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Weekend Box Office: 'Dolphin Tale' Flips Over Another Batch Of Weak New Releases To Score #1

by Gabe Toro
October 2, 2011 4:38 AM
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Break it down however you want, but its simple economics. The last month has been absolutely saturated with product, so few of it appealing to mainstream America. These movies aren’t bad. And, in most cases, the marketing isn’t all that faulty. It’s pure numbers. The market can’t withstand this over-saturation. In September, eighteen films entered wide release of 1500 or more theaters, and only six crossed $30 million domestic, two of them benefiting from inflated 3D prices. That’s a poor record of success, even as we keep the bar exactly that low.

One of those six is “Dolphin Tale,” which benefited from word of mouth to post the lowest per-week drop in the top ten and rise from third last weekend to the number one spot. The 3D kids’ pic is actually the widest release in the marketplace by far, with Alcon Entertainment only spending $37 million on the production budget and Warner Bros. distributing. Probably the least interesting box office victory of the year, given that no one has had much to say about this release, a true story about a handicapped dolphin that audiences have given an A+ Cinemascore, grading on the “My kid smiled, so it must be good” curve.


The picture stayed ahead of “The Lion King 3D,” which did solid business considering its Blu-Ray release arrives on Tuesday. Disney extended the two-week run of this special engagement, but the crowds have started to dissipate. Still, even if this re-issue doesn’t eclipse $100 million (which remains a possibility), the inflated prices helped goose “The Lion King” into the list of top ten highest grossing films of all time. What a dirty dirty cheat.

It’s neck and neck between “Lion King“ and “Moneyball,” though you can’t degrade the surprising staying power of the baseball drama. The film has gotten that post-release buzz/journalists-and-blogger buzz, getting the adults who skipped out on weekend one to try a sampling of the inspirational baseball story, and with some whispering “Oscar” its likely to remain a high-end attraction. Brad Pitt’s presence likely helps, and it makes it easier on customers in week three and four who just say, “Aw, screw it, let’s just go see the Brad Pitt movie.”

Credit to Summit for refusing to hide the cancer overtones of “50/50.” When your handsome star is shaving his head bald on the poster, you’re clearly marketing to an audience hungry for something a little more dramatic, even if the television ads schizophrenically promised a laff-riot. Cancer remains a tough sell and, as a result, this is the lowest grossing opening weekend for a film where he’s the lead or co-lead. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also has a high visibility, but he’s relatively untested as a leading man, and it’s likely “50/50” would not have grossed higher with original lead James McAvoy.

The weekend’s biggest success story has to be “Courageous.” The Christian-themed pic has been marketed for months to nationwide church groups off the strength of 2008’s surprise hit “Fireproof,” bringing in $10 million. This picture, which has no stars, almost no coastal advertising presence, and judging by the trailer, little production value, had the smallest theater count of any film in the top ten. While “Fireproof” had the backing of Samuel Goldwyn, this is a Sony release, so the bigger opening was expected, though industry analysts will be watching closely. If “Courageous” can gross $40 million or more, don’t be surprised to see a few studio execs suddenly attending Sunday services and taking notes.


It very much looks like Daniel Craig is following in the footsteps of his fellow James Bonds in failing to open a non-Bond picture, with "Dream House" flopping hard. Craig is very much in the Hugh Jackman wheelhouse, utterly dependent on his one franchise to succeed, but not a guy who should be the studio’s first choice to lead a tent pole, and “Dream House” is his second straight box office embarrassment. This burden shouldn’t entirely fall on his shoulders -- “Cowboys And Aliens” was sank from the start by its massively bloated budget, while “Dream House” was completely hidden from critics. Still, this weak debut seems to remind people that Craig isn’t one of those leading men that people will rush to see in anything. In other words, “Dream House” isn’t a “Brad Pitt Picture.”

The weekend’s biggest wide release also ended up as the weakest debut, with three thousand screens indifferently showing “What’s Your Number?” R-rated comedies were a big hit during the summer, but this one was relatively tame by comparison. The presence of Chris Evans should have been a selling point, but relying on Anna Faris to be the main box office draw may have hurt them, as she has yet to lead a major crossover hit outside of the “Scary Movie” franchise, though she came close with “The House Bunny.” Failing to capitalize on the heat of that film, she instead appeared in the barely-released Brit-com “Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel” and took a supporting role in non-crowd pleaser “Observe And Report.” If audiences recognized her from anything in the last two plus years, it’s from a string of kiddie pictures that, while nice paychecks at the time, probably represented an audience that wasn’t going to see an R-rated sex comedy in 2011.

Last weekend’s action pictures “Abduction” and “Killer Elite” continued to fall by the wayside. The business is, of course, unpredictable, as these turkeys are likely to blow up your local Redbox (and the independently-produced 'Elite' probably earned hit status after the rights were divvied up internationally). Sandwiched between them was “Contagion,” finishing up its solid run, and possibly having a little juice left, maybe for a fifth weekend in the top ten next week. Not the big shiny blockbuster everyone was hoping for, but everyone is going home happy.

In limited release, a big opening frame was had by “Take Shelter,” which scored a per-screen average of $17k, grossing $56k from three theaters. Contrast that with Fox Searchlight completely dumping “Margaret” onto the marketplace almost six years beyond its inception -- the long-delayed, star-filled drama only scored $7.4k at its two locations. The biggest per-screen actually belongs to horror picture "Munger Road" (?), which grossed $39k at its single location. Meanwhile, "Finding Joe," a documentary about the Joseph Campbell hero's journey, pulled in a solid $9.6k.

Big returns greeted "Weekend" in its second frame of release, expanding from one to six theaters and averaging $8k for a $48k tally, while "The Black Power Mixtape" grabbed a strong $45k in its fourth weekend, on eleven screens. They easily trumped the somewhat pathetic six-theater opening for "Sarah Palin - You Betcha!" which grossed $7.4k at six locations, significantly less impressive than the opening weekend of her "Undefeated" propadoc. Finally, "Benda Bilili" also debuted weakly, scoring only $1.7k at its single screen. Or, the amount of loose change you can find in Reese Witherspoon's couch. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.

(All totals are domestic)
1. Dolphin Tale (Warner Bros.) - $14.2 million (total: $38 mil.)
2. Cashsphere (Sony) - $12.5 million (total: $38 mil.)
3. Someone Needs To Google Kimba The White Lion (Disney) - $11 million (total: $80 mil.)
4. 50/50 (Summit) - $8.9 million
5. GODCOPS (Sony) - $8.8 million
6. Dream Haus (Universal) - $8.2 million
7. Bourne For Kids (Lionsgate) - $5.7 million (total: $19 mil.)
8. Que Tu Numero? (Fox) - $5.6 million
9. Cooties (Warner Bros.) - $5 million (total: $65 mil.)
10. Cuddly Elite (Open Road) - $4.9 million (total: $17 mil.)

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