FINAL MONDAY WRITETHRU: We’re at that point in August where ticket sales just slow down. Last Friday, there were 58% of schools in session, and this Friday, there will be only 36% of K-12 schools still off for the summer. Where does this leave us? Next weekend will mark the second point since January 22-24 where no movie is expected to cross the $20M mark.

suicide squad iii

Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad, despite all the dinging it has received from critics and the media about its steep drop, is responsible for 32% of August’s current estimated $809M box office. That’s the highest take for summer’s final month, besting the $752.7M earned during August 2014 when Guardians Of The Galaxy was in play. In its third session this frame, it came in higher than its Sunday projection with $20.9M.

Don't Breathe

Can Suicide Squad continue to hold down No. 1, becoming the first pic in 2016 to do so four weekends in a row? Maybe not. If it falls more than 40%, Sony/Screen Gems’ horror film Don’t Breathe might have the DC gang at its neck as both wrangle ticket sales in the mid-teens. Lionsgate’s Jason Statham vehicle Mechanic: Resurrection should crank out between $7M-$9M per industry projections, while Weinstein Co.’s Roberto Duran boxing biopic Hands Of Stone will pull in $2.5M-$3M. The Robert De Niro-Ana de Armas-Edgar Ramirez movie premiered at Cannes with a special tribute to De Niro.

Despite Suicide Squad‘s hold on No. 1,  the most intriguing newbie this weekend simply because of its $100M size and ambition was MGM/Paramount’s Ben-Hur remake which bombed in sixth place with $11.2M.

Even though Ben-Hur received a positive response from the faith-based community in the press, its biggest box office sin was that it was a remake of a classic movie. Hollywood remakes movies all the time — and certain genres get away with it and find a new generation of crowds, i.e. comedies (Ocean’s Eleven at $183M), sci-fi (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes at $176.8M), and horror fare (Friday The 13th at $65M). But there are a handful of classics deemed precious that if remade are deemed sacrilegious, i.e. Ben-Hur, Universal’s 1998 Psycho ($21.5M), and Sony’s 2006 All The King’s Men ($7.2M).

True-Grit-Jeff-Bridges-4-10-10-kc

In recent times, only one remake of an Oscar-winning movie got away with being a massive and critical hit: Paramount’s 2010 True Grit directed by the Coen brothers, which made $171.2M and earned 10 Oscar nominations, eight more than the 1969 version (which earned John Wayne a best actor Oscar). True Grit worked for several reasons: It had a phenomenal breakout performance by Hailee Steinfeld, not to mention others in the cast; the Coens put their own absurdist spin on the material while also being more faithful to the original book than the 1969 film (the lead character in the book is a 14-year-old, whereas in the John Wayne film she’s in her early 20s.).

ben-hur houston

MGM and Paramount went after the faith-based with Ben-Hur, and I hear John Kilcullen, an executive at Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s LightWorks Media, was relentless in the campaign by landing a number of pastors’ endorsements, and having them watch the film well before it was completed in July. As its CinemaScore demos show, it’s clear a portion of them showed up: Eight of Ben-Hur‘s top engagements were on the faith-based theater circuit in Texas, with notable ticket sales in Orange County, CA.

However, some marketers in the faith-based community argue that more of the flock could have shown up, especially if MGM and Paramount prioritized that demographic over the secular in their marketing campaigns — a strategy employed by Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ. Unlike James Wan, whose producer credit on a horror film is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, having The Bible bosses Burnett and Downey aboard Ben-Hur as executive producers wasn’t enough to propel churchgoers to board the bus to the multiplex.

“Faith is not a niche,” said Matthew Faraci, president of Inspire Buzz, an agency that reaches the faith crowd. “There are 52 million Americans in the values audience—one in every three moviegoers—more than enough audience alone to propel a film like Ben-Hur to box office success. Therefore, in a situation where the content is well-crafted and faithful but there is lower-than-expected box office performance, you have to take a serious look at the marketing strategy and analyze how it fell short in driving turnout and convincing folks to show up.”

When a sword-and-sandals epic costs $100M though, a studio needs to grab as much cash as it can, and that’s what was prime about a late August date for Ben-Hur. While some faith-based marketers scratched their heads over Paramount and MGM moving away from their original Lenten late-February opening, August was attractive because there’s still some schools off (58% K-12), and the month has proved a great spot for big fish in a small pond.

With an overseas debut of $10.7M, fueled largely from Mexico and Brazil, Ben-Hur should end its foreign run at $80M-$100M, close to 3 times more than domestic. Paramount is only on the hook for 20% of the production cost; MGM’s stake is 80%.

SAUSAGE PARTY

Sony/Annapurna’s Sausage Party eased an estimated 55% for $15.5M in second place and a running cume of $65.5M. That’s a bit of a steeper hold than Seth Rogen’s live-action fare, i.e. Neighbors and This Is The End, but like Suicide Squad, it will remain one of the top tickets as we head toward Labor Day. By the time Sausage Party calms down, the plan is to get this title to $100M.

War Dogs

Warner Bros’ Todd Phillips action film War Dogswhich carries an estimated production cost in the $40M range (and stateside P&A also at $40M), is taking third with $14.7M. It’s not the awesome opening Phillips posts in the spirit of Due Date and the Hangover series. Furthermore, at this point during a late summer, you need fantastic reviews for a film like this to take off (Rotten Tomatoes was only 58%). Foreign is bound to bring this film toward break even, however, and there’s hope the under-35 demo who gave it a B+ could drive War Dogs to a higher multiple.

Even though War Dogs is in the tradition of Phillips’ fare, dealing thematically with the foibles of men and their lies as they spiral out of control, it’s also smarter, offbeat and not as broad compared with his previous credits. Phillips earned the same CinemaScore as he did with Hangover III, a B, which is still higher than the B-  he was given for Due Date and School For Scoundrels. The under-18 crowd who were able to sneak into this R-rated Jonah Hill-Miles Teller pic gave it an A- CinemaScore (9%), while 18-24 gave it a B+ (24%). 24% came out for Hill and Teller.

Kubo And The Two Strings

Focus Features/Laika’s Kubo And The Two Strings is coming in fourth with $12.6M,  a tad higher than we saw it this weekend but the lowest opening for the studios’ fourth collaboration. On the bright side, Kubo can boast that it has the lone A CinemaScore out of the four Focus/Laika movies. In other exit polls, Kubo earned an 85% total positive score and 63% definite recommend, which bests the 77% positive grade and 61% recommend earned by 2014’s The Boxtrolls. Kids turned up with 56% under 10, per one exit poll, while per CinemaScore’s Friday night pulse, 53% were under 25. Those 24-34 (15%) and the under-18 bunch (38%) gave Kubo an A+. 3D ticket sales repped close to a third of Kubo‘s gross. Laika finances its own productions, which are typically budgeted in the $55M-$60M range.

All of this bodes well for Kubo as it heads into the fall, which could get it past $50M, on par with The Boxtrolls and ParaNorman. Kubo is the only animated feature on the schedule until September 9, when Lionsgate opens The Wild Life, and September 23, when the next big studio toon debuts, Warner Bros.’ Storks. If one counts Corpse Bride (Laika worked on that movie), the Hillsboro, OR. production house’s features have all earned Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations.

STX Entertainment’s Bad Moms continued to post a fantastic hold, -30% with $7.9M. Once a movie clicks with that older female demographic and word of mouth sets in, it’s as good as gold. The expectation is that this movie directed by Hangover screenwriters Scott Moore and Jon Lucas will cross the century mark during Labor Day. Worldwide, Bad Moms is at $106.4M, and the pic only cost $20M to make. Great job STX.

Final weekend box office per ComScore for the weekend of Aug. 19-21:

1). Suicide Squad (WB), 3,924 theaters (-331) / 3-day cume: $20.9M (-52%) / Per screen avg.: $5,315 /Total cume: $262.4M/ Wk 3

2). Sausage Party (SONY/APP), 3,103 theaters (0)  / 3-day cume: $15.5M (-55%)/ Per screen: $4,991 /Total cume: $65.5M/Wk 2

3). War Dogs (WB), 3,258 theaters / 3-day cume: $14.7M / Per screen: $4,507 / Wk 1

4). Kubo And The Two Strings (FOC), 3,260 theaters / 3-day cume: $12.6M / Per screen: $3,868/Wk 1

5). Pete’s Dragon (DIS), 3,702 theaters / 3-day cume: $11.3M (-47%)/ Per screen avg: $3,066 /Total cume: $42.9M Wk 2

6). Ben-Hur (PAR/MGM), 3,084 theaters / 3-day cume: $11.2M  / Per screen: $3,633 /Wk 1

7). Jason Bourne (UNI), 2,887 theaters (-641) / 3-day cume: $8M (-42%)/ Per screen: $2,777 /Total cume: $140.9M/ Wk 4

8). Bad Moms (STX), 2,811 theaters (-377)/ 3-day cume: $7.9M (-30%)/ Per screen: $2,827 /Total cume: $85.7M/ Wk 4

9). The Secret Life Of Pets (ILL/UNI), 2,404 theaters (-554) / 3-day: $5.9M(-35%)/ Per screen: $2,446 /Total cume: $346.8M / Wk 7

10.) Florence Foster Jenkins (PAR), 1,528 theaters  (0)/ 3-day cume: $4.4M (-34%)/ Per screen: $2,869 /Total cume: $14.5M/Wk 2

11). Star Trek Beyond (PAR), 1,966 theaters (-611) / 3-day cume: $3.9M (-43%) / Per screen: $2,007 / Total cume: $146.9M / Wk 5

12). Hell Or High Water (CBS/Lionsgate), 472 theaters (+440) /3-day cume: $2.7M (+333%)/ Per screen: $5,705 /Total Cume: $3.57M/ Wk 2

13). Lights Out (WB/NL), 942 theaters (-710) / 3-day cume: $1.6M (-50%) / Per screen: $1,700 / Total cume: $64.2M / Wk 5

14). Nine Lives (EUR), 1,364 theaters (-900)/ 3-day cume: $1.4M (-60%)/ Per screen: $1,028 / Total cume: $17.1M/ Wk 3

15). Nerve (LGF), 859 theaters (-918)/ 3-day cume: $1.2M (-55%) / Per screen: $1,388 / Total cume: $35.8M / Wk 4

16). Ghostbusters (SONY), 788 theaters (-649) / 3-day cume: $1.07M (-53)/ Per screen: $1,361/ Total: $123.9M / Wk 6

17). Finding Dory (DIS), 450 theaters (-181) / 3-day cume: $907K (-31)/ Per screen: $2,016 / Total cume: $478.4M / Wk 10

18). Ice Age: Collision Course (FOX), 782 theaters (-766) / 3-day cume: $905K (-56)/ Per screen: $1,158 / Total cume: $60.8M / Wk 5

19). Anthropoid (BST), 441 theaters (-11) /3-day cume: $560K (-55%)/ Per screen: $1,271 /Total cume: $2.34M /Wk 2

20). Indignation (RSA), 317 theaters (+50) / 3-day cume: $519K (-32%) / Per screen: $1,639 / Total cume: $2.33M / Wk 4

NOTABLES:

Happy Bhaag Jaayegi (EROS), 78 theaters /3-day cume: $159K/ Per screen: $2,037 /Wk 1 

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (IND), 24 theaters /3-day cume: $120K/ Per screen: $4,992 /Wk 1 

Lo and Behold, Reveries/Connected World (MAG), 39 theaters /3-day cume: $114K/ Per screen: $2,930 /Wk 1

A Tale Of Love And Darkness (FOCUS WORLD), 2 theaters /3-day cume: $37K/ Per screen: $18,585 /Wk 1 

Morris From America (A24), 2 theaters /3-day cume: $16K/ Per screen: $7,836 /Wk 1 

Spa Night (STRAND), 1 theaters /3-day cume: $7K/ Wk 1 

When Two Worlds Collide (FIRST RUN), 1 theaters /3-day cume: $3K/ Total cume: 4,262/Wk 1 

From Sunday: The top 10 studio-reported estimates for the weekend of August 19-21:

1). Suicide Squad (WB), 3,924 theaters (-331) / $6.1M Fri./ $8.7M Sat  / $5.9M Sun. / 3-day cume: $20.7M (-52%) /Total cume: $262.3M/ Wk 3

2). Sausage Party (SONY/APP), 3,103 theaters (0) / $4.9M Fri / $5.8M Sat  / $4.4M Sun. / 3-day cume: $15.1M (-56%)/Total cume: $65.2M/Wk 2

3). War Dogs (WB), 3,258 theaters / $5.6M Fri  (includes $1.25M previews)/ $4.9M Sat  / $3.8M Sun.  / 3-day cume: $14.3M / Wk 1

4). Kubo And The Two Strings (FOC), 3,260 theaters / $4.1M Fri  (includes $515K previews)/ $4.9M Sat  / $3.7M Sun. / 3-day cume: $12.6M / Wk 1

5). Ben-Hur (PAR/MGM), 3,084 theaters  / $4.1M Fri. (includes $900K previews)/ $4.1M Sat / $3.15M Sun. / 3-day cume: $11.35M  / Wk 1

6). Pete’s Dragon (DIS), 3,702 theaters / $3.1M Fri. / $4.8M Sat  / $3.4M Sun. / 3-day cume: $11.33M (-47%)/Total cume:$42.9M Wk 2

7). Bad Moms (STX), 2,811 theaters (-377)/ $2.6M Fri. /$3.2M Sat  / $2.3M Sun. / 3-day cume: $8.1M (-29%)/Total cume: $85.8M/ Wk 4

8). Jason Bourne (UNI), 2,887 theaters (-641) / $2.2M Fri. /$3.5M Sat/ $2.2M Sun. / 3-day cume: $7.98M (-42%)/Total cume: $140.9M/ Wk 4

9). The Secret Life Of Pets (ILL/UNI), 2,404 theaters (-554) / $1.5M Fri.  / $2.5M Sat / $1.77M Sun. / 3-day: $5.77M(-36%)/Total cume: $346.7M / Wk 7

10.) Florence Foster Jenkins (PAR), 1,528 theaters / $1.2M Fri. /$1.85M Sat  / $1.25M Sun./ 3-day cume: $4.3M (-35%)/Total cume: $14.4M/Wk 2

NOTABLES:

Hell Or High Water (CBS/Lionsgate), 472 theaters (+440) / $742K Fri. /$1.1M Sat / $820K Sun. /3-day cume: $2.65M (+327%)/Total Cume: $3.5M/ Wk 2

Anthropoid (BST), 441 theaters (-11) / $148K Fri. / $245K Sat / $153K Sun. /3-day cume: $547K (-56%)/Total cume: $2.3M /Wk 2

Morris From America (A24), 2 theaters / $5K Fri. /$6K Sat  / $4K Sun. /3-day cume: $16K/ Wk 1 

3RD UPDATE, SATURDAY, 2 AM: ‘Ben Hur’s Weekend Apocalypse: Are Faith-Based Epics Dead?

2ND UPDATE, 12NOON: According to matinees, Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad is on course to secure $19M-$20M in its third weekend, -55%. That will take Suicide Squad past $260M by Sunday, +17% over Guardians of the Galaxy‘s running cume at the same point in time. If Sony/Annapurna’s Sausage Party is going to upset it, it’s going to take a pretty hefty Friday, but as of right now the R-rated animated feature will cook $17M, -50% in second for a 10-day take of $67M.

war dogs ii

Out of the new stuff, as expected, Ben-Hur‘s wheels are coming off with $10M-$12M for the weekend after a $3M-$3.5M Friday (including $900K Thursday night). That’s according to industry estimates. The Paramount/MGM production cost around $100M. Warner Bros.’ War Dogs action comedy is looking at $14M-$15M after $5M today (that includes last night’s $1.25M), while Focus Features/Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings will sing $4.5M today and could nudge War Dogs for the No. 3 weekend spot with $14M-$15M.  I’m told it boils down to how strong Kubo‘s grosses come in tonight. In its second go-round, Disney’s Pete’s Dragon is expected to come in between $10M-$11M for a 10-day take of $41M-$42M.

1st UPDATE, 7:30AM: School and the closing of the 2016 Rio Olympics. These are really the two most important things on people’s minds this weekend, so don’t expect much from the box office.

As three wide entries enter the fray — Paramount/MGM’s Ben-Hur, Warner Bros’ Todd Phillips action comedy War Dogs and Focus Features/Laika’s Kubo And The Two Strings — Warner’s Suicide Squad and Sony/Annapurna’s Sausage Party are expected to rule supreme in the top two spots with $20 million and $18.8M, respectively. Last night, both titles were at each other’s throats with Suicide Squad having a slight upper hand with $3.57M ($241.6M two-week cume) and Sausage Party taking $3M (First week’s haul: $50M).

Ben-Hur
Paramount

Meanwhile, War Dogs minted $1.25M from preview shows that started at 7 PM, Ben-Hur took in $900K, while the animated Kubo And The Two Strings strummed $515K at 2,100 theaters. 

With War Dogs, which is settling for a middling 60% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Phillips departs from his broad/gross-out high jinks of The Hangover for a smart comedy based on true-life events about middle-men arms dealers during the Iraq War era. As such, War Dogs preview cash is about 60% less than the $3.1M racked up by The Hangover III in its first Wednesday night, and it’s little more than half of the $2.3M that Paramount’s The Big Short made in its first wide release day on December 23.

Among August testosterone comps, some analysts are likening War Dogs’ trajectory to Expendables 3, which posted $875K on its Thursday preview and wound up with a $16.6M opening. War Dogs carries a production cost in the mid-$40M range and an estimated domestic P&A of $40M. It is expected to file an opening in the $12M-$15M range.

Ben-Hur‘s Thursday beats the $800K made by Lionsgate’s Gods Of Egypt and the $452K made by Sony’s Risen on their preview nights earlier this year. Gods Of Egypt, a $140M bomb that essentially contributed to the demise of the sword-and-sandal genre, debuted to $14M and finaled at $31M stateside. Risen was cheaper at $20M, but wasn’t a cash cow with a $11.8M FSS and near $37M domestic B.O. Ben-Hur pales next to the preview nights of Paramount’s 2014 Noah ($1.6M) and 20th Century Fox’s Exodus: Gods And Kings ($1.2M). Directed by Wanted‘s Timur Bekmambetov, Ben-Hur currently has the worst reviews of the three wide releases at 29% rotten. Many expect it to finish between $10M-$13M for the weekend,  with MGM footing a majority of the chariot race film’s $100M production cost.

Kubo and The Two Strings

The last Laika movie The Boxtrolls was a September release two years and didn’t hold any and made $270K in previews for a $17.3M FSS. While Kubo is likely skewing older, last night’s ticket sales bested Disney’s Planes: Fire & Rescue which made $450K on its way to a $17.5M weekend. Industry estimates have Kubo plucking $13M-$14M, which on the high-end is where Laika’s ParaNorman opened to August 2012. Pic turned around a 4x multiple for $56M. Laika is historically a shoo-in at the Oscars as a Best Animated Feature nominee. At 95% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Kubo has the best reviews among this weekend’s crop.