By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood February 9, 2014 at 1:12PM
What Olympics? Led by a strong performance from "The Lego Movie" (Warner Bros.), this was the best non-holiday weekend of the year so far. The top ten grossed $136 million--$54 million and more than 60% better than last year--bringing the year to date increase to just under 9% so far.
The wealth was spread down the line, with "The Monuments Men" (Sony) coming in at a solid #2 with mainly older audiences. Weinstein's "Vampire Academy" was the weakest link, coming in at only #7, reinforcing the months-long trend of teen-oriented films failing to find their expected audience.
With inclement weather not discouraging attendance (as it did in much of the country last weekend), most of the holdovers had smaller than usual falls. The newer product managed to squeeze out all the Oscar contenders (except for "Frozen," which is not dependent on awards for its success) even though the Olympics-delayed awards show is still three weeks away.
This weekend does not mark the best performance ever against the Winter Olympics. Four years ago, they opened on a combined Valentine's/President's Day weekend (usually the biggest in the first third of the year) and three strong openers led a $184 million Top 10. That portends well for next weekend, when many of this week's hits will be joined by new films hoping to take advantage of the holiday.
1. "The Lego Movie" (Warner Bros.) NEW - Cinemascore; A; Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 82
$69,110,000 in 3,775 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $18,307; Cumulative: $69,110,000
The biggest opening of the year so far, and second-biggest ever for February ("The Passion of the Christ" remains the best), "The Lego Movie" should spark a sub-genre of classic toy-inspired animated movies. But the success of this film so far should be no surprise -- it is the third pairing of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and their third success after "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and "21 Jump Street." The inventive duo created (along with Animal Logic, the Australian-based company partnered with Warner Bros. which previously worked on the "Matrix" films, "Babe" and "The Great Gatsby") a computer-generated stop-action animated look, enhanced by 3D, that with built-in crossover interest and strong reviews reached this terrific figure.
And they did it for a bargain-basement $60 million. Co-produced by longtime Warners' partner Village Roadshow, this looks like it could be a lower-budget version of a global hit like "Gravity" or "Frozen" (which it finally displaces as the top family film in the market). More impressive is that the gross comes with lower children's admission prices and with only 35% of the revenue coming from 3D tickets (parents continue to resist the extra cost, even though this film, like "Gravity," actually uses the technique inventively).
What comes next: Next weekend (along with initial international grosses) will more strongly indicate how big this will be, but as of now this looks like potentially one of the top films of the year. And it comes during what is normally a slower period, so it is a big boost for theaters, even more so with the Olympics as competition.
2. "The Monuments Men" (Sony) NEW - Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 52
$22,700,000 in 3,083 theaters; PSA: $7,363; Cumulative: $22,700,000
Despite disappointing reviews, George Clooney's latest film as actor/director turns out to be quite strong initially, coming in higher than expectations. It played well with adults (clearly moving on from the Oscar contenders), and had a good bump yesterday from Friday, suggesting a good initial reaction.
For all of Clooney's star appeal, his top grossing films, apart from last year's supporting "Gravity" role, since 2000 have been the ensemble "Ocean's" trilogy. This gross is more than double that of his top directorial effort, "The Ides of March." The flavor of the film is more in line with the caper genre of "Ocean's 11-13" as is the big-star ensemble (Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray are part of the mix).
This was a joint venture for Sony production arm Columbia (domestic) and Twentieth Century Fox (foreign), with German participation, coming in at $70 million. The movie had its European premiere Saturday in Berlin, where festival publicity should propel this to solid international results.
What comes next: Sony's move out of the initial Christmas release date (once it appeared this wouldn't be an awards contender) seems to have paid off domestically. Still, the ultimate fate for this will come from its worldwide appeal, which could be even stronger and turn this into a success.