By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood April 14, 2013 at 1:19PM
Old-fashioned period baseball biopic "42" opened surprisingly well and shows signs of long-term play. The Jackie Robinson film provides struggling Warner Bros. with a much-needed hit. But the weekend was modest overall, with a top ten grossing about $105 million, the same as last year, but down from last week.
The other new opening, Weinstein Co.'s "Scary Movie 5," took in less than expected. Among holdovers, "The Croods" and "Olympus Has Fallen" once again held best, while the still limited "The Place Beyond the Pines" entered the top ten earlier than expected.
Universal's "Oblivion" starring Tom Cruise opened to a strong $61 million in 52 territories (#1 in all but four) in advance of its American release next Friday. Cruise has been consistently strong internationally, but this is almost half of the total foreign gross for his last film, "Jack Reacher," suggesting that this si-fi actioner could also perform well stateside.
1. 42 (Warner Bros.) NEW - Cinemascore: A+; Criticwire Grade: B; Metacritic score: 63
$27,250,000 in 3,003 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $9,074; Cumulative: $27,250,000
Not only do the impressive initial initial numbers for "42" mark the biggest gross for a wide opening of a baseball-themed film, it is the biggest opening for one even after numbers of previous films are adjusted for inflation! (The previous best was "A League of Their Own.") Add another comparison: "42" is slightly above the opening for "The Help," another drama with significant African-American interest that also appealed to wide audiences (and was story driven, like "42," with decent, but not great reviews). And "42" scored $6 million more than another period biofilm, "Lincoln," did its first wide weekend (although that film initially boasted fewer than 2,000 theaters).
This doesn't place "42" among the top openers of the year. But what makes this "42"performance significant is that the film did so well despite hanging on an unknown African-American lead in a serious male-oriented sports drama with mainly adult appeal. Yes, the movie was about a baseball legend. But safe to say, expectations were much, much lower than this.
Add to the impressiveness is the apparent strong audience reaction (the A+ Cinemascore). That score is rare, and sometimes tells little more than that those who were most interested in the film were satisfied. But it is more significant when it comes from a tougher-to-please older crowd, which is a group that responds more slowly to films (and does not rush as much to see them opening weekend). When word of mouth is this strong, "42" should easily exceed the normal standard for ultimate gross -- three times opening weekend.
With a $40-million budget plus marketing -- on the low side for a studio production, but with baseball films normally not having significant international appeal, still a risk -- this gross comes as a relief for Warner Bros., which so far this year has endured a string of underperforming expensive films led by the disastrous "Jack the Giant Slayer." That film, like "42," came from Legendary Productions and producer Thomas Tull, who have backed Christopher Nolan's recent films as well as the "Hangover" series and "Superman" thus making them a key player at Warners in recent years.
It also is a significant success for director-writer Brian Helgeland (who wrote "L.A. Confidential" and "Mystic River" and directed "Payback" and two minor Heath Ledger films). The attention the film is getting (and its appeal to older, male moviegoers) could increase its Oscar chances, particularly for Harrison Ford, whose supporting role (his first ever biographical character) makes him a logical contender after a long and successful career (think Sean Connery in "The Untouchables").
What comes next: This kind of film that will grab more notice after making #1, driving a wider than initial audience to check it out , which in turn leads to a smaller second week drop and longer legs. "42" could go all the way to $100 million.
2. Scary Movie 5 (Weinstein) NEW - Cinemascore: C-; Criticwire Grade: D-; Metacritic score: 16
$15,153,000 in 3,402 theaters; PSA: $4,454; Cumulative: $15,153,000
Whatever its marketable elements, this Weinstein Dimension release failed to score like past entries (the previous entry opened to over $40 million) and looks to have a quick playoff. It will fail to be the big moneymaker this and other past genre series films from the company (like "Scream") have been.
With a reported production cost of $20 million and equivalent marketing costs topping the likely ultimate domestic gross, and a limited international appeal because of its American-specific spoof elements, this sequel will barely recoup when all revenues are tallied. Back during the Weinstein's Miramax days, Dimension could be counted on as the fall-back cash cow to buttress the risk of more ambitious, awards-oriented releases. Fortunately, with recent hits such as "Django Unchained" and "Silver Linings Playbook," the Weinsteins can probably manage without that safety net for now.
The "Scary" series has had among its creators Airplane" comedy director/writer David Zucker, who produced and wrote this installment. The film was directed by Malcolm Lee, whose past films include "Undercover Brother" and "Soul Man." This is his first feature since 2008.
What comes next: A likely quick drop with a total gross less than the opening for the last one, which should mean the end to this series.