Question: How do you know a weekend is a box-office dud for Hollywood?
Answer: When studio executives start every conversation by complaining about the weather.
Storms blanketing the country from the East Coast to the Midwest put a crimp in all three big openings this weekend. Left standing in first place was the Jim Carrey comedy “Yes Man,” with $18.2 million in ticket sales, according to preliminary figures from Warner Bros.
The Will Smith drama “Seven Pounds,” distributed by Sony Pictures, came in second with $16 million. Universal Studios’ animated feature “The Tale of Despereaux,” about a heroic mouse in the era of castles and dungeons, came in third with $10.5 million.
The top five were rounded out by two holdovers: 20th Century Fox’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” still strong in its second week with $10.2 million, and Warner’s 4-week-old “Four Christmases,” which broke $100 million in total box-office sales by adding $7.7 million in revenue this weekend.
Studio executives estimated that the weather cost them as much as 10% of their expected gross.
“The East Coast was just annihilated on Friday, and the Northwest was a disaster last night,” said Dan Fellman, director of distribution at Warner Bros.
Nikki Rocco, Universal’s director of domestic distribution, agreed. “There were very few markets that didn’t have a weather issue,” she said, arguing that “Despereaux,” as G-rated family fare for the under-13 set, might have been especially vulnerable. “A lot of parents spent the weekend digging themselves out.”
The Northeast was socked especially hard. Gross box-office receipts Friday were down 81% from a week earlier, said Chris Aronson, senior vice president for distribution at Fox -- and even down 9% from Thursday. By contrast, revenue was down only 1% from Friday to Friday in Los Angeles.
Still, even accounting for the weather, the weekend’s results would probably have fallen well short of the pre-Christmas weekend last year, when the Nicolas Cage thriller “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” opened with $44.8 million in ticket sales. Gross box office this weekend was down 41% from the same weekend last year, according to Media by Numbers, which tracks box-office figures.
That’s partly because both major live-action films that opened over the weekend were marketing challenges. Carrey, the star of “Yes Man,” has lately looked like tarnished goods. His last signature comedy with a blockbuster opening was “Bruce Almighty,” which took in $68 million on Memorial Day weekend in 2003.
In context, however, “Yes Man’s” opening can be seen as a big victory for Carrey. “He’s back on top with a No. 1 movie that he’s headlining,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers.
“Seven Pounds,” meanwhile, was launched with a marketing campaign that went out of its way to avoid telling audiences the theme or plot line. It’s about a man with a very peculiar approach to charitable giving.
Intimations that the movie would showcase Smith’s softer side yielded an audience that was 55% female, according to Media by Numbers, suggesting that some men may have resisted a picture that was shaping up as a triple-hanky weeperoo.
Sony said it expected “Seven Pounds” to track the results of another Will Smith drama, 2006’s “The Pursuit of Happyness” -- not a blockbuster such as his “Hancock” or “I Am Legend,” but with $163.6 million in total worldwide gross, a solid hit.
“We’re in a very good position to do that again,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s president of distribution.
Independent and other limited-release films continued to do well on a per-theater basis. The champ was Fox Searchlight’s “The Wrestler,” starring a monstrously unrecognizable Mickey Rourke, which brought in a monstrous average of $52,369 in four theaters in Los Angeles and New York. The picture will expand to 18 theaters Christmas Day.
Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” distributed by Warner Bros., recorded an average of $25,632 at 19 theaters. Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” Miramax’s “Doubt” and Universal’s “Frost/Nixon” also had strong showings in limited release.
“The action is not all at the top of the chart,” Dergarabedian said.
Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks (studio) (millions) (millions)
1 Yes Man (Warner Bros.) $18.2 $18.2 1
2 Seven Pounds (Sony/Columbia) 16.0 16.0 1
3 The Tale of Despereaux (Universal) 10.5 10.5 1
4 The Day the Earth Stood Still 10.2 48.6 2 (Fox)
5 Four Christmases (Warner Bros.) 7.7 100.2 4
6 Twilight (Summit) 5.2 158.5 5
7 Bolt (Disney) 4.3 95.0 5
8 Slumdog Millionaire 3.2 12.1 6 (Fox Searchlight)
9 Australia (Fox) 2.3 41.9 4
10 Quantum of Solace (Sony/MGM) 2.2 161.3 6 *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2007 (in billions) from 2007 $94.0 -41.12% $9.24 -0.16% *--*
Source: Media by Numbers