The Theory of Chaos

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

May 19-21: Making museums cool again

Full top 10 examination behind the jump

The summer movie season is finally upon us, and it only would have been an enormous surprise if The Da Vinci Code hadn’t provided that decisive mass burst through the turnstiles. Sony can be particularly proud that, in the face of blistering reviews, with a movie that was neither animated nor spawned by a comic book, they still rang up a monster of an opening weekend. Of course, it’s not like they spared the ammo, considering Ron Howard behind the camera, Tom Hanks in front of it, and the most popular/controversial novel of the last bajillion years on the marquee.

The corollary to the story is the wrecking ball effect the two big openers of the week had on the rest of the field. Box office holdovers suffered vertiginous plunges from their numbers of the previous week, some as much as 60-70%, which is the multiplex equivalent of terminal velocity. The results were not pretty, as Ice Age: The Meltdown, Stick It, Goal! The Dream Begins, Scary Movie 4, Silent Hill and Hoot (with a particularly terrifying 81.5% drop) all got fitted for cement shoes by the kingpin Da Vinci.

1. The Da Vinci Code

Weekend Take: $77.1M
Current Domestic Total: $77.1M

An opening like this is essentially critic-proof. On Da Vinci’s budget, Sony is all but guaranteed to hit the sort of numbers that would normally spell profitability. I stress “normally”. What remains to be seen is what effect the poisonous word-of-mouth and critical response has on audience degradation in the next two weeks. Normally the demographic appeal of this movie would promise a longer life, but the summer season is not forgiving, and the rush of enthusiasm that created this weekend’s victory may prove to represent more of this movie’s total audience than the bean counters would hope. Between Howard, Hanks, producer Brian Grazer and writer Akiva Goldsman, you’ve got a whole cage full of 800-pound gorillas who will get their gross profit participation. This sets the comfort level for domestic gross much higher than normal.

Today the bosses are happy. They couldn’t have asked for much better. Tomorrow they’ll start to sweat all over again.

2. Over the Hedge
Weekend Take: $38.5M
Current Domestic Total: $38.5M

Dreamworks Animation has grown itself with speed and ambition and can now effectively release two major movies to theatres each year. Although they might now be comparing these numbers to the opening numbers of last year’s Madagascar ($47.2M, for those who don’t want to chase it down), and wondering if it wasn’t too much talent dilution too soon. It’s devilishly hard to keep introducing new franchises and make each one’s characters and premise distinct and appealing enough. Witness the creative and financial flameout Disney Animation suffered when it graduated to annual releases of more careless product; and by contrast, the far more measured growth of Pixar as an animation franchise, and how memorable each new arrival from their factory is. Dreamworks may be leaning too far the Disney way.

It’s harder still when you continue banking on the ephemeral drawing power of celebrity voices. This is still a solid number, and with the usual trajectory of a family movie of this size they should have a respectable hit on their hands when the last chips are counted. Plus, they had heavy competition this week, so I’m anticipating soft drops in the next couple of weekends. But the trends are certainly moving in the wrong direction for the company. That next Shrek movie will come along at just the right time.

3. Mission: Impossible III

Weekend Take: $11.3M
Current Domestic Total: $103.5M

Although the money’s still good enough for third place, what you’re seeing now is a franchise bleeding out. M:I-III couldn’t hold its ground in the wake of Da Vinci’s arrival, and was flung aside like Tom Cruise was by that missile in all those expensive but fruitless trailers. It’s about time to place your “under” bets for my over/under prediction of $122M domestic from last week.

4. Poseidon

Weekend Take: $9.2M
Current Domestic Total: $36.8M

Just like there’s no nice way to spin a sucking chest wound, there’s no way to put a smile on a 58.4% second weekend drop. It’s worse when your first weekend was such a dog. Poseidon is a big enough disaster that it might even distract people from writing about the financial failure of Mission: Impossible III. But do you think this will stop the re-make chuck wagon from continuing to roll through town? It won’t even slow down.

5. RV

Weekend Take: $5.0M
Current Domestic Total: $50.3M

R.V. brought in enough money in its first month that this shedding of business comes too late to cause real alarm. It should come in for a soft landing out of the top 10 in a couple more weeks, its quiet and sane path to box office success a lesson studio heads are sure to ignore completely.

6. See No Evil

Weekend Take: $4.6M
Current Domestic Total: $4.6M

Vince McMahon’s new WWE Films label stuck with a safe bet for their first time flying solo, putting one of their glowering man-mountains into a horror movie with a bunch of teens. Opening that’s as close to a no-brainer as this town offers. It didn’t break out of the genre box a la Saw but it will turn a profit and build brand awareness for their next effort to groom a steady supply of movie stars in the ring. When your budget is only $8M this is what success looks like.

7. Just My Luck

Weekend Take: $3.4M
Current Domestic Total: $10.5M

Without a similar movie opening this weekend, Lindsay Lohan’s comedy suffered far less of the audience erosion that punished her companions on the top 10. That’s paltry consolation considering how much the studio unwisely spent on providing a grown-up vehicle for her. Some movies just don’t make sense past a certain price point. The $45M budget listed on IMDB, if even close to accurate, is far, far beyond that point.

8. An American Haunting

Weekend Take: $1.5M
Current Domestic Total: $13.4M

Freestyle Releasing now knows what it’s like to bring in wide distribution dollars, and it also knows the speed at which those numbers dissipate. Their risk to open this movie big (perhaps sneaking it to the audience before reviews could hamper them) has paid off; not handsomely necessarily, but they didn’t get stripped and left for dead in the exhibitor’s desert, which was all too possible.

9. United 93

Weekend Take: $1.4M
Current Domestic Total: $28.3M

United 93 should break $30M domestically, which is more than a comfortable number at their budget level, and enough to bear out the wisdom of containing the investment on a project this daring. They suited creative intent to format to business needs in a way that you wished filmmakers and studio heads could emulate more often.

10. Akeelah and the Bee

Weekend Take: $1.0M
Current Domestic Total: $15.7M

The end of this movie’s major presence in theatres was not quite graceful, but it made enough noise along the way to make its producers happy. Anytime a movie with this combination of elements – tricky title, complex emotions within the story, sub-marquee cast names – sees success off the appeal of the final product, it’s a victory for people who still believe that moviegoers will come to a good product if it’s provided them, all Da Vinci-related evidence notwithstanding.


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