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Box Office: Contagion Runs $23-Million Fever Over Cold Weekend

by Anthony D'Alessandro
September 11, 2011 4:21 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

Steven Soderbergh's pandemic ensemble thriller Contagion posted a healthy opening despite an overall downer weekend. Anthony D'Alessandro breaks down the box office:

As adults returned to the fall box office, Warner Bros.' all-star Steven Soderbergh disease film Contagion knocked out all newcomers and unseated August holdover The Help for the top box office spot with a solid $23.1 million. Although it was a decent opening for a September release, the disaster pic failed to trickle down to other films: this weekend is projected to gross the lowest of the year with $80.8 million, off just 1% from a year ago.
No alarms here. First of all, it's not summer anymore, the kids are back in school and Sept. 11 memorials are dominating Sunday. Second, the competition, with the exception of Lionsgate's Warrior, which drew $5.6 million, was crappy. As an R-rated comedy geared toward a young audience, Sony Screen Gems' Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star was out of season with $1.45 million; it would have fared better during a school vacation or summer period. Meanwhile, urban stand-up film Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain from Heartbeat Prods/Code Black Entertainment shook up a decent $2 million gross from 99 venues outside the top ten while Bubble Factory's self-distributed Creature horror pic got sliced at 1,507 venues with $331,000.

After the success of The Town last September ($23.8 million, $92.2 million), Warners knows that the over-25 set, which repped 81% for Contagion, are looking for smart product. Males and females were split at 50/50. They effectively put Contagion on moviegoers' radars with large standees in multiplexes and trailers attached to tentpole films like Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Numerically speaking, everything makes sense in terms of Contagion's bow. It's in sync with other fall hits such as The Social Network ($22.4 million) as well as Matt Damon's openings (True Grit and The Adjustment Bureau posted bows above $20 million). Warners sold Damon as the film's marquee draw. Ticket sales were further boosted by IMAX which contributed 10%. A B- Cinemascore won't tarnish the film in terms of making back its $60-million production costs, which were co-financed by Participant Media.

The fight isn't over for Lionsgate's Warrior. First, the competition among adult titles will only be stiffer as the season progresses. Lionsgate had to unspool this film somewhere on the autumn schedule. Neither Tom Hardy nor Joel Edgerton is a butts-in-seats movie star, so coming up short of double digit grosses is no surprise, even with a prior weekend of sneak previews. It's on fewer screens than Contagion and essentially vying for the same crowd. Warrior also looked a tad familiar to The Fighter in its marketing as an Irish-American pugilist picture. Luckily what distinguishes this mixed martial arts film in the market, and should also spur audiences, is its glorious 82% fresh reviews, the same numbers as Contagion.

With an A Cinemascore, Lionsgate can count on strong word-of-mouth. Warrior drew 51% over the age of 25 and 66% male. Those who didn’t see Warrior this weekend due to Contagion will find it next Friday.

Bucky Larson bit the dust, despite the presence of funny Comedy Central stand-up Nick Swardson, who has yet to break out. Adam Sandler, whose Happy Madison shingle produced the $10 million comedy, has backed this stand-up comedian for some time, nurturing Swardson with writing gigs on Grandma's Boys and The Benchwarmers as well as co-star roles in last winter's Just Go With It ($103 million). Swardson fans awarded it a B Cinemascore, however, if this comedic multi-hyphenate wanted to reach more people, he should have taken a note from Sandler who launched his own headliner career with the 1995 PG-13 film Billy Madison ($25.6 million).

Top Ten Box Office Chart:

1. Contagion (Warner Bros.) $23.1 million in its first weekend at 3,222 theaters. $7,180 theater average. Domestic total: $23.1 million.
2. The Help (Disney/DreamWorks) $8.69 million down 40% in its fifth weekend at 2,935 theaters. $2,961 theater average. Domestic total: $137.1 million.
3. Warrior (Lionsgate) $5.6 million in its first weekend at 1,869 theaters. $3,000 theater average. Domestic total: $5.67 million.
4. The Debt (Focus Features) $4.9 million down 50% in its second weekend at 1,876 theaters. $2,614 theater average.Domestic total: $22 million.
5. Colombiana (Tri-Star/Sony) $4 million down 46% in its third weekend at 2,354 theaters. $1,699 theater average. Domestic total $29.8 million.
6. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Fox) $3.875 million down 51% in its sixth weekend at 2,887 theaters. $1,342 theater average. Domestic total: $167.8 million.
7. Shark Night 3D (Relativity) $3.5 million down 58% in its second weekend at 2,848 theaters. $1,241 theater average. Domestic total: $14.8 million.
8. Apollo 18 (Dimension/Weinstein) $2.9 million down 67% in its second weekend at 3,330 theaters. $875 theater average. Domestic total: $15 million.
9. Our Idiot Brother (Weinstein) $2.76 million down 49% in its third weekend at 2,396 theaters. $1,152 theater average. Domestic total: $21.4 million.
10. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (Dimension/Weinstein) $2.5 million down 48% in its fourth weekend. $985 theater average. Domestic total: $34.2 million.


  • Anthony | September 12, 2011 2:24 AMReply

    Hi Mary -- I think Swardson needed a PG 13 in his first big launch because most of his existing fans are under 25; those who watch Comedy Central.

    Warners always thought Contagion would do at least $20 million based on how The Town performed and the fact that it was 9/11 this weekend. Another studio, making their own projections, came out with the wild estimate that it would hit $30 milllion. For a dramatic thriller, Contagion bowed in sync with other fall titles in that genre (Red Dragon of Silence of the Lambs franchise aside).

  • mary | September 12, 2011 1:47 AMReply

    Both "Contagion" and "Warrior" underperformed badly (compared to what the box office tracking indicated), while "The Help" is still doing well. Audience clearly tell studios what kind of adult dramas they want to see; they may want adult dramas to be more grossly oversimplified, cheaply emotional, messy and melodramatic. (partly stole the quote from Matt Brennan :p)

    I agree with your point about Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton; adult-driven films need higher-profile stars to open better in wide releases. On the other hands, I think "Warrior" would do better if Lionsgate opened the film in platform release (even "The Fighter" opened in platform release).

    [if this comedic multi-hyphenate wanted to reach more people, he should have taken a note from Sandler who launched his own headliner career with the 1995 PG-13 film Billy Madison ($25.6 million). ]

    I don't totally agree with it. R-rated comedies can launch comedians' careers, like what happened to Ben Stiller, Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Zach Galifianakis, etc......

  • snarl | September 11, 2011 11:31 AMReply

    That is really one of the stupidest headlines I've seen in a while.

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