Why does the industry push expensive tentpole films? This weekend provides one indication. Four new films, with reported pre-marketing production budgets totallng just under $400 million opened, and combined they grossed $34 million yesterday. Exactly one year ago, "The Dark Knight Rises" debuted to a first day total of $75 million (at a cost to make of $250 million) -- providing motivation for the studios' making big bets for big payoffs.
But the results overall for yesterday showed the perils for other strategies as well when budgets outpace interest. While "The Conjuring" shows that there is always a market for lower-budget horror films, even stronger if intelligently made, releases coming from other areas (animation, sequels, comic book originals) proved less bountiful.
"Turbo" grossed the best of the rest -- Fox' second release of a Dream Works Animation film came in #3 yesterday at $6.5 million (three day total $16.2 million), clearly hurt by competition from Universal's smash cartoon hit "Despicable Me 2," which was #2 for the day at $7.5 million. Compared to past Dream Works' animated releases and the film's reported $135 million cost, this is worrisome at least initially.
"Red 2," a sequel to an older-audience action/suspense hit, opened did $6.3 million to open at only #5. This was below the first day gross for "Red," which with strong word of mouth and a higher than usual multiple from opening weekend scored a surprising $90 million domestic total (and a bit more overseas). With the budget this time around $84 million about 50% higher than the first film, a lower opening day is disappointing.
But the standout failure by far is "R.I.P.D." An attempt to start a new franchise (this is an adaptation of a Dark Horse comic), this attempt at recreating the magic of the "Ghost Busters" and "Men in Black" franchises could only manage $4.8 million (#6) for a film with a cost in excess of $150 million. That's a worse ratio to expense for an opening day than even Disney's "The Lone Ranger (which doubled that figure its first day, but fell to a disastrous #11 for its third weekend). This will be a major loss for Universal, which otherwise has been having a great year.
Sony's "Grown Ups 2" fell 60% from opening day but still managed to place #4 for $6.4 million. ("Red 2" might end up ahead for the full weekend). Warner Bros.' "Pacific Rim" fell even more, ending up #7 at $4.7 million. Fox' "The Heat" took a big fall to #8 ($2.8 million), Paramount's "World War Z" was 9th ($1.5 million) while Disney's "Monsters University" ended up #10 (also $1.5 million).
Two widening specialized releases showed continued strength. Fox Searchlight's "Way Way Back" expanded to 304 theaters for $616,000, while Weinstein's acclaimed "Fruitvale Station," still quite limited at 34 theaters, did $230,000.