Box Office Report: 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' Kicks Out Superheroes, Steve Jobs and Harrison Ford

Box Office Report: 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' Kicks Out Superheroes, Steve Jobs and Harrison Ford

Aug 18, 2013

Here are your three-day box office returns (new releases bolded):

1. Lee Daniels' The Butler - $25.0 million

2. We're the Millers - $17.7 million

3. Elysium - $13.6 million

4. Kick-Ass 2 - $13.5 million

5. Planes - $13.1 million

6. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters - $8.3 million

7. Jobs - $6.7 million

8. 2 Guns - $5.5 million

9. The Smurfs 2 - $4.6 million

10. The Wolverine - $4.4 million

The Big Stories

Believe it or not, something happened at the box office that has never happened before. In the entire history of the movies? No, just since 2005. Smaller sample size, yes, and maybe not as impressive. Maybe not even given the restrictions on the very occurrence that makes it such a unique event. But a first nonetheless. Should it be celebrated or seen as an anomaly? Blood in the water smelled by certain analysts at a time when the season is winding down and adults are about to begin returning to the movies looking for awards-baiting projects that don't exactly interest Kick-Ass fans. Have we teased it long enough? Oh fine, read on to find out.


The Butler Did It!

For the first time in its nine-year history, the Weinstein Co. opened a non-Tarantino and nonsequel to over $16 million in its first weekend. Lee Daniels' The Butler (as it had to be called over a rights tiff with Warner Bros.) actually started with $25 million. It is the fourth best opening for Harvey's post-Miramax company after Scary Movie 4 ($40.2) and the Tarantino double bill of Inglourious Basterds ($38.0) and Django Unchained ($30.1) and ahead of Scream 4 ($18.6) and Rob Zombie's Halloween II ($16.3). Lest you think this is being too hard on the indie company, consider that only 27 of its 86 releases over time have started on over 1,500 screens or more. (This does not include Radius, its extra-extra-indie division.) Perhaps that makes the studio more of a slow starter with platform releases that build audiences over time. Here are its greatest successes employing that strategy.

The King's Speech ($135.4 million), Silver Linings Playbook ($132.0), The Artist ($44.6), The Reader ($34.1), The Iron Lady ($30.0), Nine ($19.6), Quartet ($18.3), The Master ($16.3), My Week with Marilyn ($14.6), Fruitvale Station ($14.1 million and counting)

Lee Daniels' The Butler opened on 2,933 screens, the 10th biggest start in the studio history. It is the studio's ninth wide release in August going back to 2007 and its second best start this month behind Tarantino's Basterds. By contrast, 2010's The Help opened on August 10 to the tune of $26 million, went on to gross $169.7 million and grab four Oscar nominations including three for acting and one for Best Picture. This is the path Harvey would obviously like to see for Lee Daniels' The Butler, Forest Whitaker and their biggest playing chip, Oprah Winfrey. African-American audiences have not had much to flock to this summer and if the film catches on, there could be a healthy payday against its $30 million budget if it coasts through a somewhat lackluster lineup (save for next week's brilliant The World's End and solid horror entry You're Next) into September. As it approaches October though, the awards talk may begin to drift off through a far more crowded season.


Where Are Your Fanboys NOW?

For those out there wondering how the heck a sequel to Kick-Ass actually got green-lit, just do the math. A $30 million budgeted film grosses over $96 million worldwide. Not a huge profit but certainly respectable enough to appease fans who may have cared what happened to Hit-Girl and its boring-ass protagonist. As long as the budget is respectable enough, why the heck not? After all, even Percy Jackson got a sequel. So at $28 million, Universal takes a chance... and... evidently not as many original fans cared or they just listened to what critics had to say. The 2010 original garnered a 77% at Rotten Tomatoes. The 2013 sequel ranks 11th from the bottom of the summer scores from critics and the only reason it's not in the bottom 10 is because two other films this weekend scored even lower. We shall get to them in a moment.

The first Kick-Ass started with $19.8 million and ended up just shy of $50 million domestically. If Kick-Ass 2 follows the same trajectory it will end up around just $33 million. But that is likely the ceiling in the U.S. If it can pull in just two-thirds of the original's international haul, Universal will end up on the right side of this investment. The studio has found itself limping out of the very strong summer and an even stronger overall year than its competitors. R.I.P.D. remains its only major failure on the year though both 2 Guns and Kick-Ass 2 are both looking like break-even propositions at best and the honeymoon period may be over for the studio in 2013. Next up for Universal are two who-asked-for-another-sequel? projects Riddick and The Best Man Holiday, Ron Howard's formula-one biopic Rush, Richard Curtis' fantasy romance About Time and its $175 million Keanu Reeves samurai film 47 Ronin, which has already been delayed over a year from its original November 2012 date. No doubt Universal will be selling as many Despicable Me 2 DVDs as possible around the holidays as the studio heads sweat that one out.


Corporate Beginnings and Espionage

Neither proved good at the box office this weekend. Jobs with Ashton Kutcher in the lead role proved to be even less of a starter than Macintosh. Though $6.7 million for little more than a made-for-TV movie isn't terrible against a $12 million budget. If we're going to poke the Weinstein Co. then we have to look at Open Road's track record of opening films as well:

The Grey ($19.6 million), A Haunted House ($18.1), End of Watch ($13.1), The Host ($10.6), Killer Elite ($9.35), Side Effects ($9.3), Silent Hill: Revelation ($8.0), Jobs ($6.7), Silent House ($6.6), Hit and Run ($4.5)

Far more gratifying was the dead-on-arrival start of (everyone whisper now) "Paranoia" which could not even crack the top 10 with $3.5 million. Director Robert Luketic has enjoyed way too much success for his brand of offensively lazy comedies and even lazier "thrillers." Prior to just a $47 million gross for Luketic's association with Ashton Kutcher in Killers, audiences gave $81-96 million each for Legally Blonde, Monster-in-Law, 21 and The Ugly Truth while his "best" film, the thoroughly mediocre Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, grossed only $17 million. Somewhat poetic justice then that his worst film, Paranoia, is going to end up grossing less than Movie 43, both released under the Relativity banner. Debate among yourselves which is actually funnier.

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]

Categories: Features, Box office
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