Green Hornet Creams The Dilemma at Martin Luther King Holiday Box Office

by Anthony D'Alessandro
January 17, 2011 5:59 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood
Big-budget effects trumped raunchy buddy comedy as Michel Gondry and Seth Rogen's Green Hornet beat out Ron Howard and Vince Vaughn's The Dilemma at the Martin Luther King holiday box office. Anthony D'Alessandro reports.

Monday morning Sony executives had every reason to keep Sunday night’s champagne flowing into their mimosas. Not only did the Culver City studio score big at the Golden Globes with The Social Network, but it continued to flex its B.O. muscle for No. 1 openers as superhero adaptation Green Hornet took $40 million over the four-day Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.

Meanwhile, Universal/Spyglass’ Vince Vaughn-Kevin James’ vehicle The Dilemma could have used a laugh track as the dramedy registered a low opening for both thesps at $21.1 million. Already, the media is proclaiming a recession for Hollywood after a three-day weekend haul of $127 million-plus (per Box Office Mojo estimates), which is 25% off last year’s $170 million. Their complaint: studios are delivering a crappy films. Relax. This is par for the course for January.

[Set photo by David Strick, courtesy THR.]

The numbers show there's enough to keep Sony’s buzz going before a hangover kicks in: Green Hornet’s bow ranked as the second-highest for the January holiday behind Cloverfield ($46.1 million) and the best overall for a Seth Rogen live-actioner, beating Superbad ($33 million) (which he co-wrote with Green Hornet partner Evan Goldberg and co-starred) and Knocked Up ($30.7 million).

But the VFX-heavy Green Hornet must overcome its $130 million budget and Tron-scale marketing expenses. Fanboys can open a movie but this one needs legs. Less pricey holiday champs, Paramount’s $25-million Cloverfield and Warner Bros.’ $80-million The Book of Eli ($38.4 million opening) fell short of the domestic century mark with $80 million and $94.8 million totals respectively. Also, they both weathered second weekend declines that were greater than 50% (Cloverfield fell 68%). Sony is counting on the under-25 crowd who awarded Green Hornet an A- Cinemascore (B+ overall) to spread the love as well as foreign, which raked in $16.1 million. Despite all the hoopla over Green Hornet’s 3-D conversion, the format accounted for 69% of weekend receipts.

Fretting a swarm of bad buzz over Green Hornet both from the blogosphere and Comic-Con, Sony upped their DEFCON level and began a marketing carpet bomb campaign which kicked into high gear prior to Christmas with IMDB.com skins, high-end billboards and a Carl’s Jr. tie-in as well as a 20-market U.S. tour of the Black Beauty car.

How do you solve a problem like Universal’s The Dilemma? The special effect alone resulting from packaging Vaughn and James on a Ron Howard comedy should have blown the light bulbs out of a Green Hornet billboard. But Universal sold Dilemma as a bromance comedy, when it’s actually a bromantic melodrama. Audiences gave it a B Cinemascore. Critics gave it a less forgiving 31% Rotten Tomatometer rating.

Down the road, the saving grace for Dilemma could be older women, who turned up in droves opening weekend (60%). In previous winters, this crowd has been more dependable than fanboys following MLK; romantic comedies such as Along Came Polly and 27 Dresses dipped 40% in their second sessions.

It’s ironic that drama seems easier than comedy for former Happy Days sitcom star Ron Howard, who needs to team up with a comedic scribe with a hot track record or fresh voice. Dilemma screenwriter Allan Loeb has demonstrated a better hand with intense dramas (read 21) than his screwball comedies. His Jennifer Aniston summer script The Switch ($27.8 million) also suffered from an identity crisis in promoting its plot. Though the easy answer might be for Howard to reteam with his Happy Days pals Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who cultivated such hit Howard comedies as Parenthood ($100 million) and Splash ($69.8 million), they’re also responsible for the director’s previous failed attempt at laughs, EDtv ($22.4 million). Luckily, Universal reigned in Dilemma’s budget at $70 million – far below the opulent spend of another star relationship comedy How Do You Know ($120 million).

As for the bottom falling out of the 2010-11 holiday B.O., that has more to do with Avatar being out of the market than anything else. This year will continue to trail 2010, because after Avatar came Alice in Wonderland. Avatar, along with three other holiday blockbusters, Sherlock Holmes, Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 and It’s Complicated, generated $1.3 billion following the weekend prior to Christmas. In addition to Tron: Legacy, only two other holiday releases films have surpassed $100 million: True Grit and Little Fockers, which totaled $421.9 million to date. The real concern going forward is that the distribs are back to clumping too many competing releases each weekend, chipping away at potential audiences, between January and April: 49 wide releases this year vs. 2010’s 39, leaving less breathing room for the films.



The weekend box office is for the Friday-Monday frame versus the previous 4-day take.

1. Green Hornet (Sony): $40 million in its first four-day weekend at 3,584 theaters. $11,161 theater average. Domestic total: $40 million.

2. The Dilemma (Universal): $21.1 million in its first four-day weekend at 2,390 theaters. $7,180 theater average. Domestic total: $21.1 million.

3. True Grit (Paramount/Skydance): $13.1 million down 17% in its fourth weekend at 3,459 theaters. $3,787 theater average. Domestic total: $128.3 million.

4. The King’s Speech (Weinstein Co.): $11.18 million up 61% in its eighth weekend at 1,543 theaters. $7,247 theater average. Domestic total: $46.7 million.

5. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight): $10.35 million up 16% in its seventh weekend at 2,328 theaters. $4,446 theater average. Domestic total: $75.2 million.

6. Little Fockers (Universal/Par-Relatvity Media): $8.4 million down 41% in its fourth weekend at 3,394 theaters. $2,475 theater average. Domestic total: $135.5 million.

7. Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.): $7.4 million up 8 % in its fifth weekend at 2,702 theaters. $2,739 theater average. Domestic total: $84.2 million.

8. Tron: Legacy (Disney): $6.83 million down 37% in its fifth weekend at 2,439 theaters. $2,800 theater average. Domestic total: $158.1 million.

9. The Fighter (Paramount): $6.2 million down 18% in its sixth weekend at 2,414 theaters. $2,568 theater average. Domestic total: $66.8 million.

10. Tangled (Disney): $5.46 million up 1% in its eighth weekend at 2,048 theaters. $2,667 theater average. Domestic total: $182.5 million.

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