There is really only one absolute in the movie business, and that is that studios and their accountants will do just about anything to cut as many people out of the profits as possible. A great example of this is called ‘net points’, which means that a person will get a percentage of the film only after the studio is completely profitable on the film (not just after they’ve recouped the budget, for instance). Nobody ever gets net points. The guys who made The Blair Witch Project had net points, and they never saw a dime of it. Budgeted at $60k but with worldwide returns at $248 million, BWP is, in terms of cost/gross ratio, the most profitable film in history. And yet Artisan had the gall to send those guys cost breakdowns showing that they lost money on the film. And you can’t really sue because a) it costs more money to pay for the audit than you’re likely to get out of it, and b) the studio will never work with you again.
‘Stingy’ doesn’t really begin to cover it.
Which is why it is really saying something that Universal gave Judd Apatow a $1 million bonus for bringing in his latest comedy, Knocked Up, on time and under budget, while garnering some of the best reviews for any movie this year (92% rating on rottentomatoes.com), and- oh yeah- a stellar opening weekend against three of Hollywood’s most powerful franchises.For the record, Knocked Up opened in second place with $29 million from 2,871 theatres for a $10k average, all off of a $30 million budget. What makes this even more impressive is that the movie has vitually no stars. Just as he did with Steve Carell two summers ago, Apatow has made an overnight superstar out of a virtual unknown in Seth Rogan, best known as a supporting player in The 40 Year Old Virgin (although, oddly enough, he was apparently in Donnie Darko, but hell if I can remember him in it…). Anyways, kudos all around if you ask me. A studio makes a good comedy while keeping the budget in check and audiences actually turn out for it. Sounds like a recipe for success.
In keeping with my theme of not talking about the #1 movie for four paragraphs, I suppose I should now address the fact that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End actually won the weekend with $43 million and a $216 million total. And sure enough, just like the previous poorly-reviewed three-quels, it crashed 62% from the previous week and will struggle past $300 million, surely a disappointment for Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer after the $423 million domestic haul of Dead Man’s Chest. Still, like Spiderman 3, foreign cumes are huge, nobody’s losing their jobs and there won’t be any major fallout. But I completely understand and agree with Keira Knightley’s immediate announcement that she wouldn’t make any more Pirates sequels, and I hope director Gore Verbinski won’t, either. Much as I hated The Mexican, I really enjoyed what he did with The Ring, and I’ll be curious to see what he does with his newfound box office clout.
Speaking of sinking three-quels, Shrek the Third fell another 50% to third with $26 million for the weekend and $254 million total. Dreamworks is still in better shape with this one than Sony and Disney thanks to a comparatively trim $160 million budget. Mr. Brooks opened in fourth place with $10 million from 2,453 theatres for a $4k average, which is, frankly, much better than I expected. I’m a staunch Kevin Costner defender (the good outweighs the bad, I swear), but this movie looks like a bad idea from top to bottom. I mean, Dane Cook? Really? Ryan Reynolds wasn’t available? Or Larry the Cable Guy?
Spiderman 3 was fifth with $10 million and a $318 million domestic total, $525 million overseas, and $844 million overall. I don’t go into foreign cumes too much, but numbers that big are just fun to type. Waitress, the little movie that could, slipped one spot to sixth with just over $2 million, down 34%, for a $3.3k average a $9.5 million total. Gracie, the sports movie that no one even heard about, opened (predictably) poorly with just $1.3 million from 1,164 theatres for a $1.1k average. In the one trailer I saw for this movie, I’m pretty sure I caught a shot of Elizabeth Shue… what happened to her? She was so good in Leaving Las Vegas (not to mention Adventures in Babysitting; I’m sure many guys my age have fond memories of that one). Maybe it was The Saint. Or Hollow Man. Whatever it was, she should fire her agent, because it’s really difficult to be that beautiful and talented in this town and find yourself a supporting player in a movie like Gracie.
Bug also collapsed in its sophomore frame, falling 62% to $1.2 million for a $6 million total. Will somebody please take away Billy Friedkin’s DGA card now? Or do we have to wait for Blue Chips 2 and Shaquille O’Neal’s triumphant return to the big screen? I hold Friedkin personally responsible for Kazaam. 28 Weeks Later was ninth with $1.2 million and a $26 million total, followed by Disturbia with $1.1 million and a $76 million total.
So that’s it for this week, friends, Romans, and countrymen. Tune in next week when we finally get some interesting competition going down between Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 13, Eli Roth’s Hostel II, and Sony’s animated comedy Surf’s Up. See you then.