Weekend Box Office: Audiences Stay Home In Droves As 'The Help' Defeats Weak New Releases

by Gabe Toro
August 21, 2011 4:53 AM
6 Comments
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Credit a canny expansion strategy that nabbed “The Help” the number one spot at the box office in its second weekend of release. Disney wisely banked on the film having more buzz than the slate of underwhelming new releases (not all of it positive), and after two weekends, it’s easily one of the season’s big success stories, as the picture has crested $70 million after only twelve days of release. The establishment has been encouraged - stories of the struggles of minorities highlighted by the heroism of a plucky white person of higher social strata are surefire earners, particularly if you market to families. Institutionalized racism at its most efficient.

Again not so much an endorsement of the movie as much as a rejection of anything else, “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” experienced a minor dip in weekend three, continuing to bring in audiences. The prequel is playing like gangbusters, and could match, or even eclipse, the Tim Burton “Apes” installment of a decade ago despite a much lower budget. Fox dodged a bullet, re-writing a lauded script upside down and then right side up again and then lowballing every tentpole director in Hollywood before signing Rupert Wyatt. Sadly, this development only encourages the questionable micro-management of the Tom Rothman regime. Whole lotta mixed messages going on this week.

A sad, almost tragic(ally funny?) showing from this week’s new releases, all of which were roundly, and loudly, ignored. Consider this a flashback to the days when August was a dumping ground for subpar studio projects, with two not-at-all-anticipated R-rated remakes, and a third sequel to a franchise that hasn’t had momentum for a span of eight years. This was the sort of weekend studios feared at the opening of 2011, worried that audiences would reject what looked like an overall weak blockbuster slate. Those who hope Hollywood burns to the ground a la ancient Rome, take heart: a hot August weekend where three 3D products took a nosedive could spell the beginning of the end.

Spy Kids: All The Time In The World” tried to push a “4D” offering, though clearly the gimmick didn’t catch, and the wordy, unnecessary subtitle probably didn’t interest kids or adults. This opening is almost a third of what “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over” scored in its 2003 opening, shocking when you factor in inflation and enhanced 3D pricing. It’s difficult to relaunch a kids’ franchise, as the core audience has grown out of these movies and you effectively have to re-introduce the product to a new demographic, and it appears featuring Jessica Alba and Joel McHale simply wasn’t a good enough strategy. This spells big trouble for Robert Rodriguez, who hasn’t had a legitimate breakout hit since 2005’s “Sin City,” a period that includes the nearly studio-crippling “Grindhouse” experiment.

When you upgrade for 3D, the expectation is at least a $20 million opening. When you spend $100 million, as Nu Image reportedly did by remaking “Conan The Barbarian,” you’d expect more. But only $10 million is enough to kill franchises, even careers. Nu Image probably walks away financially secure, given that they sell distribution rights to multiple partners worldwide, but their partners likely feel like suckers after gambling on the viability of a nearly thirty year old catalog title that hasn‘t exactly thrived on the ancillary market. Perhaps Jason Momoa should submit his sequel script to a few fan-fiction contests.

The Smurfs” held its ground, and after four weeks of release is nearing $120 million domestically and has already lapped $300 million worldwide, giving credence to the idea that some parents really could care less about what cynical, commercial garbage their kids consume. What’s the secret to great kids’ entertainment? Pixar says strong storytelling. Hayao Miyazaki says unparalleled visual imagination. Sony says, little CGI beasts who help move units of “Guitar Hero” and endorse masculine identity as multi-faceted and feminine ideals as one single unchanging personality. Sleep well, Raja Gosnell, because only a director pure of heart could bring us “The Smurfs,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and “Scooby Doo.”

Even though it was the cheapest of the week’s three wide releases, coming in under $20 million, “Fright Night” lived up to the obscurity of its source material. The original was a minor success in 1985, but with only one modestly-received sequel, the brand had been mostly forgotten by anyone outside of horror diehards. Perhaps October was the best time to launch a horror title like this, but while the marketing showcased a movie with no ideal demographic, a lot of this has to fall on the shoulders of star Colin Farrell. The hard-working actor has done some great work in the last few years, but since 2006‘s “Miami Vice,” a huge flop for Universal, a Farrell-toplined project hasn’t grossed more than $15 million at the domestic box office. He earned some heat for his supporting role in “Horrible Bosses,” but not enough to legitimize the decision to cast him as the face of a $200 million-budgeted “Total Recall” remake arriving in 2012.

Final Destination 5” and “30 Minutes Or Less” took the expected over-50% falls for male-centric genre films, with both settling into a long life of forgettable 2 AM cable broadcasts. They landed over the debut of “One Day,” which had the weekend’s best showing amongst the four new releases considering it opened in under two thousand theaters. Focus plans a slightly wider expansion in coming weeks, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see its second weekend eclipse the take of “Spy Kids,” “Conan” and “Fright Night.” Performing similarly was “Crazy Stupid Love,” finishing its fourth weekend of release and likely capping out around $75 million domestic.

In indie theaters, "Amigo" had the strongest opening with a ten theater showing of $40k. Disappointingly, it managed a lower per-screen than the seven theater release of "Mozart's Sister," which grabbed $33k. Weaker tallies greeted "Five Days Of War," collecting $6.4k on two screens. The arthouse market was nonetheless healthy with the performances of a few holdovers, led by "Sarah's Key," nabbing a strong $783k in its fifth weekend for a surprising total of $3.1 million. This was followed by "The Guard," which averaged $5k per-screen for a $438k total and a four week gross of $1.2 million.

The biggest per-screen average for the second straight week belonged to the documentary "Senna," which collected $12k per for a $169k take, expanding from two to fourteen theaters. This isn't counting a strong showing from the "Red State" roadshow this past week, as the Kevin Smith thriller has now officially crossed $1 million. Meanwhile, despite the extended runtime, "Mysteries Of Lisbon" was still able to gross $6k in its sole location. Support your local arthouse, boys and girls.

1. Thank Yuh, White Savior! (Disney) - $20.5 million (domestic total: $72 mil.)
2. Stop The Planet Of The Apes, I Want To Get Off! (Fox) - $16.3 million (domestic total: $134 mil.)
3. Spy Kids: The One That Robert Rodriguez Makes To Pay The Bills 3D (The Weinstein Company) - $12 million
4. Conan The Veterinarian 3D (Lionsgate) - $10 million
5. The Smurfs: That Which Should Not Be: 3D (Sony) - $8 million (domestic total: $118 mil.)
6. Fright Night (Disney) - $7.9 million
7. Not-Very-Final Destination 5 (Warner Bros.) - $7.7 million (domestic total: $32 million)
8. 30 Minutes Or Less (Sony) - $6.3 million (domestic total: $26 mil.)
9. One Day (Focus/Paramount) - $5.1 million
10. Crazy Stupid Love (Warner Bros.) - $4.9 million (domestic total: $64 mil.)

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6 Comments

  • jimmiescoffee | August 22, 2011 8:41 AMReply

    'fright night' got fucked by its promotion and release date.

  • padre | August 22, 2011 8:07 AMReply

    Young Hercules holds on to the number 10 spot. Yes! You can't keep a good man down! They should have featured him and the girly more in the ads and ditched the old people, who were a buzz kill. That would have doubled the box office right there.

  • appetit | August 21, 2011 12:27 PMReply

    Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just as much institutionalized racism as The Help. Think about it. It's probably crossed your mind once or twice before. Only now I'm typing it, and you're reading it. That makes it true.

  • mary | August 21, 2011 5:40 AMReply

    “The Help” could gross more than $150 million in US.

    On the other hand, Anthony Kaufman wrote that “The Help” may be this year’s “Crash” . (He disliked both films)
    http://blogs.indiewire.com/anthony/archives/is_the_help_this_years_crash/

    I had some doubts about the Oscar potential of “The Help” , but Anthony Kaufman’s article explained my doubts; now I feel that “The Help” would become a big Oscar winner like “Crash”.

    I am willing to shamelessly say that “The Help” is almost locked to win the Best Picture award at Oscar 2012. Other Oscar contenders may be the masterpieces; but on surface, their subject matters seem to have much less mainstream appeal than “The Help” (which clearly has huge appeal to both mainstream audience and the Academy’s mainstream branches).

    I even think that “The Help” could become the highest-grossing Best Picture Oscar winner in US since “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”.

    BTW, “The Help” and “Crash” have the same editor (Hughes Winborne).
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0003893/

  • Nicole Lindsay | August 21, 2011 5:37 AMReply

    Arnold Schwarzenegger is the greatest Conan of all time. Jason Momoa looks more like Tarzan than Conan.

    It is unfortunate that 5 Days of War only got a limited release in the U.S. and has already gone straight to DVD here in the UK. It has Renny Harlin directing and a stellar cast – Rupert Friend, Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia, Dean Cain, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham, Antje Traue, Rade Serbedzija. It would have been interesting to see how it would have done commercially if released nationwide.

  • Mark | August 21, 2011 5:27 AMReply

    Hang on. Len Wiseman was given a $200 million budget?!?

    Holy shit. Hollywood really is well and truly fucked.

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