By Gabe Toro | The Playlist December 19, 2010 at 6:35AM
Are you ready for another “Avatar” experience? No? Well, okay, guess that’s fine. “Tron: Legacy” opened to the same midnight numbers as the James Cameron epic, but failed to equal that film’s general attendance or gross in its first weekend. 'Tron' has been pushed for a couple of years now as a near out-of-body cinematic experience, and an opening south of $50 million domestic isn’t really what you're hoping for when you spend $150 million or so in marketing alone. Enthusiasm should be further tempered when you consider this opening is in the realm of “Paranormal Activity 2,” despite that picture forgoing the 3D surcharge.
All things considered, though Disney got lucky. Not only did they have the audacity to make a $300 million sequel to a film from 28 years ago remembered only by those who considered it a bomb, but they got away with releasing a subpar product from a first-time director as well. Even if terrible movies often make a lot of money, executives sweat a whole lot more going into opening weekend when they know they are responsible for inferior product. Fortunately, this was a winter season suspiciously lacking in big ticket attractions. Slap “Tron: Legacy” in any other modern blockbuster schedule and it’s maybe the fifth or sixth most buzzed-about attraction. But in 2010, people said, “Tron seems big, let’s go see it.”
The other studios missed a golden opportunity to slay this dragon, as a more recognizable brand (perhaps a Bond movie?) would have sent 'Tron' to the showers. As families come together for the holidays, 'Tron' will be buoyed by steady ticket sales into the new year. But if another major film were a part of the marketplace (not “Green Hornet,” originally scheduled for December), 'Tron' could have endured some serious negative media buzz, leading to a major money loss for the franchise.
Like Disney’s other mega-mega expensive film of the season, “Tangled,” “Tron: Legacy” is expected to pull in huge overseas numbers, though this belief comes from the expectation that visual-heavy films dazzle abroad, a supposition that makes slightly more sense than the 'Tron' name having major cachet in other regions. The target has always been $500-$600 million globally, and with this holiday opening, a $100+ domestic gross should be in the cards, but if that’s all there is, Disney is going to pray that they double that number internationally while moving a crapload of toys.
Opening right behind “Tron” and seemingly dying a merciful death was “Yogi Bear.” Kiddie films are expensive (and now frequently in 3D), and this is the second straight weekend a major family-centric property failed to even get a sniff of a $30 million opening, always the target for this type of movie. Warner Bros. likely knew what they had here, rushing this film into production and settling on the very-not-hot Dan Aykroyd to voice the rather obnoxious title character, so there’s a possibility that the studio didn’t spend much.
Like “Marmaduke” earlier this year, “Yogi Bear” is one of those global brands that everyone knows but have always been apathetic about. It’s hard to gauge the audience’s passion for older cartoon characters that don't have contemporary exposure - both “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies killed in this spot the last few years, with another slated for next winter. But then “Garfield” ended up being a smash hit, only for its sequel to flop hard stateside, suggesting a fluky box office atmosphere for this type of picture. Whatever the case, it’s too early to worry about “Yogi” so far - that second “Garfield” absolutely murdered the international marketplace.
Despite the opening of two major 3D pictures in the same weekend, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader” didn’t lose any screens in that format. That didn’t stop the bleeding as the kid sequel continued to lose half its audience, further diminishing any hope of a fourth entry in the turgid series seeing the light of day. The first picture opened big and had strong legs, whereas the second debuted smaller and didn’t. Not promising, but Fox, appropriately, threw this to the lions with a significantly smaller ad presence in hopes of seeing some profit. Unless the Trinity Broadcasting Network comes up with an obscenely expensive bid for the television rights, that profit’s gonna be a long time coming.
Expanding into a mid-range wide opening, “The Fighter” built on the muscular first weekend numbers to break into the top five. What’s important is that Relativity Media builds on this number with further expansion, as the movie wasn’t going to bust out on such a crowded weekend with similar adult and prestige choices. It was apparently made on a budget close to $20 million, but the studio has thrown, and will continue to throw, big bucks at the advertising campaign. An under-examined subgenre is the Adult Family Movie, as there are several holiday gatherings occurring with adult-aged children and their folks seeking something that offers both some appeal. Those college student aren’t going to take grandpa to 'Tron' on Christmas.
“Tangled” was a sacrifice to the 'Tron' gods by Disney, losing a huge portion of its 3D screens. The film is knocking on $130 million, and the jig would be up if the next few weekends weren’t holiday territory. $150 million is the worst the film could do, but Disney is banking on more. Still, if 'Tron' starts to flounder, will they surrender screens in the hope that “Tangled” can make up the difference? Next weekend will tell the tale if family audiences embrace or reject 'Tron,' and if they don’t, but continue to say yes to “Tangled,” then expect the ’toon to maintain its screen count for a few more weeks.
That second weekend hold didn’t occur for “The Tourist,” which predictably gained no momentum from the Golden Globe nominations. With years like this, where “The Tourist” and “Burlesque” can grab multiple nominations and a Coen Brothers picture gets none, you have to question the viability and necessity of the Globes. Critics didn’t take the Hollywood Foreign Press seriously when the nominations were announced, and the public appears to also be disinterested in what makes a Globe-nommed film, with no discernible boost in business for either this or the already-forgotten Cher-Christina Aguilera collaboration.
In limited release, “Black Swan” looks like a specialty picture performing like a bonafide art house blockbuster. The Darren Aronofsky critics’ darling, still in less than 1000 theaters, pushed into the top five, and demographic breakdowns are strongly suggesting the core audience is overwhelmingly women. Last weekend’s numbers didn’t hint at this sort of success, so the original $30 million+ target has likely been upgraded. Nobody wants to make last year’s mistake, when massive limited release numbers led to Lionsgate execs crowing that “Precious” would be a $100 million hit due to sheer momentum, but in content, “Black Swan” is a marketplace anomaly: truly the number one choice for adventurous moviegoers this season. It’s hard to figure what the coming 2000 theater push will look like on Wednesday.
Let’s see… faded writer-director? Check. Uninspired cast with zero appeal to minority audiences? Check. Apathetic title? Check. Confused ad campaign? Check. How do you know you have a flop on your hand? When you’re Sony, and you’re spending almost $200 million to produce and market “How Do You Know.” At almost 1500 more theaters, “How Do You Know” couldn’t match the take of “Black Swan,” and didn’t approach the success level of similar titles from the Nancy Meyers’ body of work, likely Sony’s thinking when they allowed James L. Brooks free reign in overspending to get this movie made. Aside from Paul Rudd, the lowest-paid member of the cast with a $3 million paycheck, consider this a damning condemnation of the price tags of Owen Wilson ($10 mil.) and Reese Witherspoon ($15 mil.). The movie could easily play to adult audiences into January, a minor saving grace for a debacle of an opening, but these are numbers that get people fired.
“Harry Potter” looks about done, with the WB possibly showing interest in goosing this past Alfonso Cuaron's“The Prisoner Of Azkaban.” At this point, when there are no records to break, it’s all about benchmarks. It’s bad for morale if the studio heads into the final “Potter” picture coming off the least successful yet, particularly after the series’ biggest opener. Moreover, “Azkaban,” the series’ current lowest-grossing picture, represented a turning point for the studio and “HP” fans, a noticeably dark departure from the first two films, transitioning into the teenage years of the young protagonist.
The second film didn’t match the first, and with the third film declining further, the studio felt a for-hire auteur plan, allowing different visions for each installment, would be too risky a financial decision. Hence, the “Potter” franchise became an interesting footnote in blockbuster history, in that a strong creative vision was denied a chance to shape the perspective of a well-received franchise - the next film was directed by team-player journeyman Mike Newell, with affordable TV helmer David Yates taking cues for the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth pictures. While it hasn’t stopped Warners’ from reaping box office success, one could say that shying away from the decision to make the highest grossing film franchise outside of “Star Wars” auteur-driven, hurt interest in the series, leading to the apathetic reception for this latest film, which the “normals“ viewed as “more of the same.” Glass half full, or glass half empty - fans could merely be primed for the very last installment only, or, damningly, interest in the boy wizard could be at an all-time low. We're betting on the former, but the latter wouldn’t be terribly surprising.
In limited release, "The King's Speech" expansion got it a $25k average on 43 screens, allowing it to cross $1 million in three weeks on a fairly small number of screens. No other returning indie gained nearly as much, with "127 Hours" and "Fair Game" shedding 100+ screens each. Meanwhile, "Rabbit Hole" made a five screen debut with $55k in receipts, and "Casino Jack" debuted at seven engagements, only scamming up $35k. Support your local art house, boys and girls.
1. Tron: Legacy 3D (Disney) - $43.6 million
2. Yogi Bear 3D (WB) - $16.7 million
3. The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader 3D (Fox) - $12.4 million ($43 mil.)
4. The Fighter 3D (Paramount) - $12.2 million ($12.6 mil.)
5. The Tourist 3D (Sony) - $8.7 million ($31 mil.)
6. Tangled 3D (Disney) - $8.6 million ($128 mil.)
7. Black Swan 3D (Fox) - $8.3 million ($16 mil.)
8. How Do You Know 3D (Sony) - $7.6 million
9. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 3D (WB) - $4.8 million ($266 mil.)
10. Unstoppable 3D (Fox) - $1.8 million ($77 mil.)