Things are still looking great for the whole Superbad crew, whose names you no doubt know by now. The raunchy teen comedy remained atop the box office for the second week in a row with $18 million, a modest 45% drop, for a $68 million total off just a $20 million budget. Exec producer Judd Apatow is a perfect example of what we here at moviegasm preach: keep your budgets low and attached to decent scripts that have a voice instead of being whitewashed for mass appeal.
But apparently the scales of Hollywood success must remain balanced, and it seems that the higher Apatow climbs in critical and commercial success, the lower the Weinsteins sink, as evidenced by the sixth place opening of The Nanny Diaries.For the record, it brought in $7.8 million from 2,629 theatres for a $2.9k average. No budget reported, but on paper, I’m sure this looked like a sure-fire hit to Bob and Harvey. A best-selling book, cut from the same cultural cloth as the very successful The Devil Wears Prada, a hot young actress in Scarlett Johansson and the very talented Laura Linney as the evil yuppie (not to mention Paul Giamatti and songstress Alicia Keys in supporting roles). And on top of all that, critical darlings Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini- who did a marvelous job adapting Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor comic books, as well as a terrific AMC doc about the industry called Hello, He Lied- on board to write and direct.
On paper, it looks like a sure thing.
The problems, as is often the case, are in the execution. Mostly, I think it reeks of ‘been-there, done-that,’ after Prada, which felt original and was a rare case of good counter-programming last summer. And this is just the latest in a string of critical and commercial failures for the once-mighty brothers, who, maybe ten years ago, were the picture of balancing artistic storytelling (through Harvey’s Miramax) with commercial viability (through Bob’s Dimension Films banner), all of it monitored by some of the shrewdest financial sense the industry has ever seen. Harvey in particular is famous for convincing big name actors to work for scale and winning the loyalty of some fantastically talented filmmakers, among them John Madden, Quentin Tarantino, and Anthony Minghella.
Now there’s a flip side to that, and a number of filmmakers that want nothing to do with the man after their dealings with him (Billy Bob Thorton, for instance, swears that directing All The Pretty Horses for Miramax was such an awful experience that he’ll never direct again, though it didn’t stop him from staring in the newly-formed Weinstein Company’s School for Scoundrels). However, for our purposes here, I’m not going to address side of the story. If you’re interested, however, Peter Biskind wrote a very engaging book called Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film that’s definitely worth a look.
And really, since the Weinsteins and Disney went their separate ways, the numbers speak for themselves (I’m only including domestic totals here, though with the exception of The Brothers Grimm, I assure you the foreign totals aren’t any better): Who’s Your Caddy- $5.5 million; Grindhouse- $25 million; Sicko- $24 million; The Last Legion- $5 million; Factory Girl- $1.6 million; Miss Potter- $2.9 million; School for Scoundrels- $17.8 million; Breaking and Entering- $930 thousand (!); Proof- $7.5 millon; An Unfinished Life- $8 million; The Great Raid- $10 million.
Even the more commercially-reliable genre films that were once Bob’s domain (i.e., the Scream films) have floundered: Pulse- $20 million; Feast (of Project Greenlight fame, and not a bad movie, if unbelievably gross)- $56k; Venom$881k; The Brothers Grimm; $37 million. And that’s just the last two years.
Many, if not most, of these also look good on paper. You’ve got high profile stars and Oscar winners like Thorton, Juliette Binoche, Renee Zellwigger, Anthony Hopkins and Gwenyth Paltrow, Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman. Not to mention Jude Law, Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ewan McGregor. The directors on that list include Tarantino and Rodriguez, Anthony Minghella, Terry Gilliam, Lasse Hallstrom, Michael Moore, John Madden, John Dahl.
And while there’s no single problem you can point to on that list (it would take a week to explain what went wrong with Grindhouse, which I also like quite a bit, by the by), the most common seems to be that the brothers Weinstein- who were, for years, miles ahead of the curve- are now too far behind it. Just like Nanny Diaries feels like a retread of Prada, so too does The Last Legion feel like a wannabe 300, School for Scoundrels a lesser Bad Santa, and Pulse a wildly inferior attempt to capitalize on The Ring. And Who’s Your Caddy?… look, if the list of movies that influenced your script include Dre and Ed Lover’s Who’s The Man?, just stop writing. And definitely don’t make it. Or release it.
The only bright spots for the Weinsteins over this stretch came from franchise flick Scary Movie 4, and two co-productions with Paramount-based Lorenzo di Bonaventura, 1408 and Derailed. And not all those films are held to the same standard. Sicko was certainly profitable at $24 million. Feast‘s $56k came from a token theatre release before a much more profitable DVD release. No one expected Factory Girl to make a huge commercial splash. Still, from the men that defined independent film for more than a decade, who gave us Pulp Fiction and Scream, Best Picture winners The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love, a string of disappointments like this is hard to fathom.
But there’s at least one good thing on the horizon for them: Frank Darabont’s The Mist, which I’ve been talking up quite a bit in this column, and I think will be a surprise hit this winter. And they have Rob Zombie’s Halloween coming out next weekend, which could do some decent business as well.
But enough about the poor, unfortunate Weinsteins. Let’s talk about the rich and prosperous Misters Damon and Greengrass. Not to toot my own horn, but my prediction about Bourne‘s legs taking over in late August have come to pass. It took second place this weekend with a $12 million take, down just 37%, for a $185 million cume. The future looks bright for both those guys. Not so much for Brett Ratner, Chris Tucker, and Jackie Chan, who commanded phenomenal fees for Rush Hour 3, but have brought in only $109 million so far (and only $26 million overseas). It finished the weekend in third after a 42% drop to $12 million. New Line would have a tough time recouping it’s $140 million budget without the ridiculous percentages it agreed to pay the three principals, nevermind with them.
I talked down Mr. Bean’s Holiday in the closing portion of last week’s column, and I’m sorry. True, it only opened to $10 million from 1,714 theatres for a good $5.9k average. But what I failed to notice was that it has already taken in $188 million overseas, making any North American box office the proverbial icing on a tremendously profitable cake. Much less successful was the Jett Li/Jason Statham vehicle War, which opened to just $10 million from 2,277 theatres for a $4.3k average, and casting Statham into doubt as the next big action star, right alongside Vin Diesel. To be fair, I like both actors and would like to see them do better, but it all starts with picking better projects.
As already discussed, The Nanny Diaries opened in sixth, followed by The Simpsons Movie with $4.4 million and a $173 million total. It has also benefited from the lack of competition, dropping just 35% from the previous week. Stardust is also doing very well, slipping 30% to $3.9 million but a poor $26 million total. With these kind of legs, if Paramount had just put a little more marketing behind it, opened in a few more theatres… but it’s too late now. Hopefully it won’t reflect too badly on director Matthew Vaughn, who I think has a lot of promise.
Speaking of legs, Hairspray once again had the best hold in the top ten, falling 23% to $3.4 million for a $107 million total. Travolta’s back, folks. Get used to it. And finally, The Invasion fell 47% in it’s second week to $3 million a total of only $11 million. With at least an $80 million budget, this looks to be one of the summers’ biggest bombs.
And that wraps it up for this week, folks. Check back next week to see how Zombie’s Halloween fares against Saw director James Wan’s latest (and first non-horror entry) Death Sentence and Balls of Fury, which speaks for itself, I think. See you then.