Monday, March 31, 2014

Viewers inundate theatres for ‘Noah’

Darren Aronofosky’s Noah has proven itself an unqualified success. Having bowed to $44 million domestically, Noah has already grossed more than Aronofsky’s first four films combined. It marks the most successful debut ever for a film in which Russell Crowe plays the lead role.

’s audience was evenly split along gender lines, and skewed older: About 74 percent was over the age of 25. Though they showed up in droves, viewers did not leave feeling overly impressed with what they saw, awarding the film a fairly weak C CinemaScore grade. However, recent success The Wolf of Wall Street also earned the middling C and yet managed to hold well. Noah, of course, doesn’t have the advantage of that movie’s Oscar buzz, but it still has a good chance of reaping $110 million in total.

Last weekend’s champ Divergent clocked in at No. 2. The YA actioner dipped 52 percent, which is an impressive hold, considering The Hunger Games suffered a downturn of 62 percent its second weekend in theatres. Divergent added another $26.5 million to its cume that now stands at over $95 million.

Third and fourth place went to current family offerings Muppets Most Wanted and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, respectively. The former may have failed to match the debut of its predecessor when it opened last weekend, but it made up for that disappointment (somewhat) by out-earning The Muppets its second weekend out of the gate. Most Wanted grossed $11.4 million, while The Muppets earned a weaker $11.1 million over its sophomore outing in 2011. For its part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman wasn’t too far behind Kermit and company with a $9.4 million haul. The animated flick now stands at $94.9 million and is on track to cross $100 million within the next several days.

Surprise hit God’s Not Dead continued to chart a successful box-office course. The faith-based film earned $9.1 million to land the weekend’s No. 5 slot. The movie can now boast $22 million after 10 days in theatres.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is officially the highest-grossing movie ever for director Wes Anderson.  The film finally expanded wide this past weekend and earned $8.8 million. Hotel’s cume stands at an impressive $24.4 million, with more on the way following this weekend’s continued expansion.

In dismal seventh place, Sabotage bombed with just $5.3 million. That is the worst haul for a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in almost 30 years and is the actor’s third disappointment in a row. In other words, it might be time for Arnold to holster that gun.

Cesar Chavez raked in $3 million, which, although solid, yet fell short of expectation. The film will likely perform well on Monday, however, which is Cesar Chavez Day.

Finally, the weekend concluded on a considerable high note when Disney’s Frozen became the highest-grossing animated film of all time. The princess movie wrested the title from former record-holder Toy Story 3 when it opened strong in its final market, Japan. Where Toy Story 3 grossed $1.063 billion worldwide, Frozen has now earned $1.072 billion. Can it go on to beat The Dark Knight Rises ($1.084 billion)?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Week in review: 3/24 - 3/28

The great critic debate -- should critics write, or rather, write much more, about form? -- waged on in earnest this week. To briefly recap: Last week, music critic Ted Gioia published an invective against contemporary music journalism, decrying the lack of technological knowledge among writers more concerned with "lifestyle reporting" (nattering away about pop stars' salacious personal lives) than providing insight into or intelligently commenting upon the formal aspects of a song, how the thing is structured and actually made.

Gioia's screed resonanted with critics across multiple platforms, including film. A number of movie critics have chimed in, debating issues such as:

  • Is it important for a film critic to have a background in filmmaking?

  • How much of her review should a critic devote to a discussion of formal elements?

  • How relevant are a critic's emotional "feelings" about a film?

  • Even if a critic does believe she should devote more space in her review to an analysis of form, do readers want to read it?

It's a fascinating debate, and in particular, we thought Editor-in-Chief Matt Zoller Seitz's impassioned response was well worth the read. We've also got NYT's David Carr weighing in on the pressures journalists face to drive traffic to their sites, a relevant companion piece.

Below, you'll also find info on Disney President Anne Sweeney's successor (Sweeney is leaving to pursue her dream of TV directing; we're all for it.); a bittersweet obit on the late James Rebhorn, written by the deceased actor before he passed; the appointment of a pretty cool and eminently likable female director to Critics Week jury president; the first word on a beloved cartoon character's real-life, not fictionalized, origins story; a PR nightmare at the recently wrapped CinemaCon; and some great celebrity drawings that beg to be made into a line of T-shirts or displayed in ostentiously expensive frames.

Thoughts on our picks? Let us know what we missed in the comments below!

Please, Critics, Write about the Filmmaking,

Risks Abound as Reporters Play in Traffic, NYT

Disney Names Ben Sherwood as Anne Sweeney's Successor, The Hollywood Reporer

'Homeland' Actor James Rebhorn Wrote His Own Obituary, The Hollywood Reporter

Andrea Arnold Tapped Jury President of Critics Week's Grand Prize, Variety

Winnie the Pooh Origin Story Developing at RatPac, Variety

Theater Owners Chief: '12 Years a Slave' Was 'Too Intense' to Watch in Cinema, The Hollywood Reporter

 Agata Marszalek, Illustrator,

'Noah’ to flood theatres

Will all the controversy and all the press awarded the controversy reap dividends at the box office this weekend? That’s the question facing Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. The director’s Biblical epic (action movie? Disaster flick? Faith-based offering? The latter seems the most unlikely…) opens in 3,500 theatres today. The familiar story of a man, a flood, and a host of animals boasts a trio of recognizable names: Jennifer Connelly, who is aces at playing crazy Russell Crowe’s supportive wife; Emma Watson; and of course, Crowe himself. Aronofsky, who directed 2010’s Academy Award-winning Black Swan, also brings a formidable fanbase to the table. All told, Paramount is expecting returns to tally out to between $30 and $33 million. Noah is already performing well overseas, in South Korea and Mexico specifically, where it bowed last week. Even if the movie fails to gain traction in the United States, international sales should help keep it out of the red.

Cesar Chavez
, about the life and work of the iconic Mexican civil-rights activist, and Sabotage, starring the iconic (of a different sort) Arnold Schwarzenegger, also open this weekend, though neither is expected to do boffo business. Playing in 2,486 locations, the latter is Schwarzenegger’s most recent attempt at a big-screen comeback. His last two efforts, 2013's The Last Stand and Escape Plan, barely made a splash at the box office and didn’t do much to revive his acting career. With poor reviews (21 percent rotten on Rotten Tomatoes) and a rote drug-cartel-and-kidnapping plotline, it would be surprising if Sabotage proved the hit Arnold has been waiting for. Expect an opening weekend gross of under $10 million.

Cesar Chavez
has also received poor reviews (37 percent rotten), however, a strong Hispanic turnout could propel the film to modest success. Opening in 644 locations, Chavez could pull in as much as, or even more than, $5 million.

Building momentum like a snowball racing down one of those mountains framing The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s specialty hit expands yet again this weekend, to 1,000 theatres. Jason Bateman’s Bad Words finally gets its wide release (800 theatres) today, but having disappointed in limited release the past two weekends, expectations for the movie’s broader national performance are low.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fox offers a look at X-Men, dragons, apes and more

Thanks to the studio previews at CinemaCon, the box-office prospects for 2014 are looking rosier than they did a few days ago. Every major studio has several surefire blockbusters in the pipeline, and one of the most promising lineups was revealed by Jim Gianopulos, CEO and chairman at 20th Century Fox.

The studio added some extra showmanship to its preview event, bringing to the Caesars Palace stage an array of bikinied and feather-adorned samba dancers who gyrated while Ester Dean and rapper B.o.B. performed a song from the upcoming Rio 2.

Fox is in the lucky position of having three well-established tentpoles returning this summer. X-Men: Days of Future Past, with original director Bryan Singer back at the helm, unites the new X-men-days-of-future-past-magneto-featureand older casts of the X-Men franchise in an apocalyptic time-travel thriller. A sequence screened in Las Vegas showed young mutants squaring off against giant lethal metallic creatures and jumping through holes in the space-time continuum, and judging by the trailer which followed, that's just one set-piece among many.

Footage from How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes promise a repeat of the pleasures and thrills of the original box-office hits. And for summer counterprogramming, Fox has The Fault in Our Stars, based on a successful young-adult novel and starring Hollywood's latest It Girl, Divergent lead Shailene Woodley as a teenage cancer patient who falls in love. Woodley was on hand to introduce some clips, and said she's such a fan of the property she would have worked as a production assistant if it turned out she wasn't right for the role. This poignant romance should be catnip for teen girls and will likely be Woodley's second box-office hit of the year.

The event included an intriguing preview of the bestselling mystery Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck as a man under suspicion for the murder of his wife. But most intruguing of all was the first peek at Secret Service, Matthew Vaughn's action tale of a clandestine operation that bypassses the bureaucracy of stodgy institutions like the CIA. Fox screened an instant-classic scene in which deceptively prim and proper Colin Firth takes on a gang of young British hooligans in a pub with startling efficiency. (It's kind of a companion piece to a similar scene shown from Denzel Washington's Sony vigilante film, The Equalizer.SecreService wasn't on anyone's radar, but it sure is now after the rousing reception at CinemaCon.

And, oh yes, Fox has more tentpoles in the pipeline: Night at the Museum 3, Taken 3, The Penguins of Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda 3. The titles zipped by at the end of the program, almost as if Fox wanted to save some juice for CinemaCon 2015.

—Kevin Lally

Warner Bros. brings out the stars

One of the biggest attractions of CinemaCon for motion picture exhibitors is the chance to ogle stars off the big screen. Well, Warner Bros. delivered ample star wattage at its Thursday afternoon "Big Picture" presentation of upcoming product at the Caesars Palace Colosseum. Making the trip to Las Vegas were Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, CinemaCon Stars of the Year Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, Melissa McCarthy, Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis and the iconic Clint Eastwood, along with directors Wally Pfister (Transcendence), Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), R.J. Cutler (If I Stay), Steven Quale (Into the Storm), Ben Falcone (Tammy) and Frank Coraci (Blended), and Into the Storm co-stars Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies ("The Walking Dead"). Whew!

First up was footage from Transcendence, the directing debut of Christopher Nolan's longtime Transcendencecinematographer Wally Pfister, starring Depp as a dying scientist whose brain is merged with a computer. Depp, always a man of few words, nodded at Freeman and said, "This is God, by the way." Pfister, meanwhile, assured the theatre crowd that "every film I've shot is designed to be viewed on the largest canvas possible." In the spirit of his colleague Nolan, a producer on the project, Transcendence is big-scale sci-fi with larger questions on its mind.

The self-effacing Edwards called himself the world's second biggest Godzilla fan after producer Thomas Tull, and told exhibitors they were part of the team bringing the revival of the rampaging lizard to a hoped-for successful fruition. Judging from the pulse-pounding footage shown, with especially intense work by Bryan Cranston (currently back in New York performing in the LBJ play All the Way), this iteration will be much more satisfying than the 1998 reboot.

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore were certainly impressed. "Never mind Blended [the comedy they came to promote]. How about that f---ing Godzilla!" Sandler exclaimed. And a very pregnant Barrymore declared, "I'm creating life and I started crying at the destruction in that trailer!" Blended is their third film together, and Barrymore called Sandler "the greatest partner a girl could ever hope for," as Sandler murmured approval. Sandler then joked that they were there in Vegas to find out who fathered Barrymore's child. "She's not raising this baby alone!"

Eastwood came to the stage to a standing ovation, and not only thanked the audience but their parents who once came to the Vegas event when it was called ShoWest. He also gave a shoutout to the theatre's Dolby Atmos sound system for "blowing me out of my seat." Actually, he joked, "it's the first time I've been able to hear a film."

The veteran star was there as the director of Jersey Boys, the film of the hugely successful Broadway musical about The Four Seasons, which adds period realism to the piece while retaining the device of having the individual group members narrate their own story direct to the camera.

Improv queen Melissa McCarthy had some fun banter with her Tammy director, co-writer and spouse Ben Falcone, joking, "For the first time, I can now say I'm sleeping with the director." Falcone retorted that McCarthy was one of three cast members he slept with; McCarthy counted four on her bedpost. The film, meanwhile, looks like another well-tailored vehicle for the ribald, uninhibited screen personality that has made McCarthy a surprise box-office force.

One preview that certainly lived up to the advance hype of its director and stars was Into the Storm, a realistic depiction of devastating Midwest tornados whose persuasive visual effects may be too painful a reminder for Americans who've lived through these extreme weather catastrophes.

The Warner event ended with a prerecorded video from director Peter Jackson and a film tribute to the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit series of films that has grossed a remarkable $4.9 billion worldwide. The once-dubious gamble to turn the comparatively thin Hobbit volume into a trio of films has certainly reaped big dividends.

Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara also made his first CinemaCon appearance, noting that the decision of other studios to cut back on their release slates offers "a great opportunity for us to expand our footprint." With an annual schedule of 22 films, Warner Bros. is one of the true believers in theatrical exhibition.

—Kevin Lally

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Glimpse of Pixar's 'Inside Out' among the highlights at Disney CinemaCon preview

For this viewer, the brightest news of Disney's morning preview presentation at CinemaCon was a clear signal that Pixar is back in brilliant form after the disappointments of Cars 2, Monsters University and even the Oscar-winning Brave. Executive VP of theatrical distribution Dave Hollis showed a sequence from Inside Out, the label's 2015 release directed by Pete Docter of Up fame, Inside-out-concept-art-666and the concept is an inspired true original. Much of the film takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl, with characters named Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust and Anger representing her ever-shifting emotions. (They're voiced, respectively, by Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith of "The Office," Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and Lewis Black.) The hilarious segment shown to CinemaCon attendees not only features those characters, but the folks inside the brains of her parents too. Young Riley's family has just moved cross-country, which has put her in a foul mood, and the dynamics of a typical parent-child spat over the dinner table are ingeniously dissected through the interactions of these brain avatars. Despite this, ahem, heady premise, the audience at Caesars Palace immediately grasped the idea and responded with warm and hearty laughter. Damn you, Pixar, for making us wait till 2015 for this one.

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier already getting great advance word, Disney has yet another very promising Marvel movie on tap for August 1: Guardians of the Galaxy. The Marvel blockbusters have always maintained a sense of humor even when the fate of the world is at stake, but this one ups the irreverence factor with its motley quintet of rule-breaking, outcast superheroes. While the Avengers' circle of larger-than-life warriors looks to spin off into the next decade, this new addition to the Marvel movie universe may bring a second set of sequels and spinoffs. It's a tantalizingly different side of Marvel, led by comic actor Chris Pratt (CinemaCon Breakthrough Performer of the Year and the voiceover star of The Lego Movie).

Those looking for details on the seventh Star Wars film were left in the dark; as Disney chairman said in the voice of Yoda, "Patience you must have." Neither did the studio show any footage from its Christmas Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, which stars Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick as familiar faces in what Hollis called "the Avengers of fairytales." But an extended look at Cinderella revealed a lavish, stylish and straightforward live-action retelling of the tale that's already a Disney animation classic.

The lone celebrity on hand was Jon Hamm, in Las Vegas to introduce a screening of his first starring vehicle, Million Dollar Arm, and to collect a CinemaCon "Excellence in Acting" Award. ("Thanks for not nominating Bryan Cranston," he joked about his eternal Emmy losses.) This very heartwarming comedy-drama is based on the true story of a sports agent who traveled to India to find and train cricket players to become Major League Baseball pitchers; The Scout meets Slumdog Millionaire was probably the logline. Horn reported that the film is "the highest-testing movie I've ever experienced"—even higher than Harry Potter, which he shepherded at Warner Bros. CinemaCon press is under orders not to review the films screened there, but I can say that the movie delivers on many levels, thanks in large part to the craft of screenwriter Tom McCarthy, the writer-director of such excellent, humanistic films as The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win.

Sony also previewed its upcoming product on Wednesday afternoon, with no surprise celebrities to excite the crowd. But its lineup of comedies—22 Jump Street, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel in Sex Tape, Seth Rogen and James Franco assigned to kill Kim Jong-un in The Interview—appears pretty surefire. The supernatural chiller Deliver Us from Evil looks like it could tap that unquenchable thirst for movie horror if marketed well, the new version of the musical Annie seems disarming, and you don't want to mess with Denzel Washington as The Equalizer.

President of worldwide theatrical distribution Rory Bruer introduced 30 minutes of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, including a James Bond-worthy opening sequence with Peter Parker's late father and mother on a doomed plane and one in which Jamie Foxx's Electro ravages Times Square. (What do all these tentpoles have against New York City, anyway?) The 3D looked sensational, and the clips were a robust showcase for the Dolby Atmos immersive sound system installed at the Caesars Palace Colosseum. In the spirit of Disney's perpetual Marvel machine, Sony is planning its own spinoffs of its lone Marvel property, and this latest Spider-Man outing should fuel that long-range plan.

—Kevin Lally

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Angelina Jolie surprises and 'Fifty Shades' teases at Universal CinemaCon preview

Nikki Rocco, the veteran president of distribution at Universal Pictures, told movie exhibitors exactly what they wanted to hear at CinemaCon in Las Vegas during this morning's preview presentation. "Hits don't just come at summer and Christmas," she proclaimed. "A year has 52 weekends."

For years, John Fithian of the National Association of Theatre Owners has been calling for a more evenly spaced out schedule of quality releases throughout the year, and Universal has benefited mightily by following just that strategy. The studio's January hits Lone Survivor and Ride Along held the number one and two spots at the box office two weeks in a row, the first time a distributor had done that in two decades. And next month, Universal looks to have a monster hit in Neighbors,
Neighbors_2014_movie-wideif the CinemaCon audience's response to that R-rated comedy's raucous trailer is any indication. Anyone who's ever coped with a noisy, inconsiderate neighbor will relate to the movie's extreme take on that scenario, as a bunch of entitled, boorish frat boys (led by Zac Efron) move next door to Seth Rogen, wife Rose Byrne and their infant.

Univcrsal has another likely hit in A Million Ways to Die in the West, Seth McFarlane's western sendup that looks like a 21st-century Blazing Saddles with more shock violence and a higher raunch factor. Also very intriguing was Luc Besson's Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson as a drug mule who ingests a substance that gives her super-intelligence and fierce fighting skills. It all looks patently absurd but unabashedly entertaining, as Johansson completes a movie trifecta with her Marvel Black Widow and the seductively lethal alien she plays in Under the Skin.

For 2015, Universal has no less than four franchises in play. The glimpses of the seventh Fast & Furious movie revealed more jaw-dropping stunt work (with cars parachuted out of a plane, for some reason the script will surely explain) and shots of the series' late star, Paul Walker. The studio had surprisingly ample footage to show from Minions, the Despicable Me spinoff which traces the history of those giddy yellow creatures who live to serve a demanding master; the fun sight gags, including one involving the construction of the Pyramids, augur another worldwide smash. The studio is also reviving one of its biggest blockbusters in 2015 with Jurassic World, and teased the sequel to its sleeper musical winner Pitch Perfect with footage from the original.

Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley was very enthusiastic about the studio's prestige Christmas picture, Unbroken, the story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, who was captured and brutalized by the Japanese during World War II. Amazingly, Universal has owned the rights to Zamperini's story since 1957, when it planned to star Tony Curtis as the war hero. Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 bestseller about Zamperini revived interest in the project. which finally came to fruition thanks to a "force of nature" (in Langley's words) named Angelina Jolie, who directed.

Jolie appeared onstage, stunning in a white pantsuit, and introduced an extended trailer with quiet eloquence. Unbroken, she said, delivers a message "we need now more than ever," chronicling "the journey of a man through darkness into light." The clips revealed a big-scale, harrowing but inspirational film, photographed by the great Roger Deakins. It's the kind of movie the Academy loves, so don't be surprised if Jolie vies for a second Oscar next year in a new capacity.

The session ended with the world premiere of scenes from Fifty Shades of Grey, the movie of the huge bestseller that made kinky sex a fashionable turn-on for millions of women. "How do you make a movie of Fifty Shades of Grey?" Langley asked. "Very carefully." The clips were distinctly PG-rated, but who can say how far this eagerly awaited movie will go to be faithful to the spirit of the book? In any event, leads Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are very attractive and seem to have good chemistry; whether that chemistry steams up the screen next Valentine's Day is a question that will no doubt bring long lines to multiplexes on opening weekend.

—Kevin Lally

Monday, March 24, 2014

Exhibitors challenge movie critics (and vice versa) at CinemaCon

The non-International Day programming at CinemaCon 2014 in Las Vegas began with a fun, loose event that instantly energized this annual gathering of the National Association of Theatre Owners. Matt Atchity, editor-in-chief of the highly influential movie review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, and senior editor Grae Drake hosted a session entitled "Rotten Tomatoes vs. the Audience: The Relevance of Film Critics Today," with a panel including veteran critic Leonard Maltin, USA Today's Claudia Puig, Scott Mantz of "Access Hollywood," and former Associated Press critic Christy Lemire.

With Drake as witty intermediary in the audience, exhibitors were encouraged to come to the mike and defend a film they felt didn't get a fair shake from critics or call out a movie they thought was overrrated. The results bore out Maltin's observation that our passions about movies are a very subjective thing indeed. One woman said she just didn't get all the fuss over Gravity; another volunteer said he found 12 Years a Slave sluggish and not that revelatory. Others rose to the defense of box-office bombs John Carter and Battleship. Puig and Lemire both came down hard on the oeuvre of director John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side), decrying his sentimental tendencies, and the murmurs in the audience revealed a true divide between critics and theatre folk.

One volunteer wrestled with his feelings over Ridley Scott's The Counselor, admitting he enjoyed the overwrought melodrama even though he knew it was a bad film. Maltin reassured him, saying there aren't enough "so bad it's good" movies. "There's nothing to be said for mediocre films," he observed. "If you're going to see a bad movie, make it as bad as The Counselor."

Asked whether film critics need to adjust their criteria when evaluating a movie aimed at a certain demographic such as the Twilight series, Maltin answered, "I can't pretend to be a teenage girl or an action-movie junkie. People know a critic's mindset." Just as a critic is mindful of the audience, "the audience is mindful of us too," he argued.

One audience member asked whether critics truly have any impact on box office. For a Transformers or a Twilight with a built-in audience, no, but the enthusiasm of critics saved a movie like The Hurt Locker from obscurity and eventually brought it to the Oscar podium, Maltin noted. But The Hurt Locker was still a box-office underperformer, the exhibitor pointed out. True, the panel relented, but critics can still "start the conversation" that turns a movie like Slumdog Millionaire with no apparent audience hook into a box-office success.

It's a new age for film criticism, the panel observed, with "so many more people writing with a wide audience than ever before." Maltin noted that in this digital, web-connected age, "everybody's a moviemaker, everybody's a musician, everybody's a writer." Thanks to this "democratization of creativity," knowing who to trust isn't as clear as when the dividing lines between professional and amateur critic were clear. "The challenge is sifting through and finding the smart ones."

—Kevin Lally

Digital cinema reaches the end game

"Digital Cinema: Reaching the End Game" was the title of the address by IHS Technology film and cinema director David Hancock during the opening International Day session at CinemaCon in Las Vegas—and end is certainly the operative word. The statistical expert reported that 87% of the world's movie screens have now converted to digital projection. China is 100% converted, Western Europe is "nearly done" at 90%, and North America is also around the 90% mark, though that final 10% is stubbornly holding out at their peril, Hancock noted. Latin America trails at 68%, with some nations desperately behind the curve, like Venezuela at an alarming 23%.

Nearly half the world's screens—some 53,000—are now 3D-capable, and Hancock opined that 3D has left the novelty phase and is entering its maturity. "It's now another film choice," he observed, noting that in this new climate 3D needs to be perceived as a true added value, as was the case with the runaway 3D smash Gravity.

Hancock also touched on other notable recent trends. Theatre circuits' new branded premium large-format initiatives are starting to encroach on the territory previously dominated by the pioneer of giant screens, IMAX, in a dramatic way. In 2012, IMAX screens represented 87% of the large-format market; in 2013, that figure dropped to 65%.

Another topic was the development of laser projectors, technology which is being showcased by both Christie and Barco at CinemaCon. Wearied by the recent digital conversion mandate, exhibitors aren't keen to embrace another expensive new technology in the near future. But Hancock did foresee theatres taking a look at laser in 2017 when their service contracts for Series 1 digital projectors expire, and again in 2019 when their Series 2 deals end.

CinemaCon's morning seminars also included a wake-up call from Malcolm MacMillan and Patrick Bjorkman at Glasgow-based Peach Digital, which oversees web strategies and implementation for 15 exhibitors in seven countries. They noted that 80% of people in the developed world use the Internet, more than use a car. And within that vast majority, the use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets (compared to desktops and laptops) is growing dramatically. Yet only 34% of cinemas have mobile solutions for their customers, compared to 88% of travel businesses and 70% of retail businesses. That's a lot of wasted potential, since "every device is a point of sale," they declared. Peach Digital was clearly using CinemaCon to pitch their consulting services, but the need is there. Like the digital revolution, reaching customers where they virtually live is yet another challenge cinemas must meet in this rapidly evolving technological world.

—Kevin Lally

‘Divergent’ justifies franchise plans

Young-adult adaptation Divergent hit the mark this weekend with its $56 million bow. Although less than that which the first Twilight or either of the Hunger Games films earned over their opening weekends, Divergent’s debut is nonetheless strong enough to justify Summit Entertainment’s plans to move ahead with sequels Insurgent (booked for March 2015) and Allegiant (March 2016). And a good thing, too – shooting on Insurgent has already begun.

Muppets Most Wanted
landed in second place but failed to measure up to its predecessor. The family film stumbled out of the gate, grossing $16.5 million. Although no one expected Most Wanted to perform as well as 2011’s The Muppets, which enjoyed a $29.2 million debut, most pundits were predicting returns in the low $20 millions. Audiences awarded the film a “B+” CinemaScore grade, which means generally positive word-of-mouth should help it reach a total of around $50 million by the end of its theatrical run.


The number three and four slots went to holdovers Mr. Peabody & Sherman ($11.7 million) and 300: Rise of an Empire ($8.7 million), respectively. The weekend’s great success story, however, belongs to No. 4, or God’s Not Dead. The film about a young Christian college student who challenges his atheist professor raked in a great $8.56 million, the best debut ever for a faith-based movie opening in fewer than 1,000 theatres. The surprise hit could earn as much as $30 million in total, further testament (no pun intended) to the fact the Christian faithful is a demographic to be reckoned with.

Need for Speed continued to sputter, dipping 56 percent to earn the weekend’s No. 5 spot with its $7.78 million tally.

In the specialty realm, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel keeps on chugging merrily along,  adding an additional $6.75 million to its cume that now stands at just under $13 million. After a successful platform release, it will finally expand wide, to 800+ theatres, next weekend.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Week in review: 3/17 - 3/21

This week saw two big Hollywood players, Sofia Coppola and Andy Serkis, sign on to direct projects for the benefit of the little people -- kids, that is. A cult classic celebrated its 10th anniversary, we were treated to our first look at classic cartoons in 3D form, and a critic made an impassioned plea for accomplished short films to be taken as seriously as any modern classic feature. While we're on the subject, Golden Era-Hollywood choreographer and director Busby Berkeley, he of 42nd Street fame, will be the subject of a new movie, thanks to producer (and most likely, star) Ryan Gosling. Unfortunately, Gosling's Busby biopic is not a Sony project, which is too bad, as the studio could use a hit, or quite a few, right now.

Our final pick of the week has no direct ties to the world of film, but is nonetheless an interesting read for anyone interested in art and entertainment criticism (and spats) in general.

What have we missed? Let us know by sounding off in the comments below!

Sofia Coppola to helm 'The Little Mermaid,' Deadline Hollywood

Andy Serkis to direct 'The Jungle Book' for Warner Bros., The Hollywood Reporter

Blessed Are The Forgetful: Remembering Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on its 10th Anniversary, Indiewire

You're a CGI-rendered Man, Charlie Brown in the Peanuts 3-D Teaser, The A.V. Club

Does the Cinema Need Short Films?, The New Yorker

Ryan Gosling Producing Busby Berkeley Biopic, May Also Star, Indiewire

Sony Interactive Group Shuts Down as Layoffs Begin, The Hollywood Reporter

Rosen: In Defense of Pop Criticism, Vulture

‘Divergent’ to dive into first place

Young adult novel adaptation Divergent is tracking strong among advanced ticket sales and should easily win the weekend’s top spot. Right now, the film accounts for 80 percent of weekend sales, according to Fandango. Lionsgate/Summit is clearly hoping for another successful franchise in the vein of its Twilight and Hunger Games series. Author Veronica Roth’s trilogy does have a large and devoted fanbase, and Divergent the film apparently has the most Instagram followers ever for a movie. However, mega or even sustained success largely depends upon Divergent’s ability to lure viewers who are unfamiliar with the books. If that’s the case, the film might be in trouble. Roundly poor reviews (38 percent rotten on Rotten Tomatoes) will certainly deter some would-be audience members. Opening weekend should prove very strong, $60 million or so, propelled by the power of the literary faithful. How well Divergent holds from there on out, however, is anyone’s guess.

If Divergent is practically assured first-place standing this weekend, then Muppets Most Wanted will clock in at No. 2.  The follow-up to 2011’s reboot The Muppets opens in 3,194 theatres today. It’s received fairly positive reviews (77 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and, though it doesn’t include The Muppets stars Amy Adams and Jason Segel, it does have Tina Fey as well as Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell to act as major draws. Whether that’s enough, and whether or not families are ready to move on from Mr. Peabody & Sherman, will largely determine whether this weekend’s second-place champion crosses $25 million.

Smaller releases bowing today include the faith-based film God’s Not Dead (780 theatres), Blood Ties (28 theatres) and Nymph()maniac Vol. 1 (24 theatres). Although Kirk Cameron’s Fireproof was something of a surprise hit in 2008, opening to $6.8 million, more recent Christian films, including The Grace Card, The Ultimate Gift and To Save a Life, opened much softer, earning between $1 and $2 million. In all likelihood, God’s Not Dead will also rake in a smaller pile of earnings, as will Blood Ties, which, for all its star-studded cast (Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Marion Cotillard) has been given little to no exposure and received mostly negative reviews. Nymph()maniac is a tougher one to call: Prurient interest in its subject could drive sales, but the movie has also been available on VOD for several weeks. Some pundits are speculating this is the type of film people are more comfortable watching in their homes, in which case, expect a fairly modest opening for this latest from Lars von Trier.

Finally, specialty juggernaut (funny, considering the director’s thing for miniatures) The Grand Budapest Hotel expands to 304 locations today, and Jason Bateman’s Bad Words screens in 87. The latter opens wide next weekend, on Friday, March 28.

Monday, March 17, 2014

‘Need for Speed’ crashes at box office

Jesse Pinkman deserves better. Hollywood’s latest videogame adaptation undercut what were already modest expectations this weekend when Need for Speed failed to nab first (or second) place at the box office. Instead, the Aaron Paul-starrer earned a disappointing $17.8 million. Its debut haul secured the film third-place standing behind Mr. Peabody and Sherman ($21.2 million) and 300: Rise of an Empire ($19.1 million). The former enjoyed a solid hold from the previous weekend, dropping just 34 percent.  To compare, last year’s The Croods dropped 39 percent its second weekend in theatres, while How to Train Your Dragon also dipped 34 percent. Rise of an Empire took a fairly steep hit – suffering a downturn of 58 percent – but its overall cume remains respectable ($78.3 million to date).

With an “eh” CinemaScore rating of a B+, it looks as if Need for Speed will only continue to stall. Overall returns should tally out to south of $50 million. As for Tyler Perry’s Single Moms Club, it’s unlikely the film will even reach that benchmark. The prolific Perry suffered his worst opening yet with Club, which grossed $8.3 million. Prior to this weekend, Daddy’s Little Girls was Perry’s least-successful outing, having opened to $11.2 million in 2007.

Perry’s last few features (Tyler Perry Presents Peeples, A Madea Christmas) have also been disappointments. The films’ distributor, Lionsgate, has had a rough time of it recently: The company suffered losses on both The Legend of Hercules and I, Frankenstein as well. Let’s hope this weekend’s Divergent changes its luck for the better.

No such wishes are needed for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which continues to do marvelous business. This past weekend saw the comedy rake in an additional $3.6 million from 66 locations. The film will enjoy its largest expansion yet this coming weekend, when it will screen in 275 theatres.

Despite some streaming troubles for those who opted to pay for a Web version of the film, Veronica Mars can be called a modest success. The movie earned $2 million from 291 locations. With the continued and concurrent availability of VOD, however, it will be interesting to see how the movie holds in the coming weeks.

Here’s hoping the weeks ahead are kinder to Jason Bateman’s Bad Words. The actor’s feature directorial debut hasn’t gotten off to a boffo start: The movie screened in six locations and grossed just $120,000. It will expand nationwide on Friday.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The week's top stories: 3/7-3/14

Each Friday afternoon moving forward, we will compile and post a list of the week's top film stories. Between casting updates, features, breaking news and other industry highlights, we aim to provide a comprehensive mix of stand-out headlines. The following is a breakdown of those stories that piqued our interest between 3/7 and 3/14. Let us know what we've missed in the comments section below!

Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney, NYT Magazine

2 Killed When Suspected Drunk Driver Plows Into Crowd at SXSW, CNN

Disney Shocker: Top Exec Anne Sweeney to Exit to Become TV Director, The Hollywood Reporter

Rooney Mara Cast as Tiger Lily in 'Pan' Sparks Backlash Over Native American Role, New York Daily News

Stefan Zweig, Wes Anderson, and a Longing for the Past, The New Yorker

The Divergent Challenge: Rally Teen Books and Movies, The Wall Street Journal


BONUS: First published in 2005, re-posted the true story behind The Hurt Locker this week:
The Man in the Bomb Suit: The Story that inspired The Hurt Locker, Playboy

‘Need for Speed’ to cruise into 1st place

Disney is expecting modest returns in the low-to-mid $20 millions for videogame adaptation Need for Speed this weekend, but those earnings should still be enough to propel the Aaron Paul star vehicle (pun not intended, we promise) to first place. The film has received terrible reviews (23 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), not to mention, movies based on or inspired by videogames do not have a great track record of success (see: Max Payne, Doom). Nonetheless, the fanboy fan-base is a faithful one, and Aaron Paul, fresh off the final season of "Breaking Bad," will no doubt draw many fans in his own right.

Tyler Perry’s Single Moms Club also opens wide this weekend. However, it will probably not take second place, or even third place. Those slots should go to holdovers Mr. Peabody & Sherman and 300: Rise of an Empire. Both films are expected to gross in the high-teens, while Club is tracking a little softer, in the mid-teens. Incredibly, Single Moms Club will mark director Tyler Perry’s 15th movie since 2006. Nine of those films debuted to $20 million or more, although most featured Perry’s Madea character or opened over Easter weekend. Club fits neither criterion.

TV cult favorite Veronica Mars finally hits the big screen today. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, in which fans raised over $5 million, Mars will screen in 291 locations and via VOD. If everyone who contributed to the Kickstarter fund opts to see the movie in theatres, Veronica Mars could earn upwards of $2 million.

Ahead of its wide release next weekend, Jason Bateman’s feature directorial debut Bad Words opens in six locations in NY and LA. It will probably not beat or even meet the record-breaking per-screen average Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel achieved last weekend, although it may still enjoy a solid opening. As for Hotel, the feature expands to 66 locations and will likely take in $2 million or so.

Monday, March 10, 2014

‘300: Rise of an Empire’ dominates weekend BO

300: Rise of an Empire debuted to strong numbers this weekend, even if it failed to match the boffo opening of 300. The sequel raked in $45.05 million from 3,470 locations (compared with the first film’s $70.9 million gross) and can largely thank 3D ticket sales for its high returns: 3D screenings accounted for 63 percent of earnings. Thirty-eight percent of the audience for Rise of an Empire was made up of women, an uptick from 300, which drew a crowd that was only 29 percent female. Viewers of both sexes awarded the movie a “B” CinemaScore grade, which isn’t great, and may portend a significant drop in sales over the coming weeks. However, it’s likely the film will continue to perform well abroad. Rise of an Empire may have fallen short of 300 here in the United States, but it out-performed its predecessor overseas. From 58 markets, Empire reaped $87.8 million. Russia led the international crowd with $9.2 million.

The weekend’s other wide release, Mr. Peabody & Sherman performed to 20th Century Fox’s expectations, though it was still a disappointment for DreamWorks. The update on the classic cartoon grossed $32.5 million. That figure is an improvement over previous DreamWorks films Rise of the Guardians and Turbo, but it failed to match the highs of The Croods and How to Train Your Dragon, which both debuted to over $40 million. Those who did purchase tickets to the film, however, seemed to like what they saw: Audiences gave the movie an “A” CinemaScore rating. That’s a good sign so far as positive word-of-mouth goes, and could help propel the film to an eventual cume of $100 million.

The weekend’s third-place slot went to Non-Stop, which added another $15.4 million to a total that now stands at $52.1 million. The Lego Movie clocked in next with its $11 million gross, a downturn of 47 percent. That drop in sales is the hit movie’s steepest yet, and is probably thanks to competition from Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Lego’s total is currently $225 million.

In fifth place, Son of God earned $10 million, off 61 percent from last weekend. So far, the re-appropriation of The History channel’s “The Bible” mini-series has earned $41.5 million.

Finally, the weekend’s most exciting box-office news comes in the form of The Grand Budapest Hotel. This latest outing for Wes Anderson broke the record previously set by Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master for highest-grossing limited live action debut ever (maybe it’s something in the directors’ shared name?). The Grand Budapest Hotel earned $800,000 in total, which works out to a per-screen average of a little more than $200,000 (the movie opened in four theatres, two in LA and two in New York, this weekend). Budapest will expand to 1,000+ locations over the coming five weeks.


Friday, March 7, 2014

‘Rise of an Empire’ to dwarf ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’

Seven years ago, CGI sword-and-sandals epic 300 took the box office by surprise when it opened to a wonderful $70 million. The Zach Snyder film, which set the March record for best opening weekend, would go on to earn over $456 million worldwide. 300: Rise of an Empire isn’t exactly a sequel, per se – interestingly, it covers the same span of time as the first movie – but, with a mostly new cast and a different angle on the Greek-Spartan conflict, it’s certainly a follow-up. The question is, will it match the debut of its predecessor? Unlikely. The novelty of Snyder’s signature style has worn off (although Snyder worked on the screenplay, commercials director Noam Murro helmed Rise of an Empire), as has 300’s mix of togas and action; thanks to the popularity of the first film, we’ve seen several copycut productions and spoofs since 2007. Nonetheless, 300: Rise of an Empire is still tracking strong. According to Fandango, the movie is out-selling G.I. Joe: Retaliation in pre-sales, which bodes well for a solid opening: G.I. Joe opened to $40.5 million last March. Also, let’s not forget, Rise of an Empire is screening in 58 markets overseas. Even if it fails to match 300 domestically, it could out-perform its predecessor internationally.

Gunning for second place, DreamWorks production Mr. Peabody & Sherman also opens wide this weekend. March has historically been kind to the animation studio: The Croods opened to $43.6 million in 2013 while How to Train Your Dragon bowed to $43.7 million in 2010. Many pundits are unsure, however, how Mr. Peabody & Sherman will perform. DreamWorks' last two productions, Rise of the Guardians and Turbo, failed to meet expectations and even lost money.  Sherman has so far garnered mixed reviews, and it faces stiff competition from the still-going-strong The Lego Movie. Fandango has the film tracking stronger than Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, which opened to $34 million this past September. 20th Century Fox, however, is only expecting $25 to $30 million in opening-weekend business.

For specialty devotees, the weekend’s big release comes in the form of Wes Anderson’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Great reviews and a strong cast – Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, and cameos by Anderson stalwarts Bill Murray and Owen Wilson – should propel the film to high returns. Think somewhere south of his roundly loved Moonrise Kingdom, which scored the third-best per-theatre average for a live action film when it opened in 2012, but possibly north of Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou (2004), both of which opened in the low $20 millions.

Overall, the weekend’s box-office breakdown should look something like this:

  1. 300: Rise of an Empire

  2. Mr. Peabody & Sherman

  3. Non-Stop

  4. Son of God

  5. The Lego Movie

Monday, March 3, 2014

‘Non-Stop’ tops ‘Son of God’

The question on everyone’s lips, “Who would win in a fight between Liam Neeson and Jesus?” has been settled. The country’s favorite action star KO’ed the iconic religious figure $30 million to $26.5 million at the box office this weekend. Non-Stop’s impressive opening haul exceeded the debuts of Neeson’s last two movies, Unknown (which bowed to $21.9 million in 2011) and 2011’s The Grey ($19.7 million). The airborne thriller is Universal’s third movie to open at No. 1 this year, after Lone Survivor and Ride Along. A few more women than men purchased tickets to the film (the audience breakdown was 51 percent female) and were mostly part of an older crowd (65 percent of attendees were over the age of 25). They generally liked what they saw, awarding Non-Stop an A- CinemaScore rating, which means the movie should hold well over the next few weeks. It will likely top out at around $80 million.

Son of God
impressed with its second-place standing. The movie about the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, a repurposing of The History Channel’s “The Bible” mini-series, far out-performed other recent religious films, including The Nativity Story (2006) and Kirk Cameron’s Fireproof (2008), which opened to $7.8 million and $6.8 million, respectively. Of course, it didn’t attain the fiscal heights of Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of The Christ – which earned $26 million on its first day – but, lacking that film’s controversy and star power, this was to be expected. Attendees were 62 percent female and 82 percent over the age of 25 and also awarded the move an A- CinemaScore grade. Such a favorable audience reaction portends continued steady, if not stellar, success, however, many pundits are unsure how well Son of God will hold through the rest of its theatrical run, as well as for how long that run will last.

As expected, The Lego Movie clocked in at No. 3. The awesomely successful animated hit raked in another $21 million and, on Saturday, became the first movie released in 2014 to cross the $200 million mark.

In fourth place, The Monuments Men continues to defy the critics and do great business. George Clooney’s labor of art love earned $5 million, which has boosted the movie’s overall cume to $65.7 million.

The two new releases that opened wide last weekend, 3 Days to Kill and Pompeii, both suffered steep drops their second weekend out of the gate. Kevin Costner-starrer Kill dropped 60 percent to gross $4.9 million, earning it the weekend’s No. 5 spot. Pompeii eased 58 percent to take in $4.3 million.

Smaller and specialty releases did their part to contribute to the weekend’s BO earnings as well. The Wind Rises fared the best, grossing $1.6 million from 496 locations, followed by the extended cut of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, which earned $1.34 million. Repentance, starring Forest Whitaker and Anthony Mackie, made $530,000 from 152 locations, while Russian 3D war film Stalingrad tallied out to $500,000, having screened in 308 theatres.

Finally, Oscar contenders, led by American Hustle, continued to draw audiences right up until the big telecast on Sunday night. Combined, the nine nominees for Best Picture earned around $7.4 million, with American Hustle raking in the largest haul with its $1.9 million weekend gross.