Thompson on Hollywood

George Clooney's Euro-thriller The American may not be a mainstream studio entertainment, but it's a sign of his stardom that the movie still opened at Number One over the Labor Day weekend, trouncing holdover Takers, which was ahead of Robert Rodriguez's Machete through Sunday. Upbeat word-of-mouth pulled the Mexican western ahead by Monday. Anthony D'Alessandro reports:

Focus Features’ George Clooney somber thriller The American took out its Labor Day weekend competition, grabbing the top four-day box office spot with $16.4 million at 2,823 theaters.  The opening comes as a boon for Clooney, who tends to topline platformed Oscar-potential R-rated fare such as Michael Clayton and Up in the Air.  Outside the actor’s ensemble features, i.e. the Ocean’s Eleven movies, The American stands as one of Clooney’s more notable solo bows.

Focus carefully managed buzz for the film, allowing press to watch it just days before its Wednesday release. (Critics gave it a modest 61% fresh rating.) “There are a lot of adults over the holiday weekend who are looking for movies,” said Focus Feature distribution head Jack Foley. The American reps the start of the fall season, says Foley.

Labor Day weekend is often known as the sleepiest summer frame, particularly with 86% of kids K-12 already back in school. However, Foley considers the four-day session to be an “island weekend," he says: "There are those moviegoers who are on vacation, but there’s a number of them sitting around at home with nothing to do, typically an older audience,” adds Foley, “For them the key driving factor in this film is George Clooney.”

Likewise, those taking in The American were predominantly over 25 – 88% with a 60%/40% men to women ratio. (Cinemascores were so bad that Focus did not report them.) Foley insists that the film’s Wednesday opening triggered positive word-of-mouth: “Grosses tell the truth."

Rodriguez fans turned out on Friday to push Machete to number one, but then backed off on Saturday, which is typical for genre titles. The ensemble shoot-em up led by Danny Trejo wound up at number two with $14 million over four days. Not too shabby, but Rodriguez’s Mex-ploitation films have seen better bows: in September 2003, the Antonio Banderas-Johnny Depp Once Upon a Time in Mexico bowed to $23.4 million. On the other hand, a number of the director’s gore actioners cater to a cult crowd and rarely break out to a wider audience. Attribute Sin City’s $29.1 million first weekend and final domestic B.O. of $74 million to Miramax's astute marketing of co-director/author Frank Miller, an all-star cast and the participation of Rodriguez chum Quentin Tarantino.
Fox can be happy with the Machete returns: the studio acquired North American rights for $8 million. They targeted the flick to the Latino market, drawing in 60% of the demo. Overall, Machete’s followers were older males (55% both for guys and those over 25). With strong U.S.-Mexico border themes, Machete was not seeking to attract the Red State action aficionados who would indulge in The Expendables.  Critics praised Machete, which earned a 72% fresh Tomato rating. “This is a confluence of great critical and audience support on the Latino side,” said Fox senior vice president distribution Chris Aronson, “Danny Trejo is the first Latino superhero.”
Warner Bros./New Line’s Drew Barrymore romantic comedy Going the Distance opened soft with $8.6 million, in fifth place. The studio promoed the film with extensive billboards and tagged the trailer onto big summer movies.  Barrymore and her off-set b.f. Justin Long did interviews saying that they were playing art off reality. Still, audiences didn’t show up. Similar to the lackluster returns with Jennifer Aniston’s The Switch, rom coms are boosted not only by their femme stars but the popularity of their leading men, and Long is no Adam Sandler or Hugh Grant – gents who’ve bolstered Barrymore’s previous cinematic smoochers to respective bows of $39.9 million for 50 First Dates and $13.6 million for Music and Lyrics. Critics were divided over Distance, giving it a 47% rotten score on the Tomato Meter. Women flocked to  Going the Distance, repping 66% of the crowd, and granting it a B Cinema Score.  Slightly older demos inched out the under 25 crowd. Warner Bros. reports under 25 (23%), 25-34 (25%), 35-49 (26%) and over 50 (26%).
Below is the top 10 for the four-day weekend: % change compares current four-day weekend to previous four-day run.

1. The American (Focus Features): $16.4 million in its first weekend at 2,823 theaters.  $5,808 theater average. Domestic total: $19.5 million in its first six days
2. Machete (Fox): $14 million in its first weekend at 2,670 theaters. $5,243 theater average. Domestic total: $14 million

3. Takers (Sony/Screen Gems): $13.5 million down 39% in its second weekend at 2,206 theaters.  $6,120 theater average.  Domestic total: $40 million.
4. The Last Exorcism (Lionsgate): $8.78 million down 60% in its second weekend at 2,874 theaters.  $3,055 theater average. Domestic total: $33.6 million
5. Going the Distance (WB/New Line): $8.61 in its first weekend at 3,030 theaters. $2,842 theater average.  Domestic total: $8.61 million
6. The Expendables (Lionsgate): $8.5 million down 18% in its fourth weekend at 3,398 theaters. $2,501 theater average.  Domestic total: $94.1 million
7. The Other Guys (Sony): $6.65 million down 3% in its fifth weekend at 2,607 theaters. $2,551 theater average.  Domestic total: $108.1 million
8. Eat Pray Love (Sony): $6.25 million down 18% in its fourth weekend at 2,663 theaters. $2,347 theater average.  Domestic total: $70.4 million.
9. Inception (Warner Bros.): $5.86 million up 9% in its eighth weekend at 1,704 theaters. $3,439 theater average.  Domestic total: $278.4 million.
10. Nanny McPhee Returns (Universal): $4.7 million down 8% in its third weekend at 2,708 theaters.  $1,725 theater average.  Domestic total: $23.5 million.