October 19, 2013



OPENINGS:  When Paramount pushed the next Paranormal Activity to 2014, it seemed to give CARRIE (Screen Gems/Sony/MGM) an open field to own the Halloween movie season.  But audiences weren’t interested, and Carrie managed only a $6.6M opening day on the way to a likely $15M weekend, a major disappointment considering the auspices (the classic source material, Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore in the leads) and a budget that by horror standards wasn’t cheap at $30M (plus marketing).  Was the material too familiar?  Did the mediocrity of the result come through too well in the marketing?  Failures are always bad, but unexpected failures are worse.

In the category of “expected failure,” put ESCAPE PLAN (Lionsgate).  Both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have had flops lately with Bullet To the Head and The Last Stand, and combining them didn’t help, for a $3.4M opening day that may not reach a $10M weekend.  Escape Plan cost $70M to produce, probably meaning $150M+ with worldwide marketing, which will require a lot of international overperformance just to reach breakeven.  (Last Stand doubled its US gross overseas, but double won’t do it this time.)

THE FIFTH ESTATE (DreamWorks/Disney) should have been an HBO movie, or at least opened as counterprogramming in a younger-skewing season.  Thrown onto screens against superior films for adults, it was roadkill, and its $600K opening day, which probably won’t reach $2M for the weekend–even at a relatively light 1769 theatres–is an embarrassment.  Happiest box office analyst of the day:  Julian Assange, who predicted it would flop.

HOLDOVERS:  The phenomenon that is GRAVITY (Warners) continues, down just 28% from last Friday to $9.1M and a probable $30M weekend, which will bring it near $170M in the US.  It’s a blockbuster people feel good about, and the question now is whether that will pay off in awards season.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Sony) is also holding very well, down just 39% from last week’s opening day to $5.2M.  There’s a real chance the Captain will edge out Carrie for 2d place over the full weekend–although since Sony is behind both pictures, it’ll really be up to the studio how it chooses to massage the numbers.  In any case, the moderately-budgeted film is looking like a comfortable success, well-placed for awards traction.

MACHETE KILLS (Open Road) inevitably collapsed, down 76% from last Friday to $350K on its way to a $1M weekend and oblivion.   There were good holds for CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (Sony), still the only family fare in town and down just 28% Friday-to-Friday to $2.6M, with a $10M weekend likely, and PRISONERS (Warners), down 42% to $600K as it pushes to reach a $60M total.

ENOUGH SAID (Fox Searchlight) continues to expand each weekend (now at 757 theatres), so its totals won’t drop too much even as its per-theatre average plunges, this weekend to $2500 or less.  At some point, Searchlight is going to run out of theatres enthusiastic about adding a title that isn’t going to perform well.

LIMITED RELEASE:  A lot is going to be written in the few days about the opening for 12 YEARS A SLAVE (Fox Searchlight), which is headed for perhaps a $50K average at 19 theatres.  That’s a big number, but far from overwhelming for a film with the deafening critical support of this one, below the $58K average that Enough Said had in its opening weekend (at 4 theatres) and far from the $100K average of Blue Jasmine (at 6), but above the $29K average for The Way, Way Back (at 19).  More to the point, Searchlight is essentially duplicating the release pattern of Precious in 2009, which started its run 18 theatres that mixed art-houses with general multiplexes located in African-American communities (in LA, 12 Years is at the ArcLight and Landmark, and also at the Rave in Baldwin Hills).  That strategy gave Precious a $104K average in its opening weekend, so 12 Years isn’t looking nearly as strong.  Does it mean something substantial, in terms of audience resistance to an unsparing moviegoing experience?  Too early to tell.

It was flat-out dumb to open ALL IS LOST (Lionsgate/Roadside) in direct competition with 12 Years A Slave, and the film is paying the price, heading toward a mediocre $15K average at 6 theatres.  Lost was going to be a hard sell at the best of times, and this weekend wasn’t that time.  Just a hair behind is KILL YOUR DARLINGS (Sony Pictures Classics), which had a fraction of the critical praise that went Lost‘s way, but should have a $13-14K average at 4.

NEXT WEEKEND:  The next challengers to Gravity come from two extremes of the demo pool.  THE COUNSELOR (20th) is a thriller that exudes class, from director Ridley Scott to a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and (in a supporting role) Brad Pitt.  Whatever BAD GRANDPA (Paramount), from the Jackass guys, is exuding, it isn’t class.  The big arrival in limited release is Cannes Film Festival winner (and 3-hour lesbian NC-17 epic) BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (IFC).

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."