2ND UPDATE: Thor: The Dark World has performed more strongly than expected and it will finish anywhere from $85.8 million this weekend to $87.7 million, even though I have one pundit who feels it could exceed that. Though many of our commenters have taken after Thor (and me, but the latter is inevitable given who I am temporarily replacing) in the comment thread following this box office report, Thor 2 is doing what a sequel is supposed to do. It is the ninth biggest November debut ever, coming just behind last year’s 007 pic Skyfall‘s $88.36 million, and it is the fourth biggest opening weekend of the year behind Iron Man 3‘s $174 million, Man Of Steel‘s $116.6 million and Fast 6‘s $97.4 million. It is scoring with younger audiences. Internationally, it is doing twice as well overseas as here, and that means the film could land upwards of $600 million.
The key will be how it plays before the opening of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which could have a $150 million opening weekend and consume all the oxygen in the room. Marvel seems to be able to do no wrong. The studio is in a zone I’ve seen in the past only with animated films, back when Jeffrey Katzenberg‘s Disney was cranking out one classic 2D animated classic after the other (my kids were small then, I saw The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast probably 500 times each and knew the words to every tune), and John Lasseter‘s Pixar. Marvel could probably score a big hit right now with a movie devoted to Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki character. The studio will undoubtedly come back to earth at some point, as the label tries to launch new franchises like Guardians Of The Galaxy and Ant-Man, and those will be Kevin Feige‘s real test.
There’s a real horse race going on for second place, and all three of the horses have held strongly. It’s a virtual dead heat for Bad Grandpa, Free Birds and Last Vegas. The drop-offs from last week’s numbers are low considering the arrival of Thor 2. Bad Grandpa only fell 43%, Free Birds is off 30% and Last Vegas only 32% as a younger audience is giving it a shot. Since there’s a statistical margin of error in early weekend numbers, the second place winner won’t be known until the photo finish comes in tomorrow morning, when all of the final grosses are submitted and Rentrak sends out box office actual weekend grosses.
Another title worth watching is Fox‘s slow build on The Book Thief, the Brian Percival-directed adaption of the Markus Zusak WWII novel for Fox 2000. It opened in four locations and put up a per screen average of $27,000, for $108,000 total.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa had another strong weekend and looks likely to squeak out second place. I saw this movie on the anniversary of a personal tragedy, picked up my distraught son from college and took him hoping to pull him out of the rut. I suppose it is easy to critically dismiss movies rife with physical comedy, but the two of us laughed like idiots, and director Jeff Tremaine and Johnny Knoxville will always occupy a place in my heart for helping my son get through what would have otherwise been an unbearable evening. As Tremaine told me, “Sometimes, you just need to laugh.” That movie, which cost a reported $15 million, ends the weekend around $78.5 million as Tremaine continues his evolution as a filmmaker with a movie on the decadent rock band Motley Crue.
Coming in third will be Free Birds, the Relativity released animated film that could get to $30 million after its second frame. Is that a good outcome for a film with a reported $55 million budget? I saw the Relativity team at last night’s AFI premiere of the Scott Cooper-directed Out Of The Furnace (more on that in a later post), and they seemed relieved that the film was performing more strongly than was expected going into the weekend. Over half that budget was covered by foreign pre-sales in what was the first film from Relativity and Reel FX as they find their footing in animation.
As for the rest of the Top 10, the under-$30 million Last Vegas will finish fourth and get to $33 million; Ender’s Game should finish with a $44 million gross. For a franchise starter with a $110 million price tag, that just won’t get it done. Gravity continues to defy its title, ending the weekend with a domestic gross around $231 million. I’d covered all of the project’s twists and turns when Angelina Jolie dropped out and Universal punted; when Warner Bros. struggled to find a package that worked. They came at Jolie again and when she passed a second time, the studio focused in on Natalie Portman and Sandra Bullock, after looking at a field of actresses that included Naomi Watts, Marion Cotillard, Carey Mulligan, Scarlett Johansson and some others. Then Robert Downey Jr. dropped out, and George Clooney stepped up. When I saw the movie, beyond feeling overwhelmed by an auteur-de-force Cuaron outing, I kept asking myself, how the hell did this movie get made? None of WB’s financing partners would touch it (RatPac was gifted the film). It made no sense on paper, as great films often don’t. It comes down to betting $100 million on a world class filmmaker. Globally it has crossed $430 million. Most refreshingly, like its 3D counterpart Life Of Pi, Gravity has no sequel in it. It’s just a great one-off, with no future installments to water down its memory.
One of the other two noteworthy films in the Top 10 is 12 Years A Slave. I must admit, I cannot stand violence against women and children (still haven’t seen Prisoners) and maybe that’s why I have missed seeing this movie at its Toronto, NYFF and Hamptons showings. My box office sources tell me that the film’s escalation from 734 to 1144 screens, which prompted a 37% spike in business, is good – not great. But the film has a chance to play well for a long time, as awards season heats up. I will see it before then.
Richard Curtis’s About Time will finish ninth in the rankings, getting to a $6.2 million gross. Does that make it a flop? I don’t think so. I’m told by insiders that the film cost under $15 million to make, and is has already grossed $43 million overseas. You empower a writer/director like Curtis and hope you get another Love Actually. Even if you don’t, when he covers the bet like he will here, it’s good news that he can keep taking his swings.
Finally, a word about the future of Deadline’s box office reporting. This is my second weekend at it; last week I put up numbers because nobody else did. And so I did it, in between moderating panels at our Contenders Event. I have my eye on someone who’ll soon be taking this over and who will elevate it and make it their own. But I do have some observations about this beat. There is a learning curve here, just as I am learning things every day in my new adventure here in Hollywood after covering this business from Long Island for so long. For instance, I learned from last night’s Out Of The Furnace premiere that when they post a 6PM start time, what they really mean is they won’t be dropping the puck for at least an hour after that. Box office has similar challenges for a newcomer.
People who have been critical of Deadline’s box office coverage in the past have said films got thumped based on the biased observations of studios jockeying for position. I don’t know about that, but I have seen all the spinning that goes on this weekend, and it’s an easy trap to fall into if you don’t actually go see the films and be better able to judge quality. I can see the spin at work, how one studio will over-project a rival’s weekend expectations, so that when the actual numbers roll in, the movie can be spun as disappointing. Or how reporting factors in tracking service projections. Tracking is a tool that allows studios to see whether their marketing is creating awareness, and campaigns are fine-tuned in the final weeks based on those results. That tracking is not a reliable measure of performance. When some journalists see that actual film performance falls below tracking projections, they thump the movies and not the flawed tracking.
I can tell you that while I am doing this for the next couple of weeks, I will try my best to see as many of the new movies as I can, something that wasn’t a priority here. I have a healthy respect for the creative process, for how hard it is to make a movie, and all the places it can go wrong. Last night at Out Of The Furnace, I met with the director, Scott Cooper. Here was a guy who put his own imprint on a spec script by Brad Inglesby (who was selling insurance when he got paid $500,000 against $1.5 million when Ridley Scott was directing and Leo DiCaprio starring), and Cooper made it very reminiscent of one of my fave films The Deer Hunter, with timely themes of economic hardship and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in soldiers returning from the Middle East. When I told Cooper how much I liked his movie, I could see him looking hard at me, as though trying to be sure I wasn’t shining him on (I wasn’t). Maybe it won’t be this way for every film he makes, but I could tell this one has themes that are very personal to Cooper and he really threw himself into this. Maybe this sense of empathy will make me the worst box office reporter of all time. I have seen already it isn’t pleasing some readers who come for bloodsport. I figure these would have been running around in togas in ancient Rome, using phrases like “epic fail” when they stopped throwing Christians to the lions. The only blood on display here will be my own, because I tend to bleed on the page sometimes. If that’s not good enough, so be it. (more…)