By Gabe Toro | The Playlist August 5, 2012 at 12:03PM
Even with its associations to the horrible disaster in Aurora, Colorado, the business being registered by “The Dark Knight Rises” has been fairly unprecedented. While it’s clear at this point it won’t match its predecessor, the zeitgeist-y “The Dark Knight,” its numbers are still poised to result in the second biggest film of the year, and easily one of the most successful of all time, as it retained the lead in the box office race for the third weekend in a row with $36.4 million, bringing its tally to over $350 million domestic.
While 'Rises' now has the stigma of real-life devastation keeping more sensitive moviegoers away, there are few who considered that the third film in the series would outgross the second, at least not by very much. One can’t neglect what most big superhero films have forgotten: part of their appeal lies in the bad guys, and no hero has a rogue’s gallery quite as flashy as Batman. While “The Dark Knight Rises” boasts a notable menace in the violent Bane, and a fairly muted representation of the popular Catwoman, “The Dark Knight” featured the Joker who, villainy aside, is easily one of the most recognizable comic book characters in history, period. Pre-'Avengers,' you could probably line up any member of that super team’s roster against the Joker, and the average Joe would have an easier time recognizing the Clown Prince of Crime.
That film and that character was also steeped in tragedy, as it would be the final complete role of the young Heath Ledger’s career, adding a surprising level of gravitas to the audience’s acceptance of that character. It wasn’t Heath Ledger’s passing that stuck with audiences such as the loss of a great talent, and the chance to see it flower one more time on his biggest stage as a definitive, iconic character. Compare that to the masked, unknowable Bane (Tom Hardy, not yet a marquee name) and the flirty, mysterious Catwoman (well-known, but clearly taking a narrative backseat), and 'Rises' doesn't appear to possess that extra spark to entice the otherwise casual fan.
As Hollywood learns from its experiments in sequential storytelling, there’s also the possibility of audiences responding feverishly to a part two simply because they know part three is around the corner, then being a bit more hesitant to frequent the close of a trilogy. Recent series like “The Matrix,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and even the “Shrek” pulled in lower grosses with their third films after their second entries pulled in paradigm-changing numbers. Not to say a third entry is some sort of box office downer -- “Return of the King” alone breaks that trend. But those other films saw a serious uptick after high-grossing part ones, only to settle for course-correction by the time part three rolled around. Clearly there’s a significant group of moviegoers who were offered a third helping of “The Dark Knight” and blamed full stomachs for turning it down.
There’s no nice way of saying this: it is absolutely impossible to justify the $200 million production budget for the new version of “Total Recall.” As much of a pleasure the original may be, it’s a contemporary blockbuster defined by its leading man. Folly on those for trying to replicate the work of Arnold Schwarzenegger without a capable replacement for the Austrian strongman, as evidenced by the weak returns on “Terminator: Salvation” and last summer’s “Conan the Barbarian.” Those franchises restarted by replacing Schwarzenegger’s presence with Christian Bale and Jason Momoa, so what hope would they have with Colin Farrell instead?
Hollywood’s desperate search for leading men has led us to Farrell returning to the limelight years after starring in a series of studio non-starters. Overnight, he went from hot young thing to leading man for would-be blockbusters like “Alexander” and “Miami Vice,” both pricey lowlights of a brief run where Farrell appeared in a number of box office underperformers. A brief sabbatical was followed by the excellent “In Bruges,” which won Farrell a Golden Globe and a new lease on his studio career -- bizarre considering the film was seen by about ten people and the Golden Globes are largely considered a joke. Unfortunately, “Total Recall” was already in production when Farrell‘s “Fright Night” debuted last summer to spectacularly dismal numbers, reaffirming that in Hollywood there are blockbuster leading men, and then there are Colin Farrells. Or Jude Laws.
Regardless, even if they did nab a bankable leading man, there’s nothing in “Total Recall”’s pedigree to suggest it could generate $400-$600 million box office worldwide, especially without 3D-inflated prices. Director Len Wiseman may have shepherded “Live Free or Die Hard” to big bucks, though that was a franchise picture with an A-List star given a highly lucrative Independence Day opening, and even the film’s most staunch defenders have little to say about Wiseman’s work on the film. Coupled with the movie’s supporting cast of Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, both of whom have amounted to wallpaper in a string of blockbusters and bombs, and it’s clear that an optimist would think that the original film’s $100 million gross would be a reasonable target to aim for.
That’s three straight years and three straight hits for the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series. Expectations were modest when Fox brought the first book to the screen in 2010, though the film overperformed in relation to its low budget, and the studio immediately went into production on the sequel. It wasn’t until “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,” when Fox realized they had something spectacular on their hands, with the opening weekend outgrossing “Sucker Punch” on maybe a tenth of the budget. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” looks like it's opening significantly softer than the first two films, though considering the price tag and the fact that it should have higher daytime grosses in the summer compared to the earlier March berths of the two previous entries, you can count on viewers continuing to read this 'Diary.' Haha, just kidding, movies are for illiterates.
Though it should continue to play for the next few remaining weeks, “Ice Age: Continental Drift” appears largely tapped out, and domestically it should finish below the earlier films in the series. Again, of course, the Blue Sky guys know how to keep budgets down, and they generally release the cheapest CG-animated fare in the marketplace to ever-reliable grosses. It stayed ahead of the feeble second weekend of “The Watch,” which by far registered the lowest per-screen average of any film in the top five, and it should vanish quickly as soon as Fox yanks it off those 3,000 plus screens.
That’s eight domestic releases this year to cross the $200 million mark, the latest being Universal’s “Ted.” In its sixth week of release, the film again boasted the lowest percentage drop in the top ten, and it could very well be in line for a sequel. Director/writer/co-star Seth MacFarlane recently volunteered to an enthusiastic Comic-Con crowd that he would be open to a “Ted 2,” but you’d have to believe a guy like him has the freedom to write and direct whatever he would like instead of squeezing the blood from a stone that would be another installment in this series. Also, it’s Comic-Con. You could show up tomorrow and talk about a “Goonies 2” and fans would orgasm at your feet.
Taking the swiftest fall in the top ten was “Step Up: Revolution,” suggesting that, even with its low budgets, this franchise might have to take a knee. Since the breakout first film, the grosses have dropped for each successive film, and this was the first 'Step Up' from Summit after the series was abandoned by Disney. While worldwide the film should perform strongly (in several regions the franchise goes by “Sexy Dance,” which helps), it’s unclear if a studio like Summit, who does not distribute internationally, would see the viability in “Step Up 5.” Unless it were set in space. Summit, you have our mailing address, we’ll take a check.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” is wrapping up its run, though the picture lost quite a bit of momentum once “The Dark Knight Rises” took over the marketplace. This weekend it finally crosses the $250 million worldwide mark, almost $90 million below the domestic take of “Spider-Man 3,” the lowest grossing film in the series stateside, even with enhanced 3D prices. Sony saw the writing on the wall months ago, which is why it hired blockbuster scribes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to take over writing duties for a theoretically bigger, badder sequel. They’re willing to take Spidey’s significantly lower stateside profile if it comes with robust global receipts (nearly $700 million worldwide and counting) and the chance to build from a more solid foundation, free of any pesky perfectionists like Sam Raimi. The question Hollywood is asking is, does Marc Webb come along for the ride in part two? The answer might be the difference in Spidey making hundreds of millions, and the 'Spider-Man' movies becoming a global billion dollar brand. How big do you want your beach houses to be, Sony?
“Brave” and “Magic Mike” are winding down, both considered sizable success stories thus far. Both fought off strong competition on the cusp of the top ten in the form of the expanding “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which finished outside the top ten with $1.2 million at 318 locations. Its breakout potential is limited, as the per-screen average isn’t very strong, though the film has already had a solid run in preparation for a DVD blitz in time for Oscar campaigning. In further limited release, "Celeste And Jesse Forever" registered the fifth strongest per-screen average of the year amongst indies, with $112k on only four screens. The star-filled "360" also opened, though interest was insignificant, with $12.6k of tickets sold on two screens. Even worse was the latest from Broken Lizard, "The Babymakers," which appeared on ten screens, grossing a piddling $5.7k.
In its second weekend, meanwhile, "Ruby Sparks" expanded from thirteen to 64 theaters, a $400k total suggesting a wide expansion might be a possibility. "Killer Joe" was spectacular in its second weekend, meanwhile, with $163k on fourteen screens, while "Seaching For Sugar Man" closed its second frame with $38.5k at seven locations. And Roadside Attractions gave a tiny release to actioner "Soldiers Of Fortune," which tanked with $22k on fifty screens, for a per-screen average of $446. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.
1. The Dark Knight Rises (WB) - $36.4 million ($354 mil.)
2. We Will Forcefeed You Colin Farrell And You Will Like It Dammit (Sony) - $24.5 million
3. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (Fox) - $17 million
4. Ice Age: Cheaper Than A Babysitter (Fox) - $8 million ($131 mil.)
5. The Watch (Fox) - $6 million ($25 mil.)
6. The Sun Never Sets On The Seth MacFarlane Empire (Universal) - $5.4 million ($203 mil.)
7. Step Down (Summit) - $5.3 million ($23 mil.)
8. The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony) - $4.2 million ($250 mil.)
9. Brave (Disney) - $2.7 million ($223 mil.)
10. Magic Mike (WB) - $1.3 million ($111 mil.)