Horror films come and go in cycles more regularly than almost any other genre in. For a while they’re hot, then the returns dwindle as studios beat whatever the current formula is into the ground, then they disappear for five or ten years. You may remember from a digression in an earlier column that horror films in the last five years or so have progressed along two different lines: the Asian-influenced supernatural horror (The Ring), and the 70′s-grindhouse style of horror (Hostel). After Pulse and The Return bombed, the supernatural side seems to have passed (the Pang brother’s The Messengers will most likely confirm this).
But the 70′s-grindhouse style seemed to be holding its own. Saw III did reasonably well, as did TCM: The Beginning. And there is still The Hills Have Eyes 2 (which has a clever, visually inventive teaser) and Hostel 2 coming out in the next few months. But The Hitcher’s opening this weekend provided a unique, San Luis Rey-like litmus test for these films, and I have to tell you, it doesn’t look too promising.
What was unique about this weekend is that The Hitcher opened with almost no competition. It followed a fairly successful formula, remaking a relatively well-known genre film staring an up-and-coming TV hottie (in this case, One Tree Hill’s Sophia Bush) and an aging character actor (the under-appreciated Sean Bean) with a solid marketing push. The film had everything in place to succeed, except for withering reviews that hardly matter to the target audience, and yet it opened in fourth place this weekend, taking in only $8 million dollars from 2,800 theatres, for a $2.9k average.
Of course, this isn’t a dismal, Pluto Nash-like disaster, but these films never show good legs and it probably won’t take in more than $25 million total. Like I said, it’s too early to start ringing the death-knell, but the producers behind planned remakes of The Thing (baaaaaad idea) and Halloween have to be a little nervous now. Rob Zombie has already gone back to work re-writing his script for Halloween, and my sense of things is that horror is on its way back into hibernation. As a culture, we’ve gotten our cathartic fix of movie theatre scares, and the number of horror films getting a theatre release will peter off through ’07, and by ’08 I’m betting even the Saw franchise will be done.
But that’s just my sense of things, if anyone would care to disagree.
All that aside, though, it was a rather ho-hum weekend at the box office. Stomp the Yard stayed on top with $13.3 million (a $41.5 million total on a budget of just $14 million), edging out Night at the Museum, which was close behind with $13 million even. It’s now crossed the $200 million mark, and could end up in the $240 million dollar range. Ben Stiller is definitely hit-or-miss at the box office, but when he hits, he hits big. Dreamgirls continues to add theatres and climbed to the number three spot with $8.7 million from 2,200 theatres, bringing its total to $78 million. The Paramount/Dreamworks release already has three Golden Globes on its belt and looks to be in good position to capitalize on Oscar nods and go well into nine figures.
The Hitcher was fourth, followed by The Pursuit of Happyness, still showing good legs with $6.7 million for the weekend and $146 million in six weeks of release. Freedom Writers is also holding up reasonably well, taking in $5.5 million and bringing its total to $26 million. Pan’s Labyrinth climbed into the top ten (in spite of being shut out at the Globes) by adding 400 theatres to earn $4.7 million, bringing its total to $10 million and counting. PL is also well positioned to capitalize on Oscar fever, with foreign language and cinematography nods almost certainly in the cards, not to mention glowing reviews.
Also taking advantage of awards season was The Queen, which added 1200 theatres even after seventeen weeks in release to add $3.7 million (a 232% jump from last week) to its $35 million total. Helen Mirren’s Oscar is almost a foregone conclusion. The criminally overlooked Children of Men fell to ninth place with $3.7 million as well, bring it to just $27 million total. There’s a lot of buzz about Alfonso Cuaron’s apocalyptic drama, but I don’t see the Academy helping out much. And in tenth place was MGM’s Arthur and the Invisibles with $3 million and a $9 million total.
Alpha Dog fell pretty hard in its second week, falling 54% to number eleven with $2.9 million and just $11 million in the bank. Reviews or not, Justin Timberlake isn’t a star yet. And Babel took advantage of its unexpected Globe win for best drama by adding 716 theatres and bringing in another $2.2 million. Total stands at $23.8, which makes hopes for a best picture Oscar slim but not out of the question.
So that’s it for this week, boys and girls. Tune in next Monday when the dreadfully-titled werewolf flick Blood and Chocolate chokes, Catch and Release tries and fails to save Jennifer Garner’s post-Elektra career, Epic Movie proves that its writers have no idea what actually constitutes an ‘epic’, and Smokin Aces makes Joe Carnahan wish he’d worked it out with Tom Cruise and made M:I 3 instead.