For the first weekend in a while, there's been a real uptick in business. The top 10 films on Friday grossed over $30 million, compared to $23.5 million last Friday and $26 million a year ago. Led by two Sony releases in the top positions, followed by indie holdover "End of Watch," the wide range of films prove that outside-the-box production decisions can deliver --and broaden the kind of non-sequel, non-franchise series films that get made.
The big surprise of the week is the strong opening of Universal's college-set relationship comedy "Picture Perfect." Without the benefit of the usual marketing elements included in most limited releases, especially any big-name draws, and as importantly appealing to primarily female audiences, it opened in sixth place in only 335 theaters, with a Friday PSA that is just below what "The Master" had for its first full weekend (in twice as many theaters).
1. Hotel Transylvania (Sony) NEW - Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 46
$11,000,000 in 3,349 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $3,285; Cumulative: $11,000,000
The Halloween season starts earlier every year in theaters. This 3-D animated horror comedy is the latest in Sony Pictures Animation's solid-or-better entries in this lucrative genre. The Friday gross is $2 million below that of summer opening "The Smurfs" last year, but this could be heading to a better opening weekend. It is $3 million better than September opener "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." This could be the biggest opening since August's "The Bourne Legacy."
Sony Animation's production costs, though high, fall somewhat below those of some other studios (this film reportedly came in between $65-100 million). This looks, with additional significant foreign appeal, like a big success.
What comes next: "The Smurfs" ended up with $142 million domestic/$563 million worldwide, which might not be challenged. But for an original concept, this is a promising start.
2. Looper (Sony) NEW - Cinemascore: B; Metacritic score: 84
$6,900,000 in 2,992 theaters; PSA: $2,306; Cumulative: $6,900,000
With the highest Metacritic score of the year of any initial wide release, this time-travel thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis boasts a core target audience tof under-35 males that tends to be less-critic oriented. The gross indicates better-than-normal appeal than its two leads on their own would be expected to attract (Gordon-Levitt's "Premium Rush" last month grossed less than $20 million for its full run), so Sony's marketing has connected.
Financed by Endgame Entertainment with a reported cost of around $30 million, this looks like it will be by far their most successful venture so far (others they've produced either solely or in partnership include "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," Rian Johnson's last film "The Brothers Bloom," "Hotel Rwanda" and "I'm Not There.") In a time of tricky financing, succeeding on a risky bet with a smart, well-received original film stands as an important development.
For director Johnson, the Friday gross is bigger than the combined total domestic take for his first two films ("Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom") so this marks a major leap forward. For Gordon-Levitt, who has balanced his supporting roles in big-budget hits ("Inception," "The Dark Knight Rises," "G.I. Joe) with indies of varying success ("500 Days of Summer," "50/50") this melds both in a career-boosting way. Bruce Willis is going through a renaissance after the two "Expendables" films, "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Red," and has passed the 25-year mark as a major global draw.
What comes next: The big question -- will word of mouth attract a wider, older audience that could sustain this down the line? This, like "End of Watch," is an intelligent genre film aimed at general audiences, combining a modest budget with a smart script, an up and coming director and a known but not always big grossing young lead actor. Any significant success (throw in "Lawless" with Shia LeBoeuf as well) will encourage young actors to pursue films that aren't as cookie-cutter automatically "safe" as many of the larger budgeted studio releases aim to be.