What a relatively lackluster weekend at the box office. Neil Jordan’s Jodie Foster vehicle The Brave One took the top spot with an unimpressive $14 million from 2,755 theatres for a $5k average. Those numbers are virtually identical to 3:10 to Yuma‘s from last week, signaling that we have unquestionably moved into that dull grey period between summer blockbusters and awards season.
We’ll get to the couple of contenders that opened in limited bows this weekend, but I guess we should talk about Ms. Foster a bit first.Frankly, I’m a little surprised by The Brave One‘s tepid opening. In recent years, she’s seemed like a female counterpart to Denzel Washington in terms of box office consistency (a feeling underscored by their appearing together in Inside Man). Man, Flightplan, and Panic Room all opened between $25 and $30 million en route to cumes between $85 and $95 million. In fact, with the terrible recent histories for actresses like Nicole Kidman, Cameron Diaz, and Angelina Jolie, Foster and the rarely-seen Julia Roberts seemed like the only women you could count on to open a movie.
Add to that track record the indie following for director Jordan, what the studio suits call ‘urban appeal’ from co-star Terrence Howard, and a plot that pitches as easily as ‘Death Wish with a woman’, and it sure sounds like another modest hit for Foster, regular as clockwork.
And yet, that isn’t exactly what happened. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that, culturally, we’ve lost a lot of our bloodlust. With the war in Iraq still raging, the VA Tech shootings, even Michael Vick killing dogs, I think we’ve just lost the stomach for it. You saw in foremost in the collapse of the ‘torture porn’ genre this summer, but it might also have had something to do with Yuma‘s underperformance as well (supposed to be a lot more shooting and killing in that one compared to the original).
If that’s the case, studio execs have got to be freaked. I know Halloween opened well, but that was targeted at a niche market with a lot of name recognition, and it has fallen hard and fast from those impressive opening numbers (off 47% this week to $5 million and a $51 million total). After Death Sentence tanked, Lionsgate has a lot riding on Saw IV, and at this point I’m betting it’s gonna do significantly less than III‘s $80 million (fortunately for them, the budgets are so low on the Saw flicks that they’re almost sure to turn a profit, but I still see a big disappointment coming). On top of which, it will be very interesting to see how a whole slate of Oscar hopefuls having to do with the Iraq war perform in the coming months. There’s major talent and good buzz behind many of them (Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs, Brian de Palma’s Redacted, Kimberly Pierce’s Stop Loss), but I’m taking Brave One‘s opening as a bad sign.
But on another, more positive, note, 3:10 to Yuma held up pretty well in its second week, dropping 35% to $9 million and a $28.5 million cume. I’ve heard speculation the Russell Crowe’s off-screen antics have really hurt his box office appeal, and I’m inclined to agree, but I’d like to hear any other opinions on the subject. Even with good legs, my guess is that, after prints and advertising, the embattled Lionsgate is still going to lose money on this.
Billy Bob Thorton tried to pull another trick out of his Bad Santa bag in Mr. Woodcock this weekend, but didn’t come up with much. It opened in third place with $9 million from 2,231 screens and a $4k average. Thorton’s collected enough paychecks to hopefully go back to acting for awhile (next up for him is The Informers, based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel, which always seems to net interesting performances), but I for one can’t believe that Seann William Scott is still making movies. Shouldn’t his second CBS sitcom be getting canceled right now? Interestingly, though, Woodcock director Craig Gillespie is getting good buzz out of the Toronto Film Fest for the Ryan Gosling-starer Lars and the Real Girl.
Opening in a distant fourth was the English-language, Korean-funded Dragon Wars, an interesting but clearly failed experiment that brought in just $5.3 million from 2,275 screens for a $2k average. All the word of mouth on this flick is bad, as far as I can tell, but I do think they cut a hell of a trailer for it. Had they put a little more marketing muscle into it… who knows? We might have had Korean producers backing summer blockbusters out of Disney.
Superbad continues its great post-summer run, dropping just 31% to $5.2 million and a $111 million total. Halloween was sixth, followed by The Bourne Ultimatum, which was down an equally impressive 26% to $4 million and a $216 million total. Damon insists he’s done with Borne, which makes me wonder if Universal execs won’t try to continue the franchise with someone else. Clive Owen, anyone?
Balls of Fury was eighth with $3.3 million, a 40% drop, and a $28 million total. Rush Hour 3 was ninth with $3 million and a $133 million total, and Mr. Bean’s Holiday wraps up the top ten with $2.6 million and a $28 million total.
In limited release, surrealist Julie (Titus, Frida) Taymor’s critically divisive Beatles extravaganza Across the Universe opened very well with $685k from 23 theatres for a $29k average. It’s not really being considered an awards contender at this point, but if it can generate some box office, look for some technical nods like production design down the road. Opening equally well was David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises with $553k from 15 theatres for a $36k average. Cronenberg and star Viggo Mortensen seem to have developed a good rapport following the critical and commercial success of A History of Violence. It’s riding and 85% positive rating on Rottentomatoes.com, and, if it manages some decent box office, could net Mortensen an acting nod, although Cronenberg’s cold, distant style generally precludes much else. And finally, Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah brought in $150k from 9 theatres for a decent $16.6k average. Critical support is generally positive but not over the moon, though this one feels like more of an Academy pic. Tommy Lee Jones looks to be having the best year of his career with this and No Country for Old Men.
So that about wraps it up for this week, folks. Tune in next week when I try to make sense of Dane Cook’s appeal in Good Luck Chuck, any appeal in Resident Evil: Extinction, plus we get some more interesting limited releases in the much-anticipated (by me, at least) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. See you then.