‘The Expendables’ and ‘Eat Pray Love’ have strong weekend multipliers

By Scott Mendelson

HollywoodNews.com: Proving once again that films aimed at older audiences have theoretically stronger legs than those aimed at teens, The Expendables and “Eat Pray Love” both had strong weekend multipliers and both performed at or above realistic expectations. With all the hub-bub regarding ‘the guy movie vs. the chick flick’, both films posted exceptional opening weekends and both respective marketing teams should be commended. As for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, its frontloaded and underwhelming debut proves that geek cultures is not mainstream culture, and that hardcore geek interest should not be mistaken for mainstream interest. With films like that, the only real victory should be the fact that it got made and released. Anyway, here we go… The Expendables ended the weekend with $35 million, giving it a decent 2.64x weekend multiplier. As mentioned yesterday, this is the massive win that Lionsgate needed to prove that they could open something other than Saw sequels and Tyler Perry dramas to anything resembling blockbuster numbers. As I’ve written any number of times, if you take away the Saw sequels and the Tyler Perry pictures, the studio’s biggest opening weekend was Fahrenheit 9/11 with $23.9 million and The Haunting In Connecticut with $23 million. Be it Rambo ($18.2 million), Kick Ass ($19.8 million), 3:10 to Yuma ($14 million), or Killers ($15.8 million), Lionsgate has had a problem opening seemingly break-out pictures above their $15-19 million ceiling.

At $35 million, The Expendables posted the second biggest opening weekend in Lionsgate history, besting the $33.6 million debut of Saw III and falling short of the $40 million debut of Madea Goes to Jail. For comparison, the prior best opening weekend in Lionsgate history for something that was not a Madea picture or a Jigsaw epic were the $23 million debuts of Fahrenheit 9/11 (which broke a record for a film opening under 1,000 screens set by Stallone’s Rocky III back in 1982) and The Haunting In Connecticut. Lionsgate has had several high-profile disappointments of late, not so much flops as heavily-hyped pictures that none-the-less failed to break the $21 million opening weekend ceiling that Lionsgate seems to have. That they could successfully open this mainstream entertainment as large as any other studio is an encouraging sign that Lionsgate can play in the bigger studios’ sandbox. The film cost $82 million, but Lionsgate paid just $20 million for distribution and offered up marketing expenses in exchange for some back end profits. With the exception of the UK, Lionsgate will have no hand in the overseas distribution, making the domestic numbers all the more important.

The film also scored the best opening weekend for writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone, topping the $33.4 million debut of Spy Kids 3D: Game Over. Of course, as should be noted, Stallone’s 80s Rocky and Rambo sequels were setting records back in the 1980s when a $10 million was a record for under 1,000 screens (Rocky III) and $20 million (Rambo: First Blood part II) was the kind of weekend number only put up by a Star Wars sequel or an Indiana Jones picture. Co-star Jason Statham has never had a prior opening weekend over $19 million (The Italian Job and The One), so this is a big win for him as well. Jet Li has one $40 million opener (The Mummy: Curse of the Dragon Emperor) and one $34 million opener (Lethal Weapon 4), but his prior record as an action hero was The Forbidden Kingdom at $21 million. Ironically, while Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger share a brief (and awkward) cameo together, this film would stand as Willis’s third-biggest opening weekend ever (behind the $38 million debut of Over the Hedge and the $36.1 million debut of Armageddon) and Schwarzenegger’s third biggest as well (behind the $42.8 million debut of Batman & Robin and the $44 debut of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). This is obviously a personal best for pretty much everyone else involved (Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, Terry Couture) while it’s the second-best debuts for Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke, coming in quite shy of the $158 million debut of The Dark Knight and the $128 million debut of Iron Man 2.

As for why the film did so well, it’s another case of making something old feel new again right at the tail-end of summer. This opening weekend is right in line with the $36.4 million debut of Freddy Vs. Jason and the $38.2 million debut of Alien Vs. Predator. 1980s nostalgia is a major business right now, as those of us who were kids in the era of Regan are now adults with kids of our own, and we have fond memories of the kind of action and horror pictures that we grew up on, forgetting that they weren’t that good in the first place. Also of note is the changing landscape of the action picture, as R-rated gorefests starring actual action stars gave way to PG-13 thrillers and comic book adaptations starring thespians trying to grab a fat paycheck, establish international box office credibility, and/or land a franchise to subsidize their artier work. Blame the popularity of Tim Burton’s Batman, blame the Columbine school shooting that made it harder than ever to market R-rated films to younger audiences, or just blame the post-9/11 years that viewed its action spectacles in a more world-weary light (nevermind that all four Rambo films are darker and more cynical about our national lust for war heroes than most have dared to notice). But The Expendables was a throwback to a time long past, and it was obviously a very missed type of picture. Freddy Vs. Jason ended its run with $82 million and Alien Vs. Predator ended with $80 million. That seems a decent end place for The Expendables, give or take the more frontloaded nature of box office over just the last five years.

Coming in at a more-than-respectable second place was the Julia Roberts vehicle Eat Pray Love. With $23.7 million, the film posted a solid 2.78x weekend multiplier. Discounting ensemble pieces like Valentine’s Day ($56 million), Ocean’s 11 ($38 million), and Ocean’s 12 ($39 million), this is Julia Roberts’s fourth-biggest debut as a lead, behind Runaway Bride ($35 million), America’s Sweethearts ($30 million), and Erin Brockovich ($28 million). As her second major test of box office muscle since she ended her self-imposed sabbatical (IE – she took some time off for family), this was a big win for someone who was once the biggest female star in the world. Like Tom Cruise, she may have to settle for merely being one of the bigger stars for this third act of her career, but that’s not a bad place to be. After the alleged disappointment of Duplicity, this was a big win for Roberts. Duplicity opened with $14 million and ended with $40 million, which would have been just fine had the awfully good caper/romantic comedy not cost $80 million. Eat Pray Love was more in her romantic drama/comedy safe zone, and Sony will end up with a tidy profit on the $60 million drama. Based on a beloved memoir that was heavily touted on the Oprah Winfrey Show, the film pulled in fans of the book, fans of Roberts, and fans of ‘chick flicks’ in general. Comparatively, this opening is larger than Julie and Julia ($20 million), The Time Traveler’s Wife ($18 million), but fell short of The Devil Wears Prada ($27 million). Next weekend will tell us whether the film was end with $80 million or $100 million, but there isn’t much in the way of direct demo competition until Going the Distance on September 3rd (the Jason Bateman/Jennifer Aniston comedy The Switch opens on only 1,700 screens next weekend).

Coming in not in third place, but in fifth place, was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The film that was hailed as the second coming by the geek community ended up being seen only by the geek community. With just $10.5 million, the film proved massively frontloaded, with a $2.3x weekend multiplier, which is a number generally reserved for horror remakes, Twilight films, and teen-idol vehicles. While the film may live forever in cult infamy on DVD and showings on USA, the film will be a big loss for Universal, which spent $60 million on the comic book adaptation. Alas, many video game fans and comic nerds (of both genders) were indulging their 1980s nostalgia by watching Sly and the Family Stallone blow stuff up. Free tip – counter-programming only works when the thing you’re counter-programming against doesn’t serve the same demos. Regardless of my dislike for the film, it was a visually inventive and artistically creative endeavor, and Universal deserves some credit for rolling the dice in a manner only usually seen at Warner Bros. with Despicable Me crossing $222 million domestic, making it Universal’s highest grossing non-sequel since Bruce Almighty back in 2003, Universal shouldn’t be hurt too bad by this genuinely original little film. And the upcoming Little Fockers should be a profit machine for the fourth quarter. Now spending $200 million on an adaptation of the board game Battleship, that’s just suicide.

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memos.

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