The Theory of Chaos

Sunday, June 04, 2006

June 2-4: I didn't get the memo. What do we call them: Vinceifer? Jence? Vaughniston?

Full top 10 analysis behind the cut

The movie studio forgets the wide tastes of the audience at its grave peril. So much money and effort is spent courting the same sugar-shocked 14-year-olds with violence and boobs and spandex – all delivered just this side of the PG-13 rating, of course, until the “Unrated” DVD comes out – that it’s easy to overlook the masses out there who
just don’t want to see those movies. That’s why every year a distributor needs to balance out its plate with some cinematic roughage – the family movie, the grown-up “indie” film, the movie the church people will come out for, and the romantic comedy. It’s why, when you’re trying to push multiplex crack on the female demographic, you can almost never go wrong with a movie that has the word “Wedding” in the title; and it’s why if you can clear a space on the calendar to be the only movie out there where a woman has really fabulous hair and makes a cute guy look foolish, you can usually sneak into profitability while those action behemoths are listing under the weight of their own above-the-line costs.

Such was the case this weekend, as clean and simple concept met two stars who’ve logged a lot of miles cultivating their likeability, and knocked those Uncanny
X-Men right off their box office perch.

1. The Break-Up

Weekend Take
: $38.1M
Current Domestic Total
: $38.1M

The advantage of comedy is that, more often than not, it’s cheaper than other typical summer movies. Special effects are limited if they’re there at all, the setting is usually contemporary, and as a genre it doesn’t attract dollar-burning tyrant baby auteurs like you might see in the worlds of action or fantasy/sci-fi. Witness
The Break-Up, whose budget is the tentpole equivalent of Lean Cuisine: pegs it at $52M. This $38.1M first frame all but guarantees the movie will outgross Poseidon at a third of the price. It should have this audience relatively sewn up for the next couple of weeks, as well, so if word-of-mouth is strong it will have a healthy June indeed. Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, and director Peyton Reed should frame this opening number and hang it over their fireplaces – it’s going to mean good things for all of them.

2. X-Men: The Last Stand

Weekend Take
: $34.4M
Current Domestic Total
: $175.7M

What looks, by straight numerical examination, to be one of the more terrifying second weekend drops in recent years is inflated by the holiday weekend stampede that preceded it. X-Men: The Last Stand should level off at least somewhat. But how much? Enough that surpassing the $214.9M gross of X-Men United is a safe bet. Although given the gargantuan budget increase ($210M compared with its predecessor’s $110M), it will barely be profitable. Barely profitable at $220M+ domestic – welcome to modern Hollywood.

3. Over the Hedge
Weekend Take: $20.6M
Current Domestic Total: $112.4M

In its third weekend at the multiplex, Over the Hedge only shed 100 screens from its previous week. That’s an important sign – the standard exhibition deal locks in screens for the first two weekends, with the distributors taking the lion’s share of the revenue. From the third weekend on the theatre chains keep a larger share of the ticket sales, and get to decide whether they want to keep playing the title, or whether they think they can make more money with something else. Clearly they can see like anyone else that this movie is holding on to its audience with surprising ferocity. This is the kind of self-reinforcing success that could end up boosting its final tally, because audiences will not have to look far to find it.

4. The Da Vinci Code
Weekend Take: $19.3M
Current Domestic Total: $172.7M

It’s easy to say now that this picture has performed below expectations, so the studio bosses will retreat from ego to the more fundamental question – is it below profitability? On those terms, Da Vinci is going to slurp in enough dollars. It should even clear the $200M barrier that generates all those nice self-congratulatory ads in Variety. Ron Howard and Tom Hanks have done their bit to keep their studio quote intact. With this hopefully accomplished, I look forward to something better from them next time.

5. Mission: Impossible III
Weekend Take: $4.7M
Current Domestic Total: $122.7M

M:I III has shown a bit of a second life after its lowball opening and dizzying drop. I think news of its quality has penetrated and swayed a few who had considered staying home in order to discourage future weirdness from Mr. Cruise. J.J. Abrams will certainly emerge unscathed and with next projects lined up. The financial performance is disappointing, but, and this is crucial, it will no longer be counted a failure or a flop.

6. Poseidon
Weekend Take: 3.4M
Current Domestic Total: 51.7M

When you spend $160M on a movie and find yourself praying it breaches $60M domestic, somebody should get fired. Ideally a lot of people. The amazing thing is that producers – since very few people know what they actually do – manage to have so many flops and are still trusted to steer ill-conceived projects into the iceberg-filled box-office waters.

7. RV
Weekend Take: $3.3M
Current Domestic Total: $61.8M

The above talk about comedy being cheaper is also the secret to RV’s achievement. It may have pushed the upper limits of what you spend on a story like this – IMDB has it at $65M, unless there’s content in it I’m not aware of I don’t see why you couldn’t bring it in for $40M. But by playing to their strengths and sticking to their guns the filmmakers have got a quality investment on their hands.

8. See No Evil
Weekend Take: $2.0M
Current Domestic Total: $12.4M

Set this one on auto-pilot – with its budget already made up and the slasher crowd to itself for the time being, See No Evil doesn’t need to sell one more ticket to have succeeded on its own terms. But here in its third weekend the exhibitors didn’t kick it off one single screen. It rolls on to collect more – you won’t hear it talked about on the list of blockbusters performers this year, but in its own way it’s a hit.

9. An Inconvenient Truth
Weekend Take: $1.3M
Current Domestic Total: $1.9M

Talk about your outliers – there was just no predicting how America was going to respond to what’s basically a 100-minute egghead PowerPoint presentation, albeit one that, according to reviews, is at once alarming and strangely exhilarating. It went over gangbusters in its initial four screen release last weekend and now, on only 77 screens, it’s breached the top 10. X-Men: The Last Stand, by comparison, is on 3,714 screens. It was a cagey move to platform release this movie, allowing word-of-mouth to spread and create the kind of want-to-see-it-so-I’m-not-the-one-who-hasn’t atmosphere that multi-million dollar ad campaigns often try to foist artificially on us. If the houses stay packed as it expands further, it should achieve exactly what Al Gore hoped – the generation of a dialogue on a scale his three decades speaking on this issue never could have achieved before.

10. Just My Luck
Weekend Take: $.8M
Current Domestic Total: $15.6M

It’s a fond farewell to the top 10 for Just My Luck, and the slow road to the DVD bargain bin begins. I wonder whether Lindsay Lohan was too successful by half – she’s now perceived of as more of a celebrity than she is an actress, and so her fans don’t particularly care if she’s acting or not. They can sit at home with their CD’s and their copies of Teen People and they’ve got all they want from her. Rehabilitation of her acting image begins with Prairie Home Companion.


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