Ben Affleck’s ‘The Town’ takes the weekend with $23.8M

By Scott Mendelson In a stupidly crowded weekend at the box office, we had four major wide releases and at least two major limited debuts. Without further ado, let’s dive in. Coming in at number one was Ben Affleck’s crime thriller “The Town.” With $23.8 million, the Affleck-directed picture out-grossed the entire domestic take of Affleck’s directorial debut, the obscenely good “Gone Baby Gone.” This second Affleck-directed thriller is a more conventional story, involving a Boston bank robber who wants to get out of the life and finds a possible escape with a new romance. It also boasts a more marketable cast, with Ben Affleck starring this time around, along with Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, and Black Lively. Warner Bros sold this one as ‘from the studio that brought you “The Departed,” which usually makes me roll my eyes (it’s also the studio that brought you “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Lethal Weapon,” and “Casablanca”). The picture opened a bit below the $28.6 million debut of “The Departed,” but the Scorsese picture cost $90 million while the Affleck one cost only $40 million.

Most importantly for the marketing, Warner Bros. attached the trailer to Inception, insuring that everyone who saw Inception in a theater ($285 million and counting) also saw a sneak peak of “The Town.” Oddly enough, this is this is Ben Affleck’s biggest opening weekends ever, and arguably the biggest one that was sold mainly on him. Affleck has some huge openers, but they are all either Michael Bay epics (“Pearl Harbor” -$59m, “Armageddon” -$36m), pre-established franchises (“Daredevil” -$40m, “Sum of All Fears” -$31m), or ensemble pieces (“He’s Just Not That Into You” -$27m). Take away those (and you can certainly argue that he gets partial credit for at least a few of those openings), and his biggest opening weekend is $17 million for “Changing Lanes,” which is also one of his best films and performances. The typical Ben Affleck star-vehicle opens around the $13 million range (“Forces of Nature,” “Bounce,” “Paycheck,” etc). So technically speaking, The Town represents Ben Affleck’s biggest opening weekend for a pure star vehicle. For what it’s worth, it’s also Affleck’s first number 1 opening since “Daredevil” in February 2003. The film received a B+ from Cinemascore, so this should be a somewhat long-term player in the next couple months.

Not to be outdone, “Easy A” was in second place with a strong $18.2 million. The well-reviewed high-school variation on “The Scarlett Letter” was preordained to shoot Emma Stone to stardom, and it would seem to have accomplished just that. The film boasts an uncommonly strong cast for a high school comedy, as it features Amanda Brynes (this may or may not be her final role), Malcolm McDowell, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, and most amusingly, a Murder One reunion with Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci playing Stone’s parents (both respected thespians broke out with juicy supporting roles in the first season of that 1995 groundbreaker). Comparisons abounded, with critics calling this ‘the next Clueless’ or the ‘next Mean Girls’. For now, let’s just congratulate Screen Gems for a solid marketing job (and actually releasing a good movie for once), and call the $8 million-budgeted comedy ‘the first Easy A’. Welcome to stardom, Emma Stone.

Third place went to “Devil,” which has a somewhat complicated background. The supernatural thriller debuted to $12.6 million, which is a pretty decent debut no matter how you slice it (the film was acquired by Universal for $26 million). The film is the first of a planned anthology series called The M. Night Chronicles, in which M. Night Shyamalan lets other filmmakers play around with his story ideas (it was directed by the Dowdle brothers). Rogue/Universal wobbled for the last few months on how much to use M. Night Shyamalan’s name in the marketing materials after “The Last Airbender” opened with $70 million in five days but was torn to shreds by critics and audiences. Audiences were allegedly laughing and/or booing when his name came up in the initial preview, yet the his last picture grossed $131 million. In the end, the film opened $2 million below “Quarantine,” the last picture that was directed by the Dowdle brothers. It played less like a Shyamalan entry and more like a lower-end Screen Gems horror picture.

This is another classic case of a studio botching the endgame by not screening the film for critics and thus leaving the impression that the film is worse than it actually is (sadly, “Quarantine” suffered the same fate). Ironically, the film is the most purely enjoyable thing that M. Night Shyamalan has put his name on since “Signs.” It’s an old-fashioned campfire tale, and it’s remarkably entertaining and even occasionally scary. Sadly, this is also the lowest opening weekend for any project with Shaymalan’s name attached, as it opened even lower than the $18 million debut of “Lady in the Water” and the $15 million debut of “Stuart Little” (which he wrote). Although “Devil” was a much cheaper proposition than either of those (“Lady in the Water” cost $70 million while “Stuart Little” cost $133 million), so the film will be a tidy moneymaker in the long run. The next one of these things will be directed by Daniel Stamm, who just scored with “The Last Exorcism.” Expect “Reincarnate,” concerning a jury deliberating a case with supernatural implications, to be released late next year.

The final wide release was the Lionsgate 3D cartoon “Alpha and Omega.” The terrible-looking romantic comedy involving two wolves being relocated for reproductive purposes opened with $9.2 million. Sadly, that’s Lionsgate’s biggest debut for an animated film thus far. Shame on anyone who didn’t see “Battle For Terra” yet paid to see this one in theaters. Since this one only cost $20 million, it will likely be profitable, and we’ll probably see a direct-to-DVD sequel in a few years, ala the unforgivably bad “Happily N’Ever After.” Last weekend’s lone new release, “Resident Evil Afterlife,” plunged 62% in its second weekend, which is about par for the course for the franchise. Still, in ten days, the fourth entry has $44 million, putting it just $7 million away from being the highest-grosser in the series. Ironically, one of the film’s hooks was the return of Paul WS Anderson, who directed the initial “Resident Evil.” I say ironically because “Resident Evil Apocalypse” and “Resident Evil Extinction” were much better films than the boring and cheap-looking original.

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memos.

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