“Chronicle,” “The Woman In Black” both debut to around $20 million

By Scott Mendelson

HollywoodNews.com: As I wrote yesterday (HERE), I don’t care which of the two big releases end up at number one for this weekend. Chronicle and The Woman In Black are both low-budget over/under $15 million releases that are somewhat abnormal in terms of what’s considered a mainstream release, both were exceedingly well-marketed (as opposed to ‘saturation marketing’), and both are unqualified hits after their first three days. But since I have to choose which film to discuss first, I will pick Chronicle (review), which A) I’ve seen and B) is the unofficial #1 film this weekend with $22 million (as opposed to The Woman In Black, which made ‘just’ $21 million). Chronicle announces the arrival of director Josh Trank (and writer Max Landis, son of John). The quite compelling and thoughtful character study, which is plays with the genre trappings of as super-hero origin story through the ‘found footage’ format, cost just $12 million and drew a large chunk of young audiences of both genders (it played 45% female). I have no idea what the legs will be like on this downbeat morality play (it received a B from Cinemascore), but I’d argue its artistic and box office success pretty much kills Warner Bros’s planned live-action Akira remake and hurts Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man (which is advertising itself as a more low-key and emotionally-gritty superhero origin story… whoops). Come what may, a very good and creative little movie just opened very well, and that’s a win for everyone.

The Woman In Black also is a winner on several fronts. Its $21 million debut is nearly twice the previous opening weekend record for CBS Films, which acquired the $17 million production for $3 million. The allegedly rock-solid Hammer Horror ghost story (I held off because my wife might want to see it) played mostly to younger females, which may be a sign that Daniel Radcliffe is in fact a box office draw/heartthrob. He has had a history of packing his London stage turns (Equus and How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying) and he killed on Saturday Night Live a couple weeks ago, so it may be the case where the Harry Potter series has turned him into something closer to Harrison Ford than Mark Hamill. Still, the PG-13 horror sub-genre is strong enough, especially with younger women, to put the opening entirely on Radcliffe’s shoulders, but it will be very interesting to see how him or any of the other former Potter actors fare as they begin their post-Hogwarts careers (here’s Elisabeth Rappe’s rundown on what projects each of the major actors – young and old – have lined up next).

The other wide debut was a qualified bust, as Big Miracle opened with just $8.5 million. Universal was surely hoping for something similar to the $20 million+ debut of Dolphin Tale last September, but the jam-packed cast (John Krasinski, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Ted Danson, Stephen Root, Tim Blake Nelson, and Rob Riggle) didn’t seal the deal. The film cost $40 million, which means that Universal will have to hope for uncommonly strong legs as well as the title becoming a casual family rental choice over the next several years. It played 68% female and 67% under 25 years old. The major limited release was the four-screen debut of Madonna’s directorial debut W.E., which earned just $11,200 per screen. There isn’t too much to report in holdover news. The Grey dropped 51%, which actually isn’t bad considered how divisive the film’s ending turned out to be, but a bit below the 42% drop for Liam Neeson’s Unknown last year. The $25 million Liam Neeson action drama now has $34 million, which means it should make it to around $55 million, although it’s going to get clobbered next weekend by the Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds action picture Safe House. Underworld: Awakenings has $54 million after three weekends, meaning it is neck-and-neck with Underworld: Evolution. Expect Underworld IV to end up slightly out-grossing Underworld II to take the domestic crown for the franchise. But the real story will be overseas business, where Sony is hoping for a 3D boom. With $108 million worldwide thus far, it’s just $3 million away from being the top-grossing global hit in the franchise as well.

Katherine Keigl’s One For the Money floundered in weekend two, dropping 54% and ending all hope for an ongoing franchise. It has grossed $19 million thus far, meaning it will easily be her lowest-grossing lead role. Man On A Ledge dropped a decent 44%, but it was working off of a $8.5 million debut in the first place. Hence the $40 million thriller has just $14 million in ten days. Red Tails continues to trudge along, with $41 million in the domestic bank. It probably won’t make it to $58 million (its budget), but producer George Lucas earns points for trying. In good news for good movies, Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol crossed the $600 million worldwide mark, as it slowly makes its way towards Mission: Impossible II’s $215 million domestic gross (it’s at $205 million stateside). It’s already Cruise’s biggest worldwide hit ever, and as I wrote a few days ago (HERE), it remains a prime victim of the over-saturation of new releases and the lack of viable second run options. Point being, it’s been bleeding theaters even as it remains a potentially popular attraction purely due to the onslaught of new releases.

In Oscar nominee news, Hugo had a tiny drop and powered its way past the $60 million mark. It’s still going to be a financial bath (it cost $140 million), but at least some of that Devil Inside money ($53 million on a $1 million budget) won’t be in vain. The Artist dropped just 22% and finally crossed the $20 million mark, as did The Iron Lady (which dropped 42%). The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo sits just outside too major benchmarks, as it has $99 million in domestic box office and $199 million worldwide. So yes, it is finally a hit, but it still cost way too much for its various restrictions. War Horse now has $77 million while The Adventures of Tintin crossed $75 million this weekend (the two Spielberg films have, respectively, $112 million and $367 million worldwide). The Descendants has arguably benefited the most from Oscar attention, as the Alexander Payne drama is now at $65 million, or a stone’s-throw away from Sideways’s $72 million cume. And Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (which, warts and all, is a good movie that I frankly think is better than The Artist or Midnight In Paris) has now matched its $25 million budget.

That’s it for this weekend. Join us next weekend for a big ‘something for everyone!’ weekend. Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds bring the old-school R-rated action with Safe House, Dwayne Johnson replaces Brendan Fraser in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 3D, Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams do the rom-drama route in The Vow, and George Lucas re-releases Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace in 3D. Yeah, the President’s Day holiday is going to be a busy one indeed.

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memos

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