‘The Social Network’ remains firmly locked as Oscar front-runner

By Scott Mendelson

HollywoodNews.com: A handful of new releases were not enough to dethrone the buzzy and generally terrific ‘founding of Facebook’ drama “The Social Network” from the top spot this weekend. Dropping a measly 30%, the David Fincher picture grossed $15.5 million in its second weekend. With a ten-day total of $46 million, the Aaron Sorkin-penned picture is still firmly locked in its status as Oscar front-runner. The much-discussed film (‘is it accurate?’ ‘is it sexist?’ ‘is it a defining piece of generational cinema?’) is quickly become a must-see motion picture, which bodes well in the coming weeks as the rest of the month is filled with horror titles. Barring unknown variables, “The Social Network” should stand as the water-cooler picture and the second-choice for general moviegoers at least until the holiday season.

Coming in second place was “Life As We Know It.” The Katherine Heigl/Josh Duhamel comedy opened with $14.6 million. I’m of two minds about this opening weekend. On one hand, the opening was lower than the much-discussed $16 million opening for “Killers,” to say nothing of the $23 million-$30 million openings of “Knocked Up,” “27 Dresses,” and “The Ugly Truth.” On the other hand, this film film only cost $38 million (“Killers” cost an absurd $70 million) and the movie had Heigl and Heigl alone to sell it. Josh Duhamel is not anything resembling a movie star, and the film’s plot was guaranteed to turn off a good chunk of the theoretical audience. Think about it: if you were a parent, how eager would you be to spend money on a babysitter and use a precious night out to see a movie in which two loving parents are killed off and their young child is brought up by their two immature friends who luckily find love together? Point being, true stardom is opening a movie with nothing but your face on the poster. Katherine Heigl opened “Life as We Know It” to $14.6 million despite the film’s inherently unpleasant (and implausible) underlying premise.

Third place went to “Secretariat,” the 1970s period piece starring Diane Lane as an owner of a prize racehorse during the 1970s. This would-be Oscar bait opened with $12.6 million. The $35 million picture opened right in the Diane Lane comfort zone, a bit more than “Untraceable” ($11 million), just under “Must Love Dogs” ($12.8 million), and a bit below her Richard Gere-co starring melodramas “Nights in Rodanthe” and “Unfaithful” ($13.4 million and $14 million respectively). Comparisons to “The Blind Side” were absurd to begin with, and even comparisons to “Seabiscuit” ($20.8 million opening in July 2003) were unrealistic, as the Tobey Maguire race-horsing epic was the main adult/quality draw in mid-summer, while “Secretariat” is currently just one of several such offerings alongside “The Social Network,” “The Town” (now at $73 million), “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (now at $43 million), and “Easy A” (the new Gwen Stacy’s wonderful comedy is now at $48 million).

The last wide release was the much-delayed opening of Wes Craven’s “My Soul to Take.” The tragically terrible slasher picture opened with just $6.9 million. This was basically a high-profile dump, with Rogue/Universal converting the film to 3D in a desperate attempt at a few extra bucks per ticket (86% of the revenue this weekend came from 3D tickets). Ironically, despite Craven’s reputation as a horror pioneer, he is not known for opening weekends. This lousy debut is actually Craven’s sixth-biggest debut of all time, coming in ahead of the first “Scream” ($6.3 million), Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare” ($6.6 million), and just behind the $7 million-debut of “Vampire in Brooklyn.” Of course, horror films generally didn’t have huge opening weekends in the 1980s and 1990s (the original “A Nightmare On Elm Street” opened with $1.2 million on 165 screens). Craven’s two biggest openings are for Scream 3 ($34.7 million) and Scream 2 ($32.9 million), and he’ll have the chance to beat said records next year with the release of “Scream 4.”

There were a bunch of limited release this weekend, so take a deep breath. The quirky kids in a mental institution comedy “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” grossed $2 million on 742 screens. The documentary about the Wall Street crash of 2008, “Inside Job,” grossed $42,000 on two screens. The Robert De Niro/Edward Norton/Mila Jovovich drama “Stone” grossed $73,000 on six screens. The Overture release (which even five years ago would have been a mainstream wide release) will expand next week. The remake of “I Spit On Your Grave” grossed $33,000 on twelve screens, while the young John Lennon biopic “Nowhere Boy” grossed $56,000 on four screens.

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memos.

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