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Weekend Box Office: 'Cars 2' Continues Pixar Formula, 'Green Lantern' Plummets

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist June 26, 2011 at 5:27AM

The numbers on “Cars 2” don’t actually matter, except for the stat-hounds regularly following the weekly box office noise (us!). “Cars 2” exists to facilitate Disney’s biggest merchandising cash cow, a multi-billion (annually!) property that needs no further justification. As Pixar seems like a studio that hopes to branch out into more ambitious directions (in theory), they will need something to keep the lights on when, and if, they should fail. Even if the reviews continue to be the worst ever received by a Pixar film, the “Cars” franchise will live on.
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The numbers on “Cars 2” don’t actually matter, except for the stat-hounds regularly following the weekly box office noise (us!). “Cars 2” exists to facilitate Disney’s biggest merchandising cash cow, a multi-billion (annually!) property that needs no further justification. As Pixar seems like a studio that hopes to branch out into more ambitious directions (in theory), they will need something to keep the lights on when, and if, they should fail. Even if the reviews continue to be the worst ever received by a Pixar film, the “Cars” franchise will live on.

But the film’s number one opening and $68 million take does provide plenty of fodder for dissection. For one, this surprisingly isn’t much of an expanding fan base considering no movie in the last decade has inspired such fervent response from children in the toy aisles. The first “Cars” opened to $60 million five years ago without the benefit of 3D prices, so attendance was actually lower this time around. And the 3D numbers are also illusory, as only 40% of this opening can be attributed to the 3D theaters, a percentage lower than that of “Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” or even “Green Lantern.”

All things considered, this is ultimately one of the weaker Pixar stateside debuts, and along with the reviews, “Cars 2” represents a significant chink in their armor. But the film, like all Pixar offerings, should stabilize over the Fourth of July period, and will easily become the studio’s tenth $200 million domestic grosser. Expect overseas receipts to be even stronger: somewhat cynically, the decision to pretty much change genres for this second installment, making “Cars 2” a globe-trotting spy adventure, allowed for the opportunity for a stronger emphasis on worldwide appeal. This means that, unlike the first entry, which focused on the charms of small-town Americana, “Cars 2” is very much a threat to score bigger numbers internationally than stateside. Hey world: America hopes you like Larry The Cable Guy.

In a successful bit of counter programming, “Bad Teacher” became the third big R-rated comedy of the summer, following 2011 domestic “champ” “The Hangover Part II” and runaway success “Bridesmaids.” Reports suggest Sony, possibly taking cues from shingle-mate Screen Gems, kept costs very low on this picture, and tracking suggested they would barely eclipse the reported $19 million budget. Instead, “Bad Teacher” might even have an outside shot at $100 million domestic if it garners strong word-of-mouth. The comedy does have stiff competition, as “Larry Crowne” should siphon off some of the date crowd (unless people take dates to see “Transformers” - romance is alive!). And as far as bawdy R-rated comedies, we’re two weeks away from “Horrible Bosses.”

Of course, there’s also the matter of a nagging C+ Cinemascore rating. It’s possible the film, which has a considerably narrow appeal, collapses and dies by Independence Day. But $31 million for an R-rated comedy will open a lot of doors. People will talk about the victory that two female-centric comedies have had in this season’s marketplace (“Bridesmaids” closes the weekend within spitting distance of $150 million domestic) but that neglects the enduring appeal of Cameron Diaz as a popular leading lady.

If you throw out “The Box” (keep the receipt) Diaz has starred is seven straight movies from 2006 to today that grossed at least $49 million domestically, and that low last number was because of “My Sister’s Keeper,” an offseason weepie that most leading ladies couldn’t get into an eight figure gross. Diaz is notoriously choosy about her roles (which makes sense, given that she’s aging into a demographic screenwriters frequently ignore), but she’s been wise enough to diversify. Not only has she branched out from broad comedies, but her last two films, action pictures “Knight And Day” and “The Green Hornet,” were very big hits overseas. Along with a high profile costar in Justin Timberlake and the popular Jason Segel, “Bad Teacher” isn’t evidence of the success of female-driven comedies as much as proof of star-driven vehicles.

You can call audiences Yellow, because “Green Lantern” is powerless against it’s own limited appeal to the mainstream. The DC Comics’ picture confirmed its flop status with a mammoth drop that you’d normally chalk up to the dastardly deeds of supervillainy if the movie were any good. After two 3D-enhanced weeks, the film hasn’t yet hit $100 million domestic, and at the rate the film is slowing down, it will be a struggle to match the grosses of its most similar superhero film counterpart, “Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer.” Mind you, “Rise” not only killed that franchise, but it scored those numbers without the 3D benefit. It also lost audience numbers at a less-damning speed, so “Green Lantern” might not even match that picture’s $131 million domestic gross.

So what happened? “Green Lantern” didn’t fail because marketing was asleep at the wheel, as they consistently rejiggered a frantic, immersive, expensive ad campaign that promised the same sort of thrills as this summer’s similar superhero flick, “Thor.” It simply must have been the weakness of the movie and the disinterest in the character. “Green Lantern” isn’t even amongst DC Comics’ top heroes as far as Q-rating, lagging behind Wonder Woman (somehow not getting a movie out of the superhero boom) and the Flash (runs fast - got it). Furthermore, explaining the character (certainly not the story, of which the movie doesn’t have one) is fairly difficult on its own, as the character is named after a portable lighting device that, according to the ads, he never really uses (and only twice, fleetingly, in the actual film).

Casting was also probably an issue, as, despite recent successes, the audience is aware that Ryan Reynolds is a tall, good-looking guy with charm that the studios have been actively trying to make “happen” for years now. He may be young-ish, but he’s no longer the fresh-face, nor the well-defined star persona, that audiences would prefer as an audience surrogate in an epic space adventure. Lest we forget, “Van Wilder” was nine years ago. Any excitement over Blake Lively (or her nude photos) comes from “Gossip Girl,” a series that registers lower-than-Telemundo ratings on a third-rate broadcast network, while the last people to be excited by Peter Sarsgaard and Mark Strong were their mothers. Would this movie have ever really worked with these names attached?

Solid holds for both “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and “Super 8.” In the case of the former, it’s not really news, as the Jim Carrey film, which didn’t open big, should have kid flick legs and make a run at $100 million. “Super 8,” meanwhile, hasn’t exactly attained “phenom” status, but it’s impossible to ignore not only that robust opening, but a three week tally right at the edge of $100 million. In some ways, this is JJ Abrams’ “Inception,” a massively successful original work from a heavily in-demand creative-type in between coffer-filling sequels of a popular franchise (“Star Trek”). Because Abrams didn’t break the bank on this the way Nolan did on “Inception,” it might be an even more impressive achievement to the studios.

X-Men: First Class” and “The Hangover Part II” are finishing their runs with very different results. “Hangover” didn’t set Warner Bros. back too far, and it’s become the biggest domestic earner of the year, and the biggest R-rated comedy in history thanks to massive overseas results. We’re certain to get “The Hangover Part III.” As for “X-Men”? Doing a shade under $150 million (where it will finish) isn’t bad for the fifth movie in a series with a damaged brand. But these X-Movies are far from cheap, so where does this put the franchise if it’s the lowest-grossing entry in the series thus far? Fox is going to have to do some heavy research to determine if people would actively seek out another “First Class” adventure.

“Bridesmaids” held steady as the oldest film in the top ten, and with such minor audience losses, it may have enough juice to push for $160 million domestically. A massive success for all involved. Speaking of massive success, “Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” bucked expectations and has gone on to become one of the ten highest grossing films in global history, an impressive feat considering it’s turgid time-wasting narrative and naked contempt for a reason to exist. That’s a nearly four billion dollar total gross for the four films in the series. WHY.

"The Tree Of Life" kept burning up the indie circuit, threatening to enter the top ten, expanding into 215 locations for a $1.4 million gross and $5.9 million total. Additionally, "Beginners" continued to expand in a similarly successful fashion, with a $460k weekend on seventy-two screens. Hitting fifty-four screens on week two, "Buck" averaged $5.5k for a $297k take, and "The Trip" and "Cave Of Forgotten Dreams" are still averaging strong per-screens, with "Cave" becoming Werner Herzog's highest-grossing doc.

They were the highlights of another busy indie frame, which saw twenty four theaters welcome "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" and "Turtle: The Incredible Journey." Despite O'Brien's considerably higher profile compared to a random turtle, his doc only slightly outdid the nature doc, with $150k versus the Disney doc's $72k. A stronger per-screen debut came from "A Better Life," which opened in four theaters for a $60k gross. "The Names Of Love" pulled in $31k on five screens, while John Turturro's "Passione" collected $17k on only one New York City screen. A quiet debut was had by nature doc "If A Tree Falls: A Story Of The Earth Liberation Front," which enticed $6k worth of filmgoers on two screens. Support your local arthouse theaters, boys and girls.

1. Toy Placeholder (Disney) - $68 million
2. Bad Teacher: Port Of Call New Orleans (Sony) - $31 million
3. Green Tchotchke (Warner Bros.) - $18.3 million ($89 mil.)
4. Estupendo Ocho (Paramount) - $12.1 million ($95 mil.)
5. Mr. Popper's Penguins (Fox) - $10.3 million ($39 mil.)
6. X-Men: First Class (Fox) - $6.6 million ($133 mil.)
7. The Hangover Part II: The Quickening (Warner Bros.) - $5.9 million ($244 mil.)
8. Bridesmaids (Universal) - $5.4 million ($147 mil.)
9. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Gettin' Some Strange On Dem Tides (Disney) - $4.7 million ($229 mil.)
10. Midnight In Paris (Sony) - $4.5 million ($29 mil.)

This article is related to: Films, Actors, Actresses, Film Studios, Weekend Box-Office, The Hangover 2, Super Hero Films, Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Super 8, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Animated Films, The Tree Of Life, Bad Teacher, Bridesmaids, Beginners, A Better Life, John Turturro, Blake Lively, Cameron Diaz, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern, Thor, The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, Buck, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Pixar , Sony, Paramount, Cars 2, D.C. Entertainment


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