Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Young Adult open huge in limited release

By Scott Mendelson

HollywoodNews.com: In what one might call ‘the calm before the storm’, two middling wide releases debuted to relatively middling numbers. Next week sees a flurry of major wide releases over the last two weeks of the year, so this frame was a bit of a breather. The top film was New Year’s Eve, which debuted with $13.8 million. That’s one of the weakest #1 debuts of the year, and about $1 million less than Valentine’s Day grossed on its first day back in February 2010. That film scored the record for a romantic comedy debut with $56 million over Fri-Sun. Of course, that film had romantic comedy heavyweights like Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Queen Latifah, and Jennifer Garner. This film had a slightly lower-wattage cast, with only Katherine Heigl and Zac Efron qualifying as box office draws. The newbies this time around (Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Hillary Swank, Jon Bon Jovi, Halle Berry, Lea Michele, etc) are names, but not actual ‘bring them to the theater’ movie stars.

Oddly enough, the film opened significantly lower than what Heigl, Efron, and Ashton Kutcher (who was also the lead in Valentine’s Day) bring in on their own (Jessica Biel was also in both, but she’s never been a draw). Which leads one to believe that this was a problem of ‘fool me once, shame on you’. Valentine’s Day was not very popular in the long run, earning $110 million after scoring $63 million in its four-day opening (that’s Green Lantern/Watchmen/Twilight Saga ‘legs’). The first film was somewhat of a novelty, a Love Actually with Americans and a massively star-packed romantic comedy about Valentine’s Day that opened over Valentine’s Day weekend. This just looked like a cash-in, which is what it probably was. The original cost $52 million while this sequel/spin-off/etc cost $56 million. Warner is going to have to hope for some holiday legs on this one, but as the only romantic comedy in the marketplace it may have some luck with that.

The only other wide release was David Gordon Green’s The Sitter. The Jonah Hill comedy, which was sold as an R-rated and more ‘extreme’ version of Adventures In Babysitting, debuted with just $10 million. This was the first real test of Jonah Hill’s ‘by himself’ star power, and as such it’s a merely mediocre debut. It’s a cheap ($25 million) comedy that received horrible reviews and frankly didn’t look all that good. It was an allegedly bad film that opened poorly but didn’t cost much. Not much else to report. Hill’s next film, the high-concept 21 Jump Street (which is basically a comic sequel to the 1980s television cop drama) should have better luck for Hill (and co-star Channing Tatum). More disconcerting is the continual box office decline of David Gordon Green. After being heralded as the next Terrence Malick for a serious of (correctly) acclaimed low-key character dramas (George Washington, Snow Angels, etc), he took a crack at the mainstream with The Pineapple Express, which earned a scorching $87 million three years ago. This year saw the unfortunate box office failure of Your Highness (which wasn’t ‘good’, but deserved a better fate) and this cheaper, but equally mediocre performance won’t help. I don’t want to arrogantly give career advice, but I might suggest a retreat at wherever M. Night Shyamalan is currently staying (the “Get my Artistic Mojo Back Resort”).

The real news was once again in limited release openings. Two of the best films of the year both debuted with scorching numbers. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy earned $301,000 on just four screens, for a huge $75,000 per-screen average. That’s one of the best per-screen averages for any opening on any amount of screens this year. I do not know when the all-(British)-star John le Carre adaptation goes wide, but do check it out when you have the opportunity (in a just world, Gary Oldman would be among the front-runners at the Oscars this season). Opening with $320,000 on eight screens was Young Adult, the also terrific Diablo Cody-penned, Jason Reitman-directed Charlize Theron vehicle. The film earned a solid $40,000 per-screen, and it expands wide next weekend. How the film will play to mainstream audiences is an open question, as films starring explicitly unsympathetic females are all-too rare. Objectively speaking, aside from its somewhat unique protagonist, the film is a clear example of the kind of film that would be absolutely mainstream just several years ago but now must start out in the art-house circuit. While it’s unrealistic to think that the film has much hope of reaching the $100 million+ gross of Juno or the $87 million gross of Up in the Air, it’s a damn good film and even $30-50 million would be a big win for this $12 million drama. Oh, and Charlize Theron probably deserves not just a nomination but the win this year, so there’s that. Also among the year’s best, We Need To Talk About Kevin had a one-screen, one-week qualifying debut where it grossed $24,000 on that one screen. Tilda Swinton should also be in the running, by the way, so do catch this devastatingly sad horror drama when it opens wide early next year. Also chugging along is The Descendants, which is expanding quite successfully over the last month. The film now sits with $23 million while still under 1,000 screens.

In wide-release holdover news, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I sits at $259 million, with a fourth weekend ($7.9 million) on par with the last two Twilight sequels. It’s catching up to New Moon ($267 million at this point) but Eclipse had $279 million by the end of weekend four. The Muppets now has $66 million, meaning it has now out-grossed The Muppet Movie to become the highest-grossing Muppet movie of all-time. Of course, the first Muppet adventure grossed over $200 million in today’s dollars, but The Muppets sits at number three on the adjusted list while the $90 million adjusted-gross for the number two film (The Great Muppet Caper) may be in reach. The other two major kids flicks held on strong. Arthur Christmas dropped just 11% and now sits with $33 million, with $91 million worldwide. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo grossed $6 million and also has $33 million in the bank. Happy Feet Two barely eked out $3 million and won’t reach $65 million. Frankly, all Happy Feet Two has accomplished is losing tons of money while making just enough to screw over the other family films (such as Puss In Boots, with $141 million) in the marketplace. Happy Feet Two – cinematic cock-blocker! Oh, and The Adventures of Tintin opened in Canada this weekend with about $8 million, bringing the international total to $233 million just over a week before its US debut.

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memo

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