Weekend Winners: Where the Wild Things Are, Law Abiding Citizen, Paranormal Activity

by Anne Thompson
October 19, 2009 6:05 AM
10 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
Weekend Box Office Winners
Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are led the weekend box office. While an estimated $32.4 million was a studio record for October (the movie was on some 3700 screens), the number wasn't as big as some expected after its stellar Friday. The studio aimed the PG-rated film at a general, not family audience. But will the $90-million movie make its money back? Finally, Warners backed filmmakers working outside of the box, and that's a good thing.

While I may have underestimated WTWTA a tad, I was right to be optimistic about F. Gary Gray's Law Abiding Citizen, starring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. Its robust action trailer pulled in males to the tune of about $21.3 million. That was good news for The Film Department which financed the film, and for Overture which badly needed a hit. As Overture sits on the edge of its future, key backer John Malone will be glad to see the mini-major score its biggest opening to date.

Thompson on Hollywood
The Film Department co-founders Neil Sacker and Mark Gill's next challenge: they're going to start a distribution company. While they sold worldwide territories on Bart Freundlich's The Rebound, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones as a single mom in love with younger man Justin Bartha, they lost The Weinstein Co. as a distrib when a single P & A financier fell out. So The Rebound will be their first 2010 release. The romantic comedy screened at the Berlin Fest and Tokyo Film Fest special screenings: here's Variety's tepid review. Two other films, the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald biopic The Beautiful and Damned, with Keira Knightley attached, and Nicole Kassell's Earthbound, set to star Kate Hudson, are ramped up for production starts in 2010.

Paranormal Activity's $20.2 million gross ($26,530 per screen) on 760 screens marks a sea-change, a new way of looking at the $35 million that studios tend to spend on a wide opening. With the coming reduction of pictures in the marketplace--The Film Department's Gill predicts that less than 400 will be released in 2010--perhaps it's time to reexamine the marketing and distribution rules and regs that have developed over the years. Are they all necessary? Wide openings are not the only way to go. Paranormal is at $33.7 million after a month, with less than $10 million in advertising.

Those who say Paranormal Activity could have had a number one opening are missing the point. This is not the old paradigm: take the number one slot at any cost by blasting ads at a mass audience. It's a new approach: build buzz and anticipation slowly, and foment a sense of low supply and high demand so that audiences are clamoring for the picture. Oren Peli's cheap vid-thriller goes from 760 screens this weekend to 1800 next. And yes, Paramount couldn't just snap their fingers and score 1000 screens. Next weekend, they will double the screen count.

Now Paramount's marketing people are offering parties at the first ten local cinemas that sell out on the midnight show on Thursday night/Friday morning October 23. (AICN's Harry Knowles announced this, so naturally his local theater, The Alamo Drafthouse, was the first to sell out.)

The point is, you don't have to pay for a wide release--as long as you have a good movie. And it doesn't have to be a cheap genre film. It just has to be something that audiences can get enthusiastic about. They could have done Whip It (which Searchlight previewed) or Zombieland or District 9 this way. Yes the studios spent plenty on advertising those movies. But what if the studio didn't have to spend as much as they thought?

With fewer movies in theaters and less clutter, maybe there's more room for playing around in the margins. The reason the studios have built up these huge spends is fear, basically---make a lot of noise and take no chances. The actual number of theaters that are necessary for proper returns on movie is really more like 800. Seriously.

The best-reviewed movie of the weekend, The Maid, opened with the weekend's best per-screen average in one theater in New York. Los Angeles follows October 23.

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10 Comments

  • ag | October 20, 2009 9:20 AMReply

    sorry. here's the link to cnn story:

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/Movies/10/19/parents.wild.things.are/index.html

  • ag | October 20, 2009 9:18 AMReply

    here's the bad buzz re: WT i'm talking about. stuff like this can't be a good sign for continued strong weekends.

    from cnn:

    Frequent iReport reviewer Rajiim Gross said his 4-year-old granddaughter seemed to enjoy the film, but he did not. "It was just dull through the whole thing," Gross said, noting that he saw several people in his Fort Thomas, Kentucky-area theater fall asleep during the movie.

    "I did not expect a film that promotes a weak parent figure who fails to seem to be concerned for her children...

    ...His 4-year-old daughter asked, "Why is this movie so sad?"

    it goes on like this. i'd expect a 70% drop this weekend and poor international business

  • mary | October 20, 2009 6:26 AMReply

    Thank you so much, Anne.
    Based on what David Poland said in his blog, I think it is very likely that Sony also went along with the Grindhouse theory and spent very little money to market this film theatrically. It is just sad that they just basically 'dump' the film theatrically and didn't even try.

    Hoping "Defendor" and "Chloe" (two other acquisitions of SPWAG) would be accepted by one of Sony's distribution labels; otherwise they would have very 'brief' theatrical release like "Black Dynamite".

    (By the way, Sony Pictures Classics's Tom Bernard was the person who passed "Defendor" along to SPWAG)
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/overnight-success-in-4-12-years/article1326920/

  • Anne Thompson | October 20, 2009 2:49 AMReply

    What happened to Black Dynamite? Great reviews. Fest hit. Was it too much of a cinephile play like Grindhouse? Berney, who released the pic as a service deal with homevideo-driven Sony Worldwide Acquisitions Group, goes along with the Grindhouse theory, and figures that despite good reviews and reactions, audiences are just not going to go to theatres for this one and will probably rent the DVD.

  • ag | October 19, 2009 10:24 AMReply

    john

    lac made money because (lots of) people paid to see it. i simply pointed that out. don't blame me for the status quo.

    making an entertaining product that turns a profit is better than losing money with a movie that nobody wants to see. if your movie is subtle, layered, intellectual, and of noble purpose, it doesn't matter if nobody cares, nobody sees it, nobody talks about it, and it loses money

    that lac doesn't try to make sense is not my doing. that it is bubble gum entertainment that a lot of people wanted to see is not my responsibility (or, as you seem to want to suggest, fault). in fact i haven't seen the movie, i'm just parroting what i've read in reviews (and seen in box office reports).

    i would point out that i never offered an analysis of why lac made money, i only made the observation that it did. you don't like it and you're shooting the messenger. would recommend you direct your frustration in a more objective focused manner

    otherwise, you might have better luck calling me an ass, or butt head, or idiot, or something else equally direct. try: 'lac made money and you took note of it????!!!!!!! i don't like that kind of movie. you're an ass'.

  • John M | October 19, 2009 9:39 AMReply

    "the other notable movie this weekend was law abiding citizen. this thing doesn’t even make sense. but, it’s entertaining. it’s fun. it spoke to its audience. it made money"

    Yeah, wow, crap makes money. Thanks for the analysis, ag.

  • ag | October 19, 2009 9:34 AMReply

    agree, PA's 3rd place 20 million is far more impressive than WT's first place 32 million. 20 million on 760 screens is better than 32 million on 3700. PA was made for $10k, WT cost much more (than people are willing to admit)

    PA has made money, WT may never get back to zero

    the other notable movie this weekend was law abiding citizen. this thing doesn't even make sense. but, it's entertaining. it's fun. it spoke to its audience. it made money

  • mary | October 19, 2009 3:54 AMReply

    "Black Dynamite" bombed badly despite of many positive reviews and strong marketing money (from Sony). What went wrong? I wish Bob Berney will speaks about it.

  • ag | October 19, 2009 2:29 AMReply

    if WT continues to hold up like IB did it will be fine. but, IB's decline was very tapered over several weeks. it's a tall order for any movie to play for 6 weeks. i don't think WT can come close to matching that. i could be wrong but it's not like a 50/50 either/or thing. there's a lot of strong competition next week: saw VI, astro boy, cirque du freak, others. the kids will have lots of halloween choices. WT might do well as counter programming, but there's astro boy for that -- it's animated, fresh, new.

    it's all about the second weekend falloff

  • Ryan Sartor | October 19, 2009 1:15 AMReply

    Anne,

    That was a really good point about how films don't need to spend so much money on advertising - I could totally see "Zombieland' openly slowly and doing very well - its just a really fun movie that would surely get by on word of mouth.

    I feel like movies like "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Inglourious Basterds" can't catch a break. I remember I.G. opened with $38 million, and has done $275 million worldwide (according to boxofficemojo.com). The story opening weekend was, "Oh, they STILL won't make their money back," and maybe the Weinsteins won't if they sold off their foreign territories, but regardless, Tarantino made a movie that grossed $275 million, off of a budget of $70 million. I don't understand why no one writes that follow up piece, "We were wrong. 'Inglourious Basterds' did well." Maybe it was written and I missed it. I just think that if its fine for "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" to open at $85 million, then it should be okay for "Where the Wild Things Are" to open at $32 million. There needs to be less of a high standard for the $90 million dollar "art" films when the real blockbuster budgets are now starting at $200 million. The math doesn't make sense to me.

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