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Weekend Box Office: Cooper's Limitless Tops Weak Openers; Lincoln Lawyer and Paul Vie for Fourth

Thompson on Hollywood By Anthony D'Alessandro | Thompson on Hollywood March 20, 2011 at 4:50AM

The box office continues to be depressed, no matter what distributors throw at audiences. Adults and families are still turning up at the mutliplex, but where is that old reliable target demo, young males? Anthony D'Alessandro reports. No matter how many wide releases Hollywood booked in theaters this weekend, none could bail out Hollywood’s box office doldrums.  Relativity Media's Bradley Cooper drug thriller Limitless outperformed its $15 million estimate, tripping out with $19 million in number one – a bright spot for the production company whose self-distribution efforts have skidded since unspooling Warrior’s Way back in December.  The frame's other two wide entries battled in fourth place: Lionsgate’s Michael Connelly lit adaptation Lincoln Lawyer with $13.4 million and Universal/Working Title's sci-fi satire Paul with $13.2 million.
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Thompson on Hollywood

The box office continues to be depressed, no matter what distributors throw at audiences. Adults and families are still turning up at the mutliplex, but where is that old reliable target demo, young males? Anthony D'Alessandro reports.

No matter how many wide releases Hollywood booked in theaters this weekend, none could bail out Hollywood’s box office doldrums.  Relativity Media's Bradley Cooper drug thriller Limitless outperformed its $15 million estimate, tripping out with $19 million in number one – a bright spot for the production company whose self-distribution efforts have skidded since unspooling Warrior’s Way back in December.  The frame's other two wide entries battled in fourth place: Lionsgate’s Michael Connelly lit adaptation Lincoln Lawyer with $13.4 million and Universal/Working Title's sci-fi satire Paul with $13.2 million.

Many industry folk have griped that kids aren’t showing up at the box office. But what do they expect when they offer R-rated pics such as (Lincoln Lawyer and Paul) plus a PG-13 film geared for adults (Limitless)?  None of this weekend’s offerings were destined for four quadrants, let alone a thick concentration on one specific demo. 

More analysis, review data, trailers and the Top Ten Box Office Chart are below.

“I really don’t subscribe to this notion that the youth have left the multiplex,” one distribution chief mentioned, “They are the last group who will stop going to the movies. You’ll lose your older males first, than older females and the younger ones. They’re living at home and need to get out away from their parents.  They need a place to go, they have extra cash to spend and that’s when they go to the cinema.” 

If anything it’s kids and tweens who’ve been flocking to the theater for animated fare: Rango at $92.6 million is nearing the century mark, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is profitable at $72.2 million, and Gnomeo and Juliet keeps collecting cash with a domestic haul of $93.7 million. Elsewhere, the under 25ers have granted Paul and Battle: Los Angeles A- Cinemascores.

Cooper, who has stumbled at the B.O. in the wake of his The Hangover success (Case 39 totaled $13.3 million domestic, All About Steve was $33.9 million), raises his opening odds with Limitless.  Hang it on a catchy trailer with a high concept: Protag takes Adderall-like wonder drug to become Master of the Universe until the side effects wear off with paranoid results.  Relativity screened the film extensively, ultimately garnering 60% of the 25+ club and Cooper’s chick fans; the film pulled 52% women.  The film was made on a modest $27 million, budget, too. With a B+ Cinemascore this film could outlast Cooper’s The A Team ($77.2 million).  Limitless was critic-proof  with a 64% middling rating

“(The No. 1 win) shows that our marketing and distribution units work very well together,” said Relativity distribution chief Kyle Davies. “Marketing efforts start early, and it’s about staying on message.  Ultimately, people found that this film was a unique thriller.”
 
Universal greased the wheels for Paul at July’s Comic-Con and last week's SXSW.  At $40 million, Paul cost more than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s last outing, action send-up Hot Fuzz which cost $12 million. Paul is boosted by actor-writer duo’s cult following around the globe, evident in Hot Fuzz which grossed $80.6 million worldwide vs. $23.6 million stateside.  In an effort to raise their U.S. profile, Pegg and Frost joined forces with U.S. comedy-hipsters Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Greg Mottola, the director of Superbad. Universal took the guys out of the arthouse, where Focus Features/Rogue had launched them, and put them in the multiplex. Already, Paul has beamed up $28.1 million abroad from its play in France and the U.K. for a global take of $41.3 million; besting the $30 million of their first outing, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. Thus, expect Paul to be their biggest hit ever.  Critics enjoyed it with a 71% fresh Tomatometer rating.  Paul drew 56% males mostly over 25 (58%) with a B+ Cinemascore overall.
 
Next to Rango, Lincoln Lawyer is one of the best-reviewed wide releases of the year (80% fresh.  Lately, Matthew McConaughey has played in rom-coms and his B.O. track record has fallen, from his 2003 high How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days ($105.8 million) to the Christmas Carol rip-off Ghosts of Girlfriends Past ($55.3 million).  So adults may skip Lincoln Lawyer until word of mouth and positive reviews click. UPDATE: Older females (63%, 85% over 25) flocked to Lincoln Lawyer giving it an A- Cinemascore hug.

Hence, Lionsgate's Groupon promotion clearly wasn’t a means to inflate grosses, rather a well-tied promotion intended to spur WOM. It’s fitting that movie about a slick streetwise attorney teams up with a burgeoning dealmaking site.  This isn’t the first time that a studio has given away an allotment of tickets to a film (it was reported that one could fetch a Groupon ticket for a $1), as various DreamWorks DVD promos have awarded buyers free tickets to certain family films in the past. 190,000 tickets were auctioned off, but only 20,000 were claimed. “It’s not about the audience spread, it’s about getting moviegoers to come out next weekend,” said Lionsgate distribution head David Spitz. As of Sunday morning, about 40,000 claimed the film's Groupon promotion. 89% of those who took advantage of the bargain claimed in a survey that they wouldn’t have seen Lincoln Lawyer if it wasn’t for Groupon. In sum, Lionsgate lured a broader crowd into the theater by reaching out to a crowd of 60 million Groupon customers, mostly older women.

Lionsgate sold Lincoln Lawyer squarely on McConaughey with a signature one-sheet of the thesp sitting on his car, as well as deploying author Connelly’s best-seller brand name.  A scribe who has churned out tomes since the early ‘90s, Connelly is no stranger to Hollywood; the Clint Eastwood rendition of his 1998 book Bloodwork tanked with $26.2 million. On Lincoln Lawyer, Connelly stayed involved. A few years ago the screen rights to his book Angel City Ballet were snapped up for mid-six against seven figures.  The Weinsteins tapped him to co-write a feature update of the ‘80s TV series The Equalizer in 2007.  At present, the author is poised to win a long-term lawsuit with Paramount over the rights to his Detective Harry Bosch character. 

Here's the Top Ten Box Office Chart:

 
1.     Limitless (Relativity) $19 million in its first weekend at 2,756 theaters.  $6,894 theater average. Domestic total: $19 million.
2.     Battle: Los Angeles (Sony): $14.6 million down 59% in its second weekend at 3,417 theaters. $4,273 theater average. Domestic total:$60.6 million.
3.     Rango (Paramount/ILM): $15.3 million down 32% in its third weekend at 3,843 theaters. $3,985 theater average. Domestic total: $92.6 million.  
4.     Lincoln Lawyer (Lionsgate/Lakeshore): $13.4 million in its first weekend at 2,707 theaters. $4,951 theater average. Domestic total: $13.4 million.
5.     Paul (Universal/Relativity): $13.2 million in its first weekend at 2,802 theaters. $4,695 theater average. Domestic total: $13.2 million.
6.     Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros.): $7.3 million down 48% in its second weekend at 3,030 theaters. $2,394 theater average. Domestic total: $26 million.
7.     The Adjustment Bureau (Universal): $5.9 million down 49% in its third weekend at 2,660 theaters. $2,230 theater average. Domestic total: $48.8 million.
8. Mars Needs Moms (Disney): $5.317 million down 23% in its second weekend at 3,117 theaters. $1,706 theater average. Domestic total: $15.4 million.
9. Beastly (CBS Films): $3.26 million down 35% in its third weekend at 1,810 theaters. $1,801 theater average. Domestic total: $22.2 million.
10. Hall Pass (Warner Bros.): $2.6 million down 48% in its fourth weekend at 1,905 theaters.  $1,365 theater average. Domestic total: $39.6 million.

Paul, Universal
Dir: Greg Mottola; Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Seth Rogen | 53% on Metacritc, 68% on RottenTomatoes | TOH! Greg Mottola Interview.

Limitless, Relativity
Dir: Neil Burger; Stars: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish | 58% on Metacritic, 62% on RottenTomatoes.

The Lincoln Lawyer, Lionsgate
Dir: Brad Furman; Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Pena | 64% on Metacritic, 80% on RottenTomatoes.

Win Win, Fox Searchlight
Dir: Thomas McCarthy; Stars: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor | 76% on Metacritic, 92% on Rotten Tomatoes | iW Film Page | Early Reviews | TOH! Giamatti Interview.

Cracks, IFC
Dir: Jordan Scott; Stars: Eva Green, Juno Temple | 51% on Metacritic, 41% on RottenTomatoes | iW Film Page.

The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman, China Lion Film Distribution
Dir: Wuershan; Stars: Masanobu Ando, You Benchang, Liu Xiaoye, Ashton Xu | 50% on RottenTomatoes.

Desert Flower, National Geographic Ent.
Dir: Sherry Horman; Stars: Liya Kebede, Sally Hawkins, Craig Parkinson, Anthony Mackie | 50% on RottenTomatoes | iW Film Page | At Athena Film Festival | Women and Hollywood Interview with Horman | Women and Hollywood Review.

Thompson on Hollywood

Winter in Wartime [pictured], Sony Pictures Classics
Dir: Martin Koolhoven; Stars: Martijn Lakemeier, Yorick van Wageningen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Melody Klaver | 65% on Metacritic, 81% on RottenTomatoes | iW Film Page | Shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Oscar.

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.