Winter continued to freeze turnstiles as total domestic receipts amounted to an estimated $106 million, off 15% from the same frame last year when 2009 carry-over Avatar was still scorching the chilly season.
Warner Bros./New Line’s Anthony Hopkins exorcist thriller The Rite evoked $15 million at No. 1, a number that’s in line with studio projections, but a far cry from the boffo bows of the Oscar-winner’s prior horror-thrillers. Elsewhere, Jason Statham’s remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film The Mechanic passed $11.5 million, besting CBS Films’ $7-$9 million estimate, but it went toe-to-toe with Sony holdover The Green Hornet for third place.
Oscar nominees added needed warmth to the marketplace as the expansions for The King’s Speech and 127 Hours saw remarkable surges of 41% and 1,687% respectively. Meanwhile, True Grit inched up 4% and The Fighter dipped 3%.
Fact is, the exorcism sub-genre sells. This is the fourth time in recent memory since Warner Bros.’ 2000 release of Exorcist: The Director’s Cut that a Catholic satanic thriller has won the top B.O. spot. However, The Rite falls at the lower end of such bows as 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose ($30 million) and last summer’s The Last Exorcism ($20.4 million).
Warner Bros. worked overtime promoting Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs mode via ubiquitous billboards and TV spots in The Rite: adult attendees numbered 64% over 25. Warner Bros. had no choice: since 2002’s Hannibal Lector reboot Red Dragon ($93.1 million), Hopkins has carried fewer films solely on his own, opting for more ensemble work in action epics (i.e. the upcoming Thor, 2004’s Alexander). One studio media analyst estimated that Warner Bros. spent about $28 million in billboard/TV/print media buys, almost double what CBS shelled out to spike impressions on Mechanic. “And when you spend that money, you have to open at No. 1,” said the source.
Not to mention, late January seemed like the ripe time for Warner Bros. to re-launch Hopkins. A year ago when the studio unspooled Mel Gibson’s $80-million Edge of Darkness, it posted a higher first frame than Rite ($17.2 million) and quickly disappeared (total gross: $43.3 million). Hopkins posted a stronger opening with last year’s $150 million dud The Wolfman ($31.5 million), in which he shared top billing with Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt. On the bright side, Rite only cost $37 million. Audiences were split evenly among males and females. But critics gave the Cinemascore grade title a stinky 17% rotten score .
Reviewers were kinder to The Mechanic, granting it a 48% rotten score while crowds gave it a B-. Statham films boast solid cookie-cutter economics that are geared to profit despite their unglamorous grosses. Mechanic, which Millennium/NuImage spent $40 million to make, landed within the $10-$12 million opening range of Statham’s non-sequel efforts, i.e. Death Race ($12.6 million) and Crank ($10.5 milliion). CBS only paid $5 million for the film’s domestic rights and believes that Mechanic will emulate the leg power of previous Statham titles, which tend to make three times their opening.
CBS employed a multi-prong marketing campaign. They put Statham on both late night yack shows The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Lopez Tonight (he didn’t do a late night tour for Crank: High Voltage due to The Expendables shoot). CBS also built word-of-mouth with ten-market advance previews last week of Mechanic, co-hosted by fan-boy site IGN. In addition, CBS chose to go with an eclectic gun collage as its prime artwork, banking that Statham’s name alone could sell the film. Innovatively, CBS embedded a QR code in each poster so that any iPhone or Blackberry user could easily download info on Mechanic simply by snapping a mobile photo of the poster.
1. The Rite (Warner Bros./New Line): $15 million in its first weekend at 2,985 theaters. $5,027 theater average. Domestic total: $15 million.
2. No Strings Attached (Paramount/Spyglass): $13.65 million down 31% in its second weekend at 3,022 theaters. $4,517 theater average. Domestic total: $39.7 million.
3. The Mechanic (CBS Films): $11.5 million in its first weekend at 2,703 theaters. $4,994 theater average. Domestic total: $11.5 million.
3. Green Hornet (Sony): $11.5 million down 35% in its third weekend at 3,524 theaters. $3,263 theater average. Domestic total: $78.8 million.
5. The King’s Speech (Weinstein Co.): $11.1 million up 41% in its tenth weekend at 2,557 theaters. $4,342 theater average. Domestic total: $72.2 million.
6. True Grit (Paramount/Skydance): $7.6 million up 4% in its sixth weekend at 3,120 theaters. $2436 theater average. Domestic total: $148.4 million.
7. The Dilemma (Universal): $5.5 million down 40% in its third weekend at 2,905 theaters. $1,885 theater average. Domestic total: $40.6 million.
8. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight): $5.1 million down 13% in its ninth weekend at 2,315 theaters. $2,203 theater average. Domestic total: $90.7 million.
9. The Fighter (Paramount): $4.06 million down 3% in its eighth weekend at 1,914 theaters. $2,119 theater average. Domestic total: $78.4 million.
10. Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.): $3.165 million down 17% in its seventh weekend at 2,133 theaters. $1,484 theater average. Domestic total: $92.5 million.