A week after theaters on the East Coast faced Hurricane Sandy, business was back to normal in Hollywood, with Disney debuting “Wreck-It Ralph” to a nearly $50 million gross. This is the biggest stateside Disney Animation Studios opening ever, which, coming off the acquisition of Lucasfilms, suggests the studio has had a very good week. U mad, Hollywood?
“Wreck-It Ralph” was an unusual beast, in that it was marketed to kids and families with its shiny color schemes and antic animated slapstick, but also pushed to a certain generation weaned on video games. The “A” Cinemascore suggests that the older viewers weren’t put off by bait-and-switch ads that spotlighted major characters from games like “Sonic The Hedgehog” and “Street Fighter,” which would suggest to the uninitiated that the film was an adaptation of these properties, when in fact these characters were only peripheral to the main story. Then again, you probably don’t go to “Wreck-It Ralph” without knowing exactly what you’re gonna get.
The more surprising news of the week, however, has to be the spectacular returns on “Flight.” Paramount was gunshy, opening this at just under 2,000 theaters with expansion soon to come, and yet it still registered as Denzel Washington’s fifth straight $20 million opener, and thirteenth overall. What’s impressive is that, while Washington stars in the occasional clunker, his brand remains consistent and respectable, that of the mid-budgeted studio film for adults, the ones critics claim Hollywood never makes anymore. And “Flight” is just that, pitched as a sobering drama about a broken man, albeit as broken as someone with the audience-soothing confidence and good looks of Mr. Washington can be.
One cannot overlook that connection to Robert Zemeckis, as the film was not only sold on his name and past work, but also on a superficial resemblance to his wildly popular “Cast Away.” “Flight” is similarly austere, but it was marketed with the same emphasis on a visceral plane crash that likely caught the attention of audiences. Paramount will no doubt expand with confidence in the coming weeks, giving a significant boost to Washington’s Best Actor Oscar chances, given that this picture is also coming off one of Washington’s highest-grossing films, “Safe House.” The more adult-themed pics become a niche, the more likely a film with this sort of pedigree will break through, given a solid ad campaign and the right principals.
In a similar vein, “Argo” fell out of the top spot, though it remains a good deal ahead of the pace of Ben Affleck’s previous effort “The Town” and continues to post respectable holds even after a large chunk of its audience likely migrated to “Flight” this weekend. The picture is certain to crack $100 million domestically, a triumphant peak in the elaborate Affleck-fueled campaign to get people to forget “Gigli” ever happened. Even though there are some things you just don’t forget. Gobble gobble, Mr. Affleck.
Despite the considerable press obligations of co-writer, director and star RZA, Universal dumped “The Man With The Iron Fists” in fewer than 2000 theaters, resulting in a tepid opening that shows little promise for what theoretically is a coming expansion. Universal is known to take risks with genre projects, but it is what it is: martial arts pictures rarely break through, and the association with RZA, a multimedia trailblazer still largely anonymous to huge swaths of the public, didn’t exactly raise the profile. The studio claims the budget was somewhere between $15-$20 million, which suggests the picture will do its heavy lifting on DVD and internationally. Sticking Russell Crowe in your film used to result in at least a little extra cash, but his presence had no such effect this time, while Cinemascore reflects a cool “C+” reception from audiences, suggesting this was simply a case of product outright rejected by the general public.
Surprisingly, “Taken 2” remains in the top five in its fifth week, easing up considerably as it winds down its run. The film has an outside shot of eclipsing the $145 million stateside gross of the first film, but even if it stalls before reaching that number, it’s already wildly outgunned its predecessor in global receipts. There was the suggestion that producers would move forward without Liam Neeson on “Taken 2,” a contingency plan no one wanted to employ, but as it turns out “Taken” looks like it may replicate the typical studio franchise model, with a robust trilogy leading the way towards an eventual reboot with a new cast, as Liam Neeson is too smart to take “Taken” into “Death Wish” territory. The best part of all this is, unlike other franchises that follow this model, “Taken” remains a relatively affordable series of B-movies. The sun never sets on the Luc Besson empire.
“Cloud Atlas” is still a definite non-performer. After its iffy opening weekend, the film is still playing to a curious few, but the loss of half its audience suggests whatever word-of-mouth caught on was minimal at best. Given the massive budget of this picture, the hope is that international audiences are more receptive to the effects and the star-studded international cast, but this is an “unfilmable” labor of love for all involved, and it's likely no one entered this expensive endeavor to make a huge profit, but rather to invest in what they hoped to consider a major cultural contribution. Imagine that!
“Hotel Transylvania” took a big fall as a result of “Wreck-It Ralph” entering the marketplace, though it’s within striking distance of the $142 million gross of “The Smurfs.” Once it surpasses that number, it will become the biggest release in Sony Animation history. “Paranormal Activity 4” is still a few whiskers away from $50 million and will likely be the weakest performer in the series, while “Here Comes The Boom” continues to tread water after its weak opening. Meanwhile, taking the biggest fall was the second weekend of “Silent Hill: Revelation,” which very much seems like it's in a rush to get to your local Redbox kiosk.
1. Disney Owns Every License So Deal With It (Disney) - $49.1 million
2. Flight (Paramount) - $25 million
3. Torgo (Warner Bros.) - $10.2 million ($75.8 mil.)
4. Rap Punchers! (Universal) - $8.2 million
5. Taken: Book Two (Fox) - $6 million ($125.6 mil.)
6. The Wachowskis’ Eight Movie Superpak (Warner Bros.) - $5.2 million ($18.2 mil.)
7. Hotel Transylvania (Sony) - $4.5 million ($137.5 mil.)
8. Paranorman Activity 4 (Paramount) - $4.3 million ($49.5 mil.)
9. Here Comes The Boom (Sony) - $3.6 million ($35.5 mil.)
10. Silent Hill 2: The Silencing (Open Road) - $3.3 million ($13.9 mil.)