Normally, we’re besieged by animated fare during all months, but not so far in 2013. The only animated film of the year thus far was “Escape From Planet Earth,” a production from The Weinstein Company that was treated like a last minute dump, posting numbers that only counted as a hit compared to the film’s small budget and meager ad campaign. Before that, DreamWorks kept “Rise of the Guardians” active in over 3,000 sparsely-attended engagements, though over the holidays it seemed kids would rather toss snowballs around than watch a weirdly oppressive, vaguely non-denominational holiday movie. Which meant that all Fox had to do was not embarrass themselves with “The Croods,” supplying the kids market with a 3D diversion that stands as the second biggest opening of the year, far ahead of the middling 'Guardians' debut. And yes, to some of you adults reading this, there’s a movie out there called “The Croods.” Don’t worry, it’s for kids.
DreamWorks caught a lot of flak for the weaker showing of 'Guardians,' putting pressure on “The Croods” as the first DW production to be released under Fox to break the studio out of the doldrums. DreamWorks always saw themselves as reasonable competitors to Pixar’s hefty box office tallies, but the last few from them have proven their second-tier craftsmanship places them closer to Blue Sky, who themselves have a home at Fox. It does seem like DreamWorks Animation has something of an opening weekend ceiling, as “The Croods” is premiering with numbers in the ballpark, if somewhat lower, than “How To Train Your Dragon” and “Megamind.”
There was a full court press for this film, however, with a massive 4,000 plus screen release and a heavy ad budget that attempted to obscure the reviews, notably poorer than the average CG-‘toon. Overseas results have been solid but unspectacular, suggesting this is one premise that just won’t travel too far. But it’s a family picture, and when they open big a week before a major holiday, they usually carry that strength over another extra week. With Easter in its sights, “The Croods” could produce a hold that’s ultimately the difference between a $150 and $200 million haul.
“The Last Stand,” “Bullet to the Head,” “Parker” and “A Good Day to Die Hard” – a sea of R-rated action, and FilmDistrict’s White House terrorism picture topped them all handily. It’s hard to say this is Butler’s doing, as the premise was very clearly communicated through ads developed in a fairly compact time frame shortly after the new year. The picture is also loaded not necessarily with leading men, but familiar faces that put audiences at ease. You can’t put Morgan Freeman or Aaron Eckhart in the lead and expect blockbuster numbers: put them together, and not only are they attractive to audiences based on prior associations but, subliminally, it’s a 'Dark Knight' reunion! Sometimes movies bank on one mega-star, but, like cooking or lovemaking, it’s the exact combination of ingredients that makes a film an exciting proposition to filmgoers.
There seemed to be a peace treaty signed by Sony and FilmDistrict, as no ad materials have been released for this summer’s “White House Down” to distract from the opening of 'Olympus.' FilmDistrict has to count themselves lucky in this regard, as it was a risk making their most expensive production ($70 million plus) so quickly in an attempt to beat a bigger project to theaters – the script for 'Olympus' was sold only twelve months ago. As a result, they have their biggest opening weekend in studio history, though fingers crossed it can withstand “G.I. Joe Retaliation” next weekend.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” continues to speed along towards $200 million domestically, losing about half its audience as it sits comfortably as the year’s highest grossing film thus far. You’d have to be a Disney accountant to determine whether the $325 million plus expenditure on both production and prints and advertising means a likely $220 million final domestic tally is a “success,” but regardless if Disney is going home “still obscenely rich” or “slightly less obscenely rich,” even with international numbers added in this is a mildly disappointing result considering this was green lit with the $1 billion total of “Alice In Wonderland” on the studio’s minds. By turning down a sequel early, Sam Raimi wisely excused himself from spending the next few months being asked about a second installment that might not even happen, while James Franco, that rascally chameleon, already has another movie currently in release that has earned the promotional attention of his hyperactively public persona.
Check out “The Call,” comfortably sailing over $30 million in just ten days of release. Most thought the film would tap out at that generous total, but it has played strong to its demographic, a low-key crowd pleaser putting up numbers in a marketplace bereft of chillers. What happened to suspense thrillers? They don’t seem to make very many of them anymore, but considering this one comes with a high-visibility star eager to do promotion (work it, Halle Berry) and a small budget, expect a couple more like this to possibly hit the multiplex in the next couple of years. Congratulations to WWE Films as well, as it took three days for this to be their highest-grossing release of all time. We’ll ignore that it took them seventy billion terrible movies for them to get to that point.
“Admission” barely broke into the top five because, yup, no one cares. On one level, the specificity of this story, involving an Ivy League admissions officer attempting to get an oddball student into Princeton, is a topic few filmgoers have any direct experience with. On another, look at the racial makeup of this cast: studio films catch a lot of deserved negativity for casting minorities as sidekicks, villains and wallflowers, but the fact is that diverse racial makeup is naturally pleasing to the average moviegoer as a default now. It’s exceptionally unusual for a middle or lower class filmgoer to confront a primarily white demographic at a place of work, education, recreation or worship. For the most part, you can make a film with a predominantly black or mixed cast and attract the attention of general audiences. But an entirely white cast in a film taking place at an Ivy League school almost seems like a purposely exclusionary concept to most moviegoers in 2013. Also, racial commentary aside, the ad campaign was awful.
Spring break forevah! After selling out indie theaters last weekend, ebullient youth doomsday picture “Spring Breakers” burst upon the scene onto 1,104 screens. Considering the per-screen average isn’t comparable to the chatter generated by one of the year’s most talked about films, upon first glance these numbers aren’t too impressive. But distributor A24 took a huge leap in a bold, borderline futuristic ad strategy: the film essentially ignored television, allowing its stars to do promotion for the film without sinking a budget in 30-second spots to convey a concept best illustrated through breathless social media outlets. With a $2 million budget, this picture represents another feather in the cap of producers Chris Hanley, Jordan Gertner, and Charles-Marie Anthonioz as well as executive producer Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures because MEAL (Megan Ellison is Allergic to Losing).
Now you see it, now you don’t, said audiences for “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” (el oh el!). The middling opening likely led to a spread of nasty word of mouth, leaving this one for dead. Magic just isn’t cool, fellas, and it’s doubly uncool when it’s in a comedy where the main joke seems to be how completely uncool magic is. Quit outthinking yourselves, Warner Bros., 'Wonderstone' was one of the few releases it slotted under their New Line Cinema shingle, another being “Jack the Giant Slayer.” Not a good year to work at New Line, said that one guy still keeping the lights on at New Line. That being said, they still have two more 'Hobbit' pictures to release, though New Line seems to exist only for ceremonial purposes these days with Warner Bros. running the show out there – poorly, it seems.
“Identity Thief” spent its seventh week in the top ten, and it looks like it’s finally ready to exit the marketplace. 'Oz' remains the highest grossing 2013 release, but 'Thief' might register as the biggest hit, considering it only cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million, which likely would have paid for only a couple of 5-minute patches of 'Oz.' Meanwhile, audiences have finally stopped “Snitch”ing. The action thriller should hit $40 million domestic by the end of Sunday, rounding out a respectable total for an off-season actioner, particularly considering the aforementioned deflated market for musclebound action heroes.
1. The Croods (Fox/DreamWorks) - $44.7 million
2. White House Down: Bodega Edition (FilmDistrict) - $30.5 million
3. Oz: The Mildly Profitable (Disney) - $22.5 million ($176 mil.)
4. The Call (Sony) - $8.8 million ($31 mil.)
5. Paul Rudd Is Awkwardly Cute And Kissable Again (Focus) - $6.4 million
6. Look At Mah Shit! (A24) - $5.2 million ($5.6 mil.)
7. The Forgettable Burt Wonder… something (Warner Bros.) - $4.2 million ($17 mil.)
8. Jack The Giant Racist Jerk Who Always Ruins Parties (Warner Bros.) - $2.7 million ($59 mil.)
9. Identity Thief (Universal) - $2.5 million ($128 mil.)
10. Snitch (Lionsgate/Summit) - $1.8 million ($40 mil.)