Two studios in the midst of intense corporate drama were dealt a blow this weekend as moviegoers largely rejected the new in favor of the familiar.
Walt Disney Studios' science-fiction thriller "Surrogates" and MGM's remake of "Fame," along with Overture Films' horror flick "Pandorum," all proved box-office disappointments while Sony Pictures' animated film "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" was a surprising No. 1 again as it posted one of the smallest second-weekend declines of any film this year.
Also faring extremely well this weekend was Michael Moore, whose new movie "Capitalism" set a 2009 record for per-theater ticket sales in limited release.
"Surrogates," which stars Bruce Willis, cost $80 million to produce and sold an anemic $15 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, according to studio estimates, making it a costly flop. That bad news for Disney comes after another money-losing, big-budget release, last month's "G-Force."
"Would I have liked to be higher? No doubt about it," Disney distribution President Chuck Viane said.
The studio's chairman, Dick Cook, was ousted a week and a half ago, and the box-office failure of "Surrogates" is sure to renew criticism of Disney's feature slate, about which the company's chief executive, Bob Iger, has been vocal.
The movie's weak opening is a further sign that stars such as Willis are no longer the box-office draw they once were.
Other films with well-known and well-paid actors in lead roles that have performed poorly this year include "State of Play," "Imagine That," "Year One" and "Land of the Lost."
Those who did see the sci-fi film probably won't be spreading good buzz. The average grade from moviegoers was a C, according to market research firm CinemaScore, about as low as such scores typically go.
"Surrogates" also opened in 10 international territories, where it grossed a decent, though far from spectacular, $12.2 million.
MGM's remake of "Fame," which opened to $10 million, won't cause nearly as many financial headaches given its $18-million production budget, which the studio co-financed with Lakeshore Entertainment.
Still, MGM, which is in negotiations with creditors to help stave off bankruptcy, was hoping for a tally in the $15-million range to prove that its filmmaking unit, which hadn't had a new release since December, can generate cash for the company.
Word of mouth probably won't be too strong for "Fame," as moviegoers gave it a mediocre grade of B-minus, according to CinemaScore.
The news wasn't any better for the weekend's third wide release, "Pandorum," which collected a dismal $4.4 million. Overture paid just under $10 million for domestic distribution rights, and the marketing campaign was small, meaning losses shouldn't be too large.
In a sign of extraordinarily robust word of mouth and perhaps indicating audiences are hungry for a family film, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" declined just 19% from its opening weekend to sell $24.6 million worth of tickets domestically. That's the third-smallest drop for any new movie this year, behind the Liam Neeson thriller "Taken" and another animated movie, "Coraline."
Both of those pictures played well for several weeks and ended up with domestic grosses of more than four times what they collected on their opening weekends. "Cloudy" seems well positioned to do the same and earn a profit on its production cost of about $100 million.
However, it has one major challenge looming: Disney's re-release of the two "Toy Story" movies Friday, which will not only attract a family crowd but also take a number of the Sony film's high-grossing 3-D screens.
Moore's "Capitalism" sold $240,000 worth of tickets at four locations in Los Angeles and New York City, giving it a per-theater average of $60,000.
The real test for Overture, which is distributing "Capitalism" domestically, and its financial partner Paramount will come Friday when the controversial film opens nationwide in about 1,000 theaters.
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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE
Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada:
*--* Movie 3-day gross Percentage Total Days in release change from (studio) (millions) last weekend (millions) 1 Cloudy With a $24.6 -19% $60 10 Chance of Meatballs (Sony) 2 Surrogates $15.0 NA $15.0 3 (Disney) 3 Fame $10.0 NA $10.0 3 (MGM/Lakeshore) 4 The Informant $6.9 -34% $21.0 10 (Warner Bros./Participa nt/ Groundswell) 5 Tyler Perry's I $4.8 -52% $44.5 17 Can Do Bad All by Myself (Lionsgate) 6 Pandorum $4.4 NA $4.4 3 (Overture/Const antin) 7 Love Happens $4.3 -46% $14.7 10 (Universal/Rela tivity) 8 Jennifer's Body $3.5 -49% $12.3 10 (Fox/Dune) 9 9 (Focus $2.8 -49% $27.1 19 Features) 10 Inglourious $2.7 -29% $114.5 38 Basterds (Weinstein/Univ ersal) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) From 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $96.0 -4.5% $7.82 +7.8% *--*
*--* Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box-Office Los Angeles Times *--*