Amid questions about their company's financial viability, Bob and Harvey Weinstein showed that they still can do what they always have done best: sell a risky, independent drama.
Quentin Tarantino's bloody World War II action film, "Inglourious Basterds," sold about $37.6 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, exceeding industry estimates based on pre-release polling.
The weekend's other three new movies, meanwhile, showed little life at the domestic box office.
"District 9," in its second week, hauled in $18.9 million to make it No. 2 in weekend receipts.
Universal Pictures also opened "Inglourious Basterds," which stars Brad Pitt, in 22 foreign countries, where it raked in an additional $27.5 million to give it a worldwide total of $65.1 million. That's easily the best launch for a Tarantino film and a particularly impressive number given how slow moviegoing has historically been in late August.
"This was Bob-and-Harvey old school," Harvey Weinstein said. "It's what Bob and I do well. It's nice to do it this well."
It was crucial to Weinstein Co. that "Inglourious" be a hit as the company copes with debt and liquidity problems that have fueled questions about the future of the business.
Although the company won't see profits from the picture for a while, its opening-weekend success will probably help to ease pressure as the company moves forward with a number of new releases in the next few months. It has had little box-office presence for the last eight months.
Weinstein Co. split the approximately $70-million production budget of "Inglourious Basterds" with Universal, which also needed a hit after a difficult summer at the box office. The two studios will split the movie's revenue.
The success of "Basterds" is particularly notable given that the major studios have almost abandoned production of R-rated dramas in recent months after the financial failure of pictures such as "State of Play," "Duplicity" and "Body of Lies."
Harvey Weinstein attributed the movie's stronger-than-expected performance primarily to female moviegoers. Women made up 42% of the audience; pre-release polling had indicated they would be less of a factor.
While there has been marketing aimed at men for the last month, the company only started targeting women with ads on TV, in magazines and online in the last week, Weinstein said.
"We waited until [female-oriented pictures] 'Julie & Julia' and 'Time Traveler's Wife' opened, and then we started a blitz using everything in our arsenal," he said. "If we had to, I would have picked them up in buses."
He also noted that Weinstein Co. used longtime Tarantino collaborator Samuel L. Jackson to do radio ads on African American radio stations.
Ticket sales for "District 9" dropped 49% on its second weekend, a respectable decline even with "Basterds" drawing much of "D9's" core audience. The Sony-distributed science-fiction film, which cost $30 million to produce, has grossed a total of $73.5 million domestically so far.
Warner Bros.' romantic drama "The Time Traveler's Wife" dropped 46% to $10 million on its second weekend, a less encouraging number since it opened to a less-impressive $18.6 million the previous weekend. Other female-targeted movies, such as Sony's "Julie & Julia," have seen smaller declines.
The low-budget Robert Rodriguez-directed family film "Shorts" opened at $6.6 million.
Fox's "Post Grad," a picture from defunct youth division Fox Atomic, limped in at $2.8 million, while Disney's documentary "X-Games 3D" proved a bust, garnering only $800,000 despite playing exclusively in higher-priced 3-D theaters.
Weinstein Co. has high hopes that "Basterds" will continue to play for a while. Word of mouth should be good, as audiences gave it an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That's better than the assessment from critics, whose evaluations were decidedly mixed.
Weinstein Co. has had a rough year so far. Investments in a video distributor and a social networking website have fizzled. It has hired a financial advisor that specializes in assisting overly leveraged companies.
The independent studio also has delayed the release of several high-profile movies, fueling speculation about its ability to fund marketing efforts to support them. Some of those movies are scheduled to come out this fall.
One movie not being delayed is "Halloween II," which debuts Friday. Weinstein Co.'s second major release of the year will be competing with Warner Bros.' "The Final Destination" for young horror fans.
Meanwhile, Harvey Weinstein said a renewed marketing and promotional push for "Inglourious Basterds" would try to attract more sophisticated crowds, who may have been initially put off by the movie's gore.
"Starting Monday, this has to be the most talked about, must-see movie for adult audiences," he said. "As time goes on, 'Inglourious Basterds' will feel more like a big Academy film."
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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE
*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Percentage Total Days in change from -- (studio) (millions) last weekend (millions) release 1 Inglourious $37.6 NA $37.6 3 Basterds -- (Weinstein Co./Universal) 2 District 9 $18.9 -49% $73.5 10 -- (Sony/QED) 3 G.I. Joe: The $12.5 -44% $120.5 17 Rise of Cobra -- (Paramount/Spygla ss) 4 The Time $10.0 -46% $37.4 10 Traveler's Wife -- (Warner Bros.) 5 Julie & Julia $9.0 -25% $59.3 17 -- (Sony) 6 Shorts $6.6 NA $6.6 3 -- (Warner Bros./ -- MRC/Imagenation) 7 G-Force $4.2 -39% $107.3 31 -- (Disney) 8 Harry Potter and $3.5 -32% $290.3 40 the -- Half-Blood Prince -- (Warner Bros.) 9 The Ugly Truth $2.9 -36% $82.9 31 -- (Sony) 10 Post Grad $2.8 N/A $2.8 N/A -- (Fox) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $134.0 +26.7% $7.06 +7.1% *--*
Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box Office