Thursday, March 28, 2013

'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' trades release dates for a happy ending this Easter

In Wednesday night screenings, G.I. Joe: Retaliation tallied up $2.2 million, a good sign for the sequel, which is expected to earn in the $40-45 million range over the weekend. This Sunday is Easter, and many kids have either this week or the next one off, meaning that the PG-13 picture will be able to pick up weekday audiences. That's one reason Paramount decided to move the release forward to
GI Joe RetaliationThursday instead of Friday.

In another respect, the release moved way back. Originally, the follow-up to the 2009 G.I. Joe: Rise of COBRA was scheduled for a summer 2012 release. Then, as the star power of Channing Tatum rose, the studio scrambled to rework a plot that had Tatum dying at the end, which could have also could have spelled the end for the franchise's star power.

As people emerge from the churches on Good Friday or Holy Saturday, they could head right to the theatres for Temptation, which seems to be the preferred abbreviation for Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor. The slightly darker turn for Perry includes a supporting performance by Kim
Tyler Perry TemptationKardashian. While that seemed like a bad idea back when she announced her divorce after a very short marriage, things change fast in the celebrity landscape. Pregnant and attached to new boyfriend Kanye West, her presence will likely add interest to the picture, which will have the strongest attendance among women and African-Americans.

Temptation will likely perform on par with The Host, with each earning around $20 million. Twilight author Stephenie Meyer
The host saoirse ronan max ironsproduced the sci-fi romance starring Saoirse Ronan, which is based on her book. However,  Twilight fans don't go gaga for just anything, and these are different characters and different romances. More modest returns are expected for this feature.

As the box office heats up again, there are also a couple of offerings for arthouse lovers. The documentary Room 237 offers hilarious and mind-boggling theories about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Ryan Gosling stars in the ambitious work from director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), The Place Beyond the Pines. Although the movie has been receiving mixed reviews, its ambition may still impress many viewers, even if the result doesn't quite reach those imagined heights.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Trailer for 'White House Down' drops in the wake of 'Olympus Has Fallen''s success

Everyone was surprised when Olympus Has Fallen debuted to over $30 million last weekend. It was considered the "lesser" Die Hard-in-the-White House movie. White House Down, which will release in three months, was supposed to be the one everyone would see of the two lookalike films. Now the trailer has dropped for White House Down, so I compared the two. At least when it comes to the trailer, White House Down has the upper hand.


Olympus Has Fallen is more about the man: the trailer lets us know that the First Lady died under leading man Gerard Butler's watch, because the Secret Service agent pulled the President out of a car wreck first. He's then trapped in the White House, John McClane-style, as North Koreans take over the Presidential residence.

White House Down expands the scope beyond the White House. We see crowds of people running around the lawns of various monuments, and the dome of the White House in flames. There are helicopters, planes, and missiles. Every effort is made to expand the scope outside the building, although the few scenes with star Channing Tatum give me a sneaking suspicion that more of the movie takes place inside the White House than the trailer lets on. It also heralds the credentials of the director, Roland Emmerich, who has destroyed the White House (and the rest of the world) multiple times, most memorably in Independence Day.

Moviegoers might even have a sneaking suspicion that if White House Down weren't good, there's no way the studio behind it would release it three months after a similar film. THR does a rundown of similar movies that released close together, and it appears that the second film often takes the cake. Meteor disaster pic Armageddon bested Deep Impact, despite releasing second, and Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached ended up in a draw back in 2011. Last year, Snow White-themed Mirror, Mirror floundered despite being first to the theatres, while Snow White and the Huntsman took the bulk of the box office. White House Down should be in good shape come June, and it wins the trailer contest by besting Olympus' explosions, having a broader scope, a more popular leading man and recognizable director.

Monday, March 25, 2013

DreamWorks Animation's 'The Croods' discovers fire at the box office

DreamWorks Animation's The Croods hit the sweet spot above $40 million, finishing the weekend with $44.7 million. It was enough to put Wall Street analysts in a good mood, even though a similar opening for How to Train Your Dragon in 2010 made them nervous and sent stock prices downward. I guess this time they have slightly better information about how strongly these animated films
The croods 2perform after opening weekend. Audiences gave it an "A" rating, but only 38% viewed it in 3D, a relatively low share of the total.

Early 2013 has been filled with adult action films just like Olympus Has Fallen, minus the White House. Yet R-rated, adult male-skewing pictures have mainly fallen flat, leading some to belive there's a glut in product. However, the thriller's setting at the Presidential residence screamed for viewers to pay attention, and they did. Olympus debuted to $30.5 million, well above projections. Yes, 75% of viewers were over 25, but surprisingly Olympus also appealed to women, so the feature 
Morgan freeman olympus has fallen 2 only skewed 53% male.

As predicted, Admission underwhelmed. Its debut of $6.4 million was even lower than projected. Director Paul Weitz seems to specialize in sweet comedies like About a Boy that end up not doing that strongly at the box office. Now, About a Boy's $8 million opening a decade ago probably looks quite nice. I thought Admission was quite charming, but
Admission tina fey 2audiences didn't agree, giving it a "B-" score in exit polls.  The audience that turned out was discerning: 68% were women, and 47% were over 50. If some of them recommend the movie, though, it could have a pleasantly long run or find some redemption in the VOD/streaming markets. Despite the presence of two recognizable names, Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, the comedy only cost $13 million, so its smaller opening may still put the movie on the road to profitability.

Moving from specialty theatres and SXSW screenings to over 1,000 locations, Spring Breakers did just fine, earning $5.4 million and posting a per-screen average of $4,500 per screen, which was better than the two films that placed ahead of the fifth-place finisher. That's still quite a drop from last weekend's  $87,000 per-screen average. The campy look at spring break exploits may be destined for niche rather than mainstream success, but I think a week or two of more slowly declining returns will be needed to affirm that hunch.

On Thursday, G.I. Joe: Retaliation will launch an early attack on the box office. Then on Friday, Tyler Perry's latest, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, will go up against The Host, which is based on a novel by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer.

Friday, March 22, 2013

'The Croods' kicks off school holiday while 'Spring Breakers' expands for the college set

The first major animated film to open this year, The Croods (4,046 theatres), could easily exceed the mid-$40 million figure Fox is predicting for the DreamWorks Animation production. A debut weekend in that range would put it in line with the March opening of DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon. At the time, that opening for Dragon was seen as low, but The croods 1it ended up grossing five times its opening weekend, or $217 million. That's an excellent multiple. In comparison, DWA's Megamind opened $3 million higher than Dragon but had a cumulative total that was $75 million lower. The difference here is partly one of quality: Dragon had a 98% critics rating to Megamind's 73% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. The Croods is currently falling below both of those numbers: just 61% of critics have come out in favor of the film. One of those is FJI's Kevin Lally, who lauded the "dazzling 3D style" and "lively vocal performances" of the leads. The concept of a
Olympus has fallen 1prehistoric family battling to survive feels novel enough, which could give the animated feature a boost. That plus the pent-up demand for a quality animated feature (the ratings are still higher than those for Escape from Planet Earth) and the release timed to kids' spring break could spell great box-office returns.

With an early 2013 glut of R-rated content geared towards adult males, Olympus Has Fallen (3,098 theatres) may be the latest to fall flat. However, the scope and budget of this "Die Hard in the White House" feature at least feels larger than its comparable predecessors. But then you read the reviews. Our Daniel Eagan was unimpressed with the "generic thriller marred by poor special effects." It also earns its R rating with "grim, ugly" and graphic depictions of violence. Gerard Butler, who leads as a Secret Service agent, hasn't been much of a draw for audiences lately (see: Playing for Keeps) and a lackluster opening could only confirm that
Admission tina feyhis star status is in jeopardy. At least this time, he'll have the help of Morgan Freeman playing House Speaker and acting President.

Tina Fey plays an uptight admissions officer in Admission (2,160 theatres),
a "bracingly smart, affecting romp" that critic David Noh thought was
"one of the best comedies in a while." Paul Rudd plays the leader of an
alternative school who's gunning to get one of his students into
Princeton. Focus is smartly limiting the release, and fewer auditoriums
should lead to a greater concentration of laughter. Still, this one will
open low, to around $10 million, and then will rely on word-of-mouth to
turn it into a quiet, Pitch Perfect-like hit.

Spring Breakers wowed last weekend with a stunning per-screen average. It expands to 1,104 theatres today, and the big question is if its success in specialty theatres in New York and Los Angeles will translate to success across the nation. Because of doubts about the movie's viability, sub-$10 million estimates have been circulating, but I think it could potentially go much, much higher. People drawn in by director Harmony Korine's auteur status will be sitting next to people who are just looking for American Pie-style debauchery.

Opening in just 4 theatres, The Sapphires offers a "familiar but supremely well-told and produced tale" about four Aboriginal young women who entertain the troops during the Vietnam War, assesses critic Doris Toumarkine. The socially aware feature about a group's rise of success, which I gave a shout-out to earlier this week, is a ripe offering for specialty-seeking audiences.

On Monday, we'll see which films were in the winners in a weekend crowded with a number of attractive offerings.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Director Chris Wedge teases clips of this summer's 'Epic'

The mystery behind Epic's Leaf Men has partially been solved. Yesterday in a movie theatre in Manhattan's Times Square, Ice Age director Chris Wedge previewed clips from the latest Blue Sky Animation feature, Epic. The May 24 release from 20th Century Fox melds comedy with action-adventure in a way that appears to please children (judging by the giggles I heard afterward) and maybe even adults too, though I didn't see enough of the movie in the preview to tell if the story
Epic animated movie
would coalesce. The premise is that in the forest, there live tiny fairy-like creatures called Leaf Men, which are just one species in a whole range of tiny creatures invisible to the human eye. One scientist (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) has spent his whole life trying to identify these creatures, but it's his college-age daughter (Amanda Seyfried), who he has neglected for most of his years, who's shrunk down to Leaf Men-size and embroiled in a race-against-time that will preserve their existence. That's because the gross, fungi-like Boggans want to destroy the forest and the Leaf Men who protect it.

Epic has such intricately designed characters inhabiting a unique, parallel world, it feels almost literary. At the same time, with so much going on, the clips Wedge showed often followed completely different characters. I didn't even know that the daughter was the main character until Wedge finally said so midway through the talk.

The 3D trailer at the end of the presentation, which will be shown in front of The Croods this Friday, was the only finished, polished piece of animation shown. Wedge described giving reporters "a peek behind the green curtain," and that couldn't be more true. While it was easy to observe what was missing during scenes that skipped frames or used production artwork, the coloring and resolution were off, as was the sound mix, which includes a Danny Elfman music score, which Wedge noted had just been added. The visuals made me feel like I was like watching a later '90s or early aughts CG-animated feature. The type of lighting sparkle and crisp resolution that I've observed in Tangled and How to Train Your Dragon was only there in the trailer.

Watching Epic made me slightly nostalgic for another forest-set animated tale that was popular during my childhood (although not a hit at the box office), FernGully: The Last Rainforest. That film also feature tiny creatures struggling against evil in the forest, and at the time the idea was simply magical. I think it's safe to say that however Epic plays among adults, the world it presents will enchant kids. And did I mention there are two very goofy slugs (voiced by Aziz Ansari and Chris O'Dowd) who do funny things with their eyeballs? Their antics made adults and kids in the audience laugh out loud.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March will get some shine with the earnest 'Sapphires'

Early 2013 has had just a few bright, fresh releases. After a few months with the best specialty films the year has to offer, there's nothing to appeal to audiences who like quality, thought-provoking features. Auteur-bait Stoker came out a couple of weeks ago, and now there's another film worthy of arthouse applause and crossover success: The Sapphires. The story of four Aboriginal young
The Sapphires moviewomen in Australia who style themselves as an R&B quartet and play for American troops in Vietnam is sweet story that will have you rooting for their success--but it also packs a punch, with insights about race and identity that will feel both familiar and foreign to American audiences. In Australia, the movie has been a huge success, as anyone who read a recent "Day and Date Down Under" column can attest.

The movie bills itself as a true story based on the experiences of the mother of playwright Tony Briggs, who also co-adapted the screenplay. He took a lot of liberties with the material, but the heart of what went actually happened is there. What's most shocking is how overtly racist Australia was in 1968. A trio of girls try to enter a contest at a local watering hole, where they receive a completely indifferent reaction despite their stunning harmonies. Still, their performance catches the attention of a down-and-out
The sapphires movie 2promoter/manager (Chris O'Dowd), who tries to get them a contract to sing in Vietnam. In the city, the girls track down a long-lost cousin who was taken away from them as a girl, because of her light-colored skin, and raised as white--a common practice at the time. She joins the group, but the bossy leader of the quartet has trouble keeping in her anger at the light-skinned girl for abandoning her Aboriginal identity, despite the fact that as a young girl she had little choice in the matter.

Once they're in Vietnam, the girls flirt with the troops, wow them with their R&B hits, and narrowly avoid getting caught in the crossfire. Here the movie can lag a bit, but overall The Sapphires is an entertaining underdog story that offers education about another country's history of racial oppression. The Help set to music, with a less pat outcome. The girls refer to themselves as the "blacks" of Australia, sometimes as way of explanation to the American troops. In American terms, the Aboriginals suffered from the kind of government policies and cultural beliefs that oppressed both Native Americans and Blacks. They were alternately assimilated and separated out into poor, rural areas, and openly discriminated against. While thousands of miles away, the United States is something of a touchstone for the singers. They're aware of the Civil Rights movement that is afoot in the U.S, which they see expressed in the country's soul music. That makes their performances of the music that much more powerful. As they learn to sing in that style, you can feel them changing, and rebelling against the structures that have constrained them. The Sapphires is launching in four theatres this Friday, and it's my vote for those who need a reprieve from the action films and thrillers that have been dominating the release slate.

Monday, March 18, 2013

'Oz,' 'The Call' and 'Spring Breakers' stand out in mixed weekend

In a surprise reversal, underdog The Call outperformed The Incredible Burt Wonderstone this weekend. The Call was expected to finish in the low teens, but instead placed second with $17.1 million. The Halle Berry/Abigail Breslin thriller played a bit like a female Taken. 61% of attendees
The call halle berry 2were female, and more than half were over 30. It probably won't come anywhere near the Liam Neeson-led kidnapping film's total, but in a market that has been dominated by R-rated thrillers with male leads, a female-led suspenser was a breath of fresh air.

Despite the presence of Steve Carell and Jim Carrey, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone fell flat, opening to $10.3 million. It's hard to tell exactly why this comedy didn't resonate with audiences, but it's worth noting that Carell appeared to play
Incredible burt wonderstone 3against type. His over-the-top blond bouffant hairdo made him seem like a cocky magician, when Carell normally plays shy, nervous hangdog types. Could that explain the tepid reception?

Above the new releases, Oz the Great and Powerful enjoyed a second week at the top. A dip of just 46% made for a total of $42.2 million. The CG-heavy fantasy could earn $250 million domestically at this pace.

Former Disney stars in bikinis + James Franco with cornrows and a grille turned out to be a magic formula for Spring Breakers. While debuting in just 3 locations, it racked up a $90,000 per-screen average. These stunning figures are usually reserved for the first week of arthouse-to-mainstream successes like Lincoln ($85,000
Spring breakers ashley bensonper-screen debut weekend) or Zero Dark Thirty ($83,000 per screen opening weekend).  Next week, Spring Breakers will expand to over 1,000 locations, and theatres should be ready for young crowds that may mimic those showing up to MTV's spring break.

A24, the distributor behind Spring Breakers, debuted another release the same weekend. Ginger & Rosa, a coming-of-age tale starring Alice Englert and Elle Fanning, averaged $15,000 per screen in 3 locations. Though considerably less than Spring Breakers, the per-screen average is in the "healthy shot of success" range.

This Friday, Tina Fey plays an uptight admissions officer in Admission, The Croods adds family entertainment to the mix, and the fate of the President is in the balance in Olympus Has Fallen.


Friday, March 15, 2013

'Burt Wonderstone' goes up against second week of 'Oz'

One thing's certain this weekend: Oz the Great and Powerful will place first for the second week in Incredible burt wonderstone 2a row. The special effects fantasy should drop a bit less than 50% and earn in the mid-$40 millions. While it's not quite as strong as Disney's 2010 fantasy Alice in Wonderland, the studio did a pretty good job of replicating that successful formula.

Steve Carell and Jim Carrey play rival magicians in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (3,160 theatres). The last time the comedy duo starred together, Carell was the up-and-comer and Carrey was the big draw. Now, Carell's the big comedy star and Carrey's the one playing second fiddle. The "consistently entertaining diversion" benefits from "a gifted cast that puts a fresh spin on even the most
tried-and-true crowd-pleaser plot developments,"declares FJI critic Michael Sauter. The comedy should approach $20 million. Maybe the success of Identity Thief has put audiences in a good mood and brightened the market for comedies.

Halle Berry plays a 911 operator who gets a call from a girl (Abigail Breslin) who has been kidnapped and confined to a car trunk in The Call (2,507 theatres). Although the thriller is "sometimes straightforward and familiar," notes critic Doris Toumarkine, " it
The call halle berryrevs up audiences and gets them cheering for the good
guys." It's possible the thriller will play like the female version of Taken, and resonate with older female moviegoers.

Reactions to Spring Breakers (3 theatres) have been extreme. Some are focusing on its provenance, from auteur Harmony Korine, but FJI critic David Noh sees the bikini-filled picture as just a "commercial wannabe that still suffers from art-house pretensions." He found the "wild and wooly update of Where
the Boys Are
" to be "scarily, snarkily
Spring breakers 1representative of a generation," which made  him "want to weep for the future." New York's David Edelstein mused that it might be "among the perviest movies ever made — although by spelling out
why, I fear I’ll only make some people want to see it more." Not many raunchy R-rated teen movies elicit such detailed takedowns, so it's fair to say this one is (probably purposely) aggressively offensive.

On Monday, we'll see if The Incredible Burt Wonderstone provided a light comedic counterpoint to the March behemoth Oz the Great and Powerful, and if Spring Breakers proved that sex sells.



Thursday, March 14, 2013

Crowdsourcing success: Veronica Mars movie raises over $2.5 million with Kickstarter

Kickstarter is starting to get really, really powerful. It's funded tons of indie movies and even (perhaps regrettably) Lindsay Lohan-led The Canyons. Now it's funded one of its most mainstream projects yet. With the support of "Veronica Mars" star Kristen Bell and the blessing of Warner Bros.' digital
Veronica-mars-kickstarter-620xadivision, the TV show's writer and executive producer, Rob Thomas, created a Kickstarter campaign to get a feature-film version made--although the studio has the final word, of course. That was yesterday. Today, the campaign has earned over $2.6 million--I'd give the specific number, but it's rising by the second. Did I mention that the goal of $2 million was met within 11 hours, and there's 29 days left in the campaign?

Film Journal's written before about how independent movie theatres have been using Kickstarter to help finance digital conversions. But it's pretty amazing that a mainstream network television show is using this method. While it seems exceptional at first, there have been some prominent TV shows that have recruited fans to bring them back. The most famous early example was "Family Guy," and a new season of "Arrested Development" is coming to Netflix soon after years of speculation that the series would have a second run somewhere.

So much has been said about how social media has turned opening weekend into opening day.  Word-of-mouth can destroy bad movies much quicker than they used to. As this Kickstarter campaign shows, it can also work in reverse. Good programs may be subject to cancellations by executives or declining ratings despite a rapt fan base. But those same fans can now actually have a say. In today's day-and-age, there's no way a cult show like "Twin Peaks" would be cancelled and gone forever. Here's to the Kickstarter campaign for "Veronica Mars," and fans having a vote in saying what movies will make them show up to theatres.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler re-team for romantic comedy

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler have starred opposite each other twice, and now it appears the duo is pairing up for the third time. Let's hope this romantic comedy is more like The Wedding Singer and less like 50 First Dates. Barrymore and Sandler will play two single parents who have a disastrous blind date, then find themselves trapped at a family resort with their respective kids together. At least in the movie world, this sounds like a recipe for falling in love.

Frank Coraci, who has made a career out of working with funny men, will helm. He directed Sandler in Click, The Waterboy, and The Wedding Singer, and Kevin James in his recent films The Zookeeper and Here Comes the Boom. The script was penned by Ivan Winchell, who has written for a number of sitcoms, and Claire Sera, who has collaborated with Winchell on a couple of IMDB-listed but as-yet unproduced screenplays.

From a demographic perspective, pairing up Sandler and Barrymore makes perfect sense. Sandler has the juvenile humor-loving dudes who have grown up with his comed and now likely have families themselves. That's one reason high school reunion-themed Grown Ups did so well. Barrymore hasn't had a big hit in a few years, but she's also been making and appearing in smaller films. Her style is more sweet than crude, which will help broaden the appeal of the romantic comedy. The blended family twist gets my approval, but in the struggling rom-com genre, it will be up to the actors and script if they can make the audience fall for the "I-hate-you-until-I-love-you" game one more time.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Horror movie 'App' encourages viewers to download in-movie app to enhance scares

Seeing the glow from a person checking their cell phone in a movie theatre is an annoying breach of etiquette--normally. Viewers will be encouraged to take out their phones and follow along during the Dutch movie App, which is coming out this April in the Netherlands. Before watching the thriller, which is about a girl who downloads a bad app that unleashes her into a world of trouble, viewers will download the app too, then receive complementary messages and second-screen content throughout the viewing. After watching the Dutch-language trailer for the movie, I'm optimistic. Because the plot centers on a girl's interactions with her mobile phone, there's a strong crossover between the beyond-the-screen elements and what's taking place in the on-screen story.



Horror movies have always been ripe for beyond-the-screen scares. Famed showman of B-movies William Castle came up with all kinds of gimmicks (including Percepto and seats that buzzed) to entertain audiences and make the movies feel more real (taking out insurance policies in case an audience member died of fright). App producer 2CFilm is just following a long movie theatre tradition with horror movies. Only the technology is different.

In addition to using the relatively new technology of mobile apps to engage audiences, the phone syncs with the on-screen content through digital audio watermarking. This is the same technology that Hollywood studios are using to identify cammed copies of movies. Though the human ear can't hear the audio signature, the app will pick up on it and use those signals to sync with audience members' phones.

The Netherlands may be a good test case to see if audiences like the novelty of following along to a horror movie. Its 110-screen release is huge by the country's standards. Though local content is often a prized rarity in Hollywood-dominated markets, and seeing a movie in a native language gives it a boost, it shouldn't be hard to figure out if audiences are responding to the app. Then, it'll only be a matter of time before the Hollywood remake.


Monday, March 11, 2013

'Oz the Great and Powerful' casts spell over box office

Oz the Great and Powerful posted the highest opening weekend of 2013 with $80.2 million. Overseas, it earned nearly as much, $70 million. While the fantasy didn't capture the lightning in a bottle that was Disney's 2010 offering, Alice in Wonderland, Oz performed much better than the studio's March offering last year, the expensive flop John Carter. Disney was able to corral both
Oz the Great and Powerful Zach Braff James Francofamilies and couples for the tentpole. 43% of attendees were couples, and 41% were families. That continues the trend of trying to expand the audience for G-rated or PG-rated films that are considered of a particularly high quality (e.g. Pixar) or effects-laden.

Faced with its better-reviewed competition, Jack the Giant Slayer did a nosedive to $10 million, a 63% drop from the previous week. With that poor hold, this $200+ million movie will end up with $60 million or so domestically, a big writedown for Warner Bros.

This weekend also brought bad news for Dead Man Down, which opened to $5.3 million.

Dead Man Down Colin Farrell Noomi Rapace 2Someone decided that adult-aimed R-rated action thrillers were a slam dunk at the box office, because all of a sudden there's tons of them, and they're all tanking. Dead Man Down joins other 2013 R-rated action misfires Bullet to the Head ($4.55 million opening), The Last Stand ($6.3 million), and Parker ($7 million). Ouch.

There was good news for some older releases with staying power. Identity Thief moved down to third place for the first time since its opening five weeks ago. With another $6.3 million and a $116 million total to date, the feature is a certified comedy success. The Nicholas Sparks romance Safe Haven has also shown strong staying power, doubling its $30 million opening with a $62 million gross to date. This
Somebody up there likes me nick offermanweekend, it earned $3.8 million while posting just a 39% drop for the second week in a row, indicating that it will hang out in the top ten--and definitely the top twenty--for some time.

Emperor had a respectable debut in limited release, topping $1 million with a $4,000 per-screen average. It may have been a respite for adult males who were sick of all the action films dominating the box office.

Somebody Up There Likes Me posted the best debut for a specialty release. On one screen, it earned $38,500, and it has some good reviews (like this one) to back up its strong box-office performance.

This Friday, Steve Carell and Jim Carrey play battling magicians in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and Halle Berry stars as a 911 operator in the thriller The Call.

Friday, March 8, 2013

'Oz the Great and Powerful' points families towards the Yellow Brick Road

With the might of Disney and the appeal of The Wizard of Oz in its favor, Oz the Great and Powerful (3,912 theatres) will attempt to at least triple the opening of last week's fairytale flop, Jack the Giant Slayer. The special effects go well beyond the original's famous transition from black-and-white to color, and that's one reason this spin  on L. Frank Baum's Oz series "fails to
Oz the Great and Powerful Michelle Williams James Francocapture the heartwarming spirit of the original," critic Kevin Lally assesses. "To
paraphrase the Tin Man: If it only had more heart…" James Franco gives an "uninspired lead performance" as the Wizard, while Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel Weisz give passable performances as three witches. Families will be the primary audience for the PG-rated work, but I wouldn't be surprised if the material is too intense for many younger viewers. A girl about 10 years old sat next to me at the press screening, and spent many of the intense moments wincing at the screen and covering her ears. At least during opening weekend, it's unlikely that will stop the feature from approaching $100 million.

Early 2013 has been filled with R-rated action films and thrillers. Dead Man Down (2,188 theatres) jumps right into this crowded arena, and it's unlikely to accrue more than $10 million or so. The Danish director of the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Niels Arden Oplev, teams up
Dead Man Down Colin Farrell Noomi Rapace with his star in that movie, Noomi Rapace, for a New York City-set "vengeance-driven,
neo-noir crime thriller." Colin Farrell plays a criminal in part of an organized crime empire who secretly plots revenge for the murder of his wife and son. He gets a way to achieve his goals when he meets a woman scarred from a car accident (Rapace). In addition to releasing in a market saturated with R-rated releases, FilmDistrict has only lightly marketed the feature, further limiting its box-office prospects.

Tommy Lee Jones plays General Douglas MacArthur, who is trying to restore order in Japan after WWII in Emperor (260 theatres). The question is whether Emperor Hirohito (Takataro Kataoka) should be tried as a war criminal or left be. Jones "captures the general's pomp and
swagger without diminishing his real insights and
accomplishments.," FJI critic Daniel Eagan praises. However, despite bright spots like these, it's mainly an "underachieving drama" that's "too low-key and
simplistic." That extends to depictions of an interracial romance and "a
surprisingly superficial and condescending attitude toward the
Japanese in general." Doesn't sound like this one will do big business in Japan.

On Monday, we'll see if Oz the Great and Powerful can bring the first quarter of the 2013 box office back on track, and if Dead Man Down and Emperor can make an impact with their more limited resources.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Study ties shutdown of Megaupload to increases in movie rentals

Every so often, a movie bombs at the box office, like Kick-Ass, only to become a
"top ten most pirated " movie once it's available as a free torrent. Would such a movie have greater success if free
Megaupload piracyversions weren’t available?
Piracy is undoubtedly costing Hollywood money, and for the first time, a study is taking steps to prove it.

Following the shutdown the torrent site Megaupload in January 2012, 12
countries experienced a 6-10% increase in digital movie revenues, according to a study by two researchers from Wellesley College and Carnegie Mellon University. In the study, "Gone in 60 Seconds: The Impact of the Megaupload Shutdown on Movie Sales," they were able to determine that countries with higher usage of Megaupload, such as
Spain, experienced greater upswings in their digital movie revenues in the 18 weeks following the shutdown (the period of the study). This
finding in particular is the most statistically noteworthy. Otherwise, it’s
possible that the market as a whole rose 6-10%. This helps establish that the
increase was not due to market fluctuations but causation.

 A few things to consider. One, just because Megaupload shut
down didn’t mean that torrents weren’t available elsewhere. Many consumers
probably just switched to another free torrent provider. But some didn't. "Why didn’t consumers just switch
from Megaupload to some of those sites?," the study's authors, Brett Danaher and Michael Smith, asked in an accompanying blog post. "We think a more productive view is that competing
with free (pirated) content is just a special case of price competition...some consumers would be willing to buy through legitimate channels if
content in those channels is more valuable than the 'free' pirated
alternative." They cited "reliability,
ease-of-use, and convenience" as potential reasons why a consumer might pay for content instead of choosing another free torrent provider.

Another thing the authors don't mention is that just because
someone watches a movie for free doesn’t mean they will pay to rent the same
movie. Most of the time, people know what movies they want to see, and will try
to see them through whatever means possible. However, a lot of movies fall into
a middle category. People will watch them, but only because they’re free and
they have 2 hours they want to spend watching a movie. Anyone who has ever flipped channels and ended up watching a sup-par show or movie can vouch for this phenomenon. One million downloads of a
pirated movie might only translate to 250,000 legal rentals of the same movie. If Hollywood wants to convince legislators to pursue anti-piracy statutes, more data like this would go a long way towards demonstrating that shutting down torrent sites can make a difference.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

'Daily Show' host Jon Stewart plans to take time off to direct his first feature

Jon Stewart will be gone for eight weeks this summer in order to make his movie directorial debut. Fans may miss the host as John Oliver will take over hosting duties for  "The Daily Show" for eight weeks, but they'll have another reward: checking out Stewart's movie, Rosewater, once it hits theatres.

StewartbahariFittingly, the comedic news anchor will direct from a screenplay he wrote based on the experiences of one of "The Daily Show"'s recurring guests, Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. In 2009, Bahari was accused of conspiring against the Iranian government and held in prison in Tehran for four months. A "Daily Show" segment he did in
which correspondent Jason Jones posed as a spy was used against him. Bahari co-wrote a book based on his experiences, Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity and Survival, which Stewart used to write his screenplay.

In the book, which made the Times bestsellers list, Bahari talks about how he was in the country covering elections when he was captured, held, and tortured for 119 days. It's heavy stuff, but there may be a market for it--and even awards prospects. The Oscars this year featured two Middle East-set dramas, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. For a long time, movies set in the region were
Screen-shot-2009-12-01-at-10.04.23-AMconsidered box-office poison, but that's clearly no longer the case. Plus, Bahari was eventually released from prison, so a happy ending is also guaranteed. OddLot Productions and Scott Rudin are among the producers. Rudin has produced a number of prominent awards winners, so his touch could be valuable.

While Stewart is best known as a TV host, he's also an actor with a fair amount of comedy credits. That experience will prove valuable on set. When it comes to the box office, beloved TV stars can rally their audiences and drive them into the theatres. 2010 surprise hit Date Night, which had a particularly long run in theatres, starred "The Office's" Steve Carell and "30 Rock's" Tina Fey, a potent combination that translated to just under $100 million at the box office. If the movie's good, Stewart has many opportunities to promote his work on "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" and mobilize audiences. Stewart, you have our faith with Rosewater.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bad string of movies hurts Wall Street ratings of movie theatre chains

March needs a hit. Last year it was The Hunger Games, the year before was Rango, and the year before that was Alice in Wonderland. March hits are kind of like spring weather though--unpredictable. Last year the top three March releases earned $758 million. In 2011, though, the top three only added up to $285 million. 2010 was good year, with the top three totaling $618 million. So March is fickle, but so are Wall Street analysts. Analyst Eric Wold of B. Riley Caris recently downgraded the ratings of Carmike, AMC, and Cinemark from buy to neutral, sending their prices sliding downward.

Jack the giant slayer

Caris' main reason for the downgrade was the low opening of Jack the Giant Slayer, which should have been a bright spot in six weeks of disappointing box-office returns. He now predicts there will be a year-over-year decline of 15% in the first quarter, instead of 10%. This Friday's release Oz the Great and Powerful should do better than Jack, but it's unlikely it will approach the huge success of Alice in Wonderland.

The unfortunate thing is that the downgraded ratings have nothing to do with the theatres themselves. As many theatre owners have told me during interviews, it's all about the product. If there are good movies, people come. Theatres can dial up the experience with great service and presentation, but without great movies, people stay home.

Now for the good news. Wall Street analysts only care about the next quarter, not the long-term future of the business. This may be a bad March, but what about the summer and winter ahead? Or the amazing lineup of Oscar nominees a few weekends ago, most of which earned over $100 million at the box office? In the wake of so much change, whether it's day-and-date on-demand releases or digital projection, the exhibition industry has been holding strong, and a few bad movies aren't anything the industry hasn't seen before or won't see again.

Monday, March 4, 2013

'Jack the Giant Slayer' disappoints but still climbs to the top

This weekend was a disappointing one. Although Jack the Giant Slayer debuted at first place with $28 million, the special-effects heavy picture cost over $200 million, making it a costly flop for
Jack beanstalk giant slayerWarner Bros. There's a chance the action-heavy fairytale adaptation will play better overseas, eventually bringing it to a break-even or profitable position, but at home, it's not good. The studio was aiming for a family-friendly tentpole that also plays well among general audiences, last perfected with Alice in Wonderland, but it didn't happen. That movie had the benefit of director Tim Burton and a better-known story. That may have made at least part of the difference between that fantasy's $116 million opening and this one's $28 million debut.

21 and Over opened to $9 million. Although the R-rated college comedy cribbed a lot of its feel from last year's Project X, it only opened to half as much. Project X was set in high school and used
Stoker matthew gooded mia wasikowskathe found footage style, while 21 and Over was shot classically and upped the age to college. Maybe those things made a difference, or maybe audiences are fatigued of the genre.

The Last Exorcism Part II also fell short. The horror sequel's $8 million opening wasn't even half of the original's $20 million start. Like 21 and Over, its similar predecessor used found footage, while the follow-up didn't. While it seems like the market for found footage films is near-saturated, maybe that's not actually the case.

Placing above 21 and Over and The Last Exorcism Part II was Identity Thief, which dipped just 30% to place second with $9.7 million. In a weak month, Identity Thief was the bright spot.

The weekend after the Oscars was good to the winners. Best Picture recipient Argo rose 20% to $2.2 million, even though it's available on DVD and on-demand. Silver Linings Playbook posted a 3% rise to $5.9 million. Life of Pi, which came away with more awards than many expected, went up 43% to $2.3 million, earning even more than Argo.

Fox Searchlight's Stoker had a strong debut in limited release, averaging $22,000 per screen in seven locations. It's the first prominent indie to release since early January.

This Friday, Oz the Great and Powerful will try its luck at replicating the Alice in Wonderland formula, and FilmDistrict will add the latest adult thriller to the market with Dead Man Down.

Friday, March 1, 2013

'Jack the Giant Slayer' sets its sights on the clouds

Depending on how Jack the Giant Slayer (3,525 theatres) opens today, the first of March, the box office may come in like a lion, and out like a lamb. Usually mid-March holds at least one blockbuster, like Alice in Wonderland--but it's also a prime place to put an extremely expensive flop and hope for the best (see: John Carter). Originally scheduled for release during the busy
Jack the giant slayer nicholas houltsummer season, Jack switched to March but didn't get a reprieve from a crowded slate: Another special-effects fantasy, Oz the Great and Powerful, will release next Friday. Forecasts predict that Jack will have a difficult time going above $30 million. "Kids won't be all that impressed by an adventure that recycles so much
material from other movies," FJI critic Daniel Eagan assesses, though "3D and some extended battle sequences" will at least give it mileage among some audiences.

Following in the storied path paved by American Pie and last year's Project X, 21 and Over (2,771 theatres) dangles a risque, R-rated comedy in front of young viewers. The writers of The Hangover, Jon Lucas and Scott
Moore, "who also wound up directing," THR's David Guzman says scathingly, apply the 'one crazy night' format to a guy's 21st birthday, to mostly "dull" results. Even with eager audiences in younger
21 and over justin chondemographics, the comedy will likely open in the teen millions.

Specialty-seeking audiences looking for a new carrot to nibble on can check out Stoker (7 theatres), which comes from Korean auteur Park Chan-wook making his first English-language feature. The "dreamy, claustrophobic thriller," as described by critic Maitland McDonagh, has a Southern gothic feel and includes a widow (Nicole Kidman), her remote daughter (Mia Wasikowska) and their just-a-touch creepy uncle (Matthew Goode).
Stoker nicole kidman matthew goode mia wasikowskaThings do not end well. Chan-Wook's visual splendor is in full display, and although you may not like the movie, it's not a waste of time either.

With an oxymoron in the title, people are right to be a bit suspicious of The Last Exorcism Part II (2,700 theatres). The sequel to the hit found-footage film is "soporific," with not enough "genuinely creepy" moments to balance out the anticlimactic ones, according to THR's Frank Scheck. The horror follow-up should end up somewhere below 21 and Over.

Appearing out of nowhere yet releasing in over 2,000 theatres, Phantom is in the vein of Das Boot, The Hunt for Red October and K-19: The Widowmaker. Apparently, it might be better to catch one of those than to go out to the theatres for this. Phantom "harks back to a genre long gone and probably better
forgotten," remarks critic Shirley Sealy. Ed Harris and David Duchovony play Russians, without much in the way of an accent, which subtracted credibility from the enterprise.

On Monday, we'll see if Jack the Giant Slayer was able to defy expectations and eke
out an opening over $30 million, and if the other releases were able to
gain some traction in what looks like a much slower weekend than last