Did it just sort of happen or was this a two-prong assault by Sony Pictures? The rule of thumb is for a studio to avoid overlapping releases on the same date, or within a week of each other. The reason really amounts to dollars and cents. Why would a studio want to push two movies for the same weekend? Even if the films were for different target demographics (as was the case this weekend), a studio would be dividing up its marketing for a single weekend as opposed to stretching it out over a few weeks. Considering the state of prime-time viewing these days, promoting a film during a hit Thursday night show could instill a box office win for the upcoming weekend. However, this weekend Sony Pictures decided to do the unconventional and release two features, both of which fought their way in an effort to claim the weekend’s top spot. Judging from opening night attendance I knew that Hotel Transylvania was a lock for #1, though was curious about Sony’s sci-fi release Looper.
Nowadays the surest bets in Hollywood as far as guaranteed success go are low-cost horror and CGI-animated toons. Cheapness dictates the first will be successful while strong marketing steers kid-friendly entertainment in the right direction. Since with kids you are guaranteed at least a 2:1 ratio in terms of ticket sales (for the kid and a parent). In the case of Hotel Transylvania, I seriously doubt families were rushing to see it on the basis that it features the vocal talent of Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg, the two stars of the disastrously unfunny That’s My Boy a few months ago. Nevertheless, Hotel Transylvania‘s $43 million weekend, it became Adam Sandler’s biggest opening since Grown Ups scored $40.5M its opening weekend back in 2010. And Transylvania‘s success almost makes people forget Sandler’s previous animated misfire Eight Crazy Nights. It will be interesting to see how it will perform up through Halloween, since Disney’s Frankenweenie comes out this weekend.
TriStar, the Sony company that released Looper, will be the ancillary studio that gave Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt their much needed ascension to the big time. Johnson, a director that studios have been seeking to helm some big tentpole features (the latest rumor is he is on the shortlist for Fox’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), has been a favorite writer-director among some of the staff of Inside Pulse Movies. Why at the start of September, Jenny Rebekah (that’s the name she’s going by currently, it could change any minute now) talked, raved and debated her top five directors on a podcast. Counting back from five, they were Rian Johnson, Sam Mendes, Robert Zemeckis, Quentin Tarantino, and Guillermo del Toro. So with this list you can derive that Jenny likes directors that bend genre conventions, have a theater background, have had a profound influence on special effects to tell stories, and she secretly wishes her name was Liz Sherman (Selma Blair’s character in the Hellboy series).
The push to the mainstream has been a longtime coming for Joseph Gordon-Levitt who first turned heads in his post-TV sit-com career in Mysterious Skin. Slowly but surely he has been working his way up the Hollywood food chain and doing stellar work in films like The Lockout and 50/50. But it was the combination of Inception and his role in The Dark Knight Rises that has seen his status rise. And with Looper he has a starring vehicle and absolutely nails it. While he did have Bruce Willis as a co-star, “Mr. Die Hard” saw two of his films go direct-to-DVD this year, another arrive with little fanfare in theaters (The Cold Light of Day), and another be bumped to 2013 (G.I. Joe: Retaliation). As for JGL, theater attendance was light for Premium Rush, and the farther he distances himself from the original G.I. Joe movie – where he played the Cobra Commander – his career will be all the better for it.
Also helping Looper is its relatively low price. A sci-fi actioneer costing $30 million with strong actors attached isn’t an easy sell, so for it to make $21.2M its opening weekend is very good news. And apparently Looper is already a hit in a China, as the film made an estimated $23M. That’s an industry first, where a movie that didn’t open #1 in the States, opens #1 in China. It helps that a portion of the movie takes place in Shanghai and features a prominent Chinese actress.
Last week’s official number one, End of Watch, fell to third, but its competition from last weekend, Trouble with the Curve and House at the End of the Street, are still performing well. The good news is that the success of Watch gives Open Road its second “movies for guys that like movies” hit following January’s The Grey. It also makes Jake Gyllenhaal relevant again; despite starring in the underappreciated Source Code, his career took a hit with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Hopefully, though, End of Watch‘s success doesn’t push him to star in Len Wiseman’s Mummy remake.
Universal’s Pitch Perfect got some early buzz thanks to Facebook postings, Twitter feeds, and other forms of social media. Dropping into 335 theaters this weekend before going wide next week the picture had a respectable $14k per-screen average. With ads splattered on downtown buildings and TV ads it is surprising that people would turn out to see something that airs free on FOX Thursday nights. That’s right – it’s Glee: The Movie. But this is competitive A Capella in a university setting. It’s like Stomp the Yard, only the principle actors are white, but the hip-hop is intact (though an ’80s one-hit wonder is also covered. Here’s a hint: think The Breakfast Club.).
Pitch Perfect‘s advertising onslaught was enough to outlast the ever-falling to oblivion Resident Evil: Retribution and the better-stayed-lost in 2D, Finding Nemo 3D. Still, Resident Evil is a monster hit overseas, so we will probably see another RE in a couple of years. Place your bets now on guessing the subtitle.
The weekend’s other new major release, Won’t Back Down got a 2500+ screen commitment from Fox only to see it open with one of the worst per-screen averages of a major theatrical release this year. The school drama starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis looked to be finding Superman with a touching “based on a true story” subject about turning the tables on overall school performance. Sadly, if its $2M gross is any indication, the film is still “waiting for Superman.” The drama couldn’t even outperform The Weinstein Company’s The Master, which is playing on 1,659 less screens.
In limited release, The Perks of Being a Wallflower saw expansion from four to 102 screens in its second week in theaters and collected $1.1M overall. And the big arthouse debut was the documentary The Other Dream Team. It debuted on two screens and earned $22.7k.
Tags: box office, End of Watch, Finding Nemo 3D, Hotel Transylvania, House at the end of the street, Looper, pitch perfect, Resident Evil: Retribution, The Master, The Other Dream Team, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Trouble with the Curve, weekend box office, weekend box office report, Won't Back Down