While “The Dictator” benefited by not having nearly as much gay sex as “Bruno,” it's still not a promising second weekend, though it will likely be more successful on DVD. It was able to keep afloat over junky found footage horror picture “The Chernobyl Diaries,” which can pride itself on cracking a weak holiday period top five despite having less screens than the other four releases. This was a cheap Warner Bros. acquisition, and as such, it’s not a tremendous loss despite a slight underperformance, though <lazy condescension> its core audience probably couldn’t even pronounce the title <lazy condescension>.
Bombs away for “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” and “Dark Shadows,” both just outside the top five. 'Expecting' is a top-heavy mediocre product with too many expensive, ineffectual stars, promoted with the sort of breathless gusto reserved for more ambitious fare. So, it’s essentially the New York Knicks. 'Shadows,' meanwhile, was a blank check project for Tim Burton and Johnny Depp in the wake of twin billion dollar successes (“Alice In Wonderland” and “Pirates Of The Caribbean: Because”), so the WB doesn’t lose reputation points around Hollywood as much as they lose money. In this industry, sometimes they’re the same type of currency.
Making a big fat geriatric statement, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” went from 354 to 1,233 locations, registering the third-best per-screen average in the top ten in its fourth weekend of release, bringing its worldwide total over $95 million. That’s box office sensation Dame Judi Dench to you. While it was the only film in the top ten to increase its viewership, “The Hunger Games” again posted the lowest audience drop, losing a quarter of its audience to get within a stone’s throw of $400 million domestic. However, it looks like “Think Like A Man” will fold up its tent in a late charge for $100 million after a stellar six weeks in the top ten.
In limited release, "Moonrise Kingdom" grossed $509k on only four screens, for a per-screen average of $127k, the all-time highest per-screen average in movie history, at least in terms of indie pictures or live-action affairs -- Disney has crowded theaters with tiny early showings of their animated hits. Granted, this may not spell blockbuster grosses for the Wes Anderson film, but there's no reason to dispute the film providing excellent counterprogramming as it expands wide in coming weeks. "The Royal Tenenbaums" remains Anderson's highest grossing domestic effort at $52 million, though with so many "blockbusters" falling by the wayside, that remains a reachable target for "Moonrise."
After $330 million plus receipts worldwide, "The Intouchables" came to American shores, pullng in a strong $101k at four locations, with The Weinstein Company expected to expand further. In returning indie fare, "Bernie" continued to play strong as it expanded to 194 locations with a solid $870k take, bringing its total over the $2.2 million mark. Moving from five to thirty two locations was "Hysteria," which also showed significant second weekend growth, with $146k. Support your local arthouse theater.
1. Men In Black 3 (Sony) - $55 million
2. The Avengers (Disney) - $37 million ($513 mil.)
3. Hasbro Blackmails Universal (Universal) - $13.6 million ($44 mil.)
4. The Dictator (Paramount) - $9.6 million ($41 mil.)
5. The Chernobyl Diaries (Warner Bros.) - $8 million
6. What To Expect When You’re Defecting (Lionsgate) - $7.3 million ($22 mil.)
7. Tim Burton And Johnny Depp Are Together Again And There’s Nothing You Can Do About It (Warner Bros.) - $7.2 million ($63 mil.)
8. The Best Erotic Marigold Hotel (Fox Searchlight) - $6.3 million ($17 mil.)
9. The Tostitos Mountain Dew ABC Family Presentation Of The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) - $2.2 million ($395 mil.)
10. Twink Like A Man (Sony/Screen Gems) - $1.4 million ($88 mil.)