With ‘Conjuring’ No. 1, ‘R.I.P.D.’ may be summer’s biggest flop

Will “R.I.P.D.” go down as the biggest flop of the summer?

It’s hard to make the distinction, given the number of big-budget misfires that have landed in theaters this season. But according to distributor Universal Pictures, the $130-million action-comedy grossed just $12.8 million, only good enough for a seventh-place finish.

Is that worse than the recent $29.2-million launch for the $225-million “The Lone Ranger”? Depends on how you slice it. But either way, the opening for “R.I.P.D.” is bad — especially when you consider that the 3-D film starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges lost out to “The Conjuring,” a horror film that only cost $20 million to produce.

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The low-budget flick directed by James Wan was easily the weekend’s No. 1, grossing $41.5 million in its debut. On Thursday, pre-release audience surveys suggested the picture would start off with no more than $30 million.

“The Conjuring” also beat out “Turbo,” the $135-million 3-D animated film featuring a garden snail. The DreamWorks Animation production launched in third place with a lackluster $21.5 million — the lowest debut for a film from Jeffrey Katzenberg’s studio since 2006’s “Flushed Away,” not adjusting for inflation.

The fourth new film to hit theaters this weekend, the adult-aimed, action-filled “Red 2,” had a decent opening of $18.5 million — roughly $3.3 million behind the launch of the 2010 original.

“The Conjuring” is the latest in a string of lower-budget films that have beaten out pricier competitors at the box office this summer. “The Lone Ranger” lost out to the $76-million “Despicable Me 2" earlier this month, while the $58-million “The Internship” failed to beat the $3.5-million “The Purge” in June.

“Audiences are less concerned with what you spend to make the movie and more concerned with whether or not the subject is compelling,” said Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., which saw its $190-million “Pacific Rim” debut with a disappointing $37.3 million last weekend.

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The horror film, which stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, earned strong reviews from critics and filmgoers — a rarity for a scary movie. Those who saw the picture this weekend — 59% of whom were over the age of 25 — assigned the film an average grade of A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Goldstein said “The Conjuring” was one of three horror films in the last 10 years to earn that high of a grade from audiences.

“Turbo,” meanwhile, was released by 20th Century Fox on Wednesday in an effort to gain traction before the crowded weekend. But the ploy didn’t work as well as the studio hoped, given that the film will only have collected an estimated $31.2 million through Sunday evening.

“Launching an animated film with an original concept when there have been a lot of animated films out there this summer was a little more difficult than we would have liked,” admitted Fox distribution President Chris Aronson. “But the die has not been cast yet on this film.”

While the film is certainly not off to a good start, it did earn an average grade of A from moviegoers and has a shot of making up some ground overseas, where animated films are typically more popular than in the U.S. and Canada. DreamWorks Animation’s last release, March’s “The Croods,” grossed 68% of its $582.3 million global tally abroad.

This weekend, “Turbo,” which includes the voices of actors including Reynolds and Paul Giamatti, launched in 25% of the international marketplace and sold $22.6 million worth of tickets. The film performed best in Russia, where it grossed $8.4 million. The film will continue to open in additional foreign markets through the fall.

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As for “Red 2,” though the $84-million sequel did not surpass the original’s take, Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment said it was still hopeful about the film’s box-office prospects because the first film did not debut in the summer.

“Our midweek grosses are going to be stronger than the first ‘Red,’ which opened in October,” said Richie Fay, the studio’s president of domestic distribution. Because the picture — which features a cast of actors over 50 including Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis and John Malkovich — is targeted at an older audience, Fay believes it will be able to withstand competition in the coming weeks. Indeed, 67% of those who saw the movie this weekend were over the age of 35, and the crowd gave the film an average B+ grade.

So what of “R.I.P.D.?” What went wrong? Is Reynolds not an alluring box-office draw? Was the movie just plain bad, as its 11% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and C+ CinemaScore suggest? Did its premise — about two men who rise from the dead to enforce law on Earth — remind moviegoers too much of “Men in Black”?

Universal Pictures’ president of domestic distribution, Nikki Rocco, declined to entertain these questions Sunday morning. She pointed to the fact that the studio has otherwise had a fantastic year and would only say she was “disappointed” with the performance of “R.I.P.D.”


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