Thompson on Hollywood

Two pictures vied for the top slot on the last slow dog-days-of-summer weekend. At press time it looked like Lionsgate's The Last Exorcism was beating out Sony/Screen Gems' Takers. Meanwhile holdovers The Expendables and Eat Pray Love hung onto slices of the top-five b.o. pie, reports Anthony D'Alessandro.

A demonized teenager and a gang of bank robbers drew a line at the multiplex as Lionsgate’s horror-thriller The Last Exorcism and Sony/Screen Gems’ Takers eyed a photo finish for No. 1, each grossing an estimated $21 million.  Last Exorcism had the edge to claim the top spot, invoking $300,000 more than Takers. However, that could change once actuals are posted tomorrow. Along with The Expendables which seized $9.5 million, Lionsgate shared the top five films with Sony which also slotted Eat Pray Love ($7 million) and The Other Guys ($6.6 million) in respective ranks four and five.  
Last Exorcism comes as a much needed huzzah for Lionsgate, following the $82 million accumulated by Expendeables as the distributor solidifies its financial stance against corporate raider Carl Ichan.  Profiting from horror fare is second nature for Lionsgate, but this time around, they really scored on the return-on-investment side of the equation: they picked up Last Exorcism for under $1 million.  The Strike Entertainment/Studio Canal film was financed at $2 million. Cheers!

More analysis and Top Ten Chart on jump. Peter Knegt reports indie b.o. here.

One bravado marketing stunt won over young females and males (52% female, 48% guys with 65% under 25) was a unique plug on video social network Chat Roulette where Lionsgate edited clips of a sultry teen freaking out viewers as she morphed into a demon. Clips on YouTube are set to score some 2.5 million viewers. Also, Lionsgate reports that 54% Last Exorcism attendees this weekend were Latino.

Unleashing a horror film in late August is a great way to prime filmgoers for the fall movie season. It worked for Warner Bros./New Line with its franchise title The Final Destination, which topped the same frame a year ago with $27.4 million, a figure that was fueled by its 3-D format.  And while Final Destination was rated R, Lionsgate decided it was better to invite the teenagers standing outside the theater in with a PG-13 rating.

“These low-budget genre films don’t beat in the heart of summer as they can’t compete against popcorn pics,” says Lionsgate distribution head David Spitz, “Late August is a prime time for them to cut through the clutter and make noise. Not to mention fans build an appetite for such fare since there hasn’t been one in the marketplace since last April with A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Critics didn’t twist their heads at the indie-horror film, awarding it a 71% fresh on the Tomatometer. Variety’s John Anderson proclaimed The Last Exorcism as “first-rate use of religious doubt and religious extremism to concoct a novel horror-thriller clever enough to seduce unbelievers while satisfying the bloodlust of its congregation/fanbase.”
Sony/Screen Gems' ensemble cast for Takers-- which included Chris Brown, Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Zoe Saldana and Hayden Christensen--proved to be a chick magnet, drawing in young females (52% of the entire crowd were women, 51% under the age of 25).  Screen Gems is known for keeping its budgets in line, typically around $20 million.  The label spent a bit more on Takers, $32 million, with the film’s opening in sync with previous titles in its library such as Beyonce Knowles’ 2009 thriller Obsessed, which made a notable bow at $28.6 million. Tomatometer critics were snobby about Takers: they gave it a 28% rotten mark.
Forty-five minutes of extra footage and a 20-second Na’vi sex scene wasn’t enough to put Fox’s Avatar: Special Edition into the top 10, but the Oscar Best Picture nominee did pull in $4 million, coming in at the lower end of B.O. predictions, with a hearty per-screen average of $4,926 at 812 3-D venues.  Given that 3=D TVs have yet to proliferate in U.S. households, it would have been interesting if James Cameron employed a similar strategy to Steven Spielberg’s handling of E.T. back in the ‘80s: holding out on the DVD release of Avatar in exchange for future re-releases of the film theatrically. The highest-grossing film of all-time moved its domestic cume up to $753.77 million.
Below are the top 10 weekend figures:
1. The Last Exorcism (Lionsgate): $21.3 million in its first weekend at 2,874 theaters.  $7,412 theater average. Domestic total: $21.3 million
2. Takers (Sony/Screen Gems): $21 million in its first weekend at 2,206 theaters.  $9,519 theater average.  Domestic total: $21 million.
3. The Expendables (Lionsgate): $9.5 million down 44% in its third weekend at 3,398 theaters. $2,796 theater average.  Domestic total: $82 million
4. Eat Pray Love (Sony): $7 million down 42% in its third weekend at 3,108 theaters. $2,252 theater average.  Domestic total: $60.7 million.
5. The Other Guys (Sony): $6.6 million down 35% in its fourth weekend at 3,181 theaters. $2,075 theater average.  Domestic total: $99.3 million
6. Vampires Suck (Fox): $5.3 million down 57% in its second weekend at 3,233 theaters. $1,639 theater average.  Domestic total: $27.9 million.
7. Inception (Warner Bros.): $5.1 million down 35% in its seventh weekend at 2,070 theaters. $2,466 theater average.  Domestic total: $270.7 million.
8. Nanny McPhee Returns (Universal): $4.7 million down 44% in its second weekend at 2,798 theaters.  $1,605 theater average.  Domestic total: $17 million.
9. The Switch (Miramax/Disney): $4.658 million down 45% in its second weekend at 2,017 theaters. $2,309 theater average. Domestic total: $16.5 million.
10. Piranha 3D (Weinstein/Dimension): $4.3 million down 57% in its second weekend at 2,491 theaters.  $1,729 theater average.  Domestic total: $18.3 million.