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Weekend Box Office: Kids Rule While Adult Fare Flops, Broken Record-Style

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist November 28, 2010 at 6:41AM

One of the more foolproof strategies for releasing a massive blockbuster is to put the film out the weekend before a five-day period. That way, by the time Wednesday hits and people are planning their brief vacations, the pointlessly breathless press about how the film did boffo numbers will still be fresh in viewers’ minds. It’s why studios crave being number one, even if the film isn’t pulling in major dough: the casual moviegoer who hears “the number one movie in America!” on an ad is more inclined to wonder, hmm, maybe this movie IS worth seeing. Or, in this case, the press was saying, "Wow, this movie made more than Jesus!"
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One of the more foolproof strategies for releasing a massive blockbuster is to put the film out the weekend before a five-day period. That way, by the time Wednesday hits and people are planning their brief vacations, the pointlessly breathless press about how the film did boffo numbers will still be fresh in viewers’ minds. It’s why studios crave being number one, even if the film isn’t pulling in major dough: the casual moviegoer who hears “the number one movie in America!” on an ad is more inclined to wonder, hmm, maybe this movie IS worth seeing. Or, in this case, the press was saying, "Wow, this movie made more than Jesus!"

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1” benefited from a not-too-competitive Thanksgiving period, but this is also a case of demographics. 'HP' has a core audience, but it's also a fractured one: most are kids, but there are also young adults who grew with the series and are now of a more discerning age (though still slaves to J.K. Rowling’s prose and the ongoing "vision" of Warner Bros. and David Yates), in addition to the adults who somehow feel the series is legit adult entertainment.

Not much is really pitched (successfully or otherwise) to the age group of 18-25, as a lot of films try to hit that PG-13 (12-17 year olds) sweet spot, or somehow try to skew to older groups (not many). The industry’s expectations are that ideally you WOULD market to 18-25 if they weren’t so fickle, the pickier of that age group being skeptical towards direct marketing, and the foolish opting for fare meant for simpler (12-17) minds. It’s Hollywood’s best-kept secret: if they had a zombie audience of only 18-25, all studios would release the exact same movie in every theater on every Friday.

So weekend two, thanks to the holiday, brought 'Potter' a very solid cushion to avoid the second week fall of predecessor 'Half-Blood Prince.' The seventh film in the series is now less than $90 million away from the highest domestic gross in the series, and thanks to Turkey Day, there’s a serious chance it could get there. Overseas 'Potter' is also doing superb numbers, so again, such a win. Curious as to what the investment in this film was from WB -- did they spend the typical 'Potter' $250-300 million on each part of 'Deathly Hallows' or was the whole endeavor a supersized $450-500 price tag? If shooting the two films back-to-back saved money, then this is on pace to be a tremendous windfall for the WB.

As the audience for 'HP' does lean pretty strongly to older teens, the younger pups were catered to by Disney’s “Tangled.” Tracking suggested a softer opening for this non-Pixar CGI-toon from the Mouse House, but getting to over $60 million for the five day period suggests the kids were primed. Disney freaked and spent more cash than they should have to make sure boys got the memo that this was for them, so profitability isn’t yet in sight, but a big opening increases the film’s profile, which certainly helps move the merchandise. And there will be plenty -- unless Disney does a belly flop, you can always count on those toys to fly off the shelves.

Megamind” proved that when it comes to holidays, the kids always win out. The families who found 'Potter' and 'Tangled' compromised for the four-week-old DreamWorks toon, giving the film a strong, unexpected boost towards $150 million domestic. Doing close to $20 million on your fourth weekend is pretty stellar, even if you need a five-day holiday, so credit for DreamWorks for getting this movie out there to what seemed like an apathetic audience. Is Paramount going to even push for the third slot in the Best Animated Film category? Again, global numbers are robust, but it would take stellar DVD numbers for the studio to discuss “Megamind 2.”

Beyond the three family films, no other pictures crossed over to the general public during a Thanksgiving weekend that paled compared to last year’s box office bonanza. The film that can be marketed as “The Number One Movie In America Not For Kids” is somehow “Burlesque.” But don’t start that Cher Oscar campaign just yet, Sony. Word of mouth spread quickly that this thing was at a “Glitter” level, so consider this box office a smash-and-grab, with a so-so $40 million being the likely endgame. Screen Gems had a good year, but this was reportedly their most expensive production ever, so no one's gotta be happy about this.

Unstoppable” finishes weekend three just a tad over $60 million, not exactly what Fox was hoping for at this point. But if you throw away the budget for this thing (allegedly $100 million), it’s right in line with Denzel Washington’s usual output, and by next weekend, the film should surpass both “Déjà Vu” and “The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3” as far as recent domestic earners for the two-time Oscar winner. Seven out of the last eight Washington films have opened north of $20 million (10 in his career), a track record that can’t be ignored, even if the studios can’t seem to keep costs down. “Unstoppable” probably keeps his name on the marquee, though Tony Scott might experience more budgetary haggling on his next film.

There wasn’t much of an audience for “Love and Other Drugs,” and why would there be? A downbeat romantic comedy about a pharmaceutical agent and a woman with Parkinson’s wasn’t exactly going to light the marketplace on fire. A comparative piece would be “Seven Pounds,” the similarity emerging from the knotty medical subject matter, as 'Other Drugs' was pushed as a drama with light comedy, a marketing choice that suggests “straight drama” is a better approach for purposes of clarity. You can’t push a chuckle as much as a guffaw. The deadly serious 'Pounds' opened about a month later in 2008 and only did slightly under $15 million for the three day back in 2008 with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, so it’s not a surprise 'Other Drugs' would only match that in five days with the White Prince of Persia. Maybe don’t release a movie with “drugs” in the title on a weekend where most people are forced to be with family. “Oh, I’ve had my fill of turkey, Uncle Joe, now I’m off to see ‘MURDERBATION,’ tell mom I said bye.”

“Unstoppable” proved to be the audience’s action option ahead of “Faster,” the kind of flop that raises all sorts of question marks. This is CBS Films’ third release, and they are 0 for 3 so far, with this one smarting the most. Did Dwayne Johnson damage his reputation as a potential action star with too many kid flicks? For all the clamor over Johnson not pursuing his supposed calling, his first action lead role in six years stands to become the lowest-grossing film in his entire career. CBS Films dodged a bullet with “The Back-Up Plan” but “Extraordinary Measures” laid an egg, and this, a $24 million-budgeted action picture starring a proven leading man, has to be their biggest failure yet. It’s not necessarily game over for Johnson, who’s got another solo action offering (“Protection”) as well as a supporting role in “Fast Five,” but it's telling that after these two films, he’s taking Brendan Fraser’s sloppy seconds with “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” Man knows where his bread is buttered.

The week’s strongest per-screen belonged to potential Oscar contender “The King’s Speech.” With a four screen opening, the film averaged $87k per engagement, easily the strongest per-screen debut of the year. Who knew there was such a rush to see a movie about a speech impediment? Fox Searchlight continues to expand “127 Hours,” despite the film not exactly blowing up the marketplace with $1.7 million on 293 screens. This was also the first weekend for “The Nutcracker in 3D." The poorly reviewed film hit a number of unusual venues outside of city lines, and on 42 screens the film pulled in an uninspired $89k. Support your local art house, boys and girls.

1. Harry Potter And The Hot Wizard Gangbang (WB) - $50.3 million ($220 mil.)
2. Tangled 3D (Disney) - $49.1 million ($69 mil.)
3. Megamind 3D (Paramount) - $12.9 million ($130 mil.)
4. Burlesque 3D (Sony)- $11.8 million ($17 mil.)
5. Unstoppable (Fox) - $11.7 million ($61 mil.)
6. Love And Fine Cut Cocaine (Fox) - $9.8 million ($14 mil.)
7. Faster (CBS Films) - $8.7 million ($12 mil.)
8. Due Date (WB) - $7.3 million ($85 mil.)
9. The Next Three-Dee Days (Lionsgate) - $4.8 million ($15 mil.)
10. Morning Gloryhole (Paramount) $4 million ($26 mil.)


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