SUNDAY AM, 5TH UPDATE: I’m back in front of the computer tonight. It’s been a bigger-than-predicted box office this Super Bowl weekend — $110M moviegoing overall which is +33% from last year as February starts out hotter than tracking showed for these low-budget genre films. Friday night numbers seesawed into the wee hours of Saturday morning until Fox’s scifi found-footage spectacle Chronicle came out ahead by $300,000 over CBS FIlms’ Daniel Radcliffe thriller The Woman In Black. By Sunday Fox is clearly #1 for the weekend with grosses $22M vs $21M respectively. Trust me, no one in Hollywood projected either movie would get near $20M so this gives new meaning to the term ‘overperform’. Best, both films are a low-cost/high-reward bonanza for the two studios, especially because budgets were kept low as well as the marketing spends. Better yet, both films managed to attract the elusive young audiences who were missing for the last six months of 2011. “What is great is that young people went to both movies in droves,” an exec tells me. Though it’s the weekend’s biggest budget debut, Universal’s Big Miracle is a disappointment — only an $8.1M weekend which is less than the $10M execs hoped for. Last week’s big winner, Open Road’s The Grey, is showing a solid hold. Full analysis coming.
Top 10 (based on weekend gross)
1. Chronicle (Fox) NEW [2,907 Theaters]
Friday $8.6M, Saturday $10.2M, Weekend $22M
Fox Filmed Entertainment chief Tom Rothman is one of the more controversial execs in Hollywood. When he gets it wrong, he gets it very very wrong. But when he gets it right, others copy him. I’m told that Rothman had a specific POV going into Chronicle: something original and fresh and strong that connected with young audiences who’ve been missing from the multiplexes during 2011. And he wanted it made with new storytellers and new actors. Now this weekend’s good reviews, ‘B’ CinemaScore, and young-skewing numbers (exit polls show 57% of filmgoers were under 25) indicate Mission Accomplished. Another in a successful line of found footage movies since 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, little 84-minute and mild PG-13 Chronicle cost just $12 million to make in South Africa and Canada with tax credits is from first-time director Josh Trank who also directed some scenes for the Paranormal Activity 2 DVD and screenwriter Max Landis, the son of infamous John Landis. Produced by John Davis and Adam Schroeder, the film plays like a personal documentary from an unseen amateur filmmaker as it chronicles the story of 3 teen angsters with telekinetic powers. Best of all, the pic takes aim at smug Seattle. Fox was hoping to open to an $8M weekend, so the $22M result should make the arrogant Rothman even more insufferable. His studio owns international, too, where it will top the UK, Australia, others. How it’ll fare on Super Bowl Sunday remains the only question mark, but Fox stresses that the audience is not just males. (And the big game, by the way, has a 50/50 male/female audience.)
There’s so much interesting, not the least of which is the marketing. Fox sold the movie with zero newspaper ads. And used Twitter quotes instead of review quotes, even though reviews were strong. There also was an all-Skype press junket tapping into the tech theme from the movie. The first trailer on YouTube garnered more than 6 million views in a week and extraordinary social feedback. After the trailer launched on MTV.com in October, Fox found that the conversations/engagements it spawned was more than 15 million interactions in just 2 days on Facebook. (“That’s like everyone in greater LA talking about Chronicle 15 weeks before they can see it in theaters,” an exec tells me. “This was a huge signal for how people were responding to the materials.” The recent viral stunt – ‘Flying Teens’ on YouTube – exceeded all expectations and video was featured on national and local news outlets. Online influencers played a huge part: in early January Fox held a digital press summit and debuted never-before-seen footage to a select group of digital press. A custom film-themed video was released by DeStorm called “If DeStorm Had Telekinesis” which included a cameo of that other YouTube star Mystery Guitar Man. On January 8th during the Atlanta Falcons-New York Giants game, Fox sponsored the first ever motion picture-themed QR-coded “billboard” which flashed onto TV screens.
2. The Woman in Black (CBS Films) NEW [2,855 Theaters]
Friday $8.3M, Saturday $9.5M, Weekend $21M
“Little scrappy CBS flms definitely seems in a better place because it did so much more with so much less,” a rival exec tells me. “Less people… Less money… Less of everything except Tom Rothman bellowing.” Then again Les Moonves is no wallflower and he’s seeing some light at the end of his movie-side tunnel. CBS Films acquired the U.S. distribution rights to gothic horror The Woman in Black for just $3M, aggressively beating out bidders that included Summit, The Weinstein Co, and Relativity. Then kept its marketing spend to only $14M under guru Terry Press. It’s all part of the struggling film studio’s newly aggressive business plan of acquisitions under COO Wolfgang Hammer. And it’s working: this third acquisition deal is CBS Films’ first hit. (Best previous opening was The Back-Up Plan‘s meager $12.2M.) Audiences gave pic a so-so ‘B-‘ CinemaScore but it didn’t matter. Now all studios should take another look at Daniel Radcliffe who clearly has an enormous following and strong post-Harry Potter drawing power. After ubiquitously stumping for the film, Radcliffe may well be responsible for this pic skewing younger. Not only hasn’t he slept since December, but he did a ton of interviews all while doing two shows a day in How To Succeed In Business On Broadway. The vast majority of social media chatter about the film mentions Radcliffe, and CBS Films connected with his existing fan base for the strongest Facebook and Twitter numbers for any film opening this weekend.
Director James Watkins (Britain’s Eden Lake) helmed a script by X-Men: First Class scribe Jane Goldman based on a 1983 novel by Susan Hill that was previously turned into a hit stage play and 1989 miniseries. The film is a co-production between Cross Creek Pictures, Hammer Films, and Alliance Films and produced by Simon Oakes, Richard Jackson, and Brian Oliver. (The initial impetus: Oakes, President/CEO of Hammer, was in the process of re-launching the historic brand.) Marketing began with a 60-second trailer on Twilight Saga’s Breaking Dawn Part 1 to reach women. “We identified our target of young females and didn’t waste a single dollar,” one exec tells me. “We knew we had a movie that played so we let screenings and publicity attract the other three quadrants.” The film unit made the most if its access to CBS promotional support (on TV and online) which is worth more than gold these days.
3. The Grey (Open Road) Week 2 [3,207 Theaters]
Friday $3.1M, Saturday $4.8M, Weekend $9.5M (-52%), Est Cume $34.6M
4. Big Miracle (Universal) NEW [2,129 Theaters]
Friday $2.2M, Saturday $3.9M, Weekend $8.1M
Why does anyone hire Drew Barrymore for anything? She’s box office poison. Just hearing her screeching through that trailer was torture to my ears. (Though a studio exec told me it was one of the better testing.) And didn’t anyone understand that crusty grey whales are not cute? Geez, get a clue. With the biggest budget of this weekend’s opening films — $40M — the Working Title film directed by Ken Kwapis came in $2M less than ever the studio’s low expectations. Universal was so embarrassed that it didn’t even bother to give me a marketing report. This pic was all about counterprogramming the Super Bowl and its campaign obviously targeted moms and girls who would most likely interested in this true-life adventure tale. The film also opened in Russia and Portugal this weekend and begins rolling out in the rest of the world on February 9th. Not much else to say about yet another Uni disappointment.