‘Real Steel’ rules box office ring, ‘Footloose’ close behind

“Footloose” may have the moves, but “Real Steel” strutted past the ‘80s remake at the box office this past weekend, holding onto its No. 1 spot for the second week in a row.

The film about futuristic robot boxing starring Hugh Jackman took in $16.3 million, bringing its domestic total to $51.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Walt Disney Pictures. Sales were off 40% from the first weekend, a relatively modest decline for an action movie.

“Footloose” was a close second at $16.1 million, despite pre-release audience surveys that had indicated it would come out on top.

The other two debuts in wide release had far more disappointing openings. “The Thing,” a prequel to the 1982 horror thriller, collected a lackluster $8.7 million. And “The Big Year” will go down as one of the biggest flops of the year — the comedy, which stars Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, grossed a dismal $3.3 million.


Overall, it was a weak weekend at the box office. Ticket sales were down 32% compared with the same weekend in 2010. And revenue for 2011 is off about 4%, while attendance has fallen roughly 6% since last year.

“It’s obvious by looking at the weekend numbers that box office is relatively soft right now,” said Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution for Universal Pictures, which released “The Thing.” “North American moviegoers are preoccupied. I just don’t know what they’re preoccupied with.”

The original “Footloose,” released in 1984 and starring Kevin Bacon as a rebellious teenager seeking to overturn a dance ban in his small town, grossed more than $80 million worldwide — adjusted for inflation, that would equal $174 million today. Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures, the studio behind the new “Footloose,” acknowledged that it’s unlikely the 2011 incarnation will reach the same box office heights.

"$80 million seems a notch high,” he said. “But this still shows that when you make a movie for a reasonable price, you can do a lot of business.”

The good news for Paramount — which spent about $24 million to produce the film — is that audiences loved it. Crowds gave the picture an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The movie appealed mostly to females, who comprised 75% of the audience.

In the last month, the studio has sent the movie’s neophyte cast zigzagging across the country on an extensive promotional tour. The Craig Brewer-directed film was screened for cheerleaders, church youth groups and other organizations, and the PG-13 movie ended up doing especially well in places like Salt Lake City. Perhaps not coincidentally, the film’s leading lady, Julianne Hough, was raised a Mormon and spent much of her youth in Utah.

“The Thing,” which also features a largely unknown cast, did not go over as well. Those who saw the film — 57% of whom were male and 56% of whom under the age of 30 — gave it an average grade of B-minus.

The film, set in Antarctica where a team is tasked with trying to understand a mysterious alien creature, was financed by Universal Pictures for about $38 million.

Overseas, where Universal is distributing the picture on behalf of Morgan Creek Productions, “The Thing” opened in five countries including Australia this weekend and grossed $1.5 million overall.

“The Big Year,” 20th Century Fox’s comedy about competitive bird watchers, failed to attract moviegoers despite having three major stars. The studio co-financed the movie with Dune Entertainment for about $41 million before Canadian tax credits. Its backers will likely end up in the red because word-of-mouth isn’t expected to be good — audiences gave it an average grade of B-minus.

“It’s disappointing, and I don’t think we’ll be upping the marketing,” admitted Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution for 20th Century Fox. “It’s a quality movie, and we’re proud of it, but I guess people just aren’t interested in bird watching.”

In 2011, the only major studio release to fare worse on its opening weekend than “The Big Year” was Sony’s “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star,” which debuted with $2.3 million in September.

As for more specialty fare, Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodóvar’s “The Skin I Live In” got off to a strong start in the U.S., collecting $230,979 in six theaters this weekend, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures Classics. The film stars Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon who is keeping a woman captive in his house.

Meanwhile, French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” had a robust debut in France, where it was No. 1 this weekend with $3.3 million. Although it’s about the end of the silent film era in Hollywood, “The Artist” stars two French actors.

“The Artist” is being released by the Weinstein Co. in the U.S., but Warner Bros. acquired distribution rights in France. The solid debut for the film could be an indication that the silent black and white film may have some U.S. commercial appeal. “The Artist” debuted to tremendous buzz at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and many pundits consider it a shoo-in for a best picture Oscar nomination. The movie hits theaters stateside in late November.