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Weekend Box Office: TRON: Legacy Scores Big, How Do You Know is Non-Starter

Thompson on Hollywood By Anthony D'Alessandro | Thompson on Hollywood December 19, 2010 at 4:43AM

Disney scored a big, not boffo, opening with 3-D sequel TRON: Legacy, which delivers a level of 3-D VFX not seen since James Cameron's Avatar. Clearly, the wow factor still puts butts in seats, but the movie cost more than $150 million. Who knew Jeff Bridges would win an Oscar and become a star in his 60s? He plays two roles in TRON, including his digital younger self. Stumbling out of the starting gate is James L. Brooks' $110 million not-so-romantic comedy How Do You Know, which was savaged by critics. Anthony D'Alessandro does the numbers:
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Thompson on Hollywood

Disney scored a big, not boffo, opening with 3-D sequel TRON: Legacy, which delivers a level of 3-D VFX not seen since James Cameron's Avatar. Clearly, the wow factor still puts butts in seats, but the movie cost more than $150 million. Who knew Jeff Bridges would win an Oscar and become a star in his 60s? He plays two roles in TRON, including his digital younger self. Stumbling out of the starting gate is James L. Brooks' $110 million not-so-romantic comedy How Do You Know, which was savaged by critics. Anthony D'Alessandro does the numbers:

Fanboys took a trip into the virtual realm of Disney’s $150 million sci-fi reboot TRON: Legacy, but not at lightcycle speed, shelling out $43.6 million in quarters. Internet reaction has been somewhat jaded to TRON's B.O., given Disney's $130-million global marketing blitz that started at Comic-Con in 2008 and peaked on October 28 with a TRON Day complete with 23-minute IMAX sneak peek. 

TRON didn’t boast Disney's Alice in Wonderland four-quadrant opening ($116.1 million) nor Sorcerer’s Apprentice bad bow ($17.6 million).  Keep in mind that TRON is not a reboot of a beloved cinematic franchise, such as the recent Star Trek ($75.2 million) or even 2001’s Planet of the Apes ($68.5 million). Rather it's a long-awaited sequel to a 1982 cult dud that grossed $33 million.  It was essential for Disney to work overtime in its promotion in order to revive mass interest and maintain core fans. It's hard to tell if moviegoers reacted against all the PR, which included an abundance of game-gear/gadget and Japanese café tie-ins, year-long billboards and even a Playboy-inspired  spread. Holiday and midweek playability are the best power-boosts for TRON’s box office survival.

“You open at this number with nothing but holiday playability ahead,” says Disney domestic distribution chief Chuck Viane. “While we definitely opened to fanboys, as we approach the holidays, the crowd will become more balanced between young and old.”  Cinemascore was B+ and skewed 66% male with 82% from 3-D hubs. Critics remain divided on TRON at 49% rotten.
 
Overall, it was an uber-competitive weekend for TRON with any four-quadrant hope stolen by a pair of adult-pleasing award-season expansions: Paramount’s The Fighter went wide at $12.2 million and Fox Searchlight's Black Swan scored $8.3 million, basking in Golden Globe and SAG noms afterglow. Warner Bros. vied to chip away at family moviegoers with its big feature adaptation of Hanna-Barbera’s Yogi Bear, which snarled a soft $16.7 million, while auditoriums remained empty for James L. Brooks all-star rom-com How Do You Know with $7.6 million.

Business was off 3% from the $138 million generated over the same frame a year ago when Avatar ruled, largely due to a combo of “bad weather and Christmas shopping," says Warner Bros. senior vp domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein. "Rain is only good for the movie business when parents don’t have any looming priorities." Starting Monday, he adds, "60% of all schools are off, then that number jumps to 70%, then 80%. It’s all about the multiple." That bodes well for Yogi Bear's prospects: the film earned a B Cinemascore overall but an A- with the under-25 crowd, which repped 52% of attendees.

Given the competition, Paramount might have been smart to platform the awards-friendly The Fighter, given the task of keeping the film alive in the marketplace through Oscars. But one Paramount executive insists: “A film like this with two major stars and all the awards fanfare -- you gotta go wide with it. You can’t hold back.” The move paid off: Paramount was expecting guys (who gave it an A- Cinemascore) to turn out for Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, but gals also turned out for the family drama (repping 53% of the audience) and gave it an A. Given the film’s R-rating, the over-25 set dominated at 87%.  “Like college football, you can’t run the same play over and over again,” says Paramount distribution executive vp Don Harris about opting for a wide release on The Fighter. “In positioning this movie for the long haul we figured it was best to have people talk about it over Christmas dinner.” Critics graded the boxing film 88% Fresh.

Meanwhile the big question with How Do You Know is ‘How did this happen?’  First, James L. Brooks needs to have a sitdown with Garry Marshall on how to control the budget on an all-star comedy: Marshall only shelled out $52 million on Valentine’s Day ($110.5 million domestic B.O.) and that starred Julia Roberts. Brooks racked up $110 million, more than half of which was spent on the salaries of Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson.  The headliners couldn’t compensate for a lackluster, muddled script which critics loathed at 36% rotten. It’s plausible that Brooks’ tendency to edit late precluded the studio from preventing a disaster. Nonetheless, this is the lowest romantic comedy bow for Reese Witherspoon since 1998’s Pleasantville ($8.9 million).
 
Here's the Top Ten Chart:

1. Tron: Legacy (Disney): $43.6 million in its first weekend at 3,451 theaters.  $12,634 theater average. Domestic total: $43.6 million.
2. Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.): $16.7 million in its first weekend at 3,515 theaters.  $4,752 theater average. Domestic total: $16.7 million.
3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Fox/Walden Media): $12.4 million down 48% in its second weekend at 3,555 theaters.  $3,488 theater average.  Domestic total: $42.8 million.
4. The Fighter (Paramount): $12.2 million up 3967% in its second weekend up at 2,503 theaters.  $4,874 theater average.  Domestic total: $12.6 million.
5. The Tourist (Sony): $8.7 million down 47% in its second weekend at 2,756 theaters.  $3,157 theater average. Domestic total: $30.8 million.
6. Tangled (Disney): $8.676 million down 40% in its fourth weekend at 3,201 theaters.  $2,710 theater average. Domestic total: $127.8 million.
7. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight): $8.3 million up 152% in its third weekend at 959 theaters.  $8,655 theater average. Domestic total: $15.7 million.
8. How Do You Know (Sony): $7.6 million in its first weekend at 2,483 theaters.  $3,061 theater average. Domestic total: $7.6 million.
9.   9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (Warner Bros.): $4.8 million down 43% in its fifth weekend at 2,860 theaters.  $1,694 theater average. Domestic total: $265.5 million.
10. Unstoppable (Fox): $1.8 million down 51% in its sixth weekend at 1,874 theaters.  $961 theater average. Domestic total: $77.3 million.

This article is related to: Franchises, Genres, Headliners, Studios, Box Office, Exhibition, TRON, Sci-fi, Sequel, Action, Jeff Bridges, Disney , 3D


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Thompson on Hollywood

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.