Warner Bros. may need to dial 911 after suffering its fifth consecutive box-office disappointment this year.
This weekend, the Warner comedy "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" lost out to the lower-profile "The Call," starring Halle Berry as an emergency call line operator. According to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures, the low-budget thriller debuted with a respectable $17.1 million, while Warner Bros. reported its Steve Carell magic flick launched with a poor $10.3 million.
Both films came in behind the behemoth "Oz: The Great and Powerful," which claimed the No. 1 spot with $42.2 million during its second weekend in release, raising its domestic total to $145 million. Overseas, the Walt Disney Studios' production collected a decent $46.6 million from 55 foreign countries, performing best in Russia and Britain. The picture's foreign tally now stands at $136.8 million.
The solid opening for "The Call" is good news for Berry, who hasn't been able to attract crowds to the box office in anything other than ensemble films for the past decade. In her latest movie, acquired by Sony's TriStar label from production company Trokia Pictures, her character is attempting to save a kidnapped girl played by Abigail Breslin.
Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience surveys indicated that "The Call" was resonating strongly with African American moviegoers. Sony declined on Sunday to release a breakdown of ticket sales by race.
“That’s an important component of how the picture played, but we not only had a great African American audience, we got a great result throughout the country,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution president.
The studio did say that the picture appealed to a female audience, as 61% of those who saw it over the weekend were women. The opening weekend crowd assigned the picture an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
Although Warner Bros.' New Line division only spent $32 million to produce "Burt Wonderstone," the film would have to perform box-office magic to transform itself into a financial winner for the studio. The few who saw the poorly reviewed movie this weekend -- 44% of whom were under the age of 25 -- didn't like it, giving it a C+ grade. That doesn't bode well for word of mouth on the picture, which stars Carell as a Las Vegas magician facing off against a more outlandish rival (Jim Carrey).
Earlier in his career, Carell did best with broad comedies like "Wonderstone" -- after all, it was Judd Apatow's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" which made the actor a movie star in 2005. But the 50-year-old hasn't had a bona fide comedy hit as a leading man since 2010's "Date Night," in which he appeared opposite Tina Fey.
But Dan Fellman, Warner. Bros' president of domestic distribution, wouldn't attribute the weak opening for Carell's latest film to the star.
"Steve's a fabulous actor, and just like in any business, every time you get up to the plate you're not going to hit it out of the park," Fellman said. "He'll be back."
It's been a tough year for Warner Bros. thus far, as the historically successful studio has released a string of films that have underperformed at the multiplex. The only film to do even decent business was the noir crime drama "Gangster Squad," which grossed just $45.9 million domestically but made up a bit of ground overseas, raising the film's global total to around $100 million. The Sylvester Stallone action thriller "Bullet to the Head" couldn't even top $10 million in the U.S. and Canada, while the pricier teen fantasy "Beautiful Creatures" didn't even make it to $20 million. The biggest bomb, however, came this month with the fantasy adventure "Jack the Giant Slayer," a near-$200 million production that has so far collected less than $80 million worldwide.
"Our numbers are certainly soft so far this year, but it's the calendar year that makes up for it," said Fellman, pointing to the upcoming debuts of the latest installments in "The Hangover" and "The Hobbit" franchises. "It's a little disappointing to not get off to a better start, but I'm not worried about it."
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