For this week’s opening statement, I want to talk about how much this summer has really changed in comparison to summer 2012, which is not at all. Sure, last summer had such big attractions as The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus building conversation and breaking box office records, but on the qualitative basic, there’s really been no change. The issues that have stifled films back then, such as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter‘s out-of-touch silliness or The Dark Knight Rises‘ conceptual ambition failing by muddled execution, stifle still this summer. I’ll elaborate further on the quality of those films’ 2013 counterparts – The Lone Ranger and Elysium, respectively – later on this week, but looking at them purely from a box office standpoint, it’s understandable why one failed and one may well still succeed.
That gets into the problem with looking at the industry from a purely industrial perspective. You start seeing things from a perspective of what will fly or fail at the box office, rather than what ought to be getting more attention than it is. Elysium garners interest based mostly on the desire for “original sci-fi”, though desire should really only be for original filmmaking in general. The Lone Ranger failed to attract audiences because it was based on a nearly 100-year-old radio show few that had no brand appeal. These clinical statistics merely inform how a market works, but not how any given film attempts to change that dynamic. The success of Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2 or even The Conjuring just confirms what we already know sells. The comparative failures of The Lone Ranger and The Wolverine tell what viewers are less interested in, but more importantly represent attempts to change a faulty system.
More on that later, though. For now, let’s get back to what sold like hotcakes this weekend. Yes, it was a weekend where three wide releases opened above $20 million, which is at least a sign of audiences still wanting to go to the movies. The more interesting breakthroughs of the weekend, however, were from the indie market. Blue Jasmine continues to well exceed the business its tough-skinned narrative should promise it, pulling in $2.5 million at just over 100 theaters. Sony Pictures Classics is smart to stall out its widening release to keep interest in the film alive well into Oscar season. The even more peculiar hit is Chennai Express, the Bollywood action flick that pulled in $2.2 million at nearly 200 locations this weekend.
Neill Blomkamp’s high-concept science-fiction adventure sought to give the people what they wanted this weekend, which was more of what they enjoyed in District 9. Important issues served to them simply through a gritty action vehicle. Though that won’t sell as easily as any superhero flick will, audiences do seem eager for something fresh, which led to a respectfully strong $30.5 million opening weekend. That said, the reaction is a lot more tepid than District 9, CinemaScore assigning the film a less than spectacular “B” grade. That may very well mean depleting audiences over the coming weeks. The film will certainly make back its $98 million budget, small enough to ensure overseas success if the domestic trail doesn’t bite. Still, this won’t be as soaring an achievement as Blomkamp’s last spectacle.
Well, duh. It’s a comedy starring Jason Sudeikis as a drug dealer and Jennifer Aniston as a stripper. Really, how is that not an easy sell to audiences? R-Rated comedies are a far safer bet than most superhero films nowadays. Look at the performances of Identity Thief, The Heat and This is the End. People will always want to see loveable oafs get into goofy hijinks, and for that reason We’re the Millers will easily make its way past $100 million over the sparse coming weeks.
After weeks of kids showing fatigue with the Smurfs sequel or overly familiar Dreamworks animation Turbo, Disney has effectively baited and switched them with the hook of a Pixar flick. Obviously, Planes is not a Pixar movie, but it’s based off of one, which is all children need to know in order to fall hook-line-and-sinker for it. Admittedly on that basis, the film did not perform to nearly the same degree as Brave, Cars 2 or even Disney’s own Wreck-It Ralph or Tangled. Still, given the modest $50 million budget and a bright “A-” CinemaScore, this small investment will almost certainly make back its weight in wealth, if only just that.
True failures this weekend were few to… well, just one really. Is it all that surprising that Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is doing significantly less business than its predecessor did 3.5 years ago? Not really, especially given The Lightning Thief didn’t make back its budget domestically, so why make a sequel for a franchise viewers don’t have much investment in? Logic escapes me, so let’s just hope the mediocre performance of this installment stunts any further sequels from the Percy Jackson gang.
Box Office History
This weekend last year offered us an action franchise spin-off, a bawdy R-rated comedy and, hey, a charming film about persisting marital issues. I guess not everything is dishearteningly by the book, though you may think otherwise looking at The Bourne Legacy, which opened to $38.1 million before ending at $113.2 million, the lowest sum of the franchise we thought ended peacefully. A year later, a sequel is somewhat illogically in the works. That film was offset by The Campaign, the Will Ferrel-Zach Galifianakis political comedy without much to say at all. Opening to $26.6 million and a mild response, its end haul of $86.9 million was a modest achievement. While Meryl Streep comedy Hope Springs did only $14.7 million that weekend, its $63.5 million total is proof of how well it lasted in theaters.
The same weekend in 2011 gives us more of a look at what we can expect next weekend, particularly because of The Help‘s startling sleeper status. Opening to $26 million, it went on top $169.7 million, locking its place in the Best Picture field, even if it took Oscar prognosticators a while to catch up with that momentum. Lee Daniels’ The Butler may very well see similar business after its debut next weekend. The rest of its competition, however, were capital “B” blunders. Final Destination 5 effectively ended the Final Destination melee, entering with $18 million and ending with only a measly $42.6 million. Not the business you hope for out of a long-standing horror vehicle. Even less inspiring was 30 Minutes or Less, its director Ruben Fleischer coming off an enthusiastic reaction to debut film Zombieland. That enthusiasm was nowhere to be seen here, with a mediocre $13.3 million opening amounting to a non-starting $37.1 million total gross.
Box Office Top 10 – August 9-11, 2013
Results via BoxOffice.com
1. Elysium (1st Weekend: $30.5 million)
2. We’re the Millers (1st Weekend: $26.6 million; Total: $38.1 million)
3. Planes (1st Weekend: $22.5 million)
4. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (1st Weekend: $14.6 million; Total: $23.5 million)
5. 2 Guns (2nd Weekend: $11.1 million; Total: $48.5 million)
6. The Smurfs 2 (2nd Weekend: $9.5 million; Total: $46.6 million)
7. The Wolverine (3rd Weekend: $8 million; Total: $112 million)
8. The Conjuring (4th Weekend: $6.7 million; Total: $120.7 million)
9. Despicable Me 2 (6th Weekend: $5.7 million; Total: $338.3 million)
10. Grown Ups 2 (5th Weekend: $3.7 million; Total: $123.8 million)