By Anthony D'Alessandro | Thompson on Hollywood October 2, 2011 at 4:33AM
While it looked like Moneyball would assert its dominance over the weekend box office, another second weekender took the prize: Dolphin Tale. Again, the family movie pulled a bigger niche audience than too many competitors aimed at males and adults. Anthony D'Alessandro reports:
Another flood of wide entries fragmented Fall moviegoers this weekend. Warner Bros./Alcon's heart-tugging crowd-pleaser Dolphin Tale yipped up $14.2 million in its second session, overtaking Sony's well-reviewed Moneyball, which fielded $12.5 million. Both films generated warm buzz throughout the week, especially on Rosh Hashanah last Thursday when some schools were off.
New product was powerless against these holdover faves. Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's cancer dramedy 50/50 survived with $8.86 million, while the Daniel Craig/Rachel Weisz spooky real estate vehicle Dream House was condemned with $8.2 million, and affable Anna Faris lost $5.6 million worth of chips in Fox/New Regency's What's Your Number? The biggest overperformer was Sony/Tri-Star's $2 million Christian cop drama Courageous, which broke out of the gates with Friday matinees and racked up $8.8 million, besting the studio's projections by 74%.
Summit's launch of 50/50 at the Toronto Film Festival spiked the film's profile in the last leg of its promo campaign, spurring laughs, tears and Oscar talk among fest-goers for Gordon-Levitt's performance. Seth Rogen is the marquee sell for this cancer dramedy, however, it registered the lowest opening of his career, falling below Judd Apatow ensemble Funny People (which bowed to $22.7 million thanks to Adam Sandler) and Kevin Smith's profane Zack and Miri Make a Porno ($10.1 million). On the upside, 50/50 was inexpensive at $8 million, but it grabbed a slim slice of its target younger demo: 65% were over 25. The film generated the best reviews among this weekend's openings at 92% fresh: audiences liked it too, giving it an A- Cinemascore. Word-of-mouth should carry this one to more robust grosses going forward.
Like many faith-based pictures, Tri-Star's cop drama Courageous was underestimated by Hollywood, coming in fifth while playing on 63% fewer screens than the weekend's widest release What's Your Number?. Similar to its handling of last spring's Soul Surfer, Tri-Star canvassed churches with advance screenings with this film by Alex Kendrick, who directed 2008's Fireproof which minted $33.5 million off a $500K budget. Even better, these films are resistant to poor reviews. Courageous earned a sour 45% among elitists, but an A+ saving grace from ticket buyers, many of them fans of the film's producers, the Sherwood Baptist Church. 53% of the audience was female, 77% over the age of 25.
Going in, the Universal release of Morgan Creek's Dream House looked gorgeous with a top-notch cast and shimmery cool blue autumn-toned cinematography. Anyone who doesn't use the internet wouldn't have known about it until late August when the trailer was tagged onto Colombiana. The disrepair in this bric-a-brac house could easily be re-titled M. Night Shyamalan's Amityville Horror. The one-sheet of two ghostly girls (who looked like cojoined twins) was both artsy and creepy, yet vague about the film's content. Smart-house crowds adore the heart-wrenching dramas of acclaimed Irish director Jim Sheridan, who directed In the Name of the Father ($25.1 million) and My Left Foot ($14.7 million). He reportedly clashed with Morgan Creek's Jim Robinson. The studio kept critics at bay. Such maneuvers can translate into solid openings, especially with fanboy films such as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ($54.7 million) and Alien vs. Predator ($38.7 million). Morgan Creek thought they could hit a bow in the vicinity of $8-$10 million, but with this opening, it doesn't look like they're going to pay back the film's $50-million mortgage.
I had high hopes for Fox/New Regency romcom What's My Number? after reading Tad Friend's New Yorker profile on star Anna Faris, which pitched her comedy psyche against a sexually-bias studio system. Fox trailered this R-rated chick pic with the summer's naughty comedies like Horrible Bosses and picked the September release date where Reese Witherspoon launched Sweet Home Alabama in 2002 ($35.6 million), churning out both the highest live-action opening of her career and for the month. But not all September moviegoers prefer blondes and Number ranks as Faris' second-lowest wide bow of her career, after the disastrous spring fling Take Me Home Tonight ($3.5 million).
So what was lost in translation for Faris? Some of these bad-girl comedies aren't about bad girls at all. They're modern-woman relationship films posing as Hangover wannabes. Audiences have caught onto this, hence the depreciating grosses from No Strings Attached ($19.7 million bow, $70 million) to this summer's Friends With Benefits ($18.6 million, $55.82 million). If studios want to keep making R-rated women's fare, they need to top Bridemaids in the gross-out arena. One early sign that Number was in trouble came when Regency co-chairs Hutch Parker and Bob Harper announced they were leaving their posts at the end of August. Regency shelled out $20 million for the comedy, which grabbed a B Cinemascore and pulled 63% women and those over 25.
Elsewhere at the wickets, Relativity's Machine Gun Preacher gunned down $82K at 33 venues in its 15 market expansion to Boston, Washington D.C., Toronto, Chicago among several other cities. Current cume for the $25-million production stands at $140K in its second frame. The film played to the SAG Cinema Society this weekend to great applause. Film District's Drive drove outside the top ten perimeter with $3.3 million, down 42% with a $27.1 million running cume. Lionsgate's Warrior went down for the count with $475K off 707 locales, down 58% with a running cume of $13.1 million.
Top Ten Box Office Chart:
1. Dolphin Tale (Warner Bros./Alcon) $14.2 million down 26% in its second weekend at 3,515 theaters. $4,053 theater average. Domestic total: $37.5 million.
2. Moneyball (Sony) $12.5 million down 36% in its second weekend at 2,993 theaters. $4,176 theater average. Domestic total: $38.5 million.
3. The Lion King 3D (Disney) $11.1 million down 50% in its third weekend at 2,340 theaters. $4,725 theater average. Domestic total: $79.7 million.
4. 50/50 (Summit) $8.86 million in its first weekend at 2,458 theaters. $3,600 theater average. Domestic total: $8.86 million.
5. Courageous (Tri-Star) $8.8 million in its first weekend at 1,161 theater. $7,580 theater average. Domestic total: $8.8 million.
6. Dream House (Morgan Creek/Universal) $8.2 million in its first weekend at 2,661 theaters. $3,085 theater average. Domestic total: $8.2 million.
7. Abduction (Lionsgate) $5.65 million down 48% in its second weekend at 3,118 theaters. $1,812 theater average. Domestic total: $19.1 million.
8. What's Your Number? (20th Century Fox) $5.6 million in its first weekend at 3,002 theater. $1,865 theater average. Domestic total: $5.6 million.
9. Contagion (Warner Bros.) $5.04 million down 40% in its fourth weekend at 2,744 theaters. $1,837 theater average. Domestic total: $64.7 million.
10. Killer Elite (Open Road) $4.855 million down 48% in its second weekend at 2,986 theaters. $1,626 theater average. Domestic total: $17.4 million.