By Gabe Toro | The Playlist March 6, 2011 at 6:49AM
CG-toons. You can’t go wrong. Even if you’re alienating viewers. While “Rango” is the first non-3D animated film of the last year or so, most were predicting a much bigger opening around $50 million or so. Still, a not-bad $38 million showing for the film this weekend, though Cinemascore audiences only rated the film a C+. Most of those negative notices are probably due to the unconventional visual style, though critics have been making comparisons to Jim Jarmusch and allusions to Hunter S. Thompson. Yeah, those references were missing from “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Still, this seems like a one-and-done affair for people not exactly associated with animated work, especially considering a very hefty price tag that won’t be recouped without a muscular second weekend hold.
Outdoing prognosticators was “The Adjustment Bureau,” which registered the strongest opening numbers of any Matt Damon-fronted picture since the whopping $69 million take of “The Bourne Ultimatum” four years ago. Conventional wisdom said that Damon would need to keep going to the 'Bourne' well to keep up his commercial viability, but his ensemble work and a mutual respect for topflight filmmakers (as seen with “The Departed,” “True Grit” and the “Ocean's Eleven” films) has kept him in a comfortable place in his career. And then there’s those worldwide titles, as “Hereafter” and “Invictus” both did more than double their domestic take overseas, and the worldwide “Green Zone” gross of $60 million severely dwarfed the $35 million domestic number.
After a mostly dismal 2009 and 2010, this is startling good news for Universal. Though the picture, of course, wasn’t cheap -- while the price was fronted by MRC, Universal paid $62 million for the distribution rights. That’s a lot of money to gamble, but Universal was so convinced by Damon’s worldwide appeal that the film nabbed a same-date premiere in a number of different countries this weekend, generating an additional $10 million. It would go a long way towards trying to salvage a disappointing first quarter that saw Universal take a belly flop with “The Dilemma” and “Sanctum.”
Also surpassing the lowest of expectations was CBS Films’ “Beastly.” The film has jumped all over the schedule and at one point, was considered a potential heavy hitter, but the release was severely scaled-down, most likely because the film was tracking pretty poorly over the last couple of months. While the film was certainly cheap, this opening isn't exactly a barn-burner. Consider this strike two against Alex Pettyfer’s supposed marketability: you can’t make a star with subpar product, and “I Am Number Four” didn’t exactly light it up last month. Not sure exactly why everyone wants to make this guy happen, but he’s a good looking young white male in Hollywood. And nobody is casting those roles!
After early prognostications, there were no winners at last weekend’s box office, as “Hall Pass” claimed the top spot after Monday despite registering on the low end of Farrelly Brothers grossers. The film was cheap and had a modest drop, so no one’s exactly losing their composure right now, but New Line Cinema is barely hanging on to life as a neglected Warner Bros. shingle, so either way no one is losing sleep over this performance. The film increased its lead over “Gnomeo and Juliet,” which took a “Rango”-fueled punch to the gut and deflated in week four, though $100 million+ is a guaranteed hit, even if Disney doesn’t exactly want to admit it.
“Unknown” is an action programmer and looks like a sure bet for $70 million, while “Just Go With It” should hit $100 million before it's all said and done. Neither movie does that much for anyone (and “Just Go With It” might need DVD sales to profit, since Adam Sandler makes the cheapest of entertainment expensively), but this does cement both Liam Neeson and Adam Sandler as mostly-capable moneymakers. Neeson’s got a couple more action movies in the pipeline, and he’s sure to pepper in the usual prestige project. As for Sandler, it’s amazing how this guy consistently makes $80 million movies with no special effects or action set pieces that seem to happen within a one mile radius.
“The King’s Speech” didn’t benefit much from its Best Picture win, though it registered the smallest audience loss in the top 10. The film continues to power its way to a stellar $300 million globally, which kind of makes a PG-13 re-release a costly and pointless endeavor, but the Weinsteins have built their empire on such extravagant, empty gestures. Teenybopper attractions “I Am Number Four” and “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” round out the top 10, one an expensive failure, the other a cheap success. Justin Bieber -- potential movie star. Alex Pettyfer? Not so fast.
Opening disastrously outside the top 10 was "Take Me Home Tonight,” a Universal castoff picked up by wayward Relativity Pictures. After the dismal showing of last winter’s “The Warrior’s Way” and this year’s “Season of the Witch,” the company’s track record as a distributor isn’t exactly stellar, though they tend to sell off the foreign rights of these films for a pretty penny. Still, they sank hefty ad dollars into this '80s nostalgia fest, only to see returns that no studio exec would be happy about. At least it defeated most of the Oscar films, none of which received a business boost. That tends to be the effect when the telecast is that unwatchable.
1. Rango (Paramount) - $38 million
2. The Adjustment Bureau (Universal) - $20.9 million
3. Beastly (CBS Films) - $10.1 million
4. Hall Pass (WB/New Line) - $9 million ($27 mil.)
5. Gnomeo and Juliet (Disney) - $6.9 million ($84 mil.)
6. Unknown (WB) - $6.6 million ($53 mil.)
7. The King's Speech (Weinstein) - $6.5 million ($124 mil.)
8. Just Go With It (Sony) - $6.5 million ($88 mil.)
9. I Am Number Nine (Disney) - $5.7 million ($46 mil.)
10. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D (Paramount) - $4.3 million ($69 mil.)