I spent a good bit of time over the last few months talking up the new trend of studios using big-budget comedies as their summer tentpoles, mostly as evidenced by the astounding amount of money Universal was pouring into the Jim Carrey-less sequel Evan Almighty. Carrey’s absence didn’t seem like such a big deal, since they had the much-hotter Steve Carell to replace him, coming off The Forty Year Old Virgin‘s nine-digit success and the slew of Oscar nominations for Little Miss Sunshine. In fact, with Carrey coming off a dismal reception (critically and financially) for The Number 23, I would have said they were better off with Carell.
Now I’m not so sure. People started talking about two weeks ago when numbers showed Evan tracking poorly, with speculation that it could open as low as $20 million. But last week the numbers started to pick up. Some people were saying as much as $40 million.
The right answer, we now know, is just about in the middle. But for a movie with a budget between $175 million (what the studio is reporting) and $220 (what everyone else is saying), and prints and advertising price tag probably between $70 and $80 million, Evan‘s $32 million opening is just plain bad news. This goes back to a point I’ve made over and over again in this column: financial success means keeping your budget under control. Now I understand part of the extra cost on this film relates to director Tom Shadyac insisting on keeping the entire production ‘green’, and I respect him for that. Hell, I respect the Universal execs for agreeing to it. But you’re taking a hell of risk by adding to the price tag of your summer tentpole, and much as I hate to say this, they would’ve done well to mention their environmentally conscious production in their marketing.
Now I know some of you are thinking that $32 million isn’t that bad, and surely with good legs and overseas…. I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter. You know how when I talk about Spiderman 3 or Hostel II underperforming, I always qualify it with ‘it’s still making money, no one’s losing their jobs,’ etc.? Well people are going to lose their jobs over this. Tom Shadyac is going to have a hard time getting work for awhile (this is known as ‘director’s jail’, and it’s a very real thing. Just ask Wolfgang Peterson, who piloted last summers major letdown, Poseidon). And if Carell’s next project, a big-screen adaptation of Get Smart, performs anything like Bewitched, well, his agent’s going to find that his phone isn’t ringing off the hook anymore.
In short, everyone involved is on thin ice, folks. That’s the power of the box office.
If there’s an upside to Evan‘s underwhelming opening, it’s that 1408 was able to manage some decent numbers, opening in second with $20 million from 2,678 theatres for a $7.5k average. The film had shockingly good reviews (that I don’t necessarily agree with) and a good performance by John Cusack in a difficult part, and should- as I hoped- quiet some the voices calling for horror to fall into hibernation. Falling a steep 63% to third place was Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer with $20 million for the weekend and a $97 million total. Even with the steep fall, it’s not doing too badly (budget is reported at $130 million), but a third entry is not exactly a given.
Ocean’s 13 had another decent hold, slipping 42% to $11 million and a $91 million total. Again, a fine and respectable tally, but there won’ be an Ocean’s 14. Knocked Up, on the other hand, must be looking ripe for a sequel to Universal execs, dropping just 24% (best in the top 10) to $10 million and a $108 million total. If Evan Almighty had cost anywhere in the neighborhood of Knocked Up‘s $30 million pricetag, those same execs would be dancing in the streets today instead of updating their resumes (just as a precautionary measure, of course).
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End finished in sixth with $7 million, down 41%, for a $287 million total. Surf’s Up managed a decent hold, falling 27% to $6.7 million and a $47 million total. It’s too little, too late, though, with Pixar’s Ratatouille opening next weekend riding a wave of good buzz. Shrek the Third followed closely in eighth with $5.7 million and a $307 million total. Nancy Drew had a surprisingly good second weekend, falling 34% to $4.5 million and a $16 million total. Still, it doesn’t bode well for the upcoming Tom Cruise/Ben Stiller Hardy Boys movie (yes, you’re reading that right). And critically-hailed A Mighty Heart opened about as poorly as expected against the big summer fare with $4 million from 2,612 theatres for a $2.9k average. What were Paramount Vantage execs thinking? Yes, they had some heat coming out of Cannes, but why not let it play some more festivals, build up more word of mouth, and give it a slow, awards-season worthy roll out in September, when it might actually find an audience? Word on the street is that Angelina Jolie is Oscar-worthy for her performance, but the Academy will never remember her come awards time with a tenth-place opening in the middle of the summer.
Anyway, that’s it for this week. Tune in next week when Bruce Willis has one more go at John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard (which I really hope does well), and Brad Bird makes his play for the Best Animated Film Oscar with Ratatouille. See you then.