This Week in Movies – Pete Hammond – The Dolphin Tale

By Pete Hammond That rare A+ Cinemascore rating that Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment’s Dolphin Tale got last week was a definite sign word of mouth on this sweet little family film was going to be major. And it apparently was. Dolphin Tale has managed the rare feat of leapfrogging from number 3 last week in its first go-round to number one this week switching places with two week number one phenomenon, Disney’s 3D re-release of The Lion King. Apparently tailess dolphins and 17 year old cartoon lions are all the rage. Even though school is in session and summer’s long gone family films rule. This is the second time in as many months that a movie which did not open at number one shot up there in its second week.

The Help, another A+ cinemascorer managed the same trick although it crept up there from number two. Dolphin Tale’s ascent to the peak is even more impressive since it got there from the third spot and dropped only a measly 26% from its opening numbers to collect another $14.2 million and an overall total of $37.5 million. Count this as another winner for the Alcon folks who also scored big with their equally inspiring The Blind Side two Autumns ago. And with Brad Pitt’s durable Moneyball hanging on to its number two spot again this week, the top three spots have another rare distinction: they are all holdovers in a week in which four new movies had wide , or relatively wide openings. What does that say? Either the marketing for the newbies just didn’t connect , the film release landscape is overcrowded with nothing of distinction able to break through the clutter, or people are just so distracted this early Fall season that they are in a position of playing catch-up and waiting for word of mouth to spread before plunking down hard earned bucks on unknown quantities.

The number four thru number six positions are occupied by new films that are bunched so closely together that only $700,000 separates them . The highest grosser of that group, Summit’s “cancer comedy” 50/50 starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen is running an estimated $100,000 higher than current fifth place, Courageous, a Christian-themed film that actually should be given more credit since it is playing on only 1161 screens less than half its competitors. That’s a very good result and proves the value of faith-based marketing to the broad , and increasingly tapped Christian audience out there in the hinterlands. As for 50/50 it is an R-rated “comedy” about a young man who gets a rare form of cancer and must undergo a very risky operation. The producers Evan Goldberg and Ben Karlin recently told me they had no intention of toning it down to get a friendlier PG13 rating and nor did they shy away from selling the subject matter, witness the key art shot on the poster showing Gordon-Levitt losing his hair. Goldberg told me the film almost didn’t get made at all when the original lead actor James McAvoy had a family emergency one week into shooting and suddenly had to drop out. He said that if their next – and only- choice Gordon-Levitt passed or was unavailable they would have had to scrap the in-progress film and take a complete loss. Fate intervened, Gordon-Levitt loved it and was on the set within a week even though his hiring did necessitate script changes based on his own personal input. It turned out to be a very personal project indeed for the actor and a dedication at the end of the film is for a 19 year old friend of his who died of cancer. With a 92% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and an A- Cinemascore satisfaction ranking from audiences this film could also definitely benefit from strong word of mouth in the coming weeks.

On the opposite end of that scale is the number six film, Universal and Morgan Creek’s pretty dreadful Dream House which despite a tony A list cast that includes Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts and a terrific director in Jim Sheridan (Brothers, In America) this movie is a non-starter. The studio refused to show it to critics in advance, always a tip off , and those who did review it after its Friday opening gave it only a 5% fresh rating at RT. It is one of those terribly convoluted “thriller” plotlines that make no sense whatsoever if you dare to think about it, which you won’t I promise – it’s that forgettable. Sheridan reportedly fought with the producers over final cut and even tried unsuccessfully to get his name removed from the credits. Who can blame him? When I saw it at a 5pm Saturday show there were all of 8 people in the audience The fact that Universal was able to buy an $8 million dollar opening is sort of impressive because this thing is bound to drop like a rock. This dream turned out to be more of a nightmare for its talented cast.

The week’s other new opener, 20th Century Fox’s by –the-numbers romcom, What’s Your Number finisned week and out of the running at #8 and only $5.6 million, a number the studio won’t be touting. Too bad for the likeable Anna Faris who stars. Here’s hoping she finds some better material in the future.

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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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