Is it too early to proclaim this summer box office season as a dud? Instead of it being a time for tentpole releases, studios are acting like a bunch of Jarheads, telling audiences “Welcome to the Suck,” when it comes to going to the movies. For the first weekend of June we get a not-screened-for-critics Ashton Kutcher movie, a horror curiosity that combines genetics and ethics, another talking animal picture and Judd Apatow’s B-Team doing their comedy thing. June also means school is out. No school means more kids at the movies, right? One would think so, but in this case four new releases, no school and hot weather did not make for a winning combination. Studios need to get with the times. If people can watch their favorite TV shows on their schedules – thanks to DVRs and Internet streaming – and not when the networks air them, then studios need to realize that big movies can open at any point in the year. People will either go to the movies or they won’t. A great marketing campaign can go a long way, because it builds anticipation. Quality and release dates seem to be irrelevant in the whole scheme of things. Which is why films like Clash of the Titans and Valentine’s Day are two of the top grossing movies of the year.
Shrek Forever After had a weak debut compared to the previous two, but in its third weekend its legs remain strong. It’ll probably be the least successful in the series, but at least DreamWorks can gloat that it was #1 three weeks in a row. Iron Man 2 can’t say that. Chalk it up to weak competition, sure, but be prepared for print and TV ads with “#1 Movie in America, Three Weeks Running.”
Some thought the Judd Apatow money train ended with his commercial dud Funny People, but with his producer’s hat on Get Him to the Greek had a modest second-place opening. The pairing of Jonah Hill and Russell Brand was a bit of a risk, because people either love them or hate them. Hill, who has never been a leading man, is in foreign territory. As for Brand, other than his hosting gig at the MTV Movie Awards some years back, he’s remembered as that guy from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Greek is a spin-off of that comedy, which had a less-crowded spring 2007 release and similar numbers as well (Greek‘s $17.4 million vs. Marshall‘s $17.7 million). Not helping the comedy was that it only had a single theatrical trailer (released back in February). And in that trailer several of the jokes didn’t even make it into the final cut. Still, with a strong Tomato rating of 75%, word of mouth could help its box office numbers before it cleans up on home video.
Greek did just enough business to outpace the Twitter fans that went to see Ashton Kutcher’s latest. Kutcher and his pairing with Katherine Heigl (or as my friend refers to her as “that blonde Korean lady”) cost in excess of $75 million (WOW!) so it had one foot in the grave from the start. The moment I saw the trailer with Heigl and her tub of Maalox and that creepy trailer voice going “ASHTON KUTCHER. KATHERINE HEIGL. KILLERS.” I knew it was going to bomb. And with no screenings for critics pretty much validated my point. The involvement of Robert Luketic who fits in that unholy cookie-cutter comedy director trinity alongside Shawn Levy and Andy Fickman also spelled disaster. And then there was the revelation that the total number of Kutcher’s Twitter friends could barely fill a theater. Tsk tsk.
On a brighter side, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Sex and the City 2 hung on with less-than-60% falls, which is good on a post-Memorial Day weekend. Persia continues to perform strongly overseas, currently at $95.5 million. It will continue to succeed overseas and be a big seller on Blu-ray. I’m sure Ben Kingsley’s eyeliner will look beautiful in 1080p. Sex is at $73 million after two weeks, underperforming both at home and abroad. Perhaps the “Lawrence of a Labia” joke was just too much for some audiences to stomach.
Debuting in sixth position was Marmaduke, proving that some comic strips should not be made into movies. 20th Century Fox may have been able to fool audiences once with Garfield, but the sequel tanked. And audiences could care less about a talking Great Dane that sounded like Owen Wilson. Right behind it was Iron Man 2, now at $291 million. This time next week the superhero movie would have eclipsed the totals of the original. Impressive to be sure, but still disappointing after lofty expectations.
Of the newest releases, Splice was by far the most riskiest. June does seem like an odd time to release a Canadian horror property, and even with heavy promotion by Warner Bros. the general public could care less about gene splicing. The film got favorable press, even by us, but it could only muster a little over $7 million. Even Guillermo del Toro as executive producer couldn’t swing audiences. Perhaps had he quit The Hobbit project months ago he could have pushed the movie at junkets. Still the movie had an interesting premise that went beyond the area of what was to be expected. So for people complaining that there’s not enough originality in Hollywood, when something interesting does come along you should take a chance.
Rounding out the top ten were Robin Hood and Letters to Juliet. Both should be exiting the top ten once The A-Team and The Karate Kid remake open on Friday.
On the independent front, Bollywood feature Raajnetti debuted on 124 screens, making $917,000 overall. The Secret in Their Eyes continues to perform strong as it inches over the $4 million mark. Expansions for Please Give and Solitary Man registered strong returns, while Exit Through the Gift Shop, a self-released feature, has made $2.2 million. Of all the films on the box office list, historical drama Agora had the largest per-screen average with $10,800. Playing on four screens in its second weekend its total is now $97.5k. Oh, and it cost $60 million to produce. Ouch.
If you thought that number was disturbing, how about MacGruber going from a $4 million opening three weeks ago to make $96,000 over the weekend. In less than a month it’s gone from playing on 2,551 screens, to play on 177 screens. Double ouch.