Among a slew of new films crowding the box office this weekend, the new CGI incarnation ofTMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for the uninitiated) took the crown with $25.4 million from 3100 theatres or an $8k average. A tight $34 million budget makes me wonder what those Disney accountants are doing with all the money they spend on their Pixar pics, but that’s about the only thing that springs to mind looking at the numbers for this retread. I didn’t even know anyone was still interested in kung-fu-fighting adolescent tortoises.
Far more interesting is 300‘s continued success, and its parallels with Iran’s steadily more threatening foreign policies.
It’s not often that my little weekly box office report coincides with actual news, and since I’m barely qualified to run a T-shirt stand at a flea market, lets all keep my foray into actual journalism in the proper perspective. But I couldn’t help but notice some strange and, frankly, quite scary developments with Iran this past week, even as 300 continues to make money hand over foot. It fell just 37% this past weekend, much better than it’s sophomore slide of 53%, bringing in $20.5 million, holding an impressive $6k average after three weeks in release, and bringing its total to a staggering $162 million.
So if there’s any truth to that Time piece I linked to last week, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must have taken this as a very bad sign for his politically maligned regime (in one article during the week, Variety referred to him as Iranian prexy Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, which I find wildly inappropriate. I generally hate that elitist trade lingo anyway, and it’s not like they’re talking about Tom Rothman, here). But in news that I at least find to be related, last week Iran detained 15 British military personnel, and President Ahmadinejad canceled a scheduled appearance at the U.N. In his absence, the Security Council unanimously approved sanctions on Iran, and Ahmadinejad retaliated by declaring the sanctions illegal and saying his country would limit their cooperation with weapons inspectors keeping an eye on their nuclear program. You can check out the specifics here .
Hopefully I haven’t bored you into clicking over to that American Idle recap just yet, because here’s where I’m swinging it back to movies and putting a question to you, my intelligent and well-informed readers: if relations with Iran continue on this trajectory, is it possible we will look back one day on the release of 300 the way we do the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand before WWI, or the Gulf of Tonkin incident that provoked the Vietnam War? And how weird would it be if Zach Snyder and Frank Miller found themselves with a place not just in obscure box office lore, but in our children’s children’s history books?
Again, this is wild speculation, but the possibility is fascinating to me. Is there any other instance where the release of a big budget Hollywood movie could have had such a profound effect on an international incident?
The rest of the box office numbers seem insignificant by comparison, but lets run through them anyway. Mark Whalberg’s Shooter opened in third with $14.5 million and a $5k average, proving his Oscar nom didn’t exactly catapult him into the Tom Cruise ranks of box office superstars. Director Antoine Fuqua hasn’t done anything noteworthy since Training Day, yet studios continue handing him $60 million dollar budgets for movies like this. If he continues losing money like this (Shooter should end up with a Four Brothers-ish $45 million), I expect Fuqua and a similarly box office-troubled Ethan Hawke to return with Training Day 2 any day now.
The unfortunately-titled The Last Mimzy following in fourth with $10 million and a $3.3k average. I know almost nothing about this movie, except that kids were apparently more enticed by pizza-eating turtles. Marketing was really poor on this pic. Premonition is turning out to be a decent little success for Sandra Bullock, in spite of withering reviews. It slipped a reasonable 42% to $10 million, bringing its total to $32 million on an equally reasonable $20 million budget. The lesson for studio execs: if you’re going to make a bad movie, at least try and keep your costs down. Premonition is probably going to make more money for Sony than Ghost Rider, which is well out of the top ten but has raked in $113 million so far.
The Hills Have Eyes 2 managed $10 million as well in its opening weekend (there’ll be some jockeying for position between fourth and seventh as final figures for the weekend come in), averaging a decent $4k per screen thanks to a marketing push that was far better than the movie deserved. I guess I’m happy Wes Craven is pulling in decent paychecks for dreck like this (he shares a screenplay credit with his son, Jonathan), but Red Eye was proof-positive that the man still has better movies in him.
Adam Sandler had another stab at serious acting in Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me, which landed in eighth with $8 million dollars, though from only 1,671 theatres so the average was $4.7k. Reviews were mixed but leaned towards the positive, and I have to respect the chances that Sandler’s taken with movies like this, Punch Drunk Love, and even Spanglish, when he could just be collecting $20 million paychecks for his usual comic fare. Still, he’s going to have to bring in some Truman Show-like cash before studios are ready to give him a serious dramatic shot.
Terrence Howard’s Oscar nom a year ago failed to generate much interest in his by-the-books competitive swimming drama Pride, which opened in ninth place with $4 million and a weak $2.6k average. At the very least, I’m sure the guy got a better paycheck for this than for Hustle & Flow, but if he wants another one he’s going to have to make better choices than this. Dead Silence was tenth with $3.4 million, crashing a predictable 55% and bringing its total to $13 million. I know Lionsgate wants to keep their Saw prodigies happy, but $20 million was too much to give them to make this. Remember, Eli Roth brought in Hostel for $6 million; that’s how you stay in the black in this genre.
Outside the top ten, poor Chris Rock is enjoying his best critical success and a crushing box office defeat with I Think I Love My Wife, which fell 51% in its second week to $2.7 million, bringing its total to $10 million. I admire the hell out of the guy for choosing to remake an obscure French film here, and apparently doing a decent job of it, but I think the answer is to stay behind the camera for his next venture into writing and directing. And The Namesake continues to do well in limited release, adding 76 theatres this weekend (making a total release of 117 screens so far) and bringing in $1.3 million (up almost 90% from last weekend) and doubling its total to $2.6 million. I’m endlessly impressed with Fox Searchlights handling of the movie, which must be a marketing nightmare. It’s hard enough to get audiences to take Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey seriously; Kal Penn is best known for Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, and yet if they continue to play their cards right, this is going to wind up a modest success and a breakthrough performance for him. Good for him.
So that’s it for this week. Tune in next week when Disney experiments with 3D in Meet the Robinsons, Will Ferrell and Jon Heder try not to fall down in Blades of Glory, and a little movie called The Lookout opens, staring a kid named Joseph Gordon-Levitt. You can file this under ‘I told you so’ gloating, do you remember a while back, when I recommended a movie called Brick to everyone, and announced that this Gordon-Levitt kid was going to be a big star? Well, the New York Times has finally caught up with the prophetic reporting of moviegasm, ’cause check this out. I told you so.