I know what you’re thinking. ‘It’s Christmas Eve, Sutter Cane. What are you doing writing a box office analysis instead of spending time with friends and family?’ Or maybe you’re not thinking that, because maybe you’re checking out moviegasm in an attempt to get a little peace and quiet, which, believe me, I would completely understand.
And, as it happens, I did take last Christmas off. But it occurs to me that I’ve been a little lazy getting my columns up lately, and even lazier in proofreading them, so in an attempt to make up for this, I wanted to get a little something up in case anyone else was looking to get away from their familial obligations for a bit.
Also, by sheer luck, there were some pretty interesting happenings happening in the weekend’s numbers, so there is a little bit to talk about.
First of all, there was the impressive opening of National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which certainly felt to me like one of those unnecessary sequels (i.e., Miss Congeniality 2, Big Momma’s House 2) that struggling stars tend to put out just because they can. And make no mistake, coming off colossal bombs like Next and The Wicker Man, Nicolas Cage is struggling. I realize that Ghost Rider opened big, but I really think it was one of the films like Hulk or Norbit that makes all it’s money in the first weekend, and word of mouth is so bad that they quickly collapse and wind up hurting their star’s image in spite of what appears to be an impressive box office total.
So I was a little surprised that Book of Secrets pulled in $45.5 million from 3,832 theatres for a sturdy $11.8k average. A little disappointed, also, since the first one was such an underwhelming movie trying to capitalize on the whole Da Vinci Code-puzzle thing. I was also ready to blast Cage, who hasn’t done anything really impressive since Adaptation. But then I find out that his next project is a crime thriller called Bankok Dangerous for the Pang brothers, who demonstrated impressive visual panache with The Eye and The Messengers, even if they were working with less than impressive scripts. I’ve got big hopes for those two, and I’m impressed that Cage sees that potential as well. And after that, he’s attached to a very good script called Knowing that’s being directed by Alex Proyas, another favorite of mine (more for The Crow and Dark City than I, Robot). So if Cage needs a paycheck and a hit to get some attention for these projects, especially Knowing, which has been kicking around almost as long as I Am Legend, well, that’s the business we’re in.
By the way, Bangkok Dangerous is a remake of an earlier Hong Kong Pang brothers movie that I’ve never seen. If anyone’s seen it, I’d love to know if it’s worth checking out.
And speaking of I Am Legend, it took a modest hit in it’s second week, falling 55% to $34 million for a $137 million total. My guess is that the third act is hurting word of mouth, but a week later I find that I’m still thinking about the movie, and even though I’m not over-the-moon excited about it, I’ve been telling people that it’s worth a look. I still can’t say enough about how good Will Smith is; he’s at least the equal of Tom Hanks in Castaway, and probably a little better. In a weaker year or a better movie, he’d be in the running for an Oscar nomination, but it’s hard for Academy members to look past the sci-fi trappings. And that’s too bad; a lot of award-worthy work goes on in genre films that critics and awards shows just ignore because the knee jerk reaction is that horror and sci-fi are just popcorn flicks.
A film not deserving of any awards recognition is Alvin and the Chipmunks, which, naturally, held up much better than Legend, dropping just 35% to $29 million and an $84 million total. But the holidays are always big for family films, unless it’s The Golden Compass. Charlie Wilson’s War opened to decent, but not spectacular business, finding itself in fourth place with $9.6 million from 2,575 theatres for a $3.7k average. The Mike Nichols flick is aimed almost squarely at adult audiences, who generally wait to hear if it’s any good before turning out. Thanks to the generally warm reception, I expect it to have good legs through the coming weeks, especially if it nabs a few Oscar nominations (Philip Seymour Hoffman is almost a sure thing, as is Aaron Sorkin’s script).
Far more problematic is Tim Burton’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd, which opened to $9.3 million from 1,249 theatres for a $7.4k average, but suffered a steep Friday to Saturday drop. Sweeney has gotten terrific reviews but apparently confounded audiences, who either didn’t realize it was a musical, or knew it was musical but didn’t realize it would be so bloody. I’m pretty excited to see this one, even though musicals don’t tend to be my thing. Some awards recognition might help, but I don’t expect it to shatter any records.
Poor Hilary Swank finally got a crack at a romantic lead in P.S. I Love You, but still couldn’t pull in an audience. It opened in sixth with just $6.5 million from 2,454 theatres for a $2.6k average. It’s a crowded marketplace, and she is a terrifically talented actress, but no matter how hard she tries, she’ll never draw the Julie Roberts-type crowds. Apparently, they all went to see Enchanted again, which earned another $4 million and raised its total to $98 million.
Judd Apatow’s golden streak finally ended (financially, at least) with the opening of Walk Hard, which managed just $4 million from 2,650 screens for a $1.5k average. I have to confess, I’m not the biggest Apatow fan. Freaks and Geeks and The 40 Year Old Virgin just didn’t do it for me, and while I liked Superbad, I didn’t even want to see Knocked Up. But Walk Hard looked really funny to me, though I guess it didn’t to anyone else. It certainly won’t hurt Apatow, who was bound to put out a bomb at some point (he only produced and co-wrote this one, after all), but it does hurt John C. Reilly’s chances at some more leading roles, which is too bad.
The Golden Compass continues to fall fast, dropping another 54% to $3.9 million and a $48 million total. Even overseas money is starting to fall off, so there isn’t much good news for New Line on this one. Juno, by contrast, is nothing but good news. Awards recognition is piling up for star Ellen Page and screenwriter Diablo Cody, and the box office receipts are starting to follow suit. It cracked the top ten after adding 264 theatres and bringing in $3.4 million for a $6.3 million total. I was a little iffy on this teen pregnancy comedy, but I’ve heard nothing but good things, so I’m apt to check it out sometime soon.
And that about wraps it up for this week. Next week signals the end of the Oscar openers, and so there’s a glut of fascinating films opening in limited release, including The Bucket List, Persepolis, There Will Be Blood, and The Orphanage (the one I’m most excited to see, although Blood is running a close second). The wide releases are sure to be less interesting, with the opening of Alien vs. Predator- Requiem, The Great Debaters (worst title of the year?), and The Water Horse. See you then, and have a wonderful and safe holiday.