UPDATE, Saturday AM Writethru after 12:47AM post: Two distributors, Bleecker Street and Lionsgate, observed ahead of time that August wasn’t going to be dominated by any particular tentpole like last year’s Suicide Squad. And given how difficult it is to slot low-to-mid budget fare on the calendar in the teeth of summer, both distributors took advantage of the opportunity to go wide with their star-studded fare before the season truly shuts down.

Lionsgate

However, the bigger kid on the block, Lionsgate, has bragging rights this weekend with Ryan Reynolds-Samuel L. Jackson’s Midnight Run-like comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard hitting No. 1 with an estimated $21M opening at 3,377 venues, a figure that outstrips the starts of other recent action titles, The Dark Tower ($19.1M) and Atomic Blonde ($18.3M). Hitman easily zooms ahead of Steven Soderbergh’s Channing Tatum-Daniel Craig ensemble heist movie Logan Lucky which is running out of gas in fourth with $7.7M at 3,031 theaters. A wide release like Logan Lucky with a commercial cast, fun vibes and awesome reviews at 93% certified fresh should be opening at a much higher level, and anywhere in the teens would have been the sweet spot for this indie movie.

Logan Lucky‘s estimated $29M production cost and $20M P&A was largely funded by foreign pre-sales plus partners like Amazon who took streaming rights. Soderbergh’s m.o. was to open a low-budget all-star movie with an effective, thrifty marketing campaign, one which he would creatively and financially control. The end goal was for the filmmakers and talent to reap the rewards. Typically, with a standard studio release, the studio fat cats recoup their money first. In the run-up to Logan Lucky’s opening, the media has gone wild declaring how this means of making a movie is a game-changer, when in fact, it’s more of a noble pursuit and risk mitigation. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s the type of smart film financing that the pre-sales independent world was designed to be, and in Logan Lucky‘s case I hear from insiders that they even raised more than their production cost in foreign sales. Some rivals this morning do not believe that; they say it’s unheard of for a movie to raise more than 70% of its budget in foreign pre-sales alone and Logan Lucky will cruise into the red zone. But let’s call Logan Lucky for what it is: Experiment is an exaggerated word. In today’s world, a low budget film with a high upside where the director has great creative control, that’s essentially called Blumhouse. Actors working for scale in hopes of a bigger payday at the end, those types of deals occurred on Blumhouse’s $4M Jennifer Lopez thriller The Boy Next Door (which grossed $52.4M worldwide). But you have to make money, to make money.

Magnolia

Juxtapose Logan Lucky with Soderbergh’s 2006 crime drama Bubble, and, yes, the filmmaker can be credited there for starting a distribution revolution with that title. Even though the $1.6M budgeted Bubble didn’t send shockwaves out at the domestic B.O. ($145K), it was the pioneer for a day-and-date simultaneous release strategy where an independent film was available in both theaters and the home on opening weekend. The words experiment, revolution and game-changer definitely apply to Soderbergh’s Bubble because it’s the business model that many distributors are still using 11 years later to churn a profit on indie movies. In addition, day-and-date has enabled independent films to be seen by a wider audience, versus a lumbering theatrical platform where these types of titles are delivered to small towns months later, or worse, never.

True, a film director calling the absolute shots on the marketing of his own film is rare, but on the same note, industry players like Michael Bay and Tom Cruise have plenty of weight when it comes to the positioning of their movies in the marketplace. But then there’s another side of the coin, and that’s where Soderbergh is coming from: When studios get sour tracking on their hands, they can leverage that against the film. They’re not going to throw good money after bad if they see a film is destined to die. Successful movies are made when a studio’s marketing department is in sync with a filmmaker’s goals and art (read, Warner Bros. with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk which will near $166M by Sunday). Essentially, that’s what was going on between Soderbergh and Bleecker Street: Being on the same page in regards to Logan Lucky‘s positioning which included a heavy promotion in the NASCAR country of the South and the Midwest. Furthermore, we also hear that Soderbergh agreed with a number of Bleecker’s suggestions.

Aviron

A bulk of Logan Lucky‘s marketing dollars were spent in the last week, versus at the onset when the film arrived on tracking. Again, nothing radical there. Aviron did this two weeks ago with Kidnap which opened to $10M and should clear $24.4M by Sunday. Their P&A during opening weekend was in the teens, just under what was spent here on Logan Lucky. In general to open any title on north of 2,000 theaters a distributor needs to spend at least $15M-$20M in order to make any kind of presence on the B.O. chart.

So if Logan Lucky succeeded with a double-digit opening, what would it have revolutionized? Not much as there’s been plenty of low-budget movies with low marketing costs (a majority fueled by digital which is cheap) before it. And whenever a studio such as Universal knows that they’re sitting on something great like a Get Out, they have to spend more than the average amount of P&A for a microbudget release to get to a $33.3M opening; they’ll throw good money after good money. Elections nor No. 1 box office hits aren’t won on shoestring ad budgets. If Logan Lucky won, would it mean that more filmmakers would get to control their marketing budgets? Maybe a trend would be started where distributors of low budget films give auteurs such power, however, some artists have no patience or time for business. They just want to make their movie, hope it’s well received, get their next project funded and move on.

One thing that was arguably different on Logan Lucky, and which could be the means by which filmmakers and distributors do business going forward, was its rent-a-system deal with Bleecker Street. The distributor wasn’t paid a fixed distribution fee of 8%-15%, rather it’s being compensated on a sliding scale: As the film grosses more and hits certain thresholds, the distribution fee becomes higher. If the pic settles at a certain low B.O. level, then they receive a minimum fee. That’s interesting.

Tmobile

But in all fairness to Logan Lucky, there was nothing wrong with how the production was financially set-up. It was very wise. However, on the next Soderbergh go-round like this, perhaps it pays to raise more P&A, and, yes, get out there much earlier and potentially position the film better. Lionsgate spent $30M to launch Hitman’s Bodyguard whereas team Soderbergh spent $20M to open Logan Lucky. Lionsgate screened Hitman’s Bodyguard to exhibitors at CinemaCon and in turn theater owners held 350 screenings nationwide through their loyalty clubs to spur word of mouth. Hitman’s Bodyguard was also one of four films  (alongside Wonder Woman, Transformers: The Last Knight, and War for the Planet of the Apes) to partner with T-Mobile and Atom Tickets for their ‘T-Mobile Tuesdays’ securing over 50MM impressions via the mobile carrier’s promotional efforts. A Memorial Day weekend NASCAR video of Tatum at the race drew under 5K views on YouTube per social media monitor RelishMix. Essentially, Hitman was out in front first and promoted wide, whereas Logan Lucky looked to create buzz later and in a certain area of the country. The results of these campaigns can be seen quite clearly in their box office results.

Movie marketing isn’t easy; the most brilliant, clever campaigns can easily get dinged or buried in this social media age or leave zero impression on fickle crowds. Baywatch, with its classic TV brand, Dwayne Johnson and some great raunchy clips was a nightmare for Paramount to figure out. The movie was sold largely to women instead of the TV show’s guy fans, but then sexism became a problem whenever Paramount pushed out bathing suit-clad babes in its promos. Given the great reviews that Logan Lucky has reaped and how it appeals to the heartland, perhaps it would have paid off with a SXSW festival launch. Excellent word of mouth certainly benefited Baby Driver coming out of the spring fest with that film well past $100M stateside.

To Logan Lucky‘s credit, according to RelishMix they did have a bigger social media universe than Hitman’s Bodyguard, 110.4M to 76.4M. In addition, the Soderbergh movie touted the bigger social media star in Tatum, who was working overtime to promote to 42.6M fans across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. By comparison, Hitman benefited from three massive stars being socially activated in Reynolds, Jackson and Salma Hayek who in total count around 42M followers. But RelishMix noticed that Hitman’s Bodyguard had the better word of mouth especially in its pairing of Marvel stars: “Overall, The Hitman’s Bodyguard convo is noticeably tidy, with very positive chatter over the weeks headed into opening weekend. Fans are mostly impressed with the cast and the video materials, which showcase fun, fantastic action sequences.” But per RelishMix, Logan Lucky had “mixed convo” with “the pitch that the movie is a comedy rubbing some moviegoers the wrong way. They think this film looks like another misguided, over-the-top action-adventure.”

In the end, Friday night moviegoers enjoyed Hitman a little better than Logan Lucky, with a B+ to a B CinemaScore. ComScore/Screen Engine PostTrak shows that moviegoers liked both films the same at 80% overall positive. Another thing that’s not helping Logan Lucky is that it’s essentially after the same audience as Hitman: Both pics are drawing 70% adults over 25 with a heavier emphasis on males. Hitman has a tad more females at 48% while Logan has a bit more guys at 55%, but it’s essentially the same crowd. Twenty-nine percent per PostTrak came for Reynolds/Jackson, while 20% went to see Tatum/Craig and Adam Driver. On CinemaScore those grades for actors’ draw were 57% for Hitman, 31% for Logan Lucky. Apparently, Logan Lucky is evaluating its performance over a 10-day basis, hoping to hold greatly next weekend. However, when you start this low at the B.O. ($7.2M), it’s impossible to catch up. Hitman‘s CinemaScore comes with a 3.2X which means it could easily get to $67M.

In any summer marketplace, a wide release needs to shock and awe far in advance of its opening so that it can cut through the clutter of distractions that impact potential moviegoers. That, of course, comes at a high cost. Let’s not forget how Warner Bros. made Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, a stripper dramedy with a production cost 76% lower than Logan Lucky‘s, the ultimate female destination of the summer five years ago with a global B.O. of $167M.

When it comes to attracting the masses to the multiplex, one major studio marketing boss recently said, “We’re just grateful they showed up at the theater at all; we can only hope they choose our movie.”

Sundance

Other notes: Weinstein Co./Voltage’s Wind River pops into the top 10 with $3.2M at 694 sites, which I’m told from rivals is very good. That weekend take isn’t that far from the third weekend take of the Taylor Sheridan-scripted Hell or High Water which made $3.55M at 909 sites. Given how TWC is platforming this movie, it’s obvious they’re serious about it sticking around through awards season. The Sheridan-directed movie owns an 87% certified fresh rating. Fox Searchlight’s Sundance acquisition Patti Cake$ is getting squashed at 14 locations with a $67K three-day and per screen of $4,7K. Fox’s specialty label plucked down $9.5M for this movie about an unknown white female rapper in New Jersey. 8 Mile, this is definitely not. Some believe that was a ridiculous price to pay for that movie; that it’s really worth closer to $1M. The film had its fans at Sundance, but older adults aren’t going to this even with a 73% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score.

Weekend estimates for Aug. 18-20 based on early, early Saturday AM industry estimates:

1.). Hitman’s Bodyguard (LG), 3,377 theaters / $8M Fri. (includes $1.65M  previews) / 3-day cume: $21M/Wk 1

2.). Annabelle: Creation (NL/WB), 3,542 theaters (+40) / $5M Fri. (-67%) / 3-day cume: $15.3M (-56%)/Total: $63.9M/Wk 2

3.). Logan Lucky (BST), 3,031 theaters / $2.8M Fri. (includes $525k previews) / 3-day cume: $7.7M/Wk 1

4.) Dunkirk (WB), 3,271 theaters (-491)/ $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.1M (-35%)/Total: $165.9M/Wk 5

5.). The Nut Job 2 (OR), 4,003 theaters (0)/ $1.65M Fri. (-45%) / 3-day cume: $5.9M (-29%)/Total:$18.4M/Wk 2

6.). The Emoji Movie (SONY), 2,791 theaters (-428) / $1.4M Fri./ 3-day cume: $4.7M (-27%) /Total: $72.1M/Wk 4

7). Spider-Man: Homecoming (SONY/MARVEL), 2,341 theaters (-266)/ $1.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.5M (-26%)/Total: $314.3M/Wk 7

8). Girls Trip (UNI), 2,010 theaters (-293) / $1.2M Fri.  / 3-day cume: $3.8M (-41%)/Total: $103.9M/Wk 5

9.). The Dark Tower (SONY/MRC), 3,143 theaters (-308)/ $1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.6M (-54%)/Total: $41.5M/Wk 3

10.) Wind River (TWC), 694 theaters (+649) / $995k Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.2M (+414%)/Total: $4.3M/Wk 3

11.) Kidnap (AVR), 2,435 theaters (-73)/ $823k Fri.  / 3-day cume: $2.8M (-44%)/Total:$24.4M/Wk 3

12.) The Glass Castle (LG), 1,461 theaters (0)/ $835k Fri. (-50%) / 3-day cume: $2.7M (-42%)/Total:$9.8M/Wk 2

Notables:

Ingrid Goes West (NEON), 26 theaters (+23) / $123k Fri. (+152%)/PTA: $12,5k/ 3-day cume: $326k (+141%)/Total: $499K/Wk 2

Good Time (A24), 20 theaters (+16)/ $57k Fri. (+5%) /PTA: $4,7k/ 3-day cume: $163k (+30%)/Total: $339K/Wk 2

Patti Cake$ (FSL), 14 theaters / $23,6k Fri. /PTA: $4,7k/ 3-day cume: $66,5k/Wk 1

Crown Heights (IFC), 3 theaters / 7k Fri. /PTA: $7,3k/ 3-day cume: $22k/Wk 1

Marjorie Prime (FRR), 4 theaters / 6k Fri. /PTA: $4,6k/ 3-day cume: $19k/Wk 1

The Hitman's Bodyguard

UPDATE, Friday,12:20 PM: In a war between Channing Tatum and Ryan Reynolds at the box office, the latter wins with his Samuel L. Jackson co-starring action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard making a bull’s-eye for No. 1 with an estimated $19 million-$20 million weekend after $7.5M-$7.75M today. Should the film rally, it’s another case this summer of a studio bucking a film’s Rotten Tomatoes reviews (this one’s at 39% Rotten); much of that has to do with the fact there’s not much competition in the marketplace.

ComScore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak shows that audiences are enjoying Hitman‘s Bodyguard with a four-star grade and 81% positive score. Men over 25 are the dominant demo at 38%, followed by females 25+ (31%), guys under 25 (19%) and women under 25 (12%). Fifty-seven percent are giving Hitman’s Bodyguard a definite recommend. Lionsgate acquired this title from Millennium with a pickup in the teen range, and an estimated P&A spend around $30M.

Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street’s Steven Soderbergh all-star heist movie Logan Lucky isn’t looking so hot with a $2.75M day and a $7M-$8M start, outside the bottom end of its $8M-$12M tracking. FilmNation handled foreign pre-sales in raising the $29M production cost on this NASCAR heist movie.

New Line/Warner Bros’ Annabelle: Creation is slotting second with an estimated $15M, off 57%, which will bring the David F. Sandberg movie to $63.6M. At that rate it will surpass the $67M-plus stateside ticket sales of his previous horror movie, Lights Out. 

The Weinstein Company

Also shaping up well is Weinstein Co./Voltage’s drama thriller Wind River from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Taylor Sheridan. The pic is playing in under 700 locations with an eye on $3M.

PREVIOUS, Friday 7:36 AM: Summer is expected to take a three-week nap before New Line/Warner Bros’ It wakes up moviegoers in time for fall with a potential $60 million opening on September 8. In the meantime, on deck for this weekend is Lionsgate’s R-rated action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard with Ryan Reynolds sans Deadpool get-up and Samuel L. Jackson, who play enemies as a bodyguard and a hitman, respectively, and who are forced to be with each other over 24 hours. The movie, directed by Patrick Hughes, grossed $1.65M at 2,600 venues last night from shows starting at 7 PM. It is one of only two new wide entries this weekend including Fingerprint Releasing/FilmNation/Bleecker Street’s Steven Soderbergh all-star indie heist film Logan Lucky, which earned $525K in previews last night before it goes wide today at 3,026 venues.

Hitman‘s Bodyguard, as it moves into 3,377 theaters today, is expected to unseat New Line/Warner Bros’ Annabelle: Creation for No. 1 with $17.5M, compared with $15M per rival estimates. Lionsgate previewed Hitman’s Bodyguard at CinemaCon, but critics haven’t warmed to it with a 38% Rotten Tomatoes grade. In regards to comps based on Thursday night’s cash, Hitman is in the range of such recent male-skewing action titles Atomic Blonde ($1.5M, $18.3M opening) and The Dark Tower ($1.8M preview, $19.1M opening).

Bleecker Street

Logan Lucky is a wild card that stands on a 93% certified fresh grade. Soderbergh controlled the marketing and creative aspect of the P&A, which never really happens at any other film company, and he planned that most of that estimated $20M would be focused in the week leading up to opening — versus at the beginning, when the race car heist film came on to tracking. The director isn’t a big believer in tracking: it was originally estimated that his surprise male stripper hit Magic Mike would open to $17M, not $38M; in addition, we’re told he has always scratched his head at the major studios’ opulent spend when it comes to launching a movie. For these reasons, Logan Lucky‘s range on tracking is quite wide, with a $8M-$12M opening. If this $29M production — funded by foreign pre-sales — gets into the teens, it should be fine, I hear. Why a 3,000-plus break on Logan Lucky? I’m told the NASCAR facet of the PG-13 movie plays to the flyover states, plus the stellar cast of Daniel Craig, Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Hilary Swank and Riley Keough is an added pull.

Annabelle:Creation has been the No. 1 title every day this week and will end her seven days at $48.6M. Even though the horror sequel opened 6% behind its 2014 predecessor, the pic is now 6% ahead of that film.

We’ll have more updates later.