By Gabe Toro | The Playlist October 9, 2011 at 5:48AM
There are only a handful of stars in Hollywood, and Dreamworks gambled on Hugh Jackman being one of them for “Real Steel.” While the picture is hitting number one with a $27 million tally, it’s clear they may have erred. Dreamworks and Disney were very aggressive in marketing this robot boxing movie, but they made three huge mistakes.
One was aiming for the edgy teen crowd first and the family audience second, two demographics that rarely cross paths. If you have a toy-friendly property like “Transformers” the families will go regardless, but the similar “Real Steel” was pushing the unsavory underground boxing element a bit too hard in an attempt to ensnare the most attractive of demos, the young male. The second was, most transparently, spending too much, as “Steel” had a price tag north of $110 million, with a massive ad presence necessitating talent participants to begin talking sequels before the film’s release as if they were a necessity. And third was trusting in Jackman, who opens big when sporting adamantium claws but otherwise rarely crosses $20 million as a leading man. Unless you count “Van Helsing,” which almost twice as much as “Real Steel” and tanked hard enough to kill a franchise.
Jackman takes a hit, but survives for the reason that every actor understands when taking paycheck roles; they find salvation in a franchise. The solid but unspectacular performance of the Jackman-less “X-Men: First Class” cemented him as the centerpiece of the “X-Men” series, which means that after a perfunctory awards grab in “Les Miserables,” Fox will be eager to get him started on “The Wolverine.” And as long as that film doesn’t underperform, Fox will want to keep Jackman in-house in order to keep making appearances in future X-films, as long as they want to keep that property away from Marvel.
Three movies in three months, and not a single hit for Ryan Gosling. You could argue “Crazy Stupid Love” was either an ensemble or a Steve Carell vehicle, but Gosling was front and center during the advertising campaign, and the picture did below its mid-summer rom-com expectations. Same for “Drive,” which scored moderately well compared to its budget, but wasn’t exactly a zeitgeist-grabber. “The Ides Of March” performed the way a cheap, topical movie with a frou-frou title is supposed to in October, which is to say that there wasn’t much extra appeal that Gosling or director-star George Clooney could provide.
There’s a chance this could have legs and turn a decent profit. More than likely, the unenthusiastic critical reception paints this film as finishing along the lines of Clooney’s last directorial effort, “Leatherheads.” Which is to say Clooney is nothing if not consistent: eliminate the “Ocean” films, and Clooney’s biggest opener in the last decade is “Burn After Reading” at $19 million. Take out that film, which was more of an ensemble piece, and the biggest Clooney opener of the last decade is “The American” at $13 million. Which is to say that it seems that people like discussing Clooney’s movies more than they like paying for them.
Again posting the lowest drop in the top ten, “Dolphin Tale” fell from its perch to soar past $50 million, where the holiday will come into play. It stayed above “Moneyball,” though both have near-identical totals. The Brad Pitt drama seems to have performed moderately well, though the true test will come overseas, where Pitt’s cachet is large, and likely more of a selling point than baseball. “50/50” held a respectable amount, but the picture’s not exactly busting out at this point.
“Couragous” hasn’t broken out of the Christian film ghetto. With a semi-steep audience drop in weekend two, this might fail to reach the gross of “Fireproof,” suggesting that these films, while heavily attended, aren’t exactly achieving phenomenon status. The piddling second weekend tally for “Dream House” couldn’t beat the religious film despite playing in a thousand more theaters, and the less said about “What’s Your Number?”, the better. Audiences seemed to get the hint regarding Disney’s Blu-Ray release of “The Lion King” and the 3D re-issue plummeted, while “Abduction” just about edged "Contagion" out of the top ten, although the latter has nearly triple the total gross of the Taylor Lautner vehicle, so no one at Lionsgate is particularly thrilled there.
As for the independent releases, "The Human Centipede: Full Sequence" took an impressive haul with only Friday & Saturday late showings, with $54,000 from 18 screens -- not a great number on paper, but pretty good considering the limited showings, demonstrating that there are some people curious to see mouth-to-anus stitching. Juno Temple vehicle "Dirty Girl" tanked hard on its 9 screen release, taking a mere $17,500, for a screen average under two grand. "Take Shelter" expanded decently enough, grossing $55k on eleven screens, but "Margaret" is D.O.A, with a mere $917 per theater; not surprising, considering it was pretty much abandoned by distributor Fox Searchlight. "Machine Gun Preacher" isn't looking good either; it expanded to 93 screens, but only took in $113,000 this weekend, so we're not sure it'll end up going super-wide.
Two of the biggest successes are ones that have been quietly plugging away for a while without much heralding: Don Cheadle/Brendan Gleeson black comedy "The Guard" is still plugging away, despite being released almost three months ago, and has so far quietly taken nearly $5 million. Meanwhile, stand-up Kevin Hart's documentary "Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain," took $436,366 on 248 screens, and has now grossed nearly $7 million, the quietest big success of the year. How long before he gets given a proper movie to headline?
Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.
1. Fancy Metal! (Disney) - $27.3 million
2. The Ides Of March (Sony) - $10.4 million
3. Dolphin Tale (Warner Bros.) - $9.2 million ($49.1 mil.)
4. Cashglobe (Sony) - $7.5 million ($49.3 mil.)
5. Half And Half (Summit) - $5.5 million ($17.3 mil.)
6. Courageous (Sony) - $4.6 million ($15.9 mil.)
7. The Lion King (Disney) - $4.55 million ($85.96 mil.)
8. Dream House (Universal) - $4.46 million ($14.5 mil.)
9. What's Your Number? (Fox) - $3.1 million ($10.3 mil.)
10. Abduction (Lionsgate) - $2.9 million ($23.4 mil.)