By Anthony D'Alessandro | Thompson on Hollywood April 10, 2011 at 5:12AM
It was Russell Brand weekend at the box office, as the Brit comic starred in top-ranked holdover Hop as well as remake Arthur, which went toe-to-toe with smart-house actioner Hanna, starring Saoirse Ronan. Ensemble period spoof Your Highness trailed in sixth place, despite a cast led by James Franco and Natalie Portman.
Universal’s kid flick Hop showed spring in its second frame at the box office, collecting $21.7 million in golden eggs. Meanwhile, in a game of darts, the studios and their specialty labels threw four wide titles at the multiplexes in hopes of luring the 18-35 crowd. An overabundance of new competitors ate into each others' returns.
“This was a nerve-wracking weekend with all us targeting the under 35 demo,” complained one distribution exec. Another problem: less than 9% of all schools were out.
While there was a photo finish between Warner Bros.’ Arthur ($12.6 million) and Focus Features’ Hanna ($12.32 million), the latter came in above expectations, as did Tri-Star’s girl-drama Soul Surfer (marketed by FilmDistrict), which rode in fourth with $11.1 million. Universal’s R-rated $50 million stoner comedy Your Highness ran out of smoke in sixth with $9.5 million.
The positive word of mouth on Hop clearly took effect; and while the Illumination Entertainment production will face Fox’s animated tentpole Rio next weekend, it will still make it past $100 million. The question remains whether the Easter-themed film will have legs beyond the holiday. Typically, studios unspool Christmas holiday-theme films two months before the holiday, but in this case, Hop had a four-week lead.
Though the weekend seemed to belong to Russell Brand, as two of his films occupied the top slots, we can’t wave a pom pom for Arthur. Not only did the film fall below its industry projections of $15-17 million, but the remake of the 1981 film grossed below the $17-million figure that Brand posted on his last two films, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and its spin-off, Get Him to the Greek. (Sarah Marshall wasn’t sold on his name, but Brand was the discovery for audiences as they left the theater.)
Though Warner Bros. wound up hooking females (56%) over 25 (64%), this was clearly a film looking for a new generation of followers, specifically millennials, with its PG-13 rating and the casting of Brand. Arthur was tracking young male in its pre-release surveys and that's who came. Warners beat out the R-rated Your Highness by appealing to a younger crowd: Arthur earned a B+ Cinema Score from the under-25 set. The nostalgia of the Arthur brand name lured in 30% over 50, who were tougher to please: they gave it a B-. Critics compared the remake unfavorably to the 1981 film: with a 25% rotten. Some asked whether alcoholism was a redeemable trait in a romantic comedy today.
In addition to the film’s $40 million production cost, Warner Brothers shelled out $28 million in its media spend to land second place --a little more than the competition: Tri-Star spent $22 million on Soul Surfer TV spots and poster ads; Universal lavished $21 million on Your Highness and Focus Features took out $15 million with Hanna.
What went wrong with Your Highness? Though it has been in the can since early last year, a test screening was largely positive. Where were the Pineapple Express fans? After all, the film reunites thesps James Franco and Danny McBride with director David Gordon Green.
Pot is not taboo at the cinema: that film grossed $87.3 million. Nor is Portman's place in a raunchy comedy a turnoff -- No Strings Attached made $70.7 million. Universal positioned Your Higness post-Oscars in order to capitalize on Portman and Franco’s wattage. Your Highness drew the same share of males, 58%, as Pineapple, but drew an older age bracket: 55% were 25, 45% under.
Critics resisted the film at 25% rotten, but worse for its fate, the audiences loathed it with a C+ CinemaScore. Universal might have done better nabbing a younger audience in early August, when Pineapple Express launched, But Universal is banking on a body switch comedy from Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin, The Change-Up for August 5.
Instead young people flocked to Focus Features’ Hanna, which drew 53% under 30 and 64% under 35. Though the film smelled like an arthouse film with Cate Blanchett and director Joe Wright attached, Focus pitched Hanna to the masses via large standees in lobbies of suburban multiplexes. Focus also hosted a panel at WonderCon in order to get the Kick-Ass crowd excited and nabbed 53% men. A 71% fresh rating looks to keep this film alive in the weeks ahead among adults.
Tri-Star’s Soul Surfer succeeded in bringing in 80% females, with 56% of their crowd under 25. At a cost of $18 million, the film is a slam-dunk cash cow for Sony. FilmDistrict marketed the film with an assist from Sony’s faith-based label Affirm Films which hit the Christian faithful with this true tale about a surfer girl whose arm is bitten off by a shark. 350 preview screenings leading up to the film’s opening spurred an A+ Cinemascore. Also, in effort to drum up support from young teens, Tri-Star partnered with a number of brands for a contest whereby entrants could write about the ‘champion’ in their lives. Best essay won a surfing vacation and lessons on San Diego.
Here's the top ten box office chart:
1. Hop (Universal/Relativity) $21.7 million down 42% in its second weekend at 3,616 theaters. $6,000 theater average. Domestic total: $68.2 million.
2. Arthur (Warner Bros.) $12.6 million in its first weekend at 3,276 theaters. $3,848 theater average. Domestic total: $12.6 million.
3. Hanna (Focus Features) $12.32 million in its first weekend at 2,535 theaters. $4,861 theater average. Domestic total: $12.32 million.
4. Soul Surfer (Tri-Star) $11.1 million in its first weekend at 2,214 theaters. $5,014 theater average. Domestic total: $11.1 million.
5. Insidious (Film District) $9.74 million down 27% in its second weekend at 2,419 theaters. $4,026 theater average. Domestic total: $27.1 million.
6. Your Highness (Universal) $9.5 million in its first weekend at 2,769 theaters. $3,438 theater average. Domestic total: $9.5 million.
7. Source Code (Summit/Vendome) $9.1 million down 39% in its second weekend at 2,971 theaters. $3,046 theater average. Domestic total: $28.6 million.
8. Limitless (Relativity) $5.69 million down 39% in its fourth weekend at 2,655 theaters. $2,144 theater average. Domestic total: $64.4 million.
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (Fox) $4.89 million down 51% in its third weekend at 2,881 theaters. $1,696 theater average. Domestic total: $45.5 million.
10. Lincoln Lawyer (Lionsgate/Lakeshore): $4.6 million down 33% in its fourth weekend at 2,420 theaters. $1,902 theater average. Domestic total: $46.5 million.
Meek's Cutoff, Oscilloscope Pictures
Dir: Kelly Reichardt; Cast: Michelle Williams, Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton | 88% Metacritic, 85% Tomatometer | B+ criticWIRE | ThePlaylist Review | TOH Interview with Michelle Williams | TOH Review Round-Up.