By Gabe Toro | The Playlist September 11, 2011 at 4:30AM
It looks like “Contagion” lived up to its name, landing at number one with $23 million and sapping the rest of the lineup of its health, creating one of the genuinely weakest weekends of the year. The Steven Soderbergh thriller, loaded with familiar faces, benefited from a savvy ad campaign and a few IMAX engagements to deliver what should count as a big opening by September standards.
The Warner Bros. offering reportedly cost $60 million, and while there are murmurs the film was a bait-and-switch, far more dry than the trailers would lead you to believe, the marketplace is ripe for a big star vehicle for adults. Especially considering the last few weekends were spent trying to make youngins like Jason Momoa and Zoe Saldana happen. When the unpredictable Soderbergh is working with the big studios, he’s almost really developed a brand. While the WB weirdly downplayed the director’s name during the ad campaign, there had to be some audience members who knew the filmmaker was responsible for big, serious adult entertainments like “Traffic,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Erin Brockovich.”
Both of the top slots this week were taken by offerings from Participant Media, a progressive production house that remains one of the few safe havens for movies with ideas. Unfortunately, “The Help” seems like it’s more about pies made of excrement than race relations in the 1960’s. Nonetheless, it’s three week reign as the number one movie in America (overall, a run at #1 longer than any movie since “The Sixth Sense” twelve years ago) ended, though the film had a relatively minor drop, bringing it’s total to a borderline ridiculous $138 million. Considering it’s quiet August release and how it’s dominated the competition, “The Help” is one of the rare blockbusters with no qualifiers -- no IMAX bookings, no enhanced 3D pricing, and with the exception of the somewhat-popular Emma Stone, no big stars with crossover appeal.
An absolutely feeble opening greeted “Warrior,” Lionsgate’s MMA drama showcasing two exciting up-and-comers in Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy. Sadly, the marketing department dropped the ball on this one, turning off huge swaths of moviegoers. They could have marketed it as showcasing these two new leading men, both starring in a number of bigger projects over the next two weeks. They could have emphasized the family angle, or even the suspense. Instead, they pitched this straight to the MMA crowd. Mixed martial arts remains lucrative, but still niche compared to bigger sports, and it’s also one of the few sports that is an automatic turn-off for some women, put off by the brutality, and some men, uncomfortable with the amount of skin being shown (and, let‘s face it, totally insecure). The ads were as generic as the title, and resulted in “Warrior” looking no different than an accidental theatrical release for something like “Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown.” A huge miss for Lionsgate marketing.
“The Debt” lost about half its audience, but its numbers are solid after two weeks of release. Focus gambled this would reach a similar audience as last year’s “The American” and, for the most part, they were right, especially considering most studios would have given this film some sort of arthouse release. The film stayed slightly above the surprisingly-persistent “Colombiana,” which has hung around in the top five for its three week run, though that may be due to limited action offerings and a weak marketplace.
Dismal news all around for pretty much every other release. A whole bunch of recent films dropped below “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” even with that blockbuster showing no extra muscle this late in its run. The critically-loved reboot is actually making a run at eclipsing the total gross of Tim Burton’s film 10 years ago (it’s a victory if only because this one cost far less than the Burton version, and was considered a damaged brand). Falling by the wayside were “Shark Night 3D” and “Apollo 18,” while “Our Idiot Brother” crossed $20 million this week, a slight victory for the $6 million acquisition price by The Weinstein Company.
In limited release, the biggest surprise was concert film "Laugh At My Pain." Starring Kevin Hart, a fixture in films like "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Soul Plane," the film opened on 97 screens and averaged a spectacular $20k per, for a $2 million total. Those are smashing numbers for a film that was on nobody's radar, even topping the pathetic wide release of "Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star." The Adam Sandler-produced comedy, with an absolutely repellent ad campaign, only collected $1.4 million on 1,500 screens. Perhaps the film, which had been lying around for a couple of years, should have stayed in incubation. News was even worse for the horror film "Creature," which debuted on 1,507 screens and scored $331k, for an average of $220 per-screen.
In other debuts, "The Black Power Mixtape" had a strong showing on two screens with $20k. Meanwhile, in its second frame, "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" pulled in $24.9k on three screens for a strong $8k average. In a not-entirely-healthy indie market, "Love Crime" also boasted a strong second weekend with $41k at 10 locations. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.
1. Contagion (Warner Bros.) - $23.1 million
2. If It Weren't For That Plucky White Girl, Everyone Would Still Be Racist (Disney) - $8.7 million (Domestic Total: $137 mil.)
3. Sweatymen (Lionsgate) - $5.6 million
4. The Debt (Focus/Paramount) - $4.9 million (Domestic Total: $22 mil.)
5. Colombiana (Sony) - $4 million (Domestic Total: $30 mil.)
6. That Ape Planet, It Be Risin' (Fox) - $3.9 million (Domestic Total: $168 mil.)
7. Shark Night 3D (Relativity) - $3.5 million (Domestic Total: $15 mil.)
8. Apollo 18 (The Weinstein Company) - $2.9 million (Domestic Total: $15 mil.)
9. Our Idiot Bro-Bro (The Weinstein Company) - $2.8 million (Domestic Total: $21 mil.)
10. Spy Kids IV (The Weinstein Company) - $2.5 million (Domestic Total: $34 mil.)