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Weekend Box Office: Word-of-Mouth Sells Social Network Over Newbies Life as We Know It, Secretariat

Thompson on Hollywood By Anthony D'Alessandro | Thompson on Hollywood October 10, 2010 at 4:08AM

Strong word-of-mouth propelled The Social Network to a strong hold over two openers with femme appeal, the Katharine Heigl rom-com Life as We Know It and the 70s true story sports drama Secretariat, starring Diane Lane. Anthony D'Alessandro reports.A soft Columbus Day weekend frame totaling an estimated $76 million, off 16% from a year ago, slowed moviegoing for new entries this weekend, but kept holdovers alive. Sony’s The Social Network remained online with the masses, hanging onto No. 1 with $15.5 million, off a sweet 31%.  The film saw a 32% spike between Friday and Saturday, clearly indicating that word-of-mouth continues to be strong for this potential awards contender. 
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Thompson on Hollywood

Strong word-of-mouth propelled The Social Network to a strong hold over two openers with femme appeal, the Katharine Heigl rom-com Life as We Know It and the 70s true story sports drama Secretariat, starring Diane Lane. Anthony D'Alessandro reports.


A soft Columbus Day weekend frame totaling an estimated $76 million, off 16% from a year ago, slowed moviegoing for new entries this weekend, but kept holdovers alive.
 
Sony’s The Social Network remained online with the masses, hanging onto No. 1 with $15.5 million, off a sweet 31%.  The film saw a 32% spike between Friday and Saturday, clearly indicating that word-of-mouth continues to be strong for this potential awards contender. 

Heigl’s comedy drama Life as We Know It wooed $14.6 million at 3,150 theaters, outpacing Disney equestrian drama Secretariat, which collected $12.6 million and Rogue Pictures’ 3-D Wes Craven title My Soul to Take which failed to scare with $6.9 million.  And though Secretariat came in slightly below its $15 million estimate, holds for such adult fare as Social Network and The Town (-35%) should give Disney hope after rallying an A Cinemascore.
 
The opening for Life bodes good and bad for Heigl.  On the down side, the actress’s openings, which once saw highs of $20 million-plus, continue to dwindle in the wake of her summer dud Killers which bowed to $15.8 million. Heigl tried to assuage her diva image with this press mea culpa. However, if Heigl can post mid-teen openings going forward, studios simply need to cap budgets on her projects. That’s exactly what Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow did with Life, which cost $38 million, a sound figure compared to Lionsgate’s extravagant spend on Killers, which was priced at $75 million.
 
Pairing a leading female with the right male co-star can be crucial in the success of a rom-com; while reviewers panned Life with a 29% rotten score, female audiences under 25 adored the Heigl and Josh Duhamel's onscreen chemistry with an A- Cinemascore. Sexy posters displaying an underwear-clad Duhamel with Heigl as an everyday couple tending to a toddler served as a key piece in Life's marketing. 
 
Predictably, Disney’s horse-racing drama Secretariat, about the 1973 Triple Crown winner, played strongly in middle America and less so in big cities. Unusually, the audience repped 65% couples and 27% families, attracting older audiences (60%) and females (54%). Awards pundits and B.O. analysts have compared Secretariat to both true football story Blind Side and racing drama Seabiscuit. While the film could win over Academy voters, it’s outrageous to place Secretariat’s theatrical prospects on the same pedestal as those films.  In the summer of 2003 adult counter-programmer Seabiscuit clicked past the $100 million mark at a time when star Tobey Maguire was hot off Spider-manBlind Side (which opened at $34.1 million) boasted mass appeal thanks to its crossover urban-white story about America’s football pastime as well as Sandra Bullock’s powerful performance. While Secretariat does play to the heartland and critics gave it a 65% fresh rating and praised Lane's performance as Secretariat's forceful owner, the movie may not win over a melting-pot majority, argues Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir.
 
Proving yet again that horrorphiles can be a fickle bunch, Rogue Pictures/Relativity Media’s My Soul to Take misfired, coming in below the industry’s $10 million projection off a $25 million budget.  The film’s muted marketing sold the film exclusively on Wes Craven’s name.  However, fans didn’t care that the serial killer film was the director’s first 3-D effort, nor that it marked his first return to the horror genre as director since 2000’s Scream 3. According to those critics who thumbed their noses at Soul with an 8% rotten score, 3-D didn’t enhance the pic’s visuals.  86% of those seeing Soul watched it in 3-D, with a crowd split 54% female to 46% male, the majority over 25 (52%).
 
Focus Features’ dark comedy It’s Kind of a Funny Story, about a high-strung teen achiever who checks himself into a mental hospital, didn’t crack the top 10: it earned $2 million at 742 venues with a 2,712 theater average.  The Zach Galifianakis-Emma Roberts film attracted a heavy young female crowd (54%), predominately under the age of 35 (80%).  The film wasn’t wide enough for a Cinema Score, so we’ll see how word of mouth fuels Funny Story’s limited run.  Top shelf reviewers gave Funny Story a fresh rating of 61%.
 
The top 10 films are as follows:
 
1. The Social Network (Sony): $15.5 million down 31%  in its second weekend at 2,771 theaters.  $5,594 theater average. Domestic total: $46.1 million.
 
2.Life As We Know It (Warner Bros.): $14.6 million in its first weekend at 3,150 theaters. $4,646 theater average.  Domestic total: $14.6 million.
 
3. Secretariat (Disney):$12.6 million in its first weekend at 3,072 theaters.  $4,102 theater average.  Domestic total: $12.6 million.
 
4. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (Warner Bros.): $7.02 million down 36%  in its third weekend at 3,225 theaters.  $2,175 theater average.  Domestic total: $39.4 million.

5. My Soul to Take (Rogue Picture/Universal): $6.9 million in its first weekend at 2,572 theaters. $2,690 theater average. Domestic total: $6.9 million.
 
6. The Town (Warner Bros.): $6.35 million down 35% in its fourth weekend at 2,720 theaters.  $2,335 theater average.  Domestic total: $73.8 million.
 
7. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Fox): $4.63 million down 54% in its third weekend at 2,829 theaters.  $1,635 theater average. Domestic total: $43.7 million.
 
8. Easy A (Sony/Screen Gems): $4.2 million down 38% in its fourth weekend at 2,847 theaters.  $1,475 theater average.  Domestic total: $48.1 million.
 
9. Case 39 (Paramount Vantage): $2.63 million down 51%  in its second weekend at 2,212 theaters.  $1,189 theater average. Domestic total: $9.6 million.
 
10. You Again (Disney): $2.47 million down 57% in its third weekend at 2,332 theaters.  $1,061 theater average.  Domestic total: $20.7 million.

This article is related to: Box Office, Directors, Headliners, Studios, Marketing, Fall, David Fincher, Ben Affleck, Warner Bros./New Line, Sony/Screen Gems/Sony Pictures Classics, Disney


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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.