Inside Pulse Box Office Report: Sandler and Bieber Win, Audiences Lose

Januarys are a scary time to be a movie lover. Avoiding the harsh winter as you make your way to the movie theater to enjoy a few hours of laughs or thrills, it’s like venturing into a demillitarized zone. On one side you have the theater brass who serve large popcorns at nearly $8 a pop. On the other side your have “them,” those viewers that walk and talk and seem of acute intelligence, but are probably the same ones that made Two and a Half Men the top-rated sit-com on television, thus allowing Charlie Sheen be the highest paid star on television, giving him the money to afford elaborate sex parties involving hookers and blow. Last month I watched eight movies at the theater, and the only one that I was really crazy about was a 2010 holdover, The Way Back.

As it turns out, this January was the least-attended opening month in nearly three decades. February does little to counteract this figure, as we’ve already been treated to Single White Female: The College Years (or as it is titled The Roommate), which opened in first place last week. This weekend was an active one to be sure as four new features had wide theatrical distribution. The main attractions this time were the latest Adam Sandler man-child romp and a puff piece about a kid who supposedly has a music career and does everything on his own (minus his entourage, producer, collaborators and hair stylist, of course).

A few years ago the joke was if you were a happy couple and saw Sandra Bullock’s All About Steve, you broke up a week later. That film was like The Ring for dissolving the relationships between men and women. If you find that your relationship is on the rocks this year and you want to severe ties on Valentine’s Day, Just Go With It may just do the trick. Amassing $31 million this weekend, Sandler’s latest isn’t as strong as last year’s Grown Ups, and his PG-13 rated comedies seem to open on average at $34 million or above. But the man does have a strong following. Since 1998, the comedian has had eleven films gross more than $100 million. While his batting average isn’t a hundred, having taken the time to do vanity projects like Reign on Me or work with directors P.T. Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love) and James L. Brooks (Spanglish), Sandler is usually guaranteed $100 million with each new picture.

I like Sandler, but I’m not a homer for the guy. Just Go With It was an atrocious time-waster yet some follow the man as if he made comedy an art form.

The other big attraction was Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. So if what I’ve read is true, the YouTube sensation-cum-teen star has risen to a point where he can afford $1500 in haircuts per month to maintain “The Bieber” hairdo. And you wonder why a majority of the world hates Americans. Thanks to 3-D surcharges, his music documentary/puff piece managed $30 million at the box office. The kid already had a built-in audience of teenage girls yet also got a bump because their moms had to pay to see it as well. The bigger con is that people were actually willing to doll out $15 a ticket to see some old home movies spliced with concert footage. Is it enough to make “U Smile”? I don’t think so.

Coming in third was the CG-animated Gnomeo and Juliet, a Miramax holdover that made a nice killing in a marketplace devoid of new toons. The film also made audiences realize that Disney’s Touchstone Pictures was still around. (Remember the studio’s famed Vista Series of Touchstone titles on DVD? Yeah, that went nowhere.) Considering that the animated film was competing with Bieber Fever for audience participation, the studio has to be happy with $25 million for a poorly done satire of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet with gnomes.

The last new release coming in a distant fourth was The Eagle. Much of the advertising hinged on supposed leading man Channing Tatum, who we know doesn’t have the best track record so far into his career. People went to see Step Up for the dancing, Fighting for the fighting (which there was none, thus it was found guilty of false advertising), G.I. Joe for the toys, and Dear John because of Nicolas Sparks and Amanda Seyfried’s amazing body. The good news is that two of Tatum’s 2011 films are now out the way. The bad news is that he still has three more to go this year.

The Roommate dropped from last weekend’s top spot all the way to fifth place, but the Screen Gems brass are no doubt giving themselves high-fives all over the office because the PG-13 thriller lost less than 50% off its audiences. That typically doesn’t happen for thriller/horror fare. Once the fans get their fix that opening weekend they don’t usually jones for another hit until a new DTM (Dead Teenager Movie) comes out. As cheap programming, this prequel to Single White Female could land close to $40 million when it’s all said and done. The King’s Speech is inching ever so close to $100 million and should pass the mark by next weekend. Natalie Portman is proving to be very limber in the bedroom in No Strings Attached and on the stage in Black Swan. Both films have netted $60 million and $100 million, respectively. Which means Darren Aronofsky has a bonafide hit on his hands and Ivan Reitman is relevant again!

The bottom third of the top ten has Sanctum falling sharply, True Grit is overperforming but the Coens rock so it was bound to happen, and The Green Hornet still manages to see some green from audiences.

Only two new limited releases this week. Cedar Rapids debuted on fifteen screens, grabbing $311k in the process. An average of $20k per theater makes it the strongest per-screen average of the year. So expect Fox Searchlight to give this a good rollout into theaters in future weeks. Vidal Sassoon: The Movie also debuted, pulling in $14k on only one screen. The figure would have been higher, but hair aficionados were too busy watching Justin Bieber’s hair in 3-D.

Box Office Estimates taken from

1. Just Go With It – $31 million
2. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – $30.2 million
3. Gnomeo and Juliet – $25.5 million
4. The Eagle – $8.6 million
5. The Roomate – $8.4 million ($26 million overall)
6. The King’s Speech – $7.4 million ($94 million overall)
7. No Strings Attached – $5.6 million ($60 million overall)
8. Sanctum – $5.1 million ($18 million overall)
9. True Grit – $3.8 million ($160 mil overall)
10. The Green Hornet – $3.6 million ($92 mil overall)

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