Weekend Box Office: Contagion

HollywoodNews.com: It was good news/bad news at the box office this weekend. Two critically-acclaimed adult entries squared off and only only came out shining. The winner for the weekend was Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, grossing $23.1 million from 3,222 screens. The all-star pandemic thriller fits squarely into the realm of Soderbergh’s ‘commercial ventures’. With the exception of Erin Brockovich (which was a Julia Roberts vehicle), Soderbergh alternates between artier and sometimes experimental fare of varying quality (Bubble, The Limey, King of the Hill – good! The Girlfriend Experience, The Good German, Full Frontal – bad!) and all-star genre entries that are inherently populist and commercial even with their occasional artier sensibilities (Ocean’s 11, Traffic, Out of Sight, etc).

But even his commercial ventures are generally aimed at adults with adult sensibilities, so the solid opening weekend is to be celebrated. The well-reviewed film played mostly to the over-25 set, which means it has a chance at solid legs as the younger kids check it out over the next month. It earned a B- from Cinemascore, which is probably owed to the fact that it’s genuinely unnerving in its plausibility (audiences claim to love horror but don’t like to be actually disturbed or frightened). I haven’t seen it yet as my son had a contagious infection over the weekend. We considered taking him on Friday afternoon and hoping he would cough in all the right places for maximum comedy, but we thought better of it.

While Lionsgate’s Warrior (review) was never expected to win the weekend, as it was on just 1,800 screens, its mere $5.6 million opening weekend was somewhat of a shock. It was expected to capitalize on the rave reviews and solid buzz that Lionsgate had built through a number of ‘word of mouth’ screenings all around the country, as well as a national sneak preview last weekend. In hindsight, perhaps Lionsgate should have released the film last weekend, as the buzz seemed to have peaked then. There are two ways to look at this. One way is simply to say that the MMA-themed family drama was never that appealing to general audiences, and that the rave reviews and aggressive Lionsgate marketing campaign simply built up unrealistic expectations (unlike The Fighter, it lacked stars and a token romantic subplot).

And it’s just another sad commentary on the strength of the marketing branches of the smaller studios (Lionsgate, Summit, etc) versus the bigger studios. Or, this could just be another weird mid-September miss in the vein of Whip It (review) in 2009 and That Thing You Do in 1996. All three films came into their mid-September release date with rave reviews, terrific buzz, and successful national sneak previews the week prior. But all three of them more-or-less flopped, despite everyone’s best effort. Anyway, the film is fantastic, so there is always a hope that audiences discover it later. As it is, the film’s Oscar chances are pretty much dead, although Nick Nolte may still squeak by with a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

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