Box Office: Identity Thief Scores $36 Million And Becomes Best R-Rated Comedy Opening For The Month Of February

Identity Thief

Bateman + McCarthy + Handcuffs = Eyes Wide Shut 2 (aka Hide the Children)

Studios may tinker with release schedule as an effort to maximize the total number of viewers, but sometimes they forget about outside factors when it comes to disrupting trips to the movie theater. This past weekend a gigantic snowstorm hit the Northeast portion of the United States. Stores closed up early as did movie theaters, which signaled hundreds of theater auditoriums without viewers. While this should have dampened the box office for the weekend, the final numbers don’t show much ill effect. Realistically, it’s not a certain film-maker or actor or specific film that gets the casual audience member to the theater. All it takes is a specific type. That’s why horror movies do so well with their opening weekends. However, this weekend it was the comedy Identity Thief that had the last laugh. It’s three-day performance saw it score the year’s biggest opening with $36 million, a total that makes it the best restricted comedy opening ever in February.

The sub-30% approval reviews on Rotten Tomatoes didn’t seem to bother Universal Pictures, the studio that has been promoting the comedy all over the spectrum. Helping its cause is that it paired two affable leads, including one whom is on a top-rated weekly comedy series on CBS. Melissa McCarthy, who had her breakout with an Oscar-nominated turn in 2011’s Bridesmaids, is also a star of the small screen with Mike & Molly, a sitcom that appeals to the same mainstream schlubs that tune-in to every other program offered on Les Moonves’ TV network.

Clearly the people who went to see Identity Thief were mostly going because it was A) a comedy, and B) a comedy featuring the chick from Bridesmaids. Sorry, Jason Bateman fans, but the guy is in no way a comedy draw. He needs a support staff for the comedy to have any chance of being a hit. The success of Identity Thief is the actor’s biggest opening with him since 2009’s Couples Retreat, which was all sorts of awful. A total paycheck gig and nothing else for all parties involved.

As for McCarthy, the combination of appearing in back-to-back comedy hits, a hit CBS sitcom, and her likely to be rallied around after being chastised by film critic Rex Reed in his review of Identity Thief (read Scott Sawitz’s Monday Morning Critic for more on that story), should make her that much more of a star. The fact that 20th Century Fox has bumped for next comedy with Sandra Bullock The Heat from April to the summer slate, she looks to take her 15 minutes of fame and stretch it to 30 minutes or more.

Last week’s number one, Warm Bodies, drops to second. Summit Entertainment hoped that Jonathan Levine’s film could tap into the same audience that enjoyed the Twilight films (which it did, for a week), but it seems destined to be a decent it on DVD where its audience will continue to grow. Not bad for a zombie comedy inspired by Shakes’ Romeo & Juliet.

The other new release dropping into theaters was Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects. A twisty pharmopsychological thriller in the tradition of the films by Adrian Lyne, the advertisements did their best to not spoil the film by offering misdirection when it came to the story. Surprisingly, the film’s most bankable actor, Channing Tatum, was underutilized in the ads with Open Road hoping that Rooney Mara could entice audiences despite this being her first role after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a film that saw her nab a Best Actress nomination. Cinephiles would seek out Side Effects because it is reported that this is director Steven Soderbergh’s penultimate effort as a director. Despite a respectable critical response, the opening total is in line with last year’s Haywire, also directed by Soderbergh.

The success of Silver Linings Playbook makes me wonder how many other films would have had similar success if they were given platform releases instead of being ushered into 2,500+ screens opening weekend. The strategy on behalf of the Weinsteins has certainly paid off. After 12 weeks this was the first one where it clearly looked like it had a bonafide three-day period where the left out any doubt that it was a hit. It didn’t add any screens for the weekend and it had the strongest audience retention numbers of the weekend. With the Oscars approaching it could very well make it past the celebrated milestone of $100 million.

Finishing the top five was Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. It looked to be a laugher in the same vein as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but it has already surpassed those totals with $43 million stateside, and it could finish with $60 million domestic before it’s all said and done. Overseas it is performing much stronger, and it should help Jeremy Renner’s career as a leading-man action star. Now let’s see him do something that isn’t bolstered by a franchise or seems like it is piggybacking off the whole historical figure/drama meets creature feature. Mama continues to perform well for Universal. The PG-13 horror release has netted more than $60 million after four weeks.

It was looking that Zero Dark Thirty was well on its way to use its Oscar push momentum for box office glory. But after winning its wide opening weekend with $24 million, its momentum has shifted in lieu of the supposed torture scandals story. Now its per-screen average is lower than a film that has climbed back into the top ten for its eighteenth week of release. That film would be Argo – the early ’80s set thriller that seems to be winning every award under the sun. By the time Oscar night rolls around Ben Affleck would have won every major directing honor from the various guilds. However, he won’t walk away with the Academy Award for Best Director as he was not nominated.

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is the writer-director’s biggest money earner both in the U.S. and internationally. He has pulled a rarefied feat, having directed back-to-back historical epics that were long, graphic in its depiction of violent acts and rated R. Seven weeks into its run audiences were more inclined to get “dirty” with Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz than they were to see Sylvester Stallone put a bullet through somebody’s head. His film, Bullet in the Head, took the sharpest dive of films still in the top ten. It did just enough to stay above the 3D re-release of Top Gun which played at 300 locations and landed $1.9 million.

Weekend Box-Office Top Ten for February 8 – February 10, 2013

1. Identity Thief (Universal) – $36.5 MILLION

2. Warm Bodies (Summit/Lionsgate) – $11.5 MILLION ($36.6m cume)

3. Side Effects (Open Road) – $10 MILLION

4. Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Company) – $6.9 MILLION ($90m cume)

5. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (Paramount) – $5.7 MILLION ($43.8m cume)

6. Mama (Universal) – $4.3 MILLION ($64m cume)

7. Zero Dark Thirty (Sony Pictures) – $4 MILLION ($83.6m cume)

8. Argo (Warner Bros.) – $2.5 MILLION ($123.7 mil.)

9. Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company) – $2.2 MILLION ($154.5m cume)

10. Bullet to the Head (Warner Bros.) – $1.9 MILLION ($6.4m cume)

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