This Week In Movies – ‘Avatar,’ ‘The Last Exorcism,’ ‘Flipped’

By Pete Hammond Last February in the heart of the Academy campaign voting season I moderated a few post-screening Q&A sessions with “Avatar” director James Cameron and various crew members. As we spoke beforehand one night in the lobby of 20th Century Fox’s Zanuck Theatre Cameron was bemoaning the fact that Tim Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland” was going to swoop in on March 5 and take most of his flick’s 3D screens, Now since “Avatar” was already the biggest movie of all time worldwide – by a mile – and that it had been dominating these screens since mid December, it was interesting to hear Cameron cry poor predicting that without “Alice” in there “Avatar” likely could do another $200 to $300 million and eventually reach a global total of $3 billion. To add insult to injury “Alice” (which eventually earned over a billion around the world) was a 3D conversion job and not, like “Avatar” , a “true” revolutionary pure 3D experience. Even then Cameron was talking about a late summer re-release with added footage not seen before theatrically or on the DVD editions to hopefully rectify this situation and put more cash in his pocket. This weekend 20th unleashed the new special edition of “Avatar” with eight minutes of new footage into 800 3D and IMAX locations earning a paltry $4 million (even with the higher 3D ticket prices) taking its domestic gross to $753 million but barely moving the needle on the mega-blockbuster’s worldwide total of $2.7 billion. Somewhere the N’avi are shedding a tear. “Avatar” apparently isn’t the unending cinematic atm machine we thought it was and it is probably safe to say $3 billion is out of the question, Jim. Nice, try though. Your move, Burton.

“Avatar” managed 12th place on the boxoffice chart which was dominated by a real cliffhanger in the top two positions with new releases, “The Last Exorcism” and “Takers” battling it out for number one and bragging honors for the weekend. Lionsgate’s “Exorcism,” a nifty “Blair Witch”-like movie-within-a-movie blessed with sensational performances by Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell appears to have landed on top with $20.3 million barely topping Sony’s robbery crime drama, “Takers” which had quite a few of those at the ticket booth with $20 million. Here’s the thing though. Critics really dug the filmmaking style and smarts of “Exorcism” giving it 71% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes versus “Taker’s” measly 28%. The real interesting stat is that Lionsgate paid only about a million to acquire “Exorcism” which was produced on a shoestring budget just under $2 million versus “Takers” approximate $20 million cost which it made back this weekend. “Exorcism” though made back ten times its budget, so even an ominous 25% drop from Friday to Saturday and a “D” cinemascore audience rating can’t spoil this party. Regarding that rating, it’s likely the film’s savvy marketing campaign brought in a first-night crowd of hard core horror fans who may have been put off by the arty nature of “Last Exorcism’s” story-telling which quite frankly emphasizes character over bloodletting thrills (at least until the end). With Sly Stallone’s “The Expendables” still doing business, coming in third with over $80 million so far, these are good times for the corporately-beleaguered Lionsgate.

Okay finally here’s a note on why big studios should have specialty divisions to release movies that require a tender loving touch. Case in point, Rob Reiner’s wonderful 60’s-set coming-of-age kid romance, “Flipped,” a movie in the vein of his classic, “Stand By Me” and which opened on a limited basis August 6th in just LA, Sacramento and Austin with a master plan to go “wide” August 27th. Distributor Warner Bros (which closed its own specialty divisions, Warner Independent and Picturehouse) was disappointed in the results of those initial test runs and seem to have given up trying to push “Flipped” , a movie that needs to breathe and cultivate word of mouth, for a wider audience. So instead of going out nationally as originally envisioned, “Flipped” actually went down in its screen count this weekend to only 26 , although that number does include 8 new markets for a week to week boxoffice increase of 47% and $2800 per screen bringing its slight total to just $675,000 for the month. The L.A. Times Patrick Goldstein flipped for the film, like I did, and called it a “major comeback” for Reiner whose last film, “The Bucket List” actually was a nice hit and made just under $100 million domestically alone. But that movie had Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman and a big marketing budget and studio push from Warners. This one has Madeleine Carroll and Callan McAuliffe in the leads and very little comparatively in the way of an ad budget. Still basking in the glow of “Inception” and looking at a huge fall slate, Warner Bros will likely just quietly let “Flipped” play out its days on its way to a quick visit to Netflix. Next week Warners will open New Line Cinema’s romantic comedy, “Going The Distance” — something “Flipped” will not be doing. Sad. Good job anyway, Rob. You can stand proud with this one.

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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One Comment

  • August 31, 2010 | Permalink |

    I wonder, should movie success be rated by gross earnings? I find it bias to wide release movies. IMHO

    “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” -Don Vito Corleone, Godfather (1972)
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