My colleague Anita Busch, Deadline’s box office maestro, is on a well-deserved vacation this weekend. But she’s not the only one taking a break: most of the major distributors aren’t opening any wide releases Friday. It’s the first time since 1990 that a major studio, sister classic label, or mini-major hasn’t bowed a frosh wide release in the post-Labor Day frame–quite often the lowest grossing weekend of the year. Originally, Open Road was set to open Eli Roth’s horror-in-the-jungle film Green Inferno before pulling the title after a disagreement with the film’s financier Worldview Entertainment over the P&A tab. This leaves distrib-for-hire Freestyle Releasing with the only new wide release in the market, the Elvis-inspired musical The Identical starring Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd. The film about twin brothers separated at birth, one of who becomes a rock n’ roll star, is eyeing a $4-5M weekend haul at 1,954 engagements. Disney/Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is looking to hold on to No. 1 with an estimated three-day take of $8-10M on 3,221, but will likely cross the $300M mark stateside next week. After seducing $3.358M from 382 theaters last weekend in the No. 12 spot, Liongate’s Pantelion period Spanish-lingo release Cantinflas will expand to 429 sites, with hope of breaking into the top 10.
Seven times since 2000, the post-Labor Day frame has earned the title of being the lowest grossing weekend at the box office in a given year. The obvious reasons for the market bottoming out are always attributed annually to the under 25 demo heading back to school, and the start of the NFL season. Still, distributors have proven to overcome these obstacles time and again: It’s actually possible to open a film north of $20M during the post-Labor Day period, read the frame’s top openers 2003’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose ($30M), 2010’s Resident Evil: Afterlife (propped by 3D pricing with $26.65M) and 2009’s Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself ($23.4M). The trick is to lure the crowd with a gritty genre film, action or horror, or cater to a specific demo. Working in Freestyle’s favor is the fact that the film’s financier, City of Peace films, has been promoting The Identical to the faith-based moviegoers with pre-sales to churches and screenings for pastors, given its preacher storyline (played by Liotta). So if there’s money to be made, why aren’t any distributors stepping out this weekend?
That’s because there’s triple threat looming over the weekend B.O., waiting to snatch any male under 25: the release of Activision’s $500 million-budgeted sci-fi shooter videogame, Destiny. Yes, the videogame will hit store shelves on Tuesday, but many distributors see the videogame as a monkey wrench waiting to be thrown into exhibitors’ turnstiles midweek. Look ahead on the release calendar, and you’ll see that next weekend is also void of any titles catering to guys under 25, read Warner Bros. family sequel Dolphin Tale 2 and Screen Gems’ African-American thriller No Good Deed. The studios have obviously prepped for the Destiny hurricane. Statistical arguments have been made in the past that mega-videogame franchise title launches hardly make a dent in a film’s ticket sales. Last November, wedged between Thor: The Dark World‘s first and second weekend (respectively $85.7M and $36.6M; Thor 2 would make more than its first chapter stateside, $206.4M to $181M ) was the record $500 million single day sales of Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. But that was a scenario of fighting fanboy fire with fanboy fire during a vibrant pre-holiday box office season. This time it’s different. Destiny is hitting store shelves during the sleepiest box office month. Among videogames “it’s the equivalent of Avatar,” cries one major studio distribution marketing. Destiny is produced by Bungie, the Bellevue, WA. studio behind the hit game franchise Halo.