I had a kind of revelation about the month of August this weekend, a month often chided for lacking the embossed box office numbers of the previous summer months. We’ve seen plenty films arrive and vanish these past couple weeks, from Smurfs 2 to Elysium, but a handful have endured in memory, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and We’re the Millers particularly. One appeals to the crowds looking for an emotionally involving drama about a very necessary stretch of American history, but also for a potential Oscar contender (Hey, check out Alex’s excellent early Oscar predictions). The other appeals to audiences looking for a good, boisterous laugh, as viewers often do desire.
This weekend also presented us with two films we’d thought had come and gone at the box office, Planes and Elysium, which have actually been holding their ground well enough recently. The former is the greater success of the two, costing less than half of Elysium‘s $100+ budget, but the slowly receding performance of Neill Blomkamp’s widely dismissed sci-fi thriller can’t hurt its chances. (May I also note, Elysium would have performed extraordinarily better if it had released as originally intended in March, A much freer market environment than summer’s latest month allows.) So indeed August is not a bad month to release movies. It just does better for the smaller films with more unique charms to them. After such a monotonous blockbuster season, audiences are desperately looking for something different.
Well, this is certainly something different, if something most would have a cynical outlook on. My own opinion of the One Direction concert movie is that of an outsider, because I’m not overly fond of their music. That said, I take no issue with their avid (or rabid) fans enjoying their music, much less saving $100+ on a concert ticket by instead going to a movie of them doing a concert for a tenth of the price. Of the films whose successes are reasons to lament the choices of American audiences (see Instructions Not Included, directly below), this is not one of them. If it’s a calculated success, it’s not done so coldly.
Well this one flew under my radar entirely, and I’m frankly disappointed it didn’t fly by most audiences without a flicker. A Mexican family comedy about a bachelor who’s saddled with an unknown daughter and forced to raise her himself, this is the kind of movie people go to to fake international concern. In its opening weekend on just over 300 screens, the film grossed more than Amour did in its entire run. I should be more thorough on its ongoing box office chances, but for the sake of audiences (and my mental state) I hope it just goes away. Given that ridiculous $7.5 million opening, however, my hopes aren’t likely to be met. Here’s the trailer as evidence of its crimes.
Too easy a tagline for the film’s failure, I think the problem with this film lies not only in its dreadful reviews, but the fact that people scarcely even know that it exists. I didn’t even play at my local theater, so I couldn’t have seen it if I wanted to. This was a pretty complete failure of marketing, though maybe they expected Selena Gomez and Ethan Hawke to have more star appeal. I’m not sure why they would, but we have to explain this flop somehow.
It’s ironic that an espionage thriller about cameras watching our every movement was seen by so few, which is in part to blame on the fact that it opened in less than 1000 theaters. Opening at $2.5 million, it may be a bigger success factoring in its probably smaller budget, but I wouldn’t count on that. People didn’t display enough interest in this beforehand, and nobody has been talking about it since. Quite the vanishing act, I’d say.
Box Office History
There’s really no way of spinning this positively. This Labor Day weekend was pretty dreadful, enlivened more by its holdovers than it was by its releases. Such hasn’t been in the case in past years, when all of the new releases at least opened above $5 million. Last year’s a good example, when supernatural horror The Possession opened to $17.7 million, eventually finishing at $49.1 million, and crime thriller Lawless opened to a moderately impressive $10 million, ending with $37.7 million. We’re not searching for any major degree of success from these films, but their minor budget natures allow them stronger performances than they’d get going up against a major blockbuster.
The prior year furthers this low-budget success dynamic, the biggest opening of the weekend being that of WWII thriller The Debt, one of the first films in the wave of Jessica Chastain that took 2011 by storm. Opening to $9.9 million before continuing on to $31.2 million, it was one of the earliest, and more innocuous, signs that Chastain as a box office force to be reckoned with. Below that were less significant genre films, but again, ones that clearly didn’t cost much in studio dollars. Apollo 18, one of the last remnants of the found footage craze, pulled in $8.7 million upon opening and ended with $17.7 million. Shark Night 3D, one of the last remnants of the 3D horror craze, opened to $8.4 million and finished with $18.9 million. Which did better? Well the latter cost $25 million while the former cost just $5 million.
Box Office Top 10 – August 30-September 1, 2013
Results via BoxOffice.com
1. One Direction: This Is Us (1st Weekend: $17 million)
2. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (3rd Weekend: $14.7 million; Total: $74 million)
3. We’re the Millers (4th Weekend: $12.6 million; Total: $109.6 million)
4. Planes (4th Weekend: $7.8 million; Total: $71.2 million)
5. Instructions Not Included (1st Weekend: $7.5 million)
6. Elysium (4th Weekend: $6.3 million; Total: $78.4 million)
7. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2nd Weekend: $5.2 million; Total: $22.7 million)
8. The World’s End (2nd Weekend: $4.8 million; Total: $16.6 million)
9. Getaway (1st Weekend: $4.5 million)
10. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (4th Weekend: $4.4 million; Total: $54.9 million)