The Theory of Chaos

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend - I guess those silly billboards that looked like jeans ads worked

Full top 10 behind the jump

This is the big one, folks. And I’m not just talking about the banner weekend for X-Men: The Last Stand, I’m talking about the weekend as a whole. Memorial Day Weekend is an essential part of the movie industry’s diet, what elevates them from an ordinary bloated heathen to the gargantuan tub of sloth and vice we all so aspire to emulate.

With that extra day of no work and no school, with those college kids starting to trickle home with smelly laundry and nothing to do for three months, this is the weekend, along with the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and the last week of the year, that we as Americans have a sacred duty to plow through the turnstiles and keep these hard-working multinational execs in blow for another few months.

In that combination of Indian poker and drunken jig known as movie scheduling, this is a weekend where you have to stake out your territory in advance. It is such a monumental accumulation of fear that it passes a kind of anxiety event horizon and transforms into a kind of gentleman’s etiquette – once one movie is firmly established as the wide opener for Memorial Day, the other studios stay back and allow it to do its magic. And the X-Men delivered.

1. X-Men: The Last Stand

Weekend Take: $120.1M
Current Domestic Total: $120.1M

First, as a personal rant – after keeping the budget thumbscrews so tight on Bryan Singer (one of those “talented filmmakers” you hear about sometimes) for the first two editions in this franchise (the first was delivered for a downright flinty $75M or so), why in God’s name does 20th Century Fox give over $200M to Brett Ratner, filmmaking’s equivalent of a birthday party magician?

Realize – the $45.5M penciled in as an estimate for Friday’s gross is the third biggest day for any movie at the domestic box office. Ever. Sure, that doesn’t take inflation into account, but it’s an impressive number no matter how you filter it. But on a budget of over $200M, this extraordinary weekend still might not be enough to provide a comfortable profit margin. Doesn’t that sound…what’s that word…stupid?

I’m not trying to deny reality – the third X-Men movie busted the box office wide open, absolutely punking The Da Vinci Code in the process. And with the mixed-to-positive reviews and the added incentive of a decisive trilogy ending preceding the launch of individual character spin-offs, they’re likely to have enough momentum to get into some acceptably rarefied air. But every year the math is plain but somehow unavoiadble – the most expensive movies have climbed to such dizzying cost, and continue to climb further, that they literally must become one of the biggest hits in the history of the business just to avoid failure. If you had withheld $30M from X-Men: The Last Stane, not only would it still have had a higher budget available than the Poseidon re-make, you could have also afforded to produce a Brokeback Mountain, two Lost in Translation-s, a Fargo and still had enough left over to make a Saw for the kids. And doesn’t that sound, from an investment standpoint, hell, a taste standpoint, like a smarter, more diversified way of spending your money?

2. The Da Vinci Code
Weekend Take: $43M
Current Domestic Total: $145.5M

One of the side effects of the Memorial Day Weekend – with its inclusion of Monday’s tally plus the general rising-tide-lifts-all-boats phenomenon – is that the usual rules for drop-offs don’t apply. Which is a sigh of relief for the makers of The Da Vinci Code, because those artificial boosts, and the attention paid to X-Men’s gargantuan numbers, help to obscure its unsettling downward momentum.

What these numbers say is that the audience is less reliable than they were hoping, more affected by the negative critical response and bring-on-the-next-bauble mentality of the summer movie season. These will not be the faithful, discriminating viewers that sustain it at the multiplexes through those hot and heavily-contested months. This movie’s being chucked down the well. Thankfully, they grabbed enough cash up front to cushion the fall. Breaking $200M domestic is a long shot but not inconceivable, and there’s a particularly robust contribution from our friends overseas for this one.

3. Over the Hedge

Weekend Take: $35.3M
Current Domestic Total: $84.4M

What last week was a worrisome soft open turns, this week, into an ingenious stroke of counter-programming. Anyone who didn’t feel like squeezing in for the mutant smackdown had a gentle and appealing family product to turn to. Even just looking at the 3-Day numbers, this critter’s demonstrating legs, enough to allay the fears I mentioned last week of audiences losing faith with the Dreamworks Animation shop.

4. Mission: Impossible III

Weekend Take: $8.6M
Current Domestic Total: $115.8M

Against my expectations, MI: III is clinging to enough of an audience that it might yet heave itself, gasping, through the $122M over/under barrier I set a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure this is a tremendous relief to Tom Cruise – wait, I forgot, OT-7’s don’t actually worry about anything, since they can manipulate time and space with their will alone. This movie has flopped because he wanted it to. Only he, and L. Ron, can understand the fiendish genius behind this.

5. Poseidon

Weekend Take: $7.0M
Current Domestic Total: $46.6M

Poseidon shared MI: III’s softer descent this weekend, which still fails to be good news. But with a disaster like this, you take all the not-quite-as-cataclysmic-as-it-could-have-been news that you can get. Not to mention, all the people responsible for making this lousy movie will work again and be very well paid for it, and how often in corporate America can you spend $160 Million on a failed initiative and enjoy that result? Actually, don’t answer that, I’m likely to be disappointed, aren’t I?

6. RV

Weekend Take: $5.3M
Current Domestic Total: $57.2M

Our lesson for the week – audiences clearly see Robin Williams with a family as being a more compelling disaster than whole heaps of movie stars on a sinking ship.

7. See No Evil

Weekend Take: $3.2M
Current Domestic Total: $9.2M

Just like the release window for horror movies has, through sheer ubiquity, become basically immune to season, so has their usual quick-burn box office trajectory. The attention deficit crowd is in the process of moving on, the filmmakers have their money, and everyone’s happy except the actors whose characters didn’t survive for a sequel.

8. Just My Luck

Weekend Take: $2.3M
Current Domestic Total: $13.9M

This movie has performed so badly – if only it had a title that lent itself to jokes about its own disastrous ineptitude. It would make my job as a non-professional rude blogging jerk commentator so much simpler.

9. United 93

Weekend Take: $1.1M
Current Domestic Total: $29.9M

It would have been crass to expect Universal to try and lure audiences into theatres for this project on Memorial Day Weekend. But perhaps more importantly, it would have been a serious misjudgment about how Americans like to spend this holiday – Honoring our Nation’s Saintly Dead by getting ripped to the tits and watching Indy Cars crash into walls.

10. An American Haunting

Weekend Take: $0.9M
Current Domestic Total: $14.9M

It’s a stark sign of how limited the movie-going appetite is on this weekend to see just how few dollars it takes to come in at number 10. You might see a number like this in January, but on a four-day weekend in May? People wanted entertainment, and thus concentrated their money with great intensity on those few titles that would provide.


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