Here are your estimated three-day box office returns (new releases bolded):
1. Lucy - $44.0 million ($44.0 million total)
2. Hercules - $29.0 million ($29.0 million total)
3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - $16.4 million ($172.0 million total)
4. The Purge: Anarchy - $9.8 million ($51.2 million total)
5. Planes: Fire & Rescue - $9.3 million ($35.1 million total)
6. Sex Tape - $5.9 million ($26.8 million total)
7. Transformers: Age of Extinction - $4.6 million ($236.3 million total)
8. And So It Goes - $4.5 million ($4.5 million total)
9. Tammy - $3.4 million ($78.1 million total)
10. A Most Wanted Man - $2.7 million ($2.7 million total)
The Big Stories
As Hollywood prepares for the final figures on its worst summer in years, any momentary burst of box office power is likely to be elevated to be a sign of hope. Numbers this summer are the lowest they have been since 2006 and has a shot at being down a cool billion overall. No $300 million grosser is likely this year until The Hunger Games reaches that mark in December. But, hey look, an odd little action film performed better than expected and even Paramount looks to be avoiding yet another guesstimated financial disaster.
"They Said It Was Big, but I Didn't Expect It to Be BIG!"
Luc Besson has never been a name associated with box office juggernauts. His most referenced film is also the one that gave the world Natalie Portman (The Professional) and it only grossed $19.5 million in the U.S. The man who also unfortunately helped make Milla Jovovich a lasting screen presence found his greatest success in the summer of 1997 with the release of The Fifth Element, which grossed $63.8 million in the States and another $200 million overseas. Now by teaming up with an already established beauty whose stock is on the rise, Besson is going to have his biggest hit to date in Lucy.
Universal made a shrewd move in bumping this original August release up a couple of weeks, getting out of the aftermath of Guardians of the Galaxy and not going up against the Mutant Turtles. The studio started advertising the heck out of it in early July and those thoughts of the Black Widow in a white T-shirt going X-Woman on bad guys were enough to make this an easy profit. Even the Universal folks are probably surprised with a number exceeding $40 million in what is really Scarlett Johansson first true attempt to topline a major studio picture. Hollywood is likely already Fed-Exing her every action script available.
The question is just how far Universal can stretch Lucy's numbers. Fully aware that The Purge: Anarchy was going to have a massive drop in week two regardless of its opening (it fell 67%), there were no worries in Lucy grabbing its audience. But will the Universal heads be pleased when they discover Lucy is an exceedingly talky picture with very little action in the final hour when she finally develops her powers? Surely the studio was aware it had one weirdo film from Besson and anything to recoup that $40 million budget fast was a priority, since the film is likely to follow summer's excessive second-week drop pattern and not just because it faces Guardians next week. Only seven movies have ever had a $40 million opening and not reached $100 million. (All but Cloverfield were sequels or that Madea nonsense.) High School Musical 3 is the only film to open to over $42 million and not break $100. No film opening to over $43 million has failed to break $100. Could Lucy be the first or will it be one of those true late summer surprises this box office was in desperate need of?
Why Does Paramount Not Believe in Its Movies?
At this point it is difficult to measure whether the folks over at Paramount are geniuses or woefully shortsighted. Earlier this year they played games with film critics over who was worthy enough to see Noah. Perhaps buckling over pressure from religious groups taking shots at a film even they had not seen, and protecting against another large-scale budget, they kept many critics from seeing a Darren Aronofsky film until less than 36 hours before it hit theaters. The reviews were good (77%) and though its $43.7 million opening only increased to $101.2 million in the U.S., its overseas numbers were good enough to avoid potential disaster. A perceived bomb turned into success just as World War Z did the previous summer.
Four months later Transformers: Age of Extinction is the biggest film in the world this year approaching a billion dollars (though it may still fail to best Captain America for the U.S. number one), and the studio withheld critics again from Hercules until the night before. This was certainly more understandable since Brett Ratner is no Darren Aronofsky and, dollars aside, critics had no reason to expect something approaching watchable. But guess what? It may not be high art, it may not even be worth a $10-15 ticket. But as a matinee or a future rental or cable viewing, Brett Ratner's Hercules isn't too bad. In fact it's better than Lucy (which is not too much of a surprise since Besson stinks too.) Maybe that is the approach Paramount wanted. Decrease expectations to the maximum knowing what we think of Ratner's work and then get us to go, "Hey, that wasn't so bad. In fact, I think I kinda like it. Why not? I'll like it." Sneaky buggers.
What does it mean for the overall gross though? Will audiences feel the same? Dwayne Johnson's addition to G.I. Joe, Journey to the Center of the Earth and the Fast & Furious series have proven him to be "sequel Viagra." But what of his solo work in nonestablished entities?
The Game Plan ($22.9/$90.6), Tooth Fairy ($14.0/$60.0), The Rundown ($18.5/$47.7), Walking Tall ($15.5/$46.4), Snitch ($13.1/$42.9), Gridiron Gang ($14.4/$38.4), Faster ($8.5/$23.2)
Leaving The Scorpion King, Doom and Race to Witch Mountain off that list (as Hercules could be as well), this is a very respectable opening for the Rock. Both Edge of Tomorrow and Non-Stop this year took $28 million openings to over $90 million in the U.S. while both Think Like a Man Too and The Purge: Anarchy are in the $65 million range. Either way, Hercules is going to need around $250 million total to get into the black for Paramount. (It made another $28.7 million internationally.) Hopefully the overseas crowd will think it's the continuance of a franchise.
Tales of the Limited Releases
Philip Seymour Hoffman's final starring performance in A Most Wanted Man broke into the top 10 this weekend. Quite a tribute to the fallen actor on just 361 screens to see it drum up $2.7 million. The release of Mockingjay later this year will hopefully draw more young moviegoers to ask about Hoffman and go back through his impressive body of work. Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight also opened to $425,730 on just 17 screens. Compare that to his other limited openings since 2005's Match Point:
Blue Jasmine ($612,064/six screens), Midnight in Paris ($599,003/five screens), Magic in the Moonlight ($425,730/17 screens), Match Point ($398,593/eight screens), To Rome with Love ($361,359/five screens), Whatever Works ($266,162/nine screens), You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger ($160,103/six screens)
There have been a lot of nice stories surrounding limited releases this summer and their expansion. Not counting Dinesh D'Souza's America which previewed basically in three theaters before moving into wide release five days later grossing just a third of his first failed thesis, Americans have had the opportunity to do right by some independent films in a summer full of sequels, adaptations and reimaginings that all started on less than 10 screens.
Chef ($27.2), Begin Again ($11.1), Belle ($10.5), Boyhood ($4.1), Snowpiercer ($3.7), Ida ($3.4), The Grand Seduction ($3.0), Obvious Child ($2.7), Words and Pictures ($2.0), Wish I Was Here ($1.1), Life Itself ($609,080), Magic in the Moonlight ($425,730)
Jon Favreau's Chef is truly one of the success stories of the summer; a film still being recommended to people who don't normally go out to catch every tentpole. The Weinsteins have done fine with Begin Again and Snowpiercer, even though Harvey is taking full credit for the success of a film he had every intention of cutting. Obvious Child is A24's highest grosser of the year with a lineup that also includes Under the Skin ($2.5 million), Locke ($1.3 million), The Rover ($1.06 million) and Enemy ($1.0 million) and will continue with Life After Beth (Aug. 15), Kevin Smith's Tusk (Sept. 19) and Lynn Shelton's Laggies (Oct. 24).
Boyhood is the film everyone in the industry has their eyes on at the moment to see if it can continue its momentum. Up from 34 to 107 screens this week the grosses were also up from $1.1 to $1.7 million. That's $4.1 million to date and the fifth highest grossing film amongst IFC's theatrical runs. Imagine that. It should be no less than the indie studio's third best release, but will it continue enough traction to outgross Y Tu Mama Tambien's $13.8 million? Time will tell.
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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