Box Office: Gnomeo and Juliet leads Oscar weekend

By Scott Mendelson In kinda shocking news, the patently mediocre Gnomeo and Juliet is still benefiting from the utter lack of real kid-flick competition for one more weekend and actually reached number one in its third weekend. Dropping just 26% in weekend three, the third-rate toon has still grossed $75 million and has a shot at $100 million. I’m sure Disney is just as flabbergasted by the stunning success of this one as I am. This was basically considered a dump until just a month or so ago. Expect much personal embarrassment if the more costly and high-profile Mars Needs Moms fails to outgross this ‘offbrand’ cartoon after it opens on March 11th. We need Rango now more than ever…

Personal anecdote: I actually took my three-year old to this during the week during a day off from preschool. She has been going to the movies with me periodically since August 2009. She has sat through and/or enjoyed 2D screenings of Ice Age 3, G-Force, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, Cats and Dogs: the Revenge of Kitty Galore, The Nutcracker (at a 3D press screening, no less), Megamind, and Tangled. Even during lesser movies, she enjoys the whole ‘sitting in the dark and eating popcorn while watching a movie with dad and/or mom’ thing. Gnomeo and Juliet was so boring and lifeless that she wanted to go home after the first hour and watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates instead (which we did, after some outdoor play and my sincere apologies).

Hall Pass opened with a modest $13.4 million on its debut weekend. The critically-mixed comedy starring Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, and Richard Jenkins was their sixth-largest debut, coming in just below the $13.5 million (fourth-place) opening of There’s Something About Mary back in July of 1998. The picture was heralded as a return to form for the once-kings of their genre who had seen their audience move on to the likes of Will Farrell and Judd Apatow. Alas, it was not quite to be. The Farrelly Brothers were the arguable kings of comedy in the mid-to-late 1990s, with crowd-pleasing smashes like Dumb and Dumber ($116 million) and There’s Something About Mary, which spent months in the top ten and actually topped the box office in its eighth week of release. The latter ended up with $175 million, a huge number for a comedy, let alone an R-rated one. It’s still the twelve biggest-grossing R-rated film of all time, and the fifth-biggest R-rated comedy ever.

But the 2000s were not kind, as the Jim Carrey vehicle Me, Myself, and Irene was inexplicably branded a disappointment despite scoring $90 million. Shallow Hal opened in November of 2001 with $22 million and crawled to $70 million, but after that it was a flurry of sub-$45 million grossers. Fever Pitch may have gotten rave reviews, but the Drew Barrymore/Jimmy Fallon comedy was screwed over by real life. The film was a terrific little movie that dealt with Red Sox fandom as a form of unrequited love, and then watched as the Red Sox actually won the World Series just in spike to wreck the ending. Anyway, Stuck On You and The Heartbreak Kid received neither good reviews nor decent box office, and it looks like Hall Pass will do the same $35-$40 million gross that is the new normal. On the plus side, the film cost just $35 million, so longterm profitability is still possible.

The other big opener was a genuinely eye-popping flop. The Summit Entertainment acquisition Drive Angry 3D (review) opened with just $5.1 million. The is very nearly the lowest opener for any Nicolas Cage wide-release since the man became a genuine movie star back in 1995. Only The Weather Man, which was a low-budget and low-key character-driven drama, opened with less in ($4.2 million) in 2005. Drive Angry opened with half of what Season of the Witch mustered just under two months ago. Yes, we all know that would-be cult films and/or homages to 1970s/1980s grind-house fare don’t necessarily play well with general audiences (the film scored a ‘C+’ from Cinemascore), and there is a huge disconnect between what overgrown film nerds think is ‘cool’ (the film played 69% male and 57% over 30) and what regular moviegoers will pay first-run prices to see in a theater. But this is still a stunningly poor opening for Mr. Cage. Here’s a list of Cage pictures that opened just a little bit better: Bangkok Dangerous ($7.7 million), Next ($7.1 million), Guarding Tess ($7 million), and Kiss of Death ($5.3 million). For those who care about such things, this is the lowest-opening ever for a wide-release 3D picture (the film played 97% 3D).

On one hand, a film like this was never going to perform like National Treasure or Ghost Rider. On the other hand, we all whine about the lack of imagination, originality, and/or just plain entertainment value in so many mainstream pictures. When we utterly ignore something as off-the-wall zany as Drive Angry (William Finchter is kinda brilliant in it), we have only ourselves to blame when Warner Bros. decides to remake The Bodyguard. We all whine about how 3D is just a gimmick for charging an extra $3 per ticket, but then we ignore the stuff like this or Step Up 3D that actually uses 3D properly. We all scream SELL-OUT when Nicolas Cage signs on for National Treasure 2 or Ghost Rider 2, but then we ignore his more personal genre riffs (Kick-Ass, Drive Angry) or his genuinely good pictures (Adaptation, The Weather Man, Lord of War, etc) and complain that he is no longer a serious actor. Point being, when Nicolas Cage signs on for National Treasure 3, it will be just as much your fault as his (re – In Defense of Nicolas Cage).

In holdover news, the big story was the impressive 33% third-weekend hold for Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D. Paramount tried something new this weekend, offering an extended ‘director’s cut’ in the 3D theaters right smack in the middle of the first-run theatrical release. Since the new version only went out on digital 3D prints and the new cut received the same G-rating as the original, Paramount was able to drop it in at the drop of a hat to entice hardcore Bieber fans to check out the documentary one more time. Mission accomplished. What this means for the future of cinema can be debated (imagine seeing the extended cuts of each Lord of the Rings picture in theaters on the tail-end of their respective theatrical releases), but kudos on Paramount for trying something a little bold. At $62 million, the concert documentary is about to pass Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds ($65 million) and is just $10 million away from surpassing Michael Jackson’s This Is It (review).

Unknown (review) grossed $12.4 million for its second weekend, down 44% from its $21 million debut. The film is certainly not showing the (statistically improbable) legs from Liam Neeson’s Taken, but the $30 million thriller has already grossed $43 million. So this is a win for Warner Bros even if it only gets to $70 million. I Am Number Four (review) dropped 42% in weekend two, for a $11 million second weekend and a $37 million ten-day total. No franchise here, move along. Just Go With It now sits at $79 million and has a decent shot at becoming Adam Sandler’s twelfth and Jennifer Aniston’s fourth $100 million grosser. With all the talk about how January and February have stunk up the box office, we could be seeing anywhere from 3-5 $100 million grossers (depending on how Unknown and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never hold up) from these first two months, which is a rare thing indeed (ie – the pundits are wrong). Big Mammas: Like Father Like Son sits at just under $30 million on its tenth-day, which means the under-$35 million picture should be pretty profitable.

The would-be Oscar front-runner The King’s Speech rose 17% this weekend and will go into Oscar night with $114 million in the bank. Gee Harvey, imagine how much more this high-toned British period drama would have grossed from the teens and young kids had it been rated PG-13 (oh, how I hope Colin Firth or Tom Hooper calls him out on that tonight)…

To read more about this article go to Mendelson Memos

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