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Well, folks, I held off on posting the column this week not just out of laziness (although surely my hangover yesterday was reason enough to postpone) but also because, with New Years falling when it did, this was basically a long weekend and I wanted to look at the five-day numbers for the box office.
And they proved to be generally lucrative, with some box office juggernauts proving the importance of a good release date, and some Oscar hopefuls picking up steam heading into 2008. Let’s start with the box office juggernauts. National Treasure: Book of Secrets had a very good second weekend (percentages are pretty moot with the five day numbers, since figures are so much higher), bringing in $55 million and raising its impressive total to $143 million. This should get past the first Treasure‘s $173 million domestic to become Nicholas Cage’s highest grossing film. As previously mentioned, here’s hoping the success leads Cage to some better roles, now that his box office star has rebounded from the likes of Next and The Wicker Man (the latter being, truly, one of the worst films I’ve ever seen from a big studio and made all the more painful by the talent they had on hand).
Now I don’t wish to alarm anyone, but Alvin and the Chipmunks leapt over I Am Legend to take the number two spot with $42 million over the five days and $154 million domestically. More than even National Treasure, this number goes to show you how important a good release date really is. I remain pleased for star Jason Lee, but that is quickly getting dwarfed by my fear of studio executives, dollar signs flashing across their eyes, greenlighting more big-budget films based on Saturday morning cartoons. I can only hope that one of them will hit on my own idea, a feature film of Saved by the Bell with a CGI Screech. Most of the rest of the cast, I assume, should be available.
Even with the Chipmunks surge, I Am Legend held its own against stiff competition, adding $38 million to its coffers and raising it’s domestic total to $205 million. That puts it third on Will Smith’s list of domestic blockbusters, behind only Independence Day and the first Men in Black. There’s a trailer up for Hancock, Smith’s next event film, that feels like they threw it together to get something out in the wake of Legend‘s success. I’m a fan of director Peter Berg, and I like the concept (hard-luck super hero who inadvertently messes things up when trying to save people hires a PR rep to improve his image… kind of a live action Incredibles), but the look of the trailer is dishearteningly reminiscent of My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Fortunately, after that, Smith is set to re-team with Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino for a drama called Seven Pounds that sounds little more promising.
Charlie Wilson’s War is hanging on about as well as I expected it to, adding $20 million and brining it’s total to $43 million. War should finish up with about $80 million, which isn’t too bad, even with the $75 million budget, but it makes one think about how far we’ve come from the heyday of Tom Hanks and Julie Roberts, whose pairing even five years ago would have assured $200 million. Of course, those two have nothing to prove to anybody at the box office or at the Oscars, but it does feel a bit like the passing of an era.
You know, every year, journalists and analysts are always trying to figure out, ‘what’s going to be this year’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding?’ ‘What’s going to be this year’s Napoleon Dynamite?’ It seems like there’s always that one little indie comedy that comes out of festival season with good buzz and connects with audiences as much as their big studio counterparts. Well, this year, the question was, ‘what’s this year’s Little Miss Sunshine?’ And the answer, of course, is Juno, which climbed all the way to the fifth spot with $15.7 million from just 998 theatres for a $15k average, highest in the top ten. And while I’ve heard nothing but good things about this film, I have one small bone to pick. Lots of very talented screenwriters put out lots of very good work every year, and I have no doubt that Diablo Cody’s script for Juno is one of the best. But if she weren’t a modestly attractive ex-stripper, would anyone be talking about her as much as they are? I notice there were no Maxim articles about, say, Christopher McQuarrie after The Usual Suspects came out. And it’s not that she doesn’t deserve the attention, it’s that a lot of other writers deserve just as much (my vote for screenwriter of the year is James Vanderbilt, who demonstrated uncanny ability with labyrinthine plots and epic scale in Zodiac and the as-yet unproduced Against All Enemies. He’s attached to write Spiderman 4; let’s hope he can get that franchise back on track).
Aliens vs. Predator- Requiem had a decent sixth place opening (for being the tail end of two dying franchises), grabbing $13.8 million from 2,611 theatres for a $5k average and a $30 million total since it’s Tuesday debut. I still insist the only way to make an AVP movie right is to do it without any humans, but that’s a little too far out of the box for studio consumption. Hilary Swank’s first romantic comedy, P.S. I Love You, was right behind with $13 million and a $27 million total, demonstrating once again that if you make a romantic comedy, any romantic comedy, and cut a good trailer, you’ll pull in at least $35 million.
Sweeney Todd continues to hang in there, taking in $11.7 million and raising its total to $30 million. In a way, I’ve gained some respect for Tim Burton here. After blatantly pandering to the Academy with the unusually sunny Big Fish, I’m sure somebody, at some point, told him that if he just toned down the blood, a Best Picture nomination would be a lock, and Burton plainly said ‘no’. He’s clearly a dark, brooding, weird guy who does his best work (Beetlejuice, Ed Wood) when he’s allowed to be dark, brooding, and weird. In stark contrast to virtually everything Tim Burton has ever done is Enchanted, another surprise hit this season. It added $9 million over the weekend and brought it’s total to $113 million.
In tenth place was the first of a number of Oscar hopefuls, Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters, a film that’s gotten some good notices in spite of what seems to be an incredibly predictable story. I’m glad that Denzel has found some success as a director, and the $9 million take from 1,171 theatres for an $8k average is a good start for this film. Total stands at $16 million since the Tuesday opening. Also in limited release was The Bucket List, the Rob Reiner comedy staring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman that has been savaged by critics. It opened in 16 theatres and brought in $589k for a $36k average. It’s not often you’ll hear me say this, but with those stars and those reviews, Warner Bros. should have gone wide with this one off the bat to capitalize on star power before word got around. That per screen average looks impressive, but I’m betting this one will fall off the map before it gets to a thousand theatres.
Faring better with critics were three other indie’s in limited release. First up is the Spanish horror film The Orphanage, which had great buzz out of Cannes and earned $315k from 19 theatres for a $16.5k average. Spain has submitted this one for the Foreign Language Oscar, with the hope that the presence of producer Guillermo Del Torro will make it this year’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Paul Thomas Anderson seems to have a taken a left turn from his more whimsical outings like Punch Drunk Love with the decidedly downbeat There Will Be Blood (Manolha Dargis’s review is one of the best-written I’ve read this year). It brought in $298k from just two theatres for a remarkable $149k average. It’s hard to imagine Blood being a breakout hit, but those numbers indicate some intense interest in this film. Finally, the animated French film Persepolis, another favorite in the Foreign Film race, opened in seven theatres and earned $142k for a $20k average. A movie like this is a hit if it crosses $5 million in the states, and I think it’s poised to do at least that and maybe more.
And that about wraps it up for this week. Check back next week as the Oscar race heats up and Warner Bros. jumps on the Asian horror remake boat two years too late. Hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday. See you next week.