Battleship – You lack conviction.
The same week that Facebook became a publicly traded stock on Wall Street, Marvel’s The Avengers became Disney’s highest grossing film of all time. The correlation between the two is like this. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Disney saw a lucrative cash cow in the Marvel Studios after the first few films made hundreds of millions of dollars. So Mickey Mouse went into his trust fund and dolled out a few billion to acquire the Marvel brand. The result thus far has been astronomical earnings for the superhero flick The Avengers. For a third weekend it tops the box office with a $55 million haul. This is after a $207 million first week and $103 million second week. Obviously, the film peaked in its second weekend – scoring the largest second weekend ever. But $55 million in week three isn’t too shabby. It’s not Avatar $68.1 million territory, but over a billion earned over the course of the month, I don’t think the Magic Kingdom is hurting for money.
Now the question is how long before we see an Avengers sequel? Proudcer Kevin Feige has referred to this culmination of the Marvel Universe as “Phase One.” The second phase would consist of sequels to the characters of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America before the next Avengers adventure takes place. The second phase could also consists of another Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo and Edgar Wright’s Ant Man may fall under the “Phase Two” umbrella as well.
Studios love brand names because they have the misguided notion that the audience is already built-in. Um, no. Brand names are more about pop culture relevance than a sustained fan base. Take my childhood for instance. I played with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and watched G.I. Joe cartoons introduced by Sgt. Slaughter. In the case of the Turtles, the timing was right for a film adaptation in the late ’80s. But how relevant are the Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joe toys with today’s youth? Such inconsistency with brand names and built-in audiences is why we have Michael Bay retooling the Ninja Turtles by changing their origins. Audiences may be familiar with the product, but if lacks crossover appeal to the unfamiliar then it won’t make money. For Hasbro, it’s union with Paramount proved profitable for three Tranformers releases, all directed by Michael Bay. They got progressively worse as the series went on, but their profits increased. Paramount hopes the same with its sequel/reboot of G.I. Joe by putting the focus on Dwayne Johnson’s “Roadblock” character. But when Hasbro teamed up with Universal for the release of Battleship it was an unholy union, because let’s face it – Battleship is a recreation game versus an action figure. Action figures stimulate the imagination, creating stories and situations. Battleship stimulates the mind in terms of strategy. So what happens, we get a terrible picture that doesn’t bare any resemblance to the original game. It opened at $25 million versus an estimated production budget of $209 million. Overseas, it made $215 million prior to its North American debut, but the film will be lucky to break even in terms of production and P&A costs.
And the marketing for Battleship was a joke. Presented as Transformers on Water! it had a very Michael Bay, pro-navy feel about it. Not helping was that the trailers seem to mimic several other alien invasion properties of recent years like Battle: Los Angeles and Skyline. And if you did a straw poll asking people the relation of the aliens to the original recreational game you’d probably get a lot of confounded looks and “huh?” expressions.
I still feel that this was a one-off project for Peter Berg, who did this so Universal would secure distribution on his dream project of Lone Survivor. The film is set to star Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch, who is getting run over the coals as the star of two blockbuster duds in John Carter and Battleship. The breakout star of TV’s Friday Night Lights, he had a small role as Gambit in the forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Neither 2012 release has marketed him as much as they have marketed the brand name. So to say the fault of each film is because of Kitsch primarily is unfair. Hopefully, working with Oliver Stone and a strong supporting cast in the upcoming Savages will be the one that stands out. Third times a charm and all that.
The Dictator, Sasha Baron Cohen’s first foray into scripted comedy under the direction of Larry Charles, failed to open as strong as 2006’s Borat ($26.4 million) or 2009’s Bruno ($30.6 million). With a $17.4 million weekend, that has to be disappointing for Paramount who had acquired The Dictator with the assumption that it would open in the low-to-mid $20 million range. Still this comedy about a self-centered genocidal world leader should have a longer shelf life on video than its domestic box office gross.
While I may be of the opinion of believing that Johnny Depp is not a box office star, he has tremendous pull internationally. The reason I don’t consider him a star is because outside of the of Pirates of the Caribbean series and the occasional Tim Burton/Depp team-up that does gonzo business, he’s failed to turn such films as Secret Window, The Rum Diary or Public Enemies into bonafide hits. And looking at the drop Dark Shadows took in week two, it appears that Depp is out of his element. Funny, considering it was yet another pairing of Depp and Burton. Seriously, who was the target audience? People who remember the original series? Depp fanatics? The comedy elements failed to deliver much laughs, and the horror aspect failed to illicit many thrills. I’d say Depp should try his hand at supporting work, but technically he will be as Tonto in the upcoming Lone Ranger release. Expect most of the marketing to be pushed behind him versus Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger.
In fifth place with $10.3 million, What to Expect When You’re Expecting couldn’t match the success of April’s Think Like a Man. Both were based on non-fiction works and had talented ensembles comprising each comedy. But only Man did more with less. It could be that mainstream audiences are just growing apathetic to the romantic comedy ensembles that include a bunch of stars that have no business being involved in projects where they are given brief roles with little substance. Just because Richard Curtis made a brilliant romantic ensemble with Love Actually doesn’t mean filmmakers should try to ape him.
Speaking of Think Like a Man, it finished the weekend with $2.7 million, just below The Hunger Games, which has collected a global total of $635 million. Man has an outside shot at $100 million domestic, while Games is looking to pass $400 million. It should achieve that goal within the next four weeks. Because telling people you have a $400 million dollar hit on your hands just sounds better than saying “yeah, we got a $394 million hit.”
For counterprogramming this summer, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is proving to be a good elixir for the Battleships of the world. Filled with a number of old people (strike that) British thespians, it has already proven to be a hit overseas. Now in 354 theaters it is the only film in the top 10 to be playing at less than 1700 locations. So while $8.25 million after three weeks may not sound like much, just realize that its per-screen average of $18,258, makes The Avengers‘ per-screen gross of $12,958 look like small potatoes.
Opening in limited release was the Brandon Routh starrer Crooked Arrows. Seriously, I saw a trailer for this like a week and a half ago and had never heard about the Native American sports drama up until then. It got a 55-screen release and collected $280k. But the big winner in the arthouse scene continues to be Richard Linklater’s Bernie. Expanding to 95 locations, the $511k weekend brings its four-week total to $1.1 million.