Welcome to 2012! By all accounts your best option this weekend is Beauty and the Beast, a movie that is more than 20 years old! It's gonna be a great year! You can also check out Joyful Noise (working title: Glee: The Gospel Choir Movie) or Contraband (working title: Marky Mark Tapes Things to His Abs), but let's be honest, the 20-year-old cartoon is probably the smart choice.
That's how it goes the first few weeks of a new year. The prestige films from December are expanding into more theaters, and the new stuff tends to be ... depressing. For example, let's take a look at what happened this same weekend last year, in case you have forgotten it (and no one would blame you).
The weekend of Jan. 14-16, 2011
The Green Hornet
Starring Seth Rogen, Christoph Waltz, disappointment.
Since most superhero movies come out in the summer, you can understand why studios would occasionally drop one in January, when there's less competition. Unfortunately, while summertime superhero flicks run the gamut between great and terrible, the ones released in January and February -- Elektra, Daredevil, and Ghost Rider, have all been bad. That pattern held true for The Green Hornet, though at least the Michel Gondry-directed misfire can claim the distinction of being the least-bad of the lot. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 44% of the reviews were positive! On the other hand, only about 5% of reactions on my Twitter feed were positive. Twitter hated this movie more than critics did.
But it had a healthy $40 million opening over the long Martin Luther King weekend, the best debut ever for a live-action superhero comedy (a rather narrow distinction considering there have only been about three live-action superhero comedies, not counting Batman & Robin). The film went on to make $98.8 million in the U.S. and another $129 million overseas. That was probably enough to squeak out a profit on the $120 million production budget, but Seth Rogen isn't optimistic about a sequel happening anytime soon. And he got all buff and everything!
Starring Kevin James, Vince Vaughn, adultery.
Newly minted movie stooge Kevin James had scored a surprise January hit two years earlier with Paul Blart: Fat Mall Cop Who Falls Down, And Is Fat, but could his unique brand of wintertime slapstick lightning strike twice? With critics, yes: The Dilemma, starring James as a man whose buddy (Vince Vaughn) learns his wife is cheating on him, was as roundly panned as Paul Blart had been. Just 24% of critics approved.
With audiences, though, James and Vaughn's fortunes both fell. The Dilemma opened to $20.5 million over the four-day weekend, much lower than their previous starring efforts had done. It eventually grossed $70 million worldwide (just $48.5 million of that in the U.S.), which is almost exactly what it cost to make, which means bad news for the accountants at Universal. Maybe part of the problem was spending $70 million to make a comedy with no special effects and no A-list stars? Maybe?
Kevin James rebounded later in 2011 with bonafide hit Zookeeper and will return this fall in Here Comes the Boom, aka Paul Blart: MMA Fighter. Goodness knows what Vince Vaughn is up to, other than weeping quietly in the corner while holding a DVD copy of Swingers.
Hey, look what else opened a year ago!
The Heart Specialist, a dramatic comedy targeted at African-American audiences and starring Wood Harris, Brian White, and Zoe Saldana, opened on 422 screens and made $473,000, on its way to $1.1 million. That isn't Tyler Perry money, but it wasn't bad for an indie film aimed at what's considered a "niche" audience.
The King's Speech and Black Swan also expanded into more theaters this weekend, giving the nation's parents and college students something to see.
And what about FIVE years ago??
Jan. 12, 2007: The new films were Stomp the Yard, a sobering tale of yard-stomping among inner-city youths; Alpha Dog, in which Anton Yelchin is pestered by other up-and-coming indie actors; and Primeval, about a giant crocodile who eats people in Africa. Also, Oscar hopefuls Dreamgirls and Pan's Labyrinth went into wider release, in preparation for being disappointed at the Oscars.
(All box office figures are from Box Office Mojo.)