Here are your three-day box office returns (new releases bolded):
1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 - $35.0 million
2. Prisoners - $11.2 million
3. Rush - $10.3 million
4. Baggage Claim - $9.3 million
5. Don Jon - $9.0 million
6. Insidious: Chapter 2 - $6.7 million
7. The Family - $3.7 million
8. Instructions Not Included - $3.3 million
9. We're the Millers - $2.8 million
10. Lee Daniels' The Butler - $2.4 million
The Big Stories
Sony has been having a rough year at the box office. Traditional industry math puts the studio more in the red this year than any other, including Warner Bros. which started out 2013 with five straight flops before a successful summer. Sony cannot say as much with White House Down, After Earth, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Elysium. Its chief marketer and publicist have already hit the chopping block and hedge funder Daniel Loeb is just itching for more heads to roll. Well, the axe swings both ways sometimes, and, starting this weekend, Sony may have begun to start taking back the year for itself with some potential high quality and highly lucrative titles.
Cloudy Year with a Chance of Sunny Skies
The studio would really have to start worrying if it couldn't turn its first big fall opener into a monster hit. The first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs opened to just over $30 million in September '09 and went on to gross $243 million worldwide ($124.8 of that in the U.S.) making it the fifth highest grossing animated film of that year. Not a monster hit by any stretch for Sony with a $100 million budget, but enough respect and likability to suggest a follow-up could do even better. Four years, a week and $78 million in costs later we indeed have the sequel. Hardly the success critically (59% at Rotten Tomatoes compared to the original's 87%) but it now has name recognition and that upped opening weekend to $35 million. Ranking somewhere around 40th all time amongst animated openers is not going to ring anyone's bells, but for a nonsummer, nonholiday-based release...
The Lorax ($70.2 million), Ice Age: The Meltdown ($68.0), Monsters vs. Aliens ($59.3), Ice Age ($46.3), Horton Hears a Who! ($45.0), How to Train Your Dragon ($43.7), The Croods ($43.6), Hotel Transylvania ($42.5), Rio ($39.2), Rango ($38.07), Robots ($36.04), Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 ($35.0)
...it's still just pretty good. All but one of those films on the list opened in March. Sony may have recognized the potential there and took a shot. But with How to Train Your Dragon 2 poised to begin its run as one of the biggest films of 2014 next March and Sony having nabbed the all-time best September opener just last year in Hotel Transylvania, September was just as well. Cloudy Meatballs 2 is now the third highest September opener behind Transylvania and this month's Insidious: Chapter 2, knocking the first Cloudy back to sixth place all time. Standings such as these are hardly the care of the studio right now and with no family films hitting theater until Free Birds on November 1, there's no reason to think the sequel will not follow the same path as its other successes and end up somewhere between $119-144 million. A good start to the season for Sony, indeed.
What's the 'Rush'?
Ron Howard is probably one of the few people who can walk into a Hollywood office and say "I want to make a movie about racing." Forget about the Fast & Furious series which was never really about racing. Forget about Pixar's terrible Cars films with a subject that everyone universally considers the first chink in the company's metal. Even the animated Turbo, which most people seemed to enjoy, is considered one of this year's biggest bombs. So what are we really talking about here?
Days of Thunder ($82.6 million), Herbie: Fully Loaded ($66.0), Speed Racer ($43.9), Death Race ($36.3), Driven ($32.7), NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience ($21.5), Six Pack ($20.2), Stroker Ace ($13.0), Redline ($6.8)
That doesn't even include the Cannonball Run films. Maybe the pariah that is Days of Thunder put a curse on the racing movie forever. Or it's just that driving fast without the confines and rules of a track is just not that interesting cinematically. There's a difference between a chase and a race, and though Rush has a crazy 87% approval at Rotten Tomatoes, the film is not much more than a dramatic version of Talladega Nights. That the film's expansion could not even match Sylvester Stallone's Driven should not come as much of a surprise, but is probably still disappointing to those at Universal who have been reeling after a nearly blemish-free 2013 up to Despicable Me 2. Since then its been megabomb R.I.P.D., the high-budget and underperforming 2 Guns and both Kick-Ass 2 and Riddick which, between them, should break even or produce a minor profit. The hope is that Rush's European Formula One setting will make up for what could amount to less than $30 million in the U.S. (right around Cannonball Run II's total.) It has already made $13.1 million overseas and its going to need at least another $50 there alone to justify the green light.
Don Jon's Baggage
Rounding out the newbies this week we have the stories of a woman looking for Mr. Right and a guy looking for Miss Right. The argument can begin on which film contains more pornographic material. The PG-13 Baggage Claim is one of the worst-reviewed films of the year; so bad that it puts the stars of the adult-film footage in the R-rated Don Jon ahead in the self-esteem game. Scarlett Johansson's Barbara may have led the charge to the theater to help outgross Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, but the latter has much to be happy about. The $6 million budgeted film is going to be a hit for him and Relativity, which is still in the throes of Paranoia's thud. Thanks to the studio giving Don Jon the widest release of any Sundance 2013 film to date, it has a solid shot of being the highest grossing of the crop.
The Way, Way Back ($21.2 million), Jobs ($16.09), Fruitvale Station ($15.9), Don Jon ($8.9 and climbing), Before Midnight ($8.09), The Spectacular Now ($6.54), 20 Feet from Stardom ($4.58), In a World ($2.48), The East ($2.27), Blackfish ($2.03)
Mud was a premiere at Cannes at 2012 otherwise it would top that list (and still probably be eclipsed by Don Jon.) Fox Searchlight may be able to get Baggage Claim to usurp The Way, Way Back as its highest grossing film of the year which will be a sin if it cannot open its wonderful Enough Said wide enough to have a chance. (It grossed $2.1 million on just 227 screens this weekend.) How amusing that women were headed to a film this weekend about a stewardess who plans her schedule around bumping into her ex-boyfriends in the desperate hopes of getting married in 30 days while guys are going to a film about one of their own addicted to watching porn and ends up learning something about how to treat women. Ladies, send your guys to the movie about porn and not just because it's the best film of the weekend.
Erik Childress can be seen each Thursday morning on WCIU-TV's First Business breaking down the box office on the Movies & Money segment.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]
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