Listen ... can you hear it? That's the sound of the other lawn gnome dropping on the shady back lots of Warner Bros., Fox, Sony, Paramount, Universal and other movie-making companies.
Lets just put it this way: When the No. 1 movie at the box office is a second-rate CG-animated kiddie movie, in its third weekend of release, well Houston, a problem is what we have.
But that's what happened this weekend, when Disney's Gnomeo & Juliet won the domestic box office with just $14.2 million, beating out two new R-rated entries: Farrelly Bros. comedy Hall Pass (which took in an estimated $13.4 million) and Nicolas Cage supernatural thriller Drive Angry (which drove badly to $5.1 million).
Overall, the domestic motion picture business was down more than 25 percent going into the weekend. But that figure just got worse. Oscar weekend is always soft, because movie fans don't go to the multiplex on Sunday, they stay home to watch the awards. But this weekend's box office was down a full 44 percent from last year's Oscar-weekend, which featured the big opening of Disney's Alice in Wonderland.
No, in 2011, Alice doesn't live here anymore ... Gnomeo does.
Not to be harsh on Gnomeo -- it's a perfectly good kids movie, and my 8-year-old boy consumes enough TV and videogames these days to know the difference, believe me.
The problem is, no way should this lightly regarded CG film be winning the box office on its first weekend, let alone its third. We're not talking about Tangled or Cars, big movies that Disney spends a ton of money on to market and promote. This is a little movie, designed to grab a few dollars and move onto DVD and pay-per-view.
Now, due to market forces, or lack thereof, it's a friggin' hit.
Last week, the Motion Picture Association of America -- the Washington lobby that rates movies and works hard to make sure you don't pirate stuff online -- announced that the global motion picture business reached an all-time record gross of $31.4 billion in 2010.
That's great news for the biz -- but it may be masking a larger issue. In the U.S., where the major entertainment trends are established, the kids are not going to the movies like they used to.
Yep, as much as I love him, my boy Kellen is once again at the heart of the problem.
"Dude, how about we go see Big Momma's 3, so that I'm not here when your mom gets home, and I don't have to hang a knife rack for her?" I asked him on Saturday. (I just wanted out of the house, and I would have taken him to a bad Nicolas Cage movie if the MPAA and Child Protective Services would have allowed it.)
"Nah," he said, engrossed in yet another synaptic vortex on the Wii, courtesy of George Lucas and Lego Star Wars.
No promise of Slushy drink could change his thinking. No offer of Gummy Bears could sway his mushy-minded resolve. On the weekend, the kid has myriad media options at any given time. And he's not going to the theater just to get out of the house and get that sugar up in him.
The movie has got to be something he wants to see.
Young males -- most studio executives will tell you -- are the ones who drive the movie, business. And it's early in 2011, but studios and theater owners are already seeing some troubling trends on that front.
Hall Pass, for example, drew an audience that was fully 48 percent above the age of 35, which surprised the studio that released the movie, Warner Bros., quite a bit. (The fact that the movie didn't open big probably didn't surprise them -- the Farrelly Bros. haven't premiered a movie to over $14 million since Shallow Hal nearly 10 years ago.)
Summit's Drive Angry, meanwhile, commanded an audience that was just 42 percent below the age of 30.
So far this year, among the top-grossing films, only Justin Bieber: Never Say Never has commanded an audience that's predominantly youthful.
Will the kids come back? Well, the studios have a big summer lined up, evidenced by all those comic-book movies advertised at the Super Bowl several weeks ago
The guy I talked to at Warner Bros. this morning says he expects the business to be caught up by summer time.
So far, I can't get Kellen too geeked up about Captain America or Thor, let alone an umteenth X-Men movie, so I'd say the jury is definitely out on that one.
Here's how the box office looked this weekend, compared to our Thursday predictions:
|Gnomeo & Juliet ||Made: $14.2M ||We predicted: $14.0M |
|Hall Pass ||Made: $13.4M || We predicted: $16.0M|
| Unknown ||Made: $12.4M ||We predicted: $13.5M|
| Just Go With It ||Made: $11.1M ||We predicted: $9.5M|
| I Am Number Four ||Made: $11.0M ||We predicted: $9.0M|
| Justin Bieber: Never Say Never ||Made: $9.2M ||We predicted: $5.5M|
| The King's Speech ||Made: $7.6M ||We predicted: $7.5M|
| Big Momma's: Like Father, Like Son ||Made: $7.6M ||We predicted: $6.0M|
| Drive Angry ||Made: $5.1M ||We predicted: $10.0M|
| The Roommate ||Made: $2.1M ||We predicted: We didn't|