A 3-D version of “Finding Nemo” was expected to dominate the box office upon its debut, but the animated film sank to the runner-up position at the multiplex this weekend.
Instead, “Resident Evil: Retribution,” the fifth installment in the popular Milla Jovovich science-fiction thriller franchise, claimed the No. 1 position. However, both films missed industry projections. Pre-release audience polling had suggested that “Retribution” would take in around $27 million during its first weekend in theaters, but Sony Pictures estimated that the film actually opened with a decent $21.1 million. The reformatted “Finding Nemo,” meanwhile, was expected to start off with roughly $30 million, but came in with just more than half of that sum: $17.5 million.
The biggest success story at the box office this weekend was the limited release of “The Master,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s critically acclaimed new drama. The film, which follows an L. Ron Hubbard-esque cult leader played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, opened this weekend in only five theaters but collected $729,745. That amounts to a phenomenal per-location average of $149,545 — the best opening for any film in limited release so far this year. Previously, that record was held by Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” which averaged $130,749 when it first hit theaters.
It was a good weekend for independent film, as the Richard Gere thriller “Arbitrage” scored the highest debut ever for any movie that was released in theaters the same day it became available on video-on-demand. Playing in 197 theaters, the movie grossed $2.1 million on the same weekend it shot to No. 2 on the iTunes movie rental chart.
Though the latest “Resident Evil” movie was the highest-grossing film at the box office this weekend, its opening is disappointing compared with the previous entries in the series. The 3-D movie had the worst debut of any “Resident Evil” film since the original, which launched with $17.7 million in 2002. The following three films had continued to gross a higher sum on their respective opening weekends, with the most recent installment, “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” beginning with $26.7 million in 2010.
“Afterlife” eventually grossed $60 million domestically but did its real business overseas, where it sold $236.1-million worth of tickets — about 80% of its overall business. It’s likely that “Retribution” will follow the same trajectory, as the $65-million production opened in 50 foreign markets this weekend and grossed around $50 million. That’s roughly 28% ahead of the $39 million “Afterlife” made in the same countries in its first weekend abroad.
Those who saw the film in the U.S. and Canada — a 64% male audience — didn’t seem to like it, assigning it an average grade of C+, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
Heading into the weekend, Walt Disney Studios was hoping its revamped Pixar Animation title would replicate the success of last September’s 3-D version of “The Lion King,” which grossed a surprisingly robust $94.2 million. Instead, it looks like the updated “Finding Nemo” may have a similar theatrical run to the 3-D re-release of “Beauty and the Beast,” which ultimately sold $47.6-million worth of receipts.
It was the strength of the 3-D “Lion King” which prompted Disney to decide to re-release four more of its titles in the format. The studio is still planning to release 3-D versions of “Monsters Inc.” and “The Little Mermaid.”
Though the new “Finding Nemo” didn’t live up to expectations, it didn’t cost Disney much. The studio said it spent under $5 million to convert the film to 3-D.
[Updated, 1:52 p.m. Sept. 16: Japanese audiences went crazy for “Resident Evil: Retribution,” as the film grossed more in the country than any other location overseas. The movie raked in $10.3 million in Japan and also did well in Russia, where it sold $8.6 million worth of tickets.
Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:
1. “Resident Evil: Retribution” (Sony): Opened with $21.1 million. $50 million overseas in 65 foreign markets.
2. “Finding Nemo 3-D” (Disney): Opened with $17.5 million. $5.1 million overseas in seven foreign markets.
3. “The Possession” (Lionsgate/Ghost House): $5.8 million on its third weekend, down 38%. Domestic total: $41.2 million.
4. “Lawless” (Weinstein Co./Yucaipa/Revolt): $4.2 million on its third weekend, down 30%. Domestic total: $30.1 million.
5. “ParaNorman” (Focus/Laika): $3 million on its fifth weekend, down 28%. Domestic total: $49.3 million. $3.8 million overseas in 36 foreign markets. International total: $25 million.
6. “The Expendables 2" (Lionsgate/Millennium): $3 million on its fifth weekend, down 39%. Domestic total: $80.3 million.
7. “The Words” (CBS Films): $2.9 million on its second weekend, down 39%. Domestic total: $9.2 million.
8. “The Bourne Legacy” (Universal/Relativity): $2.9 million on its sixth weekend, down 28%. Domestic total: $107.8 million. $9.1 million overseas in 52 foreign markets. International total: $91.1 million.
9. “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” (Disney): $2.5 million on its fifth weekend, down 31%. Domestic total: $46.3 million.
10. “The Campaign” (Warner Bros.): $2.4 million on its sixth weekend, down 29%. Domestic total: $82.9 million.]