BOX OFFICE: Wimpy Kid Sucker Punches Zack Snyder’s Dancing Queens

Okay, here’s a question. How do you market something like Sucker Punch? It’s a caged heat action fantasy that would appeal to teen boys. But it only features females. Had it been a singular female as a protagonist – okay. But you have a team of females with no dominating male protagonists. With females as the focal point in the action fantasy, you also alienate most women, because the subject matter isn’t very appealing. So you market it as something loud and something fierce. Violence and mayhem are the two essential ingredients in the advertising, again not a enticer for most women. With a butt-load of CGI special effects, Snyder does his best to make a comic-book movie that isn’t based on a comic-book movie. So you have disinterested females, men who would get bored by estrogen action, and something comic book worthy that isn’t aimed for kids. So who exactly is this movie for – ComicCon transients? Mallrats?

Now look at what film finished in first: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules. The movie’s title is a dead giveaway at what is the target demo. And since it is based on a best-selling series of books, you already have a built-in audience of those who enjoyed reading Greg Heffley’s diary. Produced by 20th Century Fox, the film was marketed heavily on its own stations as well as ABC Family, Nickelodeon, et al. Released a year after the first film, the sequel actually performed a little bit better, earning $24.4 million versus $22.1 million. Compared to most studio films, a $21 million production budget is peanuts compared to the hundreds of millions thrown to special-effects heavy tentpole projects. Final domestic gross should fall somewhere between $50-60 million, much like the first film. Add a few more million overseas, and millions in DVDs sold on home video and you have yet another hit. So expect the third Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie this time next year.

Zack Snyder built his reputation with films like 300 and Watchmen. Yet both were based on previously published works. So when decides he wants to make a movie from his own original screenplay, Warner Bros. will listen because they know how much of a success 300 was. Unfortunately, the film was a trouble to market. With no name actors attached, the marketing was geared towards the action and the mayhem. And if you’ve brushed up on your Shakespeare, then you might feel that Sucker Punch is a “tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Definitely for fanboys, the film could only muster $19.2 million, and cost considerably more than what finished first. You can be sure that Warner Bros. became a little more nervous knowing that Snyder will be helming Superman: Man of Steel for the studio next. They better pray that it does well overseas and the director’s cut (reported to have close to 18 more minutes of footage) sells like hotcakes on DVD and Blu-ray.

Good box office news to report is that last week’s number one, Limitless, and the legal drama The Lincoln Lawyer retained most of its first-weekend audience. Both films are geared toward those over the age of twenty. Sitting in on a Friday night showing of Lawyer, I noticed a much older crowd, most likely familiar with the source material. (The Lincoln Lawyer was based on a mystery thriller by author Michael Connelly). Or they remembered how good Matthew McConaughey was when he starred in A Time to Kill, which was based on a John Grisham novel. The audience holds is good news for Relativity Media and Lionsgate. Relativity has had some duds already with Sanctum and Take Me Home Tonight. And for Lionsgate, McConaughey’s Mickey Haller character appears in three other works by Connelly, most recently this year’s release The Fifth Witness. If the film can sustain viewers, it could translate to a new franchise for the studio a la the Alex Cross novels being picked up by Summit Entertainment.

This weekend, Rango passed $100 million making it the highest grossing 2011 release so far. Add foreign grosses and it should pass $200 million this time next week. But the film cost $135 million to produce, so it will have to be a big seller and renter on DVD and Blu-ray before Paramount can claim success. Either way, it looks to be the first Oscar contender of the year, at least in the Best Animated Feature category.

A little aside for a second. It’s the last weekend of March and we’ve only had a single film cross the $100 million threshold domestically. And I mean clear-cut $100 million grossers. Adam Sandler’s Just Go With It is on the cusp of crossing the mark, as is Gnomeo & Juliet, which is probably the biggest release shocker we’ve had so far this year in terms of success. I bet the suits at Disney weren’t expecting much when they dumped it in theaters in January and yet it’s gone on to make $156 million worldwide.

In the battle of alien movies, Battle: Los Angeles continues to appease those moviegoers who have given their fingers a rest from playing too much Call of Duty. However, Paul is a bigger hit internationally and domestically it has performed better than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s previous releases, Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead.

Another Warner Bros. disappointment, Red Riding Hood, won’t be a total misfire for the studio. It should do enough to match its production budget. I imagine its home video release will be timed in accordance of the arrival of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part I. The Adjustment Bureau is about to finish up its run in theaters. A good film because of the chemistry Matt Damon and Emily Blunt shared, the film will be a big performer on DVD.

Turning our attention to independent releases, Jane Eyre expanded to 90 locations and earned $983k overall. Fox Searchlight’s Win Win expanded to twenty-three locations and had a solid $20k per-screen average. Keep an eye on this one. It may be largely ignored come Oscar time, but writer-director Tom McCarthy has proven before with The Station Agent and The Visitor that he knows how to portray human comedy-drama. It will at least be a strong candidate for some Independent Spirit Awards. One of the bigger indie releases of the weekend was Julian Schnabel‘s Miral, which grabbed $65k on four screens. Recent Foreign Oscar nominee Of Gods and Men continues to see a slow release by Sony Pictures Classics. Adding twenty-six more screens this weekend to bring its total to 126, it took in $370k to bring its tally to $2.1 million (overseas it has earned $37 million). Definitely check out your local arthouse, you might be surprised in what you find.

1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules – $24.4 million
2. Sucker Punch – $19 million
3. Limitless – $15.2 million ($41 million overall)
4. The Lincoln Lawyer – $11 million ($29 million overall)
5. Rango – $9.8 million ($106 million overall)
6. Battle: Los Angeles– $7.6 million ($73 million overall)
7. Paul – $7.5 million ($25 million overall)
8. Red Riding Hood – $4.3 million ($32 million overall)
9. The Adjustment Bureau – $4.2 million ($55 million overall)
10. Mars Needs Moms – $2.2 million ($19 million overall)

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