'Warm Bodies'
'Warm Bodies'

It was a piss-poor weekend at the box office. Grosses showed somewhat more strength Saturday than Friday. The Super Bowl always damages both audience turnout and viable new releases, but this looks like the worst in total gross since at least 2007, and less than that when higher ticket prices are included. And this doesn't come in a vacuum -- business has been down since the start of the year.

The Top Ten grossed about $64 million, down from $80 last weekend and nearly 30% from last year. The pattern remains the same as past weeks -- a younger oriented horror genre film ("Warm Bodies") comes in at #1, the earlier ones drop off, an action film with a past big draw ("Bullet to the Head") underperforms, and meantime a bunch of Oscar nominees fill in some of the gap. (Five of the Top Ten this week are Best Picture nominees, and two others fell just a bit short). The net result is a total gross that for theaters represents signs of a continued slump that is starting to raise anxiety levels.

For studios, the silver lining comes from the lower budgets of some of the successes as well as the continued success of late 2012 older audience films still holding on. But signs of weakness are abundant, and unless things turn around quickly (and no "Hunger Games" to save March), 2013 is off to a worrisome start.

Falling below the Top Ten, with only 659 theaters, Lionsgates' older-audience appeal "Stand Up Guys" opened to $1,500,000 after initially qualfying for non-existent awards attention last month. Meantime, Warner Bros. expansion of its on-the-roll "Argo" to 930 theaters and added another $2,100,000 to its already impressive haul.

1. Warm Bodies (Lionsgate) NEW - Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic Score: 59

$20,025,000 in 3,009 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $6,665; Cumulative: $20,025,000

Performing a bit above expectations, and benefitting from a lack of strong competition, this PG-13 younger-oriented zombie romance did a bit less than two new openers ("Chronicle" and "The Woman in Black") did against the Super Bowl last year. Still, with a $30-million budget and targeted advertising below normal wide expense, this looks initially like a success, just a week after Lionsgate flopped bigtime with "Parker."

Made by Lionsgate's Summit label, among its producers are David Hoberman and Todd Liebsman, whose past successes include "The Fighter" and "The Muppets." Director/writer Jonathan Levine, who comes out of the indie world ("50/50," "The Wackness") elevated this story with an up-and-coming young cast and a look toward a more female audience. So far it looks like they have hit their target.

What comes next: Word of mouth will determine whether this can build on the initial success, but this is one case where opening against the Super Bowl seems to have paid off.

2. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (Paramount) Week 2 - Last Weekend: #1

$9,210,000 (-53%) in 3,375 theaters (+3); PSA:; Cumulative: $34,463,000

Considering the circumstances, a slightly more than 50% fall isn't disastrous for this R-rated retelling of the classic children's story starring Jeremy Renner.

What comes next: With international already outgrossing the domestic counterpart, this modestly-budgeted film looks like it will be a success.

3. Silver Linings Playbook (Weinstein) Week 12 - Last Weekend: #4

$8,113,000 (-14%) in 2,809 theaters (+168); PSA: $2,888; Cumulative: $80,378,000

Another stellar week for this long-running hit, elevated to third (for real -- last weekend ended up #4 after an initial overestimate) by the lack of strong competition as well as its ongoing decent word of mouth.  This gross comes in part with ongoing advertising, more expensive for this stage of a run than normal, and at a point where usually the distributor takes a lower share of the receipts. That said, it is still churning out enough business to justify the delayed expansion.    

What comes next: This is playing like a classic film that gets to $100 million as it is being propelled toward a Best Picture win. Though that is unlikely, it should easily hit that gross and go beyond, all the while keeping Best Actress contender Jennifer Lawrence front and center.