BOX OFFICE: Super 8 Is A Super Opener, Judy Moody A Bummer Summer

I called it. Days leading up to the release of Super 8 I told others that I suspected the J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg project would open around $35 million. Well, I was just two million off its estimated $37 million weekend. The way Paramount marketed the release, touting the names J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg above all else (the above else being the actors, or spoiling all the best action moments – minus the train derailment sequence), anything above $40 million would have been wishful thinking. It was also the third #1 release of the summer (four if you count Fast Five) that didn’t rely on the extra surcharge of 3-D presentations.

Steven Spielberg’s name in the ads may have brought in older viewers, but with now three movies into his shift from screenwriter to TV showrunner to film director, is J.J. Abrams enough of a marquee guy to sell a blockbuster on his name alone? With his first film, Mission: Impossible III, what drew me was Philip Seymour Hoffman, who had just come off getting his Oscar for Capote, and Tom Cruise, even with the couch-jumping incident. For his second release, Star Trek, that was more about the mythology as built up by the TV series and several spin-offs. So Abrams isn’t quite a marquee guy, like Spielberg (his idol), Martin Scorsese (his last two features, Shutter Island and The Departed are by far his most profitable), James Cameron (two movies that were non-sequels made a billion each!), Michael Bay (sadly), Tyler Perry (unfortunately), and Christopher Nolan. Abrams might one day be part of this list – and some on that list may fall off – but he isn’t there yet.

Even with weird marketing, expect Super 8 to have some legs. This Amblin Entertainment release is likely to attract moths to the flame as first-weekend audiences seemed to enjoy it. And without shelling out much for the actors involved it should have no problems making its money back theatrically.

Closing in on $100 million and dropping to second this weekend is X-Men: First Class. Slipping 55%, as compared to X-Men Origins: Wolverine which dropped a staggering 69% in its second weekend back in 2009. Still, the X-Men franchise isn’t as big a seller as other single-man superhero entries, so it may not be a super blockbuster, but in a crowded marketplace of other superhero-driven films, it could challenge for $160 million domestically, with another $250 million from foreign territories. Even if First Class doesn’t meet my estimates, it will definitely be one of the hot sellers on DVD and Blu-ray during the holiday season.

In something that we may ask “Why God, why?” The Hangover Part II takes the bronze but more importantly it’s made $215 million in three weeks. It probably won’t match the domestic earnings of the first Hangover, which finished with $277 million, but it’s already more profitable overseas than its predecessor. The Bangkok setting may have helped, or it may be a case where they only have access to a single comedy DVD (a la Simple Jack in Tropic Thunder, but that was a VHS – remember those?) and have watched it hundreds of times. There’s also the Ken Jeong factor. I hear he’s real “big” in Japan.

Looks like somebody is a sad Panda. Kung Fu Panda 2, the biggest family release in the market, isn’t holding on to audiences like the first Kung Fu Panda did. Maybe it’s 3-D apathy. The picture itself is fine, though if the barometer for a successful kid’s movie is reaction from kids, then maybe they see something that I don’t. It’s made $126 million after three weeks, but it cost $150 million to make. So if a third is to get the go-ahead, it’ll have do $300 million and above overseas and be a big-seller on home video and with tie-ins (namely, toys).

Yo, ho, ouch! Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides continues to make an insane amount of money. Domestically, it will be the worst gross for the franchise, but it’s already surpassed the overseas totals that At World’s End made during its run. Sitting at $886 million, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it’ll surpass At World’s End $963 million gross. Still short of the billion Dead Man’s Chest made.

Pirates may have controlled fifth place, but look for a group of Bridesmaids to bypass them next week. Posting the lowest audience drop in the top ten (-15.7%). The comedy has shown some serious legs this summer, and I don’t mean Melissa McCarthy in the airplane. For women-centric comedies it makes you forget wanting to have both Sex and the City.

Also making its debut this weekend was Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer. And it was a flop for Relativity Pictures. Still new to distributing, with tons of capital they can experiment a little. But with Judy Moody and Season of a Witch you have to wonder just who are they going after with these movies. Those who will watch Nicolas Cage in anything and those who liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid but wishes it was Diary of a Wimpy Girl instead. Relativity does have one hit this year, Limitless, but it needs more of those with new face stars like Face, er, Bradley Cooper and Abbie Cornish. Closing in on Judy Moody‘s poor performance and playing on nearly 1600 less screens was Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Looking to become one of Allen’s biggest success, even though his comedies have never made more than $40 million domestically. It should pass $20 million by next weekend as it looks to better the final domestic totals of both Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point.

New indies that debuted this weekend was the comedy The Trip starring Steve Coogan. It averaged $14k on six screens. Just a million shy of landing in the top ten was The Tree of Life. Only playing on 47 screens, Terrence Malick’s fifth feature had a $18k per-screen average (the strongest of the week) and finished with $875k. Fox Searchlight is slowly rolling it out to other markets, but after three weeks it’s made $2.4 million. Another strong indie was Beginners with Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGreggor. It made $225k on nineteen screens.

1. Super 8 – $37 million
2. X-Men: First Class – $25 million ($99 million)
3. The Hangover Part II – $18.5 million ($431 million worldwide)
4. Kung Fu Panda 2 – $16.6 million ($331 million worldwide)
5. Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – $10.8 million ($887 million worldwide)
6. Bridesmaids – $10.2 million ($124 million)
7. Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer – $6.3 million
8. Midnight In Paris – $6.1 million ($14 million)
9. Thor – $2.4 million ($431 million worldwide)
10. Fast Five – $1.7 million ($538 million worldwide)

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