This weekend is a case where I’d consider the #1 film to be more of the weekend’s loser in comparison to the #2 film. It’s all about expectation/price vs. performance and keeping up studio-set standards of greatness. As a result, we can’t weigh the performance of Thor: The Dark World or Ender’s Game to the same degree as Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa or The Best Man Holiday. Films that represent small risks with steady gains will further ensure the existence of films like Last Vegas and Free Birds. If my reaction to the success of these films in last week’s column was rather shocked, it’s because I still hold some belief that studios should try to provide something fresh and new.
It’s certainly a nice sentiment, but one that’s currently proved unrealistic and undesired when About Time can steadily cruise towards a softly assured success. Likewise, blockbusters like Thor: The Dark World will continue to be made because they’re a reliable brand. That’s a flat fact, and one that has no likelihood of changing significantly between now and 2023 (Start the clock!). Can films like Gravity change the game when there’s so much white noise and indifference polluting the public market? I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. It should be clear by any degree, though, that box office statistics will always be maddening, even when 12 Years a Slave and Captain Phillips rest encouragingly at the fringes.
The Best Man Holiday is a hit, but not a surprise one
The sequel to a not-terribly-known film from 1999 admittedly doesn’t seem like an automatic hit, but that’s exactly what it is. Attribute that to the niche minority crowd it was clearly geared towards, cringe inducing and borderline racist as it may be to do so. The crowd is reliably there to be beckoned to, and they’ve turned out without fail for many similar films to The Best Man Holiday. “The Tyler Perry crowd”, one might call it, but that’s also a marginalizing phrase that I don’t find particularly fair, especially since I’ve never seen a Tyler Perry film in my life. Neither have I gone to see anything deliberately in that vein, which I admit is an oversight.
Will I start with The Best Man Holiday? Well, I haven’t seen the original, so how could I possibly follow the elaborate mythology Scary Movie 5 director Malcolm D. Lee has plotted? All joking aside, it’s unfair to judge movies automatically for being in a particular vein. As for the film’s box office fortunes, it does have the benefit of being a Christmas movie, amplifying its long term prospects. It also got a rare “A+” CinemaScore rating, and though that system is something of a bogus tool, it does say that the audience that went to see The Best Man Holiday liked what they saw very much.
$38.5 million on its 2nd weekend, now on its way to a $250 million finish? How is that a loser? Frankly, because the film is quickly showing signs of degradation, primarily a byproduct of how little weight it really commands in this season. Is it a well-franchised Marvel vehicle? Undoubtedly, and it’s a huge success by any normal standards. However, as was the case with Iron Man 3, it’s not expanding the envelope that The Avengers stretched rather wide last year. In narrative terms, obviously, but perhaps also in financial respects. Even before Avengers, each succeeding Marvel film built a palpable enthusiasm for the next one. That feeling is absent in Phase 2. Should we blame that on vaguely designed post-credits teasers or inability to properly build stakes and tension. The latter feels instantly like a more logical answer, the consequence being a phase 2 utterly lacking in cohesion or monumental build towards Avengers 2.
Box Office Top 10 – November 15-16, 2013
1. Thor: The Dark World (2nd Weekend: $38.5 million; Total: $147 million)
2. The Best Man Holiday (1st Weekend: $30.6 million)
3. Last Vegas (3rd Weekend: $8.9 million; Total: $47 million)
4. Free Birds (3rd Weekend: $8.3 million; Total: $42.2 million)
5. Jackass Present: Bad Grandpa (4th Weekend: $7.7 million; Total: $90.2 million)
6. Gravity (7th Weekend: $6.3 million; Total: $240.6 million)
7. Ender’s Game (3rd Weekend: $6.2 million; Total: $53.8 million)
8. 12 Years a Slave (5th Weekend: $4.7 million; Total: $25 million)
9. Captain Phillips (6th Weekend: $4.5 million; Total: $97.6 million)
10. About Time (3rd Weekend: $3.5 million; Total: $11.6 million)
Limited Release Top 10
You may miss it by only looking at the top two rungs of this chart, but Nebraska came out this weekend and made a particular dent in its 4 theaters, averaging $35,000 at each. It may be a tad obscured behind The Book Thief and Blue is the Warmest Color, but rest assured that it won’t be for long. Mature family audiences are putty in Alexander Payne’s hands, and in spite a tepid response from Cannes, his latest film is shooting towards a tentative Best Picture slot. It helps that it’s a film about small town America, practically built for small town Americans, so the appeal will be strong as it slowly expands wide.
As for The Book Thief and Blue is the Warmest Color, let’s talk a bit about those. WWII drama The Book Thief isn’t likely to take off within the Academy, outside its likely Original Score nod for the often nominated John Williams (P.S. Does anybody know if that score’s even good/heard it?). Blue Is the Warmest Color, meanwhile, has made press recently for reasons not caused by its vehemently vocal director. It was featured in Criterion Collection’s latest batch of titles for February, but only it a paper thin film-only DVD edition. If that fails to tantalize, that’s because Criterion is supposedly trying to get the film out to as many people as quickly as possible so as to avoid the mounting controversy swirling around the film. A full edition will be announced at a later date, but what do you think of this development? Would you buy an otherwise empty Criterion edition of the film only to have to that purchase nullified later on by a more pristine release?
1. The Book Thief (2nd Weekend: $425,000; Total: $0.6 million)
2. Blue is the Warmest Color (4th Weekend: $274,000; Total: $1.2 million)
3. Nebraska (1st Weekend: $140,000)
4. Kill Your Darlings (5th Weekend: $129,000; Total: $0.5 million)
5. The Christmas Candle (1st Weekend: $75,600)
6. Diana (3rd Weekend: $52,777; Total: $0.3 million)
7. The Armstrong Lie (2nd Weekend: $37,615; Total: $0.1 million)
8. Wadjda (10th Weekend: $29,973; Total: $1.3 million)
9. The Great Beauty (1st Weekend: $23,000)
10. American Promise (5th Weekend: $12,950; Total: $0.1 million)