Unlike some who find reporting on this kind of weekend not worth their time or analysis, there's a lot going on. For one thing, by Sunday the year's box office will officially be ahead of last year. For another, two solid late summer entries, "The Butler" and "We're the Millers," both held well to take the top two positions with signs of more success ahead. And three diverse new openers had variable success, led by Edgar Wright's acclaimed "The World's End" at just over 1,500 screens.
The $27-million-plus take for Friday was up over 20% from last year despite the supposed lackluster lineup. Two factors made the difference: the strong holds for the top two films are much better than usual for the end of summer. "The Butler" is down less than 50% from its heavily-hyped $4.8 million opening day, likely closer to a 40% drop for the weekend, with "We're the Millers at $4 million, down less than 30%. And though their returns were variable, the three new openers this weekend should end in the top six, while the best of last year's three new entries was only #8. This suggests distributors felt a bit more confident this year in placing appropriate films in this non-prime date.
Focus Features released the previous two films in director Edgar Wright's Cornetto trilogy ("Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz"), in both cases opening in fewer than 1,000 theaters. "Fuzz" opened in 2007 at 825 theaters for $2.1 million its initial day, for a per screen average of $2,567. Opening at almost twice as many screens. "The World's End" grossed $3.5 million, with a PSA not far behind ($2,249) despite the much wider break. The weekend gross, which should approach $10 million, will end up not far behind that of Wright's much bigger budget "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" which Focus' parent company Universal opened in 2010 to a $10.6 million weekend at 2,820 theaters. One day isn't definitive, but despite the supposedly bad weekend, "The World's End" could end up being Wright's biggest grossing film domestically.