SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM, 4TH UPDATE: It’s clear that too many potential moviegoers were busy watching March Madness basketball these past 3 days. After some pre-weekend uncertainty, the North American office has a clear road warrior: Virgin/Relativity’s Limitless starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. It finished #1 with $6.6 million Friday and $7.4M Saturday and an estimated $5M Sunday for an overperforming $19M after Hollywood expected just a $10M-to-$15M result.

After that, it was a freeway pile-up with holdover Paramount’s Rango coming in 2nd because of a big Saturday matinee kiddie bump, followed by another holdover Sony Pictures’ Battle: Los Angeles coming in 3rd. Working Title/Universal’s Paul fell behind Lionsgate’s The Lincoln Lawyer*. Lionsgate is now saying 190,000 tickets were sold for The Lincoln Lawyer through the 48-hour Groupon/Fandango discount deal, with  about 20,000 actually redeemed at the box office Friday and another 18,000 redemmed Saturday (about a 20% redemption rate). This comes to about 2.5% of the box office but that’s enough Lionsgate-subsidized ticket coin to change the film rankings for this very competitive weekend. “It was always about awareness,” Lionsgate emails. “This was a new marketing promotion that reached 4 million people for not a whole lot of money.” Here is the Top 10.

1. Limitless (Relativity) NEW [2,756 Theaters]
Friday $6M, Saturday $7.6M, Weekend $19M

I have to say it’s nice to see Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media receive a Big Gulp at the box office after a long drought on the movies he distributes. And this wasn’t even a schlocky film. It was also co-produced by Virgin Produced, Sir Richard Branson’s first film from his newly formed production company. Relativity released the upscale Limitless in the U.S. through its own maturing distribution system and in Canada via Alliance Films and now can celebrate this success. So can Bradley Cooper who’s now a bonafide post-Hangover movie star able to open a film on his name and image alone. (No way this film would have been as successful with Shia LaBeouf in the lead role which was the case when Relativity’s Rogue Pictures first took it over after it moved from Miramax to Intermedia to Universal.) The estimated gross was well above Relativity’s and Hollywood’s projections mostly thanks to a smart marketing campaign that tapped into the most intriguing elements of the pic’s high-concept plot in an easy-to-grasp way for both guys and gals. (Take that pill? For me, Bayer Aspirin with an Advil chaser has the same effect.) Best of all, the pic’s production cost supposedly just under $30 million, reduced from the $50M budget Universal had earmarked, a veritable bargain these days especially considering the presence of both Cooper who also snagged an executive producer credit and Robert De Niro. (“Our net investment is under $1 million as a result of our  successful foreign sales and soft money initiatives from the Pennsylvania tax rebate for shooting on location in Philadelphia,” a Relativity exec tells me.) CinemaScore was a B+. Exit polls showed the audience was 52% female and 48% male, while 40% was under 25 and 60% was age 25 and over. The ethnic breakdown of moviegoers was 43% Caucasian and 57% non-Caucasian including 19% Hispanic, 17% African-American, 11% Asian, and 11% other. The film was directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist) who normally writes and helms his own films. But writer Leslie Dixon acquired the rights to the novel “The Dark Fields” by Alan Glynn and adapted the screenplay for less than her normal quote in exchange for being made one of the film’s producers. Then she and fellow producer Scott Kroopf approached Burger to direct the film.

Curtis Scoon
•
3 years
I enjoyed this film a lot. The story had holes all through it but it was executed...
Tundra
•
3 years
The best writing it using "easy" words. Garbage - inferior artistic material. Which it was. A Total...
PatB
•
3 years
This is the year of the Great Movie Theater Crash. Box Office used to be the thing...

3. Rango (Paramount) Week 3 [3,843 Theaters]
Friday $4.1M, Saturday $6.7M, Weekend $15.3M, Cume $92.5M

2. Battle: Los Angeles (Sony Pictures) Week 2 [3,417 Theaters]
Friday $4.5M, Saturday $6.1M, Weekend $14.6M (-59%), Cume $60.6M

4. The Lincoln Lawyer* (Lionsgate) New [2,707 Theaters]
Friday $4.4M, Saturday $6M, Weekend $13.4M

5. Paul (Working Title/Universal) NEW [2,802 Theaters]
Friday $4.5M, Saturday $5.2M, Weekend $13.1M

Another of those Simon Pegg and Nick Frost farces (Hot Fuzz, Shaun Of The Dead), this comedy isn’t from American filmmakers who tend to do the vast majority of their business domestically. But not even Steven Spielberg playing a small part in this E.T./Close Encounters Of The Third Kind spoof could improve modest North American grosses for Universal’s Paul. But it doesn’t much matter. Because Working Title pics make all their money overseas, and this one already has performed “incredibly” in the UK and France with $28.1M international cume, according to Universal which said worldwide grosses after this weekend are $41.3M on a $40M budget. Internationally the film continues its rollout with another five territories and has 53 more territories to go in the coming months. The film’s domestic tracking had been growing — or so the studio thought — but the pic ended smack in the middle of so-so $10M-$15M expectations. Cinemascore was a “B+” with under age 25 moviergoers giving it an “A-“. Audience composition was 56% male/44% female, and 58% over age 25/42% under age 25. Relativity Media is a partner in the film.

6. Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,030 Theaters]
Friday $2.4M, Saturday $3.1M, Weekend $7.2M (-48%), Cume $25.9M

7. The Adjustment Bureau (MRC/Universal) Week 3 [2,660 Theaters]
Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.6M, Weekend $5.9M, Cume $48.7M

8. Mars Needs Moms 3D (Disney) Week 2 [3,117 Theaters]
Friday $1.5M, Saturday $2.2M, Weekend $5.3M (-28%), Cume $15.4M

9. Beastly (CBS Films/Sony) Week 3 [1,810 Theaters]
Friday $1M, Saturday $1.2M, Weekend $3.2M, Cume $22.2M

10. Hall Pass (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 4 [1,905 Theaters]
Friday $825K, Saturday $1.1M, Weekend $2.6M, Cume $39.5M

FRIDAY 6:30 PM: It’s going to be a wild and wooly weekend, guys and gals. Right now anyone predicting with any certainty the Top 5 order of finish for the top grossing North American movies is either a) The World’s Greatest Psychic, or b) none of my box office gurus, or c) not me. It’s a ridiculously close horse race between adult fare newcomers Limitless (Virgin/Relativity), The Lincoln Lawyer* (Lionsgate) whose movie tickets were deeply discounted through a Groupon promotion underwritten by the studio, Paul (Working Title/Universal), and holdovers Battle: Los Angeles (Sony Pictures), and Rango (Paramount). I can report that Hollywood doesn’t expect any of today’s opening pics to reach $20M. Instead most of the Top 5 will be huddled in a mediocre muddle somewhere between $13M-$15M with perhaps Battle: LA pushing to $16M if its drop isn’t too much more than -50% from last weekend’s debut. Several studios in competition today think their movies will surge in tonight’s late shows despite Limitless and The Lincoln Lawyer and Paul already looking bunched around $5.2M-$5.3M. Rango is waiting to surge from Saturday kiddie matinees. “Anyone could move up or down 1 or 2 spots,” one exec notes.

*Deadline’s weekend box office coverage of The Lincoln Lawyer‘s opening grosses will come with a big asterisk. Lionsgate’s deal with Groupon is to sell $6 movie tickets. There’s also a $5 coupon so the price of one movie ticket comes down to $1 for new Groupon customers only. Limit of all the discounted tickets is 2 per person, plus 2 additional bought as gifts. Not valid for IMAX or 3D showings. Now the exhibs do get reimbursed for the full ticket price. But, tell me, what’s the dollar figure that Lionsgate is going to report to me for grosses this weekend?