By Brian Fuson | Thompson on Hollywood March 11, 2012 at 12:56PM
With three new wide releases hitting the marketplace, Universal’s “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” held onto the top spot for the second consecutive weekend with an estimated $39.1 million, slipping a mild 44% while advancing its 10-day cume to a robust $122 million, thanks largely to a responsive family audience and positive word of mouth.
But while the strong hold for “Lorax” was anticipated, the film most industry observers were watching and talking about all week was the opening of Disney’s expensive “John Carter.” The $250-million epic sci-fi action adventure ended up debuting slightly higher than projected, placing second with an estimated $30.6 million.
International prospects look more promising than domestic as the overseas grosses have racked up an estimated $70.6 million through the weekend, combining for a worldwide cume to date of an estimated $101.2 million.
For most films a $30.6 million domestic opening would be respectable, but with “Carter’s” massive budget of $250 million, this opening is a drop in the ocean that won't even touch the film’s marketing costs. A teaser trailer debuted last summer attached to both 3-D and 2-D versions of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2,” and Disney bought an extended Super Bowl spot in February.
With the solid hold by “Lorax” and the opening of “Carter,” the boxoffice in North America posted another up weekend, the tenth consecutive one this year. The estimated total for all films is $141 million, up nearly 9% from the comparable frame in 2011.
The story for PG-13 rated “Carter” was culled from the first novel, “A Princess of Mars,” of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ almost 11-volume “Barsoom" series. The film centers on an ex-Confederate Army captain Carter who mysteriously transports to Mars (Barsoom). Once there, Carter sets out to save the planet and its intelligent beings from extinction.
In the interest of marketing, Disney decided not to alienate young males –- a key demographic for the film -- and did away with “Princess” in the title, changing it first to “John Carter of Mars,” and later just “John Carter” so as not to alienate females. They wound up with a generic name that failed to attract enough of either.
“Carter” marks the live-action directorial debut of Andrew Stanton (Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E”) and stars Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins, with Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and Thomas Haden Church as six-limbed performance capture Martians.
From early on the media has focused on “Carter"'s high cost and bad marketing, which rarely ever helps the perception of a film by the public. Finally, “Carter” earned mixed reviews, split evenly 50/50, according to RottenTomatoes.com, and the film pulled a “B+” CinemaScore.
So while the opening was nowhere near Disney needed to head toward profitability, "Carter" may have some legs if word of mouth is upbeat. International grosses may help as this genre usually travels well overseas, but poor stateside numbers could have an adverse effect on how the film is perceived abroad.
Paramount’s long-shelved Eddie Murphy vehicle “A Thousand Words” also proved disappointing as the $40-million picture debuted with a weak $6.35 million in the sixth spot. It didn’t help matters that the PG-13 rated comedy-drama was made nearly four years ago and went out to only 1,890 theaters. Each of Murphy’s last three films opened in more than 3,000 theaters each.
“Words,” helmed by Brian Robbins and costarring Kerry Washington, was the last DreamWorks production before the split with Paramount. The film stars Murphy as a fast-talking literary agent who can close any deal by saying just about anything. The concept: as he goes after a New Age guru author, a magical Bodhi tree appears in his back yard; with every word he speaks a leaf falls from the tree; when the last leaf falls from the tree he will die. He has 1,000 words left.
The film was reviewed abysmally by critics, while moviegoers gave the film a tepid “B-“ CinemaScore.
Murphy’s losing traction with audiences. His last three live-action films were “Tower Heist,” which opened with a disappointing $24 million (3,870 theaters) and went on to gross $78 million; “Imagine That” debuted with $5.5 million (3,008 engagements) and took in $16.1 million: and “Meet Dave” opened with $5.3 million (3,011 locations) and only made it to $11.8 million. Murphy’s highest live-action opening was “The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” back in July of 2000, which opened with $42.5 million and went on to collect $123.3 million.
Open Road’s R-rated horror film “Silent House" placed fourth with an estimated $7 million from 2,124 locations. The film marked the third release from new distributor Open Road, which partnered on a service deal with LD Entertainment. The picture cost less than $1 million to make and was picked up at Sundance last year.
“House" stars Olsen younger sibling Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman trapped in her family’s lakeside home who finds she is unable to contact the outside world as events become increasingly ominous.
A remake of the Spanish horror picture, "La Casa Muda,” "house" and was helmed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau ("IOpen Water"). Reviews were mixed --leaning negative--but a dismal "F" CinemaScore means that the flick is unlikely to hang in theaters for long.