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  1. 3 Reasons Why 'Daddy's Home 2' and 'Orient Express' Stopped the Box Office Slump

    Is the Great Box Office Slump of 2017 finally over?

    Looks like it, based on this week's fiercest competition, which was actually the race for second place. "Thor: Ragnarok" easily repeated at No. 1; even after losing 54 percent of last weekend's premiere business, it still ended up with $56.6 million.

    The surprise was that the contenders for No. 2, Will Ferrell comedy sequel "Daddy's Home 2" and Kenneth Branagh's all-star Agatha Christie remake "Murder on the Orient Express," both did much better than expected. Pundits had predicted openings in the high teens or low 20s at best, but "Daddy's Home" wound up debuting with an estimated $30.0 million, with "Orient" not far behind with $28.2 million.

    How did these two movies beat the odds? Here are some of the factors.

    1. Audiences Want Comedy
    There hasn't been much to laugh at this year, in or out of the movie theater. Viewers are starving for a good comedy, but they haven't seen much this year that made them laugh. A long string of supposedly sure-fire R-rated comedies failed this summer (notable exception: "Girls Trip"). Last week's modest numbers for the opening of "A Bad Moms Christmas" suggested that the raunchy comedy subgenre still has a little life left in it; this weekend, the movie lost just 31 percent of its debut audience and earned an estimated $11.5 million, good for fourth place. "Daddy's Home" arguably had even broader appeal, from a bigger-hit original (2015's "Daddy's Home" earned $150 million), with bigger marquee names (Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) and a PG-13 rating. It still opened about $9 million behind the original, but that film opened on Christmas Day. For a non-holiday weekend, $30 million is an opening worth celebrating.

    Of course, some might argue that the funniest movie currently playing, and the one that most primed audiences to come back to the multiplex and laugh, is "Thor Ragnarok." And that brought in all the gold.

    2. Branagh Connected
    "Orient" seemed like a hard enough sell. What could be less trendy than a period Agatha Christie mystery, set aboard a luxury locomotive ("Luxury train travel? What's that?" asked everyone under the age of 60), that was a hit movie way back in 1974?

    Paradoxically, it was the "Thor" series, Branagh's biggest competitor this weekend, that revived his directing career and made "Orient" possible. He successfully launched the Marvel mini-franchise with 2011's "Thor," which led Disney to entrust him with its live-action reboot of "Cinderella," which also became a smash. That gave him the freedom to remake "Orient" and even to cast himself and his massive shaving-brush mustache in the lead role. Outside of those two movies, "Orient" marks the biggest opening of Branagh's three-decade career. Critics may not have thought much of the film, but audiences responded to his blend of panache, class, and wit, as well as his sense of fun.

    3. Rotten Tomatoes Scores
    Speaking of the critics, they didn't rave about either of this week's new wide releases. "Orient" earned a score of just 58 percent fresh, while "Daddy's Home" got a dismal 16 percent. Nonetheless, both proved to be the kind of escapist fare audiences have been seeking, with paying customers giving "Daddy's Home" an A- and "Orient" a B at CinemaScore. Both films also helped prove, as have many movies in recent months, that Hollywood's alarm over Rotten Tomatoes' supposed power to quash sales with low scores is misplaced.

    The older audience, the group that still supposedly reads critics, wasn't deterred by the lackluster reviews this weekend. Exit polling showed that 84 percent of "Orient" viewers and 65 percent of "Daddy's Home" viewers were 25 and over -- even though the PG-13 comedy was designed to appeal to families. Maybe mature viewers have been so starved for adult-friendly movies in recent months that they were willing to overlook the flaws that irked the critics.

    Fall, after all, is supposed to be the season that lures the grown-ups off their living room sofas and into the recliner seats at the multiplex. It's supposed to be the season of Oscar hopefuls, rather than the kiddie fare that prevails during the summer.

    Indeed, Oscar-hopeful season finally seems to be kicking in with last week's release of "Lady Bird," which opened extremely well in limited release. This weekend, even though it's playing on just 37 screens, the Saoirse Ronan coming-of-age dramedy cracked the top 10, coming in tenth with an estimated $1.2 million, which averages out to a stunning $33,766 per screen. (Compare that to about $8,400 each for "Daddy's Home" and "Orient.")

    "Lady Bird" joins a slate of current grown-up offerings that includes "Blade Runner 2049" (still hanging in there on 863 screens and finishing eighth this weekend with an estimated $1.4 million), the R-rated "Bad Moms Christmas," "Orient," "Daddy's Home," and even "Ragnarok," which has drawn most of its audience front the over-25 crowd. So there are plenty of incentives to draw adults back to the theaters now, and it's the grown-ups you can thank for helping bring the long slump to end.

  2. Box Office: 'Daddy's Home 2' Derails 'Orient Express,' 'Thor: Ragnarok' Stays at No. 1

    By Dave McNary

    LOS ANGELES, Nov 12 (Variety.com) - Showing plenty of staying power, Disney-Marvel's "Thor: Ragnarok" is dominating the North American box office with $56.6 million at 4,080 locations in its second weekend.

    The figure give the third Thor movie the 29th highest second weekend of all time and the fifth best of 2017. It also took in nearly the combined total of the two new titles -- Paramount's family comedy "Daddy's Home 2," with $30 million from 3,575 sites and Fox's mystery "Murder on the Orient Express" with $28.2 million at 3,341 venues.

    "Thor: Ragnarok," starring Chris Hemsworth and directed by Taika Waititi, declined 54% from its $122.7 million opening last weekend and is already the ninth highest domestic grosser of 2017 with $211.6 million in its first 10 days. It's also been a stellar international performer with $438 million in less than three weeks -- topping $650 million worldwide.

    On Nov. 8, "Thor: Ragnarok" became the 12th consecutive Marvel Cinematic Universe film to top $500 million worldwide.

    The movie has reversed a box office slump that persisted through October and left 2017's overall domestic moviegoing down 5% from last year at $9.14 billion as of Sunday. With Warner Bros.' "Justice League" opening next weekend, Disney-Pixar's "Coco" on Nov. 22 and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" launching on Dec. 15, the industry is now poised to end the year on an upbeat note. The overall weekend totaled about $148 million, down 6% from the same frame in 2016, according to comScore.

    "Now it will take the dream team of 'Justice League,' 'Coco' and of course 'The Last Jedi' and a host of other films big and small to rally the industry toward a year end total that could rival last year's record $11.4 billion," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. "The clock is ticking and there's not a lot of time left on the calendar to make up the difference."

    "Daddy's Home 2" is performing at the high end of recent forecasts and is finishing about 23% below the original's $38.7 million opening in 2015. Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell reprise their roles as fathers co-parenting the children of Wahlberg's character who struggle to cope when their fathers, played by Mel Gibson and John Lithgow, arrive during the holiday season. The film carries a $70 million budget.

    The original went on to gross $150 million domestically. Paramount's distribution president Kyle Davies pointed to an A- CinemaScore as an indication that the "Daddy's Home 2" is resonating with all demographics -- and should perform well in coming weeks. "We are well-positioned heading into the holiday season with a movie for audiences from 8 to 80," he added. "Murder on the Orient Express" has also launched above expectations. Kenneth Branagh stars as detective Hercule Poirot in the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie's story of a murder mystery on a luxury train in the 1930s. The cast has plenty of star power with Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, "Hamilton's" Leslie Odom Jr., and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" actress Daisy Ridley.

    "Murder on the Orient Express," which has a $55 million budget, also pulled in $45.8 million in 25,903 international screens, lifting its overseas total to $57.2 million.

    STXfilms' "A Bad Moms Christmas" finished fourth with $11.5 million at 3,615 locations in its second weekend, showing impressive holding power with a decline of only 31%. The film has grossed nearly $40 million in its first 12 days.

    A24's expansion of Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird" cracked the top 10 with $1.2 million on 37 screens for an impressive $33,776 per screen average. The comedy-drama posted the best 2017 platform opening last weekend with $364,437 at four sites.

    Fox Searchlight's platform release of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson, opened with a strong $320,000 at four locations. McDormand plays a small town mother taking on the local police force after her daughter's rape and murder goes uninvestigated for several months.

  3. How 'Thor: Ragnarok' Affected the Rest of the Box Office

    Are you not entertained?

    The gladiator-themed "Thor: Ragnarok" walloped the box office this weekend, debuting way above expectations with an estimated $121.0 million. The Marvel adventure boosted the box office to its biggest weekend since "Dunkirk" opened four months ago. So why isn't the cheering from the stadium seats louder?

    Maybe because the success of "Ragnarok" doesn't mean that the long box office slump is necessarily over. It was a good weekend if you're a Marvel fan (or a Disney executive), but not so good for many others. The Thor-vs.-Hulk contest yielded a number of winners and losers beyond the arena, and together, they reveal a picture of a box office that's still going to have to struggle to catch up with last year's earnings.

    Winner: Disney. The "Ragnarok" opening means Disney owns three of the four biggest premieres of 2017 so far (along with "Beauty and the Beast" and Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"). Plus, the studio still has Pixar's "Coco" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" coming out before the end of the year. All the wailing and gnashing of teeth you hear from other studios is drowned out at the Magic Kingdom by the sound of cash registers ka-chinging.

    Winner: Marvel Cinematic Universe. Usually, threequels show signs of diminishing returns. Not at Marvel, where every "Thor" picture has opened bigger than the last. (2011's "Thor" premiered with $65.7 million, while 2013's "Thor: The Dark World" debuted with $85.7 million.) The same holds true of other MCU mini-franchises, including "Captain America" and "Iron Man." Give credit to Marvel Studios for both quality control ("Ragnarok" earned a 93 percent fresh ratings from critics at Rotten Tomatoes and an A grade from paying customers at CinemaScore) and for keeping new installments fresh with unique approaches -- in this case, the humorous tone of New Zealand director Taika Waititi.

    Loser: Kids. Remember when comic-book movies were dismissed as kiddie fare? No more. Only 16 percent of the "Ragnarok" audience was under 17. Viewers 25 and older made up 63 percent of the viewers. And adults were also the target audience for this weekend's other new wide release, R-rated comedy sequel "A Bad Moms Christmas." In fact, there wasn't a tot-friendly movie anywhere among the top 15 releases, and nothing for the little ones to see outside the few theaters still playing "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" and "My LIttle Pony: The Movie." Yes, it's fall, and traditionally, it's the time of year for grown-up movies, but it's still rare to see a multiplex slate that so thoroughly writes off the tween-and-younger demographic.Loser: "A Bad Moms Christmas." You can sort of see the logic here: With "Ragnarok" skewing 56 percent male, there seemed to be a vacuum for a movie that appealed to women. A sequel to last summer's "Bad Moms" seemed just the ticket. But audiences and critics alike felt this installment was slapdash compared to the last one (the 2016 movie earned a 58 percent fresh rating at RT and an A at CinemaScore, while the new one earned a 32 percent RT score and a B grade at CinemaScore). Plus, the day after Halloween may be too soon to open a Christmas-themed movie.

    Even so, the sequel still managed to perform about as well as expected, debuting in second place with an estimated $17.0 million for the weekend and $21.6 million for the first five days. Still, "Christmas" cost $28 million to make, some $8 million more than the original. Subtract the theater owners' cut and the cost of advertising, and the movie will have to earn at least $60 million to break even, a benchmark it's going to have trouble reaching.

    Winner: IMAX. For "Ragnarok," Disney is claiming the widest IMAX release ever, some 1187 venues worldwide. That includes 391 of the giant screens in America, responsible for $25.4 million of "Ragnarok"'s domestic take. That's a good sign for the large-screen format, but it's also good as an indication that, when audiences recognize an event movie as a visual spectacle that deserves to be seen on a screen larger than the one in their living room, they'll happily come to the theater to see it, even if it means coughing up premium-format surcharges.

    Loser: "LBJ." The weekend's only other semi-wide release (on 659 screens), the presidential biopic had a shot at breaking into the top 10, but it premiered in 14th place with just an estimated $1.1 million, or $1,727 per screen. That's an average that indicates near-empty theaters, which was probably to be expected, since Lyndon B. Johnson remains a president less than beloved by history, and star Woody Harrelson is not a box office draw. Some pundits may have considered his "LBJ" performance a possible Oscar contender, but if the movie falls in the box office forest and doesn't make a sound, Oscar voters won't notice either.Winner: "Lady Bird." Greta Gerwig's coming-of-age dramedy, starring Saoirse Ronan, opened on just four screens, but it averaged an estimated $93,903 on each of them, the biggest per-screen average of any movie this year. (For comparison's sake, "Ragnarok" averaged $29,658 per screen.) Those numbers, along with a rare 100 percent fresh RT score from critics, bode well for "Lady Bird" once it expands into general release, as well as for the movie's Oscar chances.

    Loser: The overall box office. One big weekend may not have been enough to turn the box office around. For one thing, it's still about 8 percent behind the same weekend a year ago, which saw the premieres of Marvel's "Doctor Strange," kiddie hit "Trolls," and Oscar-friendly war drama "Hacksaw Ridge," which debuted with a combined $146.9 million. We're not seeing that sort of deep bench this year, which is why 2017 ticket sales are still down about five percent from the same time a year ago.

  4. Box Office: 'Thor: Ragnarok' Smashes Expectations With Huge Opening Weekend

    By Dave McNary

    LOS ANGELES, Nov 5 (Variety.com) -- Disney-Marvel's "Thor: Ragnarok" is heading for a stellar opening weekend with $121 million at 4,080 North American locations -- the fourth best launch of 2017.

    The third Thor movie is also putting an emphatic end to the month-long box office slump that saw the worst October in a decade. Among 2017 titles, its debut weekend trails only "Beauty and the Beast" at $174.8 million, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" at $146.5 million and "It" at $123.4 million.

    "Thor: Ragnarok" also officially launches the holiday season with a major bang. Moviegoing has been battered this year by a subpar second half that's pulled down 2017 grosses by 5%, but it should rebound somewhat, thanks to "Thor: Ragnorak," Warner Bros.-DC Entertainment's "Justice League" (which opens Nov. 17) and Disney-Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (opening Dec. 15).

    "November has been a hotbed for blockbusters and is as important to any given year as even the hottest summer months and has been the launch pad for some of the biggest franchises in box office history including 'Harry Potter,' 'The Hunger Games' and 'Twilight,' not to mention the traditional home for James Bond," noted Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. "Now Thor joins the rarefied air that is the $100 million November opening club, becoming only the ninth film to ever reach this threshold and the first to do it within the first part of the month."

    STXfilms' R-rated "A Bad Moms Christmas," which opened Wednesday, is heading for a respectable $21.6 million at 3,615 sites for its first five days. A24's launch of Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird" posted the best platform opening of the year with $375,612 on four screens for an impressive $93,903 per-screen average.

    "Thor: Ragnarok" wound up over-performing recent estimates, which had been in the $100 million to $118 million range. The rollout includes 3,400 3D screens, 391 IMAX screens, 616 premium large format screens, and 204 D-Box locations. The IMAX total was $25.4 million.

    With Chris Hemsworth reprising the title role, "Thor: Ragnarok" will finish far above its predecessors, nearly doubling the 2011 opening of "Thor" at $65.7 million and coming in 41% above the 2013 sequel "Thor: The Dark World" at $85.7 million.

    "Thor: Ragnarok" is directed by Taika Waititi from a screenplay by Eric Pearson and the writing team of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. It also stars Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins. The character of Thor, based on Norse mythology, was created in 1962 by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby for Marvel Comics.

    "Thor: Ragnarok" has also taken in $306 million overseas, including $109 million in its international launch last week in 52% of foreign markets. It expanded to most other overseas territories this weekend.

  5. Box Office: 'Jigsaw' Dominates Pre-Halloween Weekend With $16.3 Million

    In one of the slowest weekends this year, horror titles dominated the pre-Halloween box with Lionsgate's opening of "Jigsaw" leading the way at a respectable $16.3 million at 2,941 North American locations.

    The second weekend of "Boo 2! A Madea Halloween," also from Lionsgate, turned in a solid performance with $10 million at 2,388 sites, but no other title cleared the $6 million mark. Matt Damon's "Suburbicon" struggled with about $2.8 million at 2,046 sites and Miles Teller's "Thank You For Your Service" finished with $3.7 million at 2,054 theaters; both came in below modest forecasts in their launch weekends.

    "Jigsaw" is the eighth title in the "Saw" franchise, which centers on the deranged killer played by Tobin Bell. Audiences gave the movie a B Cinemascore, and the film made about $4 million less than projected in its launch weekend. The movie, which has a budget around $10 million, is set a decade after the death of Jigsaw as police investigate a series of gruesome murders that fit the Jigsaw style.

    "Boo 2," starring Tyler Perry as Madea, declined 53% from its opening weekend and will wind up with $35.5 million in its first 10 days. Warner Bros.' second weekend of weather disaster tale "Geostorm" finished a distant third with a 59% decline to $5.6 million at 3,246 venues, followed by Universal's third weekend of "Happy Death Day" with about $4.7 million. Warner's fourth weekend of "Blade Runner 2049" snagged fifth place and "Thank You for Your Service," produced by DreamWorks Pictures and released by Universal, came in sixth in its opening weekend.

    "Thank You for Your Service" follows a group of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq who struggle to integrate back into family and civilian life. Teller stars along with Haley Bennett, Joe Cole, Amy Schumer, Beulah Koale, Scott Haze, and Keisha Castle-Hughes.

    "Suburbicon," which premiered at the Venice Film Festival, centers on the dark side of a prototypical suburban community in 1959. Audiences were unimpressed and gave the comedy-drama a D- Cinemascore. Paramount acquired U.S. distribution rights last year for $10 million with Black Bear Pictures financing.

    The overall domestic weekend is heading for a total of about $75 million, according to comScore.

  6. 'Justice League' On Pace for a Super $120 Million Opening Weekend

    The upcoming DC heroes team-up flick "Justice League" is looking to fly high on its opening weekend, with early estimates tracking the film to make anywhere from $110 million to $120 million in North America.

    According to Deadline, those numbers are coming from industry analysts, not studio Warner Bros., and could change as the flick's November release date approaches. One factor that's complicating estimates right now is the competition: Marvel's "Thor: Ragnarok" is due out only two weeks earlier, and its own high projections (in the $125 million range) could be clouding those of "Justice." Once "Ragnarok" hits theaters, analysts will have a better idea of what kind of business "Justice" should be able to do.

    As it stands now, though, the film is tracking quite well with audiences, with Deadline reporting that it's currently polling at a 56 percent "definite choice" rating, which is considered quite high. The flick is also already tracking higher than "Wonder Woman"'s opening frame ($103 million), and as the trade points out, with even more heroes populating its ranks, it stands to reason that even more fans will flock to theaters to see it.

    The star-studded feature, headlined by Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Jason Momoa, is due in theaters on November 17.

    [via: Deadline]

  7. How 'Boo 2! A Madea Halloween' Scared Off All Box Office Rivals

    This weekend's box office results weren't surprising, just disappointing.

    As predicted, Tyler Perry's "Boo 2! A Madea Halloween" premiered on top, with an estimated $21.7 million. That's a solid number but still well below the $25 million some pundits predicted and 24 percent below where its predecessor, "Boo! A Madea Halloween," opened a year ago.

    The rest of the box office was a crowded mess, with four new wide releases, most of them chasing older audiences and doing collateral damage to each other in the process. Long-delayed disaster epic "Geostorm" lived up to its low expectations and debuted in second place with an estimated $13.3 million. Firefighting drama "Only the Brave" opened in fifth place with an estimated $6.0 million. Thriller "The Snowman" did as poorly as expected and premiered in eighth place with an estimated $3.4 million. And faith-based drama "Same Kind of Different as Me" entered the chart at No. 12 with an estimated $2.6 million and the lowest per-screen average ($1,880) of any of this weekend's five new wide releases.

    If this weekend's dismal results were predictable, the lessons they offer are not. Here are the takeaways:

    1. Never Underestimate Tyler Perry

    Tyler Perry's morality plays aren't all hits, but every time he dresses up as gun-toting granny Madea, he's all but guaranteed an opening above $21 million. Last year's comedy "Boo! A Madea Halloween" was one of his biggest Madea hits, premiering with $28.5 million. If it ain't broke, don't fix it; "Boo 2!" comes out exactly a year later, working the same horror-spoof formula. Critics didn't think much of either film, but Perry's movies are critic-proof. "Boo 2!" earned an A- at CinemaScore from the largely older female audience that is Perry's base, suggesting that word-of-mouth will be strong enough to keep the popcorn flowing at least until trick-or-treat time.

    2. Critics Can Smell Blood

    Nonetheless, many older viewers still care what critics have to say, and the reviewers were merciless regarding "Geostorm" and "The Snowman." In hindsight, neither movie was poised to earn critics' favor, not just because of what's on screen, but also because of what went on behind the scenes.

    "Geostorm" has taken three years to reach the screen since production began under director Dean Devlin, the longtime producer of Roland Emmerich's disaster films, making his directing debut with a disaster movie of his own. After sitting on the shelf for two years, the rough cut underwent an additional $15 million worth of reshoots under another director, along with some radical re-editing. After all that, Warner Bros. still seemed to have little confidence in the $120 million would-be blockbuster, since the studio didn't schedule any Thursday night previews. No wonder critics thought something was fishy, resulting in a Rotten Tomatoes rating of just 13 percent fresh. Audiences didn't think much of "Geostorm" either, giving it a weak B- at CinemaScore.

    As for "The Snowman," even the Nordic noir's director, Tomas Alfredson, badmouthed the movie in the press, complaining that the murder mystery's plot makes little sense because the rushed production left him unable to shoot as much as 15 percent of the script, so there was a lot missing when it came time to edit the film. Critics took note and gave the film such negative reviews (9 percent fresh at RT) that even Twitter piled on, creating a Twitter moment whose headline read "'The Snowman' could be 2017's worst film." Audiences agreed, giving the movie a D at CinemaScore, a very low rating given how generous with grades CinemaScore poll respondents usually are.

    3. Question: Are Gerard Butler and Michael Fassbender Actually Stars?

    Sometimes. Since "300" made him a reliable leading man a decade ago, Butler has been hit or miss. "Olympus Has Fallen" did very well; sequel "London Has Fallen" did not. His biggest hits in recent years have been voice performances in the "How to Train Your Dragon" cartoons, which have helped raise his average wide-release opening above $20 million. According to PostTrak, some 24 percent of "Geostorm" viewers bought tickets because of Butler. Even so, that means three-fourths of the audience didn't care that the rugged Scottish actor was the movie's hero.

    Fassbender is a star -- as long as he's playing Magneto. Outside of the "X-Men" movies, however, he's not much of a box-office draw, as his dual role in this summer's "Alien: Covenant" proved. He certainly wasn't enough to sell viewers on what looked like a been-there-seen-that snowbound serial killer thriller.

    4. One Disaster Too Many

    The real head-scratcher this weekend will be the failure of "Only the Brave" to break out. Critics loved it (90 percent fresh at RT), and so did moviegoers (A at CinemaScore). Based on a recent true story, it's an uncynical, unabashed celebration of American heroism, the sort of movie that ought to have done well among middle American audiences. Yet hardly anyone came out to see it; 'Brave's dismal per-screen average of $2,332 means that the movie played to largely empty houses.

    It's possible that the movie suffered from disaster fatigue. Not only was the Arizona wildfire drama competing for attention with "Geostorm" (a flashier movie with a lot more action scenes and special-effects spectacle), but with several real-life disasters, including three recent hurricanes and the current California wildfires.

    There's also the fact, ignored by Hollywood, that these real-life disaster movies seldom do as well as expected, as proved by "Deepwater Horizon," "The Finest Hours," and "The 33." Finally, there's that terrible title, so bland and generic that even moviegoers who knew about the 2013 Yarnell Hill fire didn't realize that that's what this movie was about.

    5. It's a Scary Time of Year

    And not just because of Halloween. It's frightening because overall box office remains down. Coming in just under $94 million in total sales, this was the fourth worst weekend of 2017 to date.

    But the slump that's been going on since the middle of summer isn't the only problem affecting this weekend's releases. The weekend before Halloween week has become a spooky graveyard for the studios, which have made a practice of quietly dumping many of their weakest prospects there. Last year, it was "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" and "Keeping Up with the Joneses." Two years ago, it was "The Last Witch Hunter," "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension," "Rock the Kasbah," and "Jem and the Holograms" -- a slate that gives new meaning to the phrase "disaster movies."

    Why is Hollywood unloading so many of its potential write-offs just before Halloween? The studios may have recognized that this weekend was bound to be a wash, with moviegoers saving their money for next week's horror reboot "Jigsaw," not to mention November's superhero sagas "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Justice League." Those upcoming films ought to prove that, when Hollywood puts out compelling, crowd-pleasing movies that people want to see, they'll come back to the theaters in droves, as they have for many of this year's hits. And when Hollywood fills the multiplex with movies it lacks confidence in and doesn't know how to sell, you get a weekend like this one.

  8. 'Geostorm' Tracking to Make Less in Opening Weekend Than It Spent on Reshoots: Report

    Ouch. "The Snowman" may have to hold "Geostorm's" beer when it comes to the weekend's biggest flop.

    Yeah, even "The Snowman" director is taking shots at his own film (which has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 10 percent), but that movie only had a production budget of around $35 million, so if it fails at the box office it won't be a huge disaster. "Geostorm," on the other hand, has a 13 percent RT rating and cost a lot more.

    Here's a dismal assessment from The Hollywood Reporter, on how "Geostorm" is expected to perform in its North American debut:

    "Marking 'Independence Day' producer Dean Devlin's feature directorial debut, Geostorm is tracking to open in the $10 million to $12 million range, a dismal start for a film that cost at least $120 million to produce. The troubled production required $15 million in significant reshoots, with producer Jerry Bruckheimer brought aboard to help.

    In the long-delayed disaster epic, the world's climate change control system — a network of satellites built to prevent natural disasters and keep the human population safe — goes haywire, and a satellite engineer (Gerard Butler) must fix the problem before a worldwide geostorm is unleashed. Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Andy Garcia and Zazie Beetz also star.

    'Geostorm,' which may also have a hard time topping holdover 'Happy Death Day,' isn't being screened in advance for critics, nor will it hold Thursday-night previews."

    That's ... not good, but it's also just a prediction. It could be way off. Plus, that's just tracking the domestic box office. The real money these days is being made overseas, and it's very possible the international reception for "Geostorm" will be much warmer.

    All told, though, fans aren't expecting much from this weekend, beyond a race to the bottom for the two big openings:

    Look, everyone's giving The Snowman one hell of a kicking right now but let's see how shite Geostorm is before calling 2017 Worst Film, eh?

    — Leonard Sultana (@lennyukdeejay) October 20, 2017

    I worry that all the talk about The Snowman will overshadow Geostorm, which also looks awesomely bad.

    — Grantlandish (@Grantlandish) October 20, 2017

    Hearing both Geostorm and The Snowman are beyond awful. Double feature?

    — (((Kyle Huckins))) (@KyleHuckins213) October 19, 2017

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  9. Here's How 'Happy Death Day' Became a Shocking Horror Smash at the Box Office

    In this week's episode of "Why Are We Surprised? (Box Office Edition)," Hollywood is marveling that "Happy Death Day," a tiny-budgeted, star-free horror movie, debuted at No. 1 with an estimated $26.5 million, well above expectations.

    Meanwhile, "Blade Runner 2049," the expensive, star-driven, effects-heavy sequel that terrified Hollywood last week by opening at around half the amount pundits predicted, predictably lost half its audience this weekend, slipping to second place with an estimated $15.1 million. "The Foreigner," starring international action-movie icon Jackie Chan, settled for a third-place premiere with an estimated $12.8 million. And "Marshall" and "Professor Marston & the Wonder Women," two grown-up dramas of the type that are supposed to prosper during the awards-hopeful autumn season, opened in hundreds of theaters each but still couldn't draw enough viewers to break into the top 10.

    Few expected "Happy Death Day" to open higher than $18 million. So, lesson one for this weekend is that the conventional wisdom among Hollywood experts is often wrong. Here are some other lessons from this weekend's results.

    1. Never Count Blumhouse Out

    Everyone's supposedly tired of watching sequels and reboots, yet Hollywood keeps complaining that no one knows how to make money anymore with original screenplays. But that complaint ignores the successes of Blumhouse, the production company that's done consistently well in recent years with horror movies that keep the budgets low, the concepts high, and that clearly know what their target audience wants. Sure, they've done well with franchises, too (including "Insidious" and "The Purge"), but this year, they've had enormous original hits with such inventive and surprising horror tales as "Split" and "Get Out." Both of those opened above $33 million, so it's not clear why pundits expected "Happy Death Day" to debut with little more than half that amount. Perhaps they were thinking back to the more unproven "The Belko Experiment," which was released this past spring against Disney's flashy "Beauty and the Beast" reboot and opened to just $4 million.

    2. No Stars Needed

    Part of Blumhouse's success in keeping budgets low has been generally avoiding big-name actors. (There are none in "Happy Death Day," which cost less than $5 million to make.) After all, people don't go to these movies to see stars, they go because they like the premise. (In this case, a horror take on "Groundhog Day," where the heroine relives the day of her murder over and over.) Plus, casting unknowns instead of stars with established personas makes it easier to surprise viewers with twisty character arcs.

    3. Divide and Conquer

    Last week, "Blade Runner" seemed to prove the folly of making a movie that appealed to only one quadrant of the mass audience -- in this case, men over 25. But you can have a one-quadrant hit, as long as you draw enough of that quadrant. Like most horror movies, "Happy Death Day" appeals primarily to women under 25, and that clearly wasn't a handicap.

    Meanwhile, men over 25 also made up the majority of the audience for Chan's "Foreigner," which is essentially a Liam Neeson-style revenge thriller, marketed as perhaps the first time that the 63-year-old Chan really seems to act his age. (Indeed, Chan claimed he spent hours in the make-up chair each day being made to look older.) Between "Foreigner" and "Blade Runner," the older-male quadrant was well taken-care-of, making "Happy Death Day" look like smartly-timed counter-programming.

    4. Social Media Matters

    Chan may be your dad's martial-arts hero, but his social media game is strong. According to online buzz tracker RelishMix, the action legend has a combined 65 million followers on various social media platforms.

    Then again, "Happy Death Day" also did well promoting itself online. It helped that its trailer was attached to screenings of "IT" in theaters, but then, so was the "Mother!" trailer, which nonetheless failed to grab horror audiences. But "Happy Death Day"'s makers also smartly targeted their clip toward young women by attaching it as an ad to Taylor Swift's new release "Look What You Made Me Do" on YouTube and Vevo. And Universal, which distributed the film, held a Blumhouse-themed event on the studio lot, a "Happy Death Day" themed maze where the movie's killer stalked participants, including "13 Reasons Why" star Dylan Minnette, whose journey through the maze became a viral video. They were smartly able to grab that young female demographic, using an actor who wasn't even in the movie.

    5. Who Needs Rotten Tomatoes?

    Hollywood has been complaining for months that Rotten Tomatoes is ruining the business; even Martin Scorsese, whose movies usually do well on the aggregated-review site, weighed in with a gripe this week. But RT's ability to kill a movie with weak reviews is overrated, as is apparent from the modest scores it gave "Happy Death Day" (64 percent fresh) and "Foreigner" (57 percent).

    By the same token, high RT scores clearly don't help, as evidenced by "Blade Runner" (89 percent) and this week's new semi-wide releases, "Marshall" and "Professor Marston & the Wonder Women" (both 87 percent). These films were all made with older audiences in mind, the kind who still read reviews, and yet critical raves weren't enough to draw people who weren't that interested in the stories these movies were telling in the first place. Hollywood needs to recognize that a thumbs up/thumbs down from RT is less important than a movie's premise and execution. Viewers didn't care about a case Thurgood Marshall defended before he was famous. And despite "Wonder Woman" being one of the biggest hits of recent years, viewers didn't care about the story that inspired the DC superheroine's creation -- especially since, as even the rave reviews point out, "Marston"'s depiction isn't all that sexy.

    6. It's October

    As this column has been noting for weeks, the box office is in the depths of a slump caused primarily by a drought of movies compelling enough to lure potential ticket buyers out of their living rooms. The current month is on track to be the lowest-grossing October in a decade. The weekend's total take of almost $99 million makes it the fifth lowest-grossing weekend of 2017 so far. For the year to date, total receipts are about 5 percent behind where they at this time in 2016.

    About the only thing that has lured couch potatoes away from their home theater systems in recent weeks has been horror, particularly "IT." So it makes sense that moviegoers would flock to a well-executed horror movie, especially one that opens on Friday the 13th, a couple weeks before Halloween. Then again, if you want to see real terror, watch Hollywood's accountants as they look over the rest of this year's slate of releases and contemplate the prospect of falling behind 2016's domestic total by about $1 billion.

  10. Box Office: 'Happy Death Day' Crushes 'Blade Runner 2049' With $26.5 Million

    "Happy Death Day" has cause for celebration.

    The latest from Blumhouse and Universal is leading the box office this weekend with $26.5 million from 3,149 locations. That puts it far ahead of "Blade Runner 2049," which is skidding to $15.1 million during its second weekend at 4,058 locations, down 54% from its disappointing opening weekend.

    A horror spin on "Groundhog Day," "Happy Death Day" centers on Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as a woman who wakes up to the same day -- her birthday -- every day, and is murdered every time. Christopher B. Landon directed the film based on a script by Scott Lobdell.

    Earlier this year in January, Blumhouse's "Split" opened to a monster $40 million in January, and went on to earn $278.3 million worldwide. Then, the next month, "Get Out" was a smash hit as well with a $33.4 million opening and $253.1 million in global grosses by the end of its run. The production house is also responsible for the hugely profitable "Purge" and "Paranormal Activity" franchises.

    Otherwise, "The Foreigner" -- a U.S.-China co-production between STXfilms, Sparkle Roll Media, and Wanda -- is opening to $12.8 million from 2,515 locations. The Jackie Chan-starrer started its international rollout on Sept. 30, and has tallied $88 million overseas so far. "Casino Royale" director Martin Campbell made the $35 million flick, which also stars Pierce Brosnan as a British government official.

    And two biopics are struggling to draw significant grosses. Open Road's "Marshall" is opening to $3 million from 821 locations, and Annapurna's "Professor Marston & The Wonder Women" is barely making a dent with $737,000 from 1,229 locations.

    "It" remains in the top five this weekend, as horror continues to dominate the box office. In its sixth weekend, the Warner Bros. and New Line release is grossing $6 million from 3,176 spots. Rounding out the top five is Fox's "The Mountain Between Us," which is taking in $5.7 million from 3,259 locations.

  11. Here's Why 'Blade Runner 2049' Crashed at the Box Office

    Remember way back in olden times -- say, four or five days ago -- when "Blade Runner 2049" was a well-reviewed, can't-miss hit that was going to shatter "Gravity"'s record for October debuts ($55.8 million) and was certain to net as much as $60 million in its first three days?

    And yet, when all that beautifully styled futuristic smoke and mist cleared, the Ryan Gosling-Harrison Ford sci-fi sequel premiered with about half what was expected, just an estimated $31.5 million. That was still far and away enough to end the two-week reign of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" atop the box office chart, but for a much-hyped, $155 million would-be blockbuster that was supposed to be the tentpole of Warner Bros.' fall schedule, that's a disastrous figure. At this rate, "Blade Runner 2049" will be lucky to earn back two-thirds of its budget in North American theaters.

    If it's any consolation, the weekend's No. 2 movie, "The Mountain Between Us," underperformed as well, opening with an estimated $10.1 million against expectations in the mid-teens. Kiddie cartoon "My Little Pony: The Movie" did open slightly above expectations, but with a take of just an estimated $8.8 million and a debut in fourth place, it has nothing to write home about either.

    What went wrong this weekend? Here are some factors.

    1. Drawing Power

    It doesn't matter how much you loved Gosling in "The Notebook" or "La La Land" or those funny memes from a few years back. You don't buy tickets to his movies based on his name alone. (This holds true for Ford, too, despite the enduring nostalgia value of sci-fi and adventure hits he made decades ago.) Supporting player Jared Leto has about 10 times the social media fanbase that Gosling does; then again, he doesn't sell tickets either. That $31.5 million that "Blade Runner 2049" earned this weekend is almost exactly the amount that the average Gosling movie has earned over its entire North American release. So kudos to the heartthrob for earning his biggest opening ever with "Blade Runner," but the $19.1 million debut of his "Crazy, Stupid Love" six years ago wasn't that high a bar to clear.

    Speaking of heartthrobs, if anyone thought Idris Elba was going to be strong counter-programming to the testosterone-heavy "Blade Runner," and that he and Kate Winslet were going to draw women to see "The Mountain Between Us," they were mistaken. The Internet may swoon for Elba, but he's not a big box office draw either, as he proved two months ago with "The Dark Tower." Nor is Winslet; last time she had a lead role in a movie that opened as well as "Mountain" was six years ago with "Contagion." Online fandom and residual goodwill from past blockbusters are nice things for a star to be able to claim, but they don't necessarily translate into ticket sales.

    2. It's Been a While

    It's been an awfully long time since 1982, when Ford's original "Blade Runner" came out. It's not impossible for a sequel to follow its predecessor by 30 years and still be a hit, as "Mad Max: Fury Road" proved. But 35 years may be stretching it. Besides, the original "Blade Runner" wasn't a hit. It became a cult favorite over the past three decades, thanks to home video and multiple revised cuts being re-released into theaters. Still, that cult may not have extended beyond a hardcore audience of sci-fi fans and film buffs who appreciated its influence on later futuristic sci-fi films. So it's not like there was a huge audience eager to see the sequel to a movie that they've never watched, either because they were too young (or not born yet) or not interested enough 35 years ago.

    3. Lost the Plot

    The marketing campaign for the new "Blade Runner" was deliberately mysterious, meant to avoid revealing plot spoilers of any kind. That approach seems to have backfired, confusing the majority of viewers who didn't know the original's plot and characters that well to begin with. (Heck, even ardent "Blade Runner" fans may have been confused, given all the ambiguity stirred up by as many as seven different cuts of the original film.)

    Not that you can't go too far in the other direction. There was no mystery at all as to the plotting and characters of "Mountain," but since the trailers promised the sort of survival-in-the-wilderness drama that's easily grasped from a 30-second ad, the overly familiar premise may have doomed "Mountain" among viewers who felt they'd been there, seen that.

    And even kids may have felt "Pony" was too familiar, since they can see it for free on TV. The only real novelty was that the characters were voiced by celebrities their parents knew, not the TV actors whose voices kids would have expected to hear coming straight out of the horses' mouths. As "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" proved last month, repurposing a readily-available kid-TV property for the movies, but with new voice actors, is a recipe for failure.

    The buzz. "2049" rode a wave of hype in the form of ecstatic reviews from critics (all of whom you can bet saw and appreciated the original), resulting in a strong 89 percent fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes. Paying customers seemed to like it just as much, giving it an A- grade at CinemaScore. Nonetheless, there were dissenters who found the movie overly long (it's 2 hours and 43 minutes), confusingly plotted, and slowly paced. As with the first "Blade Runner," everyone seemed to admire the movie's extravagant visuals, but as they say of Broadway musicals, no one goes home humming the sets.

    Curiously, "Mountain" and "Pony" also earned A- grades at CinemaScore from satisfied customers, even though both earned mixed-to-poor reviews from critics (46 percent fresh at RT for "Mountain," 58 percent for "Pony"). To the extent that both movies were courting older ticket buyers who still read reviews -- adults craving grown-up drama for "Mountain," parents of small children for "Pony" -- the weak critical response to those films couldn't have helped. The high CinemaScore grades for all three movies among theatergoers don't mean much if you can't get them into the theater in the first place.

    4. The Marketplace

    And that's been the problem with the slumping box office since at least July.

    The only offering in recent months that's really inspired people to leave their living rooms and buy movie tickets is "IT." (In its fifth weekend, the horror smash is still holding up impressively well, finishing third with an estimated $9.7 million and crossing the $300 million mark in total domestic sales.) There hasn't been a lot lately to draw viewers to the multiplex, especially young viewers. (This is the 10th straight weekend that the top-grossing film has been rated R, discouraging moviegoers under 17.)

    Last weekend's total box office take was about $90.8 million, making it one of the lowest-grossing weekends of the year so far. This weekend's total wasn't much better, at an estimated $99.7 million. Despite some enormous blockbusters earlier this year, including "Beauty and the Beast" and "Wonder Woman," total grosses for the year are about 5 percent below where they were at this time in 2016.

    The simple answer would seem to be "Make more crowd-pleasing movies." But all three of this weekend's wide releases were crowd-pleasers, so that's clearly not enough. Every movie, even one as rapturously reviewed as "Blade Runner 2049," has both strengths and liabilities, and your marketers can't just ignore those liabilities or wish them away.

  12. Why 'American Made' Cruised at the Box Office While 'Flatliners' Expired

    At last, we got a real race.

    In this weekend's box office competition, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" was widely expected to win a second time. "IT" was finally expected to slow down in its fourth weekend. And Tom Cruise's new "American Made" was expected to fall short of the others and open around $16 million.

    What happened instead was a photo finish, with the three movies estimated to finish within $310,000 of each other. As of Sunday, "IT" had regained the top spot and was due to enjoy its third week at No. 1 with an estimated $17.3 million. "American Made" did slightly better than expected and claimed to have edged past the $17 million mark by just $16,000. Which meant that "Kingsman," with an estimated $17 million even, was just a hair behind in third place. (Of course, all these numbers and positions could change when actual weekend tallies are released on Monday.)

    That's pretty exciting, especially since there was another wide release, "Flatliners," that underperformed its already modest predictions and debuted in fifth place with just an estimated $6.7 million.

    How did we end up with a nearly three-way tie at the top of the chart involving one new release while the other new release flatlined? Here are some of the factors at play.

    1. Star Power

    Tom Cruise is a curious case. He was king of the box office for two decades, and while he still sells well overseas, his movies outside the "Mission: Impossible" franchise open poorly at home. The dismal domestic performance of his "The Mummy" this summer is why no one expected much from "American Made." Plus, while Cruise is usually tireless in promoting his films, he didn't do much to plug this one, since he's been busy working on a sixth "M:I" installment.

    Still, he's a bigger draw than "Flatliners" stars Diego Luna and Ellen Page, or any of the many well-known stars in "Kingsman," or any of the unknowns in "IT." (He's not bigger, however, than "IT" author Stephen King.)

    2. Age

    Cruise supposedly poisoned his own well 12 years ago with his advocacy of Scientology and his antics while he was courting Katie Holmes, but all that may be too long ago for today's young moviegoers to remember. They simply may not care about Cruise because he's a 55-year-old action star whose biggest hits are now nostalgia pieces.

    Then again, nostalgia may explain why older viewers haven't yet abandoned him. Cinemascore reported that only 9 percent of "American Made" viewers were under 25 (PostTrak had the figure at 18 percent). Still, put Cruise in the cockpit of a 1980s airplane, and memories of "Top Gun" will send older viewers (especially older men, who made up nearly half the audience for "American Made") to the ticket window.

    The nostalgia factor backfired with "Flatliners." The movie was ostensibly a sequel to the 1990 movie of the same name, but only Kiefer Sutherland from that film returned, and there was no indication that he was playing the same character. The cast was clearly meant to appeal to younger viewers, but those viewers weren't even born yet when the first film came out. Besides, the original wasn't so beloved that older viewers would have been eager to see a sequel. So who was the new "Flatliners" for?

    3.Timing

    If you have a crowd-pleasing horror smash like "IT" still in theaters, why would you go see "Flatliners"? Maybe Sony thought the three weeks between their releases was enough time so that "Flatliners" would be safe? Guess not.

    As for "American Made," it's coming out just one week after spy thriller "Kingsman" and two weeks after similarly titled international thriller "American Assassin." (By the way, if you're wondering where all the teen and young-adult moviegoers were, it was at those films and "IT.")

    3. Screen Count

    "American Made" and "American Assassin" are playing at an almost identical number of theaters (3,024 vs. 3,020), but the newer film averaged $5,627 per screen, better than any other wide-release film this weekend, while "Assassin" earned just $1,101 per screen. (It totaled an estimated $3.3 million, good for seventh place.) So "American Made," which is playing on about 900 fewer screens than "IT" and 1,000 fewer than "Kingsman," could have beaten both of them if it had been playing in just 53 more theaters.

    4. Execution

    "American Made" also tops all other current nationwide releases with its Rotten Tomatoes score. Its 87 percent fresh rating indicates overwhelmingly positive reviews. To the extent that the older viewers "American Made" targeted still care what critics say, that score must have given the movie a boost.

    Horror movies are usually critic-proof, but when a movie gets a rare 0 score at RT, even horror fans have to take notice. Sony must have known critics wouldn't like "Flatliners," as the studio declined to screen it for them in advance (a common marketing tactic for horror movies), but it also didn't preview the movie for audiences on Thursday night. Between that omen and the unanimously bad reviews, savvy horror fans had to have guessed that "Flatliners" would be DOA.

    5. The Season

    Curiously, the same production company, Cross Creek, helped finance both of this weekend's new wide releases. Maybe Cross Creek saw them as smart counter-programming to each other, with little overlap between their likely audiences (older and male vs. younger and female). Maybe the timing is a coincidence of distribution over which Cross Creek had no control.

    Still, neither movie on its own was enough to drum up much interest in theatrical moviegoing this weekend. The total domestic box office for all movies this weekend was about $90.6 million, making this the third lowest-grossing weekend of 2017 to date. It also makes the bigger box office totals of the last three weeks, driven by "IT" and "Kingsman," look more like a brief reversal in the long slump that began in July than a permanent upswing. (Who knows, the pendulum could swing back again when "Blade Runner 2049" opens next weekend, but otherwise, October doesn't look like a strong sales month.)

    The fact is, audiences need a good reason to get off the couch and spend big bucks on movie tickets and popcorn. Right now, the best reason to do that is still that creepy clown in the sewer.

  13. How Did 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' Wallop 'The LEGO Ninjago Movie' at the Box Office?

    After a September dominated by "IT," we were suddenly supposed to get a close three-way race at the box office this weekend. Didn't quite happen.

    While "IT was expected to fall to $30 million -- a still-impressive figure for a movie in its third weekend of release -- the horror hit was supposed to face close competition from two new wide-release sequels to popular franchises. Predictions for "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" and "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" were all over the map, but analysts believed both movies would open in the 30s and maybe even the 40s.

    As it turns out, predictions for "IT" were right on the money, since it came in exactly at $30.0 million according to estimates. But "Kingsman" dethroned it with an estimated $39.0 million. While "Ninjago" debuted in third place, it fell well below expectations with just an estimated $21.3 million.

    Why did "Kingsman" so easily take the crown while "Ninjago" bricked? Some experts will be arguing that the lopsided victory demonstrates how much "IT" has rewritten the rules for what to expect from the September box office, but really, it's just a matter of following the old rules, which "Kingsman" did and its competition didn't. Among the factors that mattered:

    1. Timing

    Exhibitors may have thought that, after a summer of tumbleweeds and crickets at the multiplex, the enormous success of "IT" got moviegoers back into the habit of going to the theaters no matter what's playing. Not so; audiences are still picky and careful with their money. For instance, not too many were going to go see another horror movie while "IT" was still playing, which is one reason why "Friend Request," this weekend's third new wide release, disappointed with a seventh-place premiere and a take estimated at just $2.4 million (although its budget was only $9.9 million).

    Meanwhile, "NInjago" may have had the family marketplace to itself, coming out two months after the last big family hit ("The Emoji Movie"). Unfortunately, "Ninjago" arrives just seven months after "The LEGO Batman Movie," and it's not clear that there was demand for another film from the brick-toy franchise so soon after the last one.

    "Kingsman"' had its own timing issues, yet its opening is still impressive for early fall. The first "Kingsman" opened two years ago on a weekend that included a big moviegoing holiday (Valentine's Day) and cleared $36.2 million. So it's a coup for the sequel to top it on a weekend in September, with no holidays, strong adult competition from "IT" and several other films, and action competition from last week's "American Assassin" (fourth this weekend with an estimated $6.3 million) and possibly from next weekend's "American Made," for which some action fans may be saving their money. In fact, "Kingsman" now boasts the fifth-biggest September debut of all time. Manners definitely make the man (and the box office gold).

    2. Age

    Unlike the first two "LEGO" films, "Ninjago" has little appeal for adults. Not only did the first two spoof pop culture franchises and characters that were familiar to grown-ups, but they also got great reviews. "Ninjago," however, draws on a recent kiddie TV series that few adults know, and its reviews were mixed (just 53 percent fresh at Rotten Tomatoes). As a result, while moviegoers over 18 made up 59 percent of "The LEGO Movie" audience and 62 percent of the "LEGO Batman" crowd, they made up only about half of the "Ninjago" viewers.

    "Ninjago" and three-week-old romantic comedy "Home Again" are the only movies in this weekend's top 10 that are not rated R, so competition for adults was fierce this weekend. (Besides the two new R-rated releases, there were several Oscar-hopeful movies in limited release aiming to attract grown-ups, including Jake Gyllenhaal's "Stronger," which debuted at No. 9 with an estimated $1.7 million despite playing on just 574 screens, and Ben Stiller's "Brad's Status," which expanded into 453 venues and landed at No. 12 with an estimated $1.0 million.)

    Even so, the R rating helped "Kingsman" while hurting "Friend Request." For "Kingsman" fans, the rating proves that the movie isn't skimping on the sex and violence that distinguish the series from more decorous and discreet spy franchises (like the coy but PG-13 James Bond movies). "Friend Request," however, might have benefited from a PG-13 in order to attract the teens who might have embraced the movie's social-media-driven plot.

    3. Star Power

    Actually, we're not sure if this matters much at all anymore -- but we're including it anyway. Horror movies don't need stars to succeed (as "IT" has proved in spades), and it's not clear that the star-studded "Kingsman" cast was an asset. Lead Taron Egerton is a non-entity outside the franchise. Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Julianne Moore are beloved Oscar-winners but not box office draws. Channing Tatum's box office drawing power is in question now after ticket buyers showed little love for "Logan Lucky."

    And the star-heavy voice cast of "Ninjago" might actually have hurt the film. After all, young fans are accustomed to the voice players from the TV show. Many were alienated by hearing their beloved characters voiced by strange new actors on the big screen.

    4. Execution

    That's really the most important thing -- not necessarily being good enough to please critics (indeed, all three of the new wide releases earned "rotten" scores at RT), but rather, delivering what audiences want. That's the difference between a franchise that still feels fresh, as "Kingsman" does to its fans, and one that doesn't. After three installments, the diminishing returns for the "LEGO" movies is apparent. The first opened with $69 million, the second with $53 million.

    After a summer full of family-movie sequels that underperformed -- "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul," "Cars 3," "The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature" -- it's clear that family franchise installments are no longer automatic hits. The parents who buy the tickets are more discerning, and they're not just going to shell out for anything animated. Parents can tell when a sequel is less a story that needed to be told than a cynical cash grab. Judging by "Ninjago," kids can tell, too. That's a lesson that franchises for teens and grown-ups should heed as well.

  14. Box Office: 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' Dominates With $40 Million

    LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Spy comedy "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is heading for a solid $40 million opening weekend at 4,003 North American sites, estimates showed Saturday.

    The third weekend of horror blockbuster "It" continues to scare up impressive business with a projected $30 million at 4,007 locations, followed by the launch of Warner Bros.' animated comedy "The Lego Ninjago Movie" with about $21 million at 4,047 locations -- well under recent forecasts. Still, with three films over $20 million, the overall box office represents a continued rebound for the movie business following a dismal late summer.

    Independent horror movie "Friend Request" is showing little traction in its launch weekend with an estimated $2.2 million at 2,550 venues. Jake Gyllenhaal's "Stronger," a biopic on Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, is opening with a moderate $1.6 million at 574 sites for Roadside Attractions.

    Fox's "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is performing in line with expectations, two years after "Kingsman: The Secret Service." The sequel brings back original stars Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong, and adds newcomers Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, and Elton John. Matthew Vaughn returns to directs the whimsical story of survivors of a secret British spy agency teaming up with their American counterparts after Moore's drug cartel threatens the world.

    "Kingsman: The Secret Service" debuted domestically with a $36.2 million opening weekend and went on to gross $128.2 million Stateside and $414 million worldwide. The original also scored well with critics with a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes while reception for "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" has been mixed with a 51% rating.

    New Line's "It" is showing plenty of staying power in its third weekend after dominating the domestic box office. "It" took in more than $9 million on Friday, its 15th day in theaters, and should wind up the weekend with about $266 million domestically.

    Should the "It" estimate hold, it will join the ranks of 34 other films that have taken in more than $30 million in their third weekend domestically. "It" has already become the highest-grossing horror movie of all time, eclipsing the $233 million domestic total for "The Exorcist."

    "The Lego Ninjago Movie," based on the toy line, is the third film in the Warner Animation Group franchise. Its opening will finish well behind "The Lego Batman Movie," which launched to $53 million earlier this year, and 2014's "The Lego Movie," which opened with $69.1 million. The computer-animated "Ninjago" stars the voices of Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Zach Woods and Jackie Chan.

    The second weekend of "American Assassin" is on track for a fourth-place finish with $6.2 million in 3,154 locations, which will lift the CBS Films/Lionsgate co-production to $26 million by the end of the weekend.

    Fox Searchlight's comedy-drama "Battle of the Sexes," a potential awards contender, launched strongly in limited release with an estimated $460,000 at 21 venues. Emma Stone and Steve Carell star in the story of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

    "With the post-Labor Day period 2017 running a whopping 37.1% ahead of last year, September up 16.8% and the year-to-date deficit shrinking by the week, this is already a September to remember," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.

    As of Sept. 19, the year-to-date domestic total was running 5% behind 2016 at $7.92 billion. That decline had been 6.5% before "It" opened on Sept. 8.

  15. Ouch: Jennifer Lawrence's 'mother!' Got an F CinemaScore

    This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from "mother!" (Paramount Pictures and Protozoa Pictures via AP)The new horror-thriller "mother!" -- starring Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence -- earned itself a relatively rare F CinemaScore, once again highlighting the disconnect between film critics and film goers.

    "Mother!" was directed by Darren Aronofsky, who is no stranger to polarizing films, especially "Requiem for a Dream." His new film has a Metascore of 74, which is good, and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 69 percent fresh. It also has a 6.8/10 rating from IMDb users. However, "mother!" only has a RT Audience Score of 42 percent, and now a bargain-basement F CinemaScore.

    That F currently standalone, next to the B+ for both "American Assassin" and "IT"; A for "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Leap"; A- for "Dunkirk," "Detroit, "Despicable Me 3," and "Baby Driver"; and B for "Atomic Blonde," "The Dark Tower," and "Annabelle: Creation." Even "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" got a B- CinemaScore.

    Previous films earning an F include "Bug," "Solaris," The Box," Dr. T and the Women," "Silent House," "Disaster Movie," "Wolf Creek," and "The Devil Inside." As The Hollywood Reporter noted, films with F grades usually don't overcome the bad word of mouth to make more than $15 million at the domestic box office, but "The Devil Inside" was the exception. That film opened to $33.7 million and earned $53.3 million domestically, and $101.8 million globally.

    "Mother!" had the worst wide launch of Jennifer Lawrence's career, earning around $7.5 million from 2,368 locations. But the extreme reactions to the film -- and this F rating, which in some circles is a badge of honor -- may make more fans curious to check it out.

    Paul Dergarabedian of comScore, which conducts exit polling, talked to THR about the critics vs. fans reaction to "mother!":

    "This is an interesting case of what appears to be a total disconnect between the critics, who have been fairly receptive, and audiences who are collectively giving mother! their unanimous seal of disapproval with some of the lowest audience scores seen for a wide release film. The trailer paints a very strange and purposely equivocal portrait of the film and audiences who may have been expecting one type of movie-going experience got something quite different and have chosen to scold the film with a stunningly low approval rating."

    In terms of box office, "mother!" might pick up more overseas. It currently has a foreign intake of $6 million, from six markets, in addition to the $7.5M domestic gross so far. The film reportedly cost about $30 million to make.

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  16. 7 Reasons Why 'It' Shattered Box Office Records

    You know all that hand-wringing in recent days about how this summer's horrible box office slump meant that the movie business was irreparably broken? Nevermind.

    There was an awful lot riding on the slender shoulders of those seven kids in the self-styled Losers Club. Not only did the heroes of "IT" have to save the town of Derry, Maine from Pennywise the Clown, but they also had to save the box office from its worst summer in over a decade. Analysts gave the much-anticipated Stephen King adaptation a good shot, predicting it might earn around $60 million this weekend.

    Turns out they were wrong. The predictions were off, by nearly 100 percent.

    In fact, Sunday estimates have "IT" raking in $117.2 million. The movie broke all sorts of records. Among them: biggest September opening ever, biggest three-day weekend for a horror film, and biggest opening day for a horror film ($51 million). Its Thursday night preview take of $13.5 million marks the biggest preview for an R-rated movie, a horror film, and a September release. It's the third biggest opening weekend of 2017 and the second biggest R-rated opening of all time, after "Deadpool" (which debuted with $132.4 million).

    We'd ask how the experts so vastly underestimated the potential of "IT," but then, Hollywood's conventional wisdom has been off about nearly everything this summer. Here are some of the rewritten rules that "IT" has let fly like so many red balloons.

    1. Bad Movie Fatigue

    Hollywood spent much of the summer wondering why moviegoers weren't buying tickets to yet another "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Transformers," or "Mummy" installment, not to mention adaptations of old TV shows no one asked for ("Baywatch"). Originality was supposedly what viewers wanted, with "Baby Driver," "Dunkirk," and "Girls Trip" as examples.

    Really, though, it was just bad-movie fatigue. Superhero sequels and reboots did very well, as did horror prequel "Annabelle: Creation," while many original films that critics like weren't crowdpleasers ("It Comes at Night," "Detroit," "Logan Lucky").

    Now comes "IT," based on a familiar Stephen King novel that was already filmed once, for TV, in a memorable 1990 mini-series. Hardly original, but many people knew and loved the story and wanted to see it done well on a big screen. It was well-marketed, with a frightening trailer that lit up YouTube, with 197 million views in its first 24 hours. Anticipation was high, especially after a summer of disappointments. So the box office was primed for "IT" to succeed.

    2. It's Fresh

    The negative power of the movie review aggregator's green splat icon has been another Hollywood complaint all summer. Of course, some poorly reviewed films succeeded anyway ("The Emoji Movie") while many critical favorites did not. "IT" wasn't a great test case, in that horror movies are usually critic-proof anyway. But "IT" did get mostly good reviews (86 percent fresh at RT), so at least ticket buyers saw the film as a safe investment. Plus, Warner Bros.' New Line unit was happy to let reviews run early, knowing that they'd be positive and would combine to make a high RT score. So the studios aren't above emphasizing RT for marketing purposes when it works to their advantage.

    3. Stephen King Rules

    In this case, the stars weren't the mostly anonymous cast or even director Andy Muschietti, a name only to horror fans who remember his hit "Mama" from four and a half years ago. Rather, the star is King, who's been a reliable box office draw for 40 years... up to a point. Remember, just a month ago, the adaptation of his "Dark Tower" saga flopped. But that was a film that hardcore King fans found disappointingly unfaithful to the novels and regular moviegoers simply found baffling. King sells tickets, but only for the right titles, properly executed.

    4. IMAX Was Big

    "IT" might not have done as well had it been released a month ago. That's because fellow Warners release "Dunkirk" was hogging all the IMAX screens. Now, however, it was able to grab 377 of those giant screens, marking the largest September IMAX release ever. And those surcharges resulted in $7.2 million of "IT"'s take coming from IMAX, also a September record.

    5. The Netflix Effect

    The streaming service is yet another supposed digital killer of theatrical sales. Even so, it couldn't have hurt that one of Netflix's most popular shows of the past year was "Stranger Things," an '80s nostalgia piece that owes a huge debt to King's books and movies, "IT" in particular. So Netflix would actually have helped build up anticipation for a movie that went straight to the source that had inspired "Stranger Things."

    6. Hurricanes Couldn't Stop "IT"

    Florida generally accounts for some 6 percent of the box office, so it was widely assumed that Hurricane Irma would put a large dent in sales this weekend. Plus, many Houston screens were expected to remain dark in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last week. Nonetheless, some theaters in central Florida remained open. And evacuees who made it to other states may have chosen to ride out the storm watching escapist fare at the multiplex. So the storms' effects were minimal, as was apparent from all the box office records "IT" broke.

    7. If You Build It, They Will Come

    Overall, the "Field of Dreams" rule remains in effect. If you make a movie that people actually want to see, they'll happily show up at the multiplex and buy tickets. Whether or not it's a familiar title, whether it earns a high or low score at Rotten Tomatoes, whether or not it's made by A-list actors and directors, and whether or not there are outside factors discouraging people from going to the movies, what matters most is execution.

  17. 'A Bad Moms Christmas' Trailer Is a Raunchy Holiday Extravaganza

    Baby, it's cold outside ... but it's hot in heerrrre for the "Bad Moms."

    Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn reunite for "A Bad Moms Christmas," the holiday-themed sequel to their raunchy hit comedy. Christmas is hard enough on the three moms, but things get a lot worse with the arrival of their own mothers.

    Kunis is trying to stand up to her perfectionist mom (Christine Baranski), while Bell's mama (Cheryl Hines) is way too clingy. And then there's Hahn's mother (Susan Sarandon), who's too busy boozin' and cruisin' to realize it's not Easter.

    The trio just want to let loose and have fun for the holiday. "Let's put the 'ass' back in 'Christm-ass,'" Hahn declares. And she gets that and some more thanks to the studly Justin Hartley, who puts on a very "Magic Mike"-like show for them.

    "Bad Moms Christmas" opens in theaters November 3.

  18. Box Office: 'Hitman's Bodyguard' Leads Slowest Labor Day Weekend in About Two Decades

    LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - A disastrous domestic summer box office is ending on a low note.

    Without any fresh competition in wide release, "Hitman's Bodyguard" appears the be the holiday weekend's movie of choice. The Lionsgate release with Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson at the center is tracking to earn $12.9 million from 3,370 locations over the four-day weekend. Its seemingly imminent win would make "Hitman's Bodyguard" the only flick this summer to retain the top spot on the domestic box office charts for three consecutive weekends. "Dunkirk," "Wonder Woman," and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" each stayed first for two frames.

    But while the action comedy is certainly profitable at this point, its threepeat is less due to the movie's overwhelming popularity, and more attributable to the lack of alternatives. This -- the first Labor Day weekend in recent history without a new wide release -- is tracking to have the lowest four-day total for the holiday in nearly two decades. The 28 movies currently in release are tracking to bring in about $94 million. Not since 1998 when "There's Something About Mary" led the box office with $10.9 million* and all 29 movies in release earned $78.8 million has the holiday weekend dropped so low.

    Of the weekend's two medium-sized launched, Sony's re-release of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is faring better. The 40th anniversary theatrical event is set to take in $2.3 million for the four-day holiday weekend from 901 locations. Meanwhile, TWC's long-delayed release "Tulip Fever" is not finding its audience. The historical drama starring Alicia Vikander is expected to earn $1.5 million from 765 locations.

  19. Summer 2017 Box Office Winners and Losers

    There was actually some good news this weekend at the box office. Animated ballerina tale "Leap!" vaulted slightly above its very low pre-release expectations and debuted in third place with an estimated $5.0 million. And... uh... that's about it for the good news.

    Otherwise, this was a spectacularly horrible weekend, ending the worst box office summer in a decade with the worst total take in 16 years. According to estimates, the entire slate of weekend movies generated just $64.4 million, the lowest figure since the weekend of September 21-23, 2001, right after the 9/11 attacks.

    There's a lot of finger-pointing going on. You could blame the dog days of August. You could blame Hurricane Harvey, the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight, a home pay-per-view event so big that it actually dwarfed most movies currently playing. In fact, the boxing match actually made the box office chart, since Fathom Events streamed the bout live in 481 theaters, where audiences paid $2.4 million to watch it and lifted it to No. 9 on the chart. You could even blame Sunday's much-anticipated "Game of Thrones" season finale.

    But most of the blame goes to the studios, for releasing fare no one much cared about. Remember, last August at this time, we got "Don't Breathe," a horror movie that critics and audiences alike raved about, opening with $26.4 million. This weekend, in addition to "Leap," we got martial arts picture "Birth of the Dragon" (premiering in eighth place with an estimated $2.5 million) and Christian-themed drama "All Saints" (opening way down at No. 16 with an estimated $1.6 million).

    Aside from two-week champ "The Hitman's Bodyguard," which earned an estimated $10.1 million and averaged a meh $2,976 per theater, no movie in general release averaged more than $2,000 per screen. (The Mayweather-McGregor fight, which charged $40 per ticket, drew about $5,000 per screen.)

    As a result, the summer is poised to end with a domestic total take of $3.5 billion, down about 20 percent from last summer and falling below $4 billion for the first time since 2006.

    The summer's sobering numbers ought to provide Hollywood with some lessons going forward, but they're not the lessons you might have expected at the beginning of May, given the surprising names among the season's winners and losers, listed below.

    Winner: "Despicable Me 3"
    When it didn't perform as well as the previous "Despicable"/"Minions" movies, the threequel looked like it was going to be another of this summer's victims of franchise fatigue. Even so, at summer's end, it's the only movie of the season that's approached $1 billion worldwide (its total to date is $971.7 million).

    Oh, and last weekend, after two months, it finally inched past the $251.5 domestic take of the original 2010 movie (its total now stands at $254.5 million), so instead of being the lowest domestic grosser of the four-film franchise, it's now just the second-lowest.

    Loser: Animation
    Cartoons used to be considered a way to mint money by bringing excited kids and their parents into theaters. Even last August's "Sausage Party," a throwaway lark made strictly for adults, was an animated hit. Yet this summer, aside from "Despicable Me 3," was a dismal season for animated features, with only modest takes for "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" and "The Emoji Movie", and weak results for "The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature," and now, "Leap!"

    Even the mighty Pixar struck out with "Cars 3," whose take of $149.1 million is a disappointment by the Disney cartoon brand's usual standards. (It looks like less of a mess if you think of "Cars 3" as a very expensive infomercial for "Cars" toys, which have reportedly racked up billions of dollars in sales.)

    Winner: Comic Book Movies (Duh)
    The only franchise films that seemed exempt from sequelitis this summer were the ones based on familiar DC and Marvel characters. Audiences had no reluctance getting off their living room couches to go see "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Spider-Man: Homecoming," and especially "Wonder Woman," currently the summer's top domestic grosser, with $406.2 million and counting.

    Loser: Non-Comic Book Franchise Movies
    Franchise underperformers included not just long-in-the-tooth franchises, like "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Alien," "Planet of the Apes," and "Transformers," but also attempts at new franchises, like Warner Bros. "King Arthur," Paramount's "Baywatch," and Universal's "Dark Tower" and the "Dark Universe" monsterverse (kicked off by Tom Cruise's underwhelming "The Mummy").

    It was common to cite franchise fatigue as the reason viewers stayed away from such been-there-done-that films, but given how lame most of these offerings were, it was really just bad-movie fatigue. (Lone exception: the "Conjuring" horror franchise, whose fourth installment, "Annabelle: Creation," was in second place this weekend with an estimated $7.4 million, for a three-week total of $77.9 million.)

    Winner: Rotten Tomatoes
    Studios complained all summer that the movie review aggregator was costing them sales, especially when low scores ran alongside the point of purchase at Fandango. Indeed, there was some research suggesting that low RT scores do add negativity to social media chatter about poorly-reviewed movies. But evidence that RT actually hurts sales was meager, and high RT scores don't boost sales; witness last weekend's results, when the low-scoring "Hitman's Bodyguard" opened at No. 1, while the well-reviewed "Logan Lucky" tanked. And an 89 percent fresh score certainly didn't help "All Saints" this weekend.

    Nonetheless, RT lands in the winner's column because Hollywood's outsized perception of its influence means the site has some real power it could wield, at least in the short term.

    Loser: Original Films
    The flip side of the franchise-fatigue claim suggests that audiences yearn to see fresh material that they haven't seen in earlier movies, TV shows, or comic books. But this summer's slate didn't bear that out. Aside from a few exceptions -- like "Dunkirk," "Baby Driver," "The Big Sick," and "Girls Trip" -- movies based on original screenplays fared poorly. (A moment of silence, please, for "It Comes at Night," "Wish Upon," "Meagan Leavey," "Detroit," and "Logan Lucky.")

    Especially weak were R-rated original comedies -- like "Snatched," "Rough Night," "The House"), which had seemed like low-cost, surefire summer hits since "The Hangover" started the trend back in 2009. Again, it may just be that this summer's original movies weren't very good, except for the handful of crowd-pleasers noted above.

    Winner: Women
    Atomic Blonde (2017)Charlize TheronBesides being the biggest movie of the summer, "Wonder Woman" directed lots of attention toward Hollywood's gender imbalance, both on the screen and behind the camera. Indeed, the studios tend to dismiss smash movies with female protagonists as flukes, but there were a lot of female-fronted movies this summer that did well, including "47 Meters Down," "Girls Trip," and "Annabelle: Creation," as well as modest hits "Everything, Everything," "Atomic Blonde" and "Kidnap."

    Add to these films such earlier 2017 successes as "Hidden Figures" and "Beauty and the Beast" (2017's top earner so far, with $504.0 million) and you have to ask: How many such movies need to come out before they stop being called flukes and start being considered a trend?

    Loser: Foreign Sales
    Hollywood doesn't care that you haven't liked too many of its recent releases, since it counts on overseas viewers to transform domestic flops into worldwide hits. That strategy worked for a long time, up through this spring. This summer, however, even franchises that typically made most of their money abroad, including "Pirates" and "Transformers," finally saw the overseas wells start to dry up. And there are signs Hollywood is starting to rethink its dependence on China, since that country's cinemas return only 25 percent of ticket proceeds, much lower than most countries, to American distributors.

    So it might be worthwhile for Hollywood to start making movies again that American viewers like, since it's clear now that the studios can't rely forever on foreign audiences to have more forgiving standards.

  20. How 'The Hitman's Bodyguard' Whacked Its Box Office Rivals

    Why did everyone think this weekend's box office race was going to be close?

    Most pundits expected it to be neck-and-neck, with last week's champ, horror prequel "Annabelle: Creation," and new action-comedy entry "The Hitman's Bodyguard" both expected to finish around $15 million. After its hefty $35.0 million debut last week, "Annabelle" was supposed to have a slight edge over "Hitman," even with a projected 55 percent drop from its premiere weekend business.

    Instead, however, "Hitman" surprised with a big win, debuting with an estimated $21.6 million. That's better than the recent openings of such anticipated action movies as "The Dark Tower" ($19.2 million) and "Atomic Blonde" ($18.3 million).

    Meanwhile, the heist comedy "Logan Lucky" premiered in third place with just an estimated $8.1 million. That's at the low end of expectations, which were modest to begin with. Even so, it's curious that "Logan Lucky" wasn't considered a stronger rival to "Hitman." Both feature all-star casts, both walk the line between action and satire, but "Logan" also had a name director (Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh) and excellent reviews (93 percent "Fresh" at Rotten Tomatoes).

    Why, then, did "Hitman" outperform expectations and earn a decisive box office win? And why didn't "Logan" pose any real threat? Here are seven reasons:

    1. Star Power (and Chemistry) Matters
    Both "Hitman"and "Logan" have impressive casts. "Hitman" features Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and Nick Fury himself, Samuel L. Jackson, along with Salma Hayek. The "Logan" ensemble includes Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Daniel Craig. But it's not enough to have a bunch of A-list names on the poster.

    "Hitman" drew most of its strength from the mismatched-buddy interplay between Reynolds and Jackson, both of whom have reputations among audiences for their wisecracking, R-rated senses of humor. Meanwhile, "Logan" asked viewers to believe that Tatum, Driver, and Riley Keough were siblings. Not that that diverse combination couldn't work, but it's not obvious, while the Reynolds-Jackson partnership makes instant sense to viewers watching the movie's trailer. Also, both films were targeting the same adult audience -- and they flocked to the seemingly more appealing two-hander combo of Jackson and Reynolds than the entertaining mismatch of "Logan Lucky's" ensemble.

    2. Even Auteurs Like Soderbergh Have Limits
    Soderbergh has many strengths as a filmmaker; indeed, he often writes his own screenplays, serves as his own cinematographer, and edits his own films. This time, however, he also took on the distribution and marketing of the film -- something he'd tried once before, with mixed results.

    Back in 2006, Soderbergh's film "Bubble" was an experiment not just in storytelling but in its release pattern; it was the first serious attempt to release a movie in theaters and via video-on-demand on the same day. "Bubble" flopped (it was too weird to be an effective test case), but same-day theatrical-and-VOD release is now not only standard for independent films but essential, since the theatrical market for indie features has all but dried up.

    For "Logan," Soderbergh tried something different. He financed "Logan" through foreign pre-sales, and he hired independent distributor Bleecker Street on an unusual commission basis (rather than a static percentage of the receipts, Bleecker Street got a flat fee up front of less than $1 million, and it will get paid a percentage of both theatrical and home video receipts only if "Logan" meets certain box office benchmarks -- which it's not likely to do). He also oversaw all the marketing, which turned out to be unwise, because...

    3. You Have to Spend Money to Make Money
    Both "Hitman" and "Logan" cost about $29 million each to produce. But Lionsgate spent $30 million marketing "Hitman," while Soderbergh penny-pinched with just a $20 million spend on "Logan," a marketing budget limited by what he was able to drum up in non-theatrical pre-sales. Unfortunately, that just wasn't enough to generate awareness in the marketplace.

    He might have been able to do so had he started earlier (three weeks before the film's release, he'd spent just 15 percent of his marketing budget, compared to the standard 40 percent at that time in the release cycle) or landed the film a spot in a spring festival. He also held off on really pushing the film until the week before release, to target audiences.

    4. Getting Sports Fans at the Box Office
    "Hitman" leveraged its macho camaraderie by screening early for some other key influencers: pro and college athletes, including members of the Denver Broncos, the Chicago Bears, the Cleveland Browns, the Los Angeles Rams, the Miami Heat, and the UCLA Bruins, as well as individual sports stars such as Ray Allen, Anthony Davis, and Clay Matthews.

    "Logan" is set in part at a NASCAR track and features several real-life NASCAR drivers playing themselves. Soderbergh took advantage of this by advertising in NASCAR country (the Midwest and the South) while largely avoiding major cities in the rest of the U.S. Aside from an attempt at a viral video featuring Tatum attending a race, however, there was little visible effort to market the movie specifically to NASCAR fans.

    For what it's worth, the strategy did yield an audience that was 70 percent white. "Hitman," however, made a point of targeting African-American and Hispanic audiences, and they attended in numbers greater than their proportion among the populace at large. The "Hitman" audience was just 49 percent white, 21 percent Hispanic, and 16 percent African-American.

    5. Social Media Can't Always Turn Movies into Hits
    Social media has proved increasingly essential for creating buzz among potential audiences, which is another reason why star power matters. Tatum's total following on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter is about 43 million, more than the followings of Reynolds, Jackson, and Hayek combined.

    But the message put forth has to be clear, and according to social media monitoring firm RelishMix, "Logan"'s was not. As the movie's release date approached, online chatter indicated confusion as to whether the movie was primarily an action film or a comedy. It's trailer advertising, which Soderbergh approved without testing it with a focus group, apparently didn't make the movie's genre and tonal mix as clear as "Hitman"'s advertising did.

    6. Reviews Still Matter, but...
    Here's another case where, despite Hollywood's whining about how low Rotten Tomatoes scores are depressing audience turnout, the opposite proved to be true.

    "Hitman" earned just a 38 percent "Rotten" at RT, while "Logan" earned a 93. Since both films were targeting older viewers, the ones who still read reviews, that disparity should have worked in "Logan"'s favor. But audiences disagreed with the critics, judging by the movies' CinemaScore grades. The CinemaScore curve is steep, so the B+ that "Hitman" earned means decent word-of-mouth, while the B that "Logan" earned indicates far less audience enthusiasm.

    7. Timing Is Key
    With two action comedies targeting the same older demographic, it makes sense that one would suffer, and that the one with the bigger marketing budget and the bigger release pattern (3,377 screens for "Hitman" to 3,031 for "Logan") would win out.

    What's more, "Hitman" took advantage of an especially uncompetitive season at the box office. Late August is typically a dead zone at the multiplex, more so this summer than ever. The whole summer is down about 12 percent from the same time last summer, and this weekend's total sales of about $95.2 million marked the lowest grossing weekend of 2017 so far.

    With numbers like that -- and with a release schedule for the rest of August that looks like nothing special -- "Hitman" could remain on top through Labor Day.

  21. Box Office: 'Hitman's Bodyguard' Takes Out 'Logan Lucky'

    By Seth Kelley

    LOS ANGELES, June 18 (Variety.com) - Without a superhero movie or new studio sequel in play, this weekend provided an opening for two smaller films to shine. But as the weekend draws to a close, one is beaming brighter than the other.

    That title goes to Lionsgate's R-rated action comedy "Hitman's Bodyguard," which is firing off to $21.6 million during its opening weekend at 3,377 locations. That's a solid opening, especially during a painful summer for the movie business and sleepy month of August. The final tally was fueled by an aggressive marketing push, and a trio of stars at the center — Samuel L. Jackson as a notorious hitman, and Salma Hayek as hit equally threatening wife, and Ryan Reynolds as a bodyguard. The film comes courtesy of director Patrick Hughes ("The Expendables 3") and writer Tom O'Connor.

    "'The Hitman's Bodyguard' is generating great word of mouth among moviegoers," said Lionsgate's distribution president David Spitz. "It has a clear runway in the weeks ahead, and we expect it to play well right into September."

    Meanwhile, "Logan Lucky" — a critical darling from Steven Soderbergh and Bleecker Street — is sputtering. The heist comedy, which relied on an unconventional production and marketing strategy, looks to make $8 million this weekend from 3,031 theaters. The film was partially funded through foreign pre-sales and partnering with Amazon for streaming rights. The story — penned by Rebecca Blunt, who likely doesn't exist — centers on a trio of siblings played by Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, and Adam Driver, who attempt to pull off a massive robbery. It's set at the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race.

    Of the two, "Logan Lucky" fared better with critics, earning a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, as opposed to "Hitman's Bodyguard," which has a 39%. But the roles are reversed when it comes to audience reception — "Hitman's Bodyguard" has a B+ CinemaScore as opposed to "Logan Lucky's" B.

    In the end, "Logan Lucky" will end up in third for the weekend behind the second weekend of "Annabelle: Creation." The latest in the "Conjuring" universe from Warner Bros. is targeting $15.5 million this weekend from 3,542 locations. And "Dunkirk" will land in fourth behind "Logan Lucky" with an estimated $6.7 million. The same studio has more cause to celebrate as "Wonder Woman" crosses $800 million worldwide.

    "Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature" rounds out the top five this weekend with $5.1 million.

    Outside of the wide releases, TWC continues its gradual rollout for Taylor Sheridan's "Wind River." This weekend it looks to gross $3 million from 694 locations, raising its total cume past $4.1 million. A major acquisition at Sundance, "Patti Cake$" is struggling to find an audience with $66,000 from 14 locations.

    And the summer of hell continues: This season's box office overall has slipped to 13.3% behind last year at this point, according to data from ComScore. Despite a strong fall season, the year overall is now pacing 5% behind 2016.

  22. 'It' Could Scare Up $50 Million on Opening Weekend

    Hollywood's prospects at the box office this summer have been downright scary, with the industry seeing a more than 4 percent slump in receipts compared to 2016. But studio Warner Bros. is hoping to scare up some big numbers when Stephen King adaptation "It" hits theaters next month, and is already predicting a huge opening weekend for the horror flick.

    Variety reports that early tracking for the feature is currently sitting around $50 million, and that has a lot to do with its pedigree. "It" is one of King's most famous and most beloved novels, and the buzz around the flick has been deafening, with the trailer snagging almost 200 million views in its first 24 hours of release.

    While the adaptation was initially beset by production woes (original director Cary Fukunaga abruptly departed the project due to creative differences, and the flick was briefly put on hold before a replacement was found), it quickly got back on track with director Andres Muschietti. Filmmakers have been teasing out some truly terrifying details about the flick, and fans seem eager to finally see Pennywise on the big screen (especially after the cheesy "It" TV miniseries, starring Tim Curry as the evil clown, failed to truly please King devotees).

    Some insiders tell Variety that $50 million may be a bit of a high estimate for "It," with a haul in the $40 million range more likely. But the trade reports that "all signs are that 'It/ will be a major hit ... and should kick off the fall moviegoing season on a high note." King fans can raise a red balloon to that.

    "It" hits theaters on September 8.

    [via: Variety]

  23. Here's Why 'Annabelle: Creation' Is the Summer's Last Box Office Hit

    Hollywood got two truly terrifying frights this weekend. One came from horror spinoff "Annabelle: Creation," which scared up an estimated $35.0 million in ticket sales to top the box office chart. The other fright was from the chart as a whole, which marked this as the lowest-grossing weekend of an already dismal summer.

    "Annabelle," the fourth movie in the successful "Conjuring" franchise, performed as well as pundits had predicted. But its chief rival, cartoon sequel "The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature," opened in third place with only an estimated $8.9 million, underperforming even the most pessimistic predictions. This despite the fact that there hasn't been an animated hit in months, that kids are still out of school, and that "Nut Job 2" opened on 4,003 screens to become one of the widest independent releases of all time.

    And then there's wannabe awards hopeful "The Glass Castle," which opened way down in ninth place with an estimated $4.9 million. That's just a tad below predictions, and since it only opened on 1,461 screens, that makes for an okay $3,337 per theater. ("Nut Job 2" earned just $2,232 per screen.) Still, it's pretty weak for a drama that hopes to last long enough to ride into the fall season as an Oscar banner-waver.

    How did "Annabelle" manage to pull fans into theaters during a dog-days summer season? Here are some of the factors behind this weekend's good-news-bad-news box office.

    Hollywood tends to ignore women audience members at the box office, but at least half of this weekend's top 10 movies feature female stars -- or predominantly female casts -- and cater to majority-female audiences. These include "Annabelle" (horror movies tend to draw more women than men), comedy "Girls Trip," Halle Berry thriller "Kidnap," "Glass Castle" (an adaptation of Jeannette Walls' best-selling memoir of her Dickensian childhood), and Charlize Theron spy thriller "Atomic Blonde." There's also "Nut Job 2," whose audience turned out to be 57 percent female.

    Since "Annabelle" was always going to be the strongest draw of these films, it may have drawn much of the female audience that might otherwise have made hits out of the other new releases -- and already has, to varying degrees, for holdovers "Girls Trip," "Kidnap," and "Atomic Blonde."
    "Glass Castle" was always going to skew older; it's a period piece for a literary audience, one that probably read Walls' book back in 2005 when she published it. Surprisingly, "Annabelle" skewed older as well, drawing 54 percent of its viewers from the 25-and-over crowd. Even more surprising was that half of the "Nut Job 2" viewers were over 18, which suggests that the audience contained as many parents as kids.

    Reviews, once again, continue to dictate in part box office spending. Critics were unusually kind to "Annabelle," giving it a 69 percent "Fresh" at Rotten Tomatoes. Then again, distributor New Line went out of its way to cultivate their good will. Most horror distributors ignore critics, figuring that they can either avoid screening the film for reviewers or just pay no mind to the reviews because horror fans usually don't care what the critics think.
    New Line, however, actually booked "Annabelle" in film festivals to get positive early buzz among a handful of critics, which then spread among their colleagues. That, in turn, could explain why older moviegoers came out for this one, since they actually do still read reviews.

    The paradox is that the critics actually liked "Annabelle" better than paying customers, who gave the horror prequel a meh B grade at CinemaScore once they saw it, after being lured to the theater by strong buzz. "Nut Job 2" actually got a better CinemaScore grade (B+), and that's still pretty bad for an animated movie. (Critics gave "Nut Job 2" just a "Rotten" 12 percent at Rotten Tomatoes.)

    "Glass Castle" may have been trolling for awards, with its prestige source material and prestige cast, led by recent Oscar-winner Brie Larson. But its reviews have been middling, just 49 percent fresh at RT. After a summer of Hollywood complaints about how low RT scores are driving customers away, here at last is some proof. An awards-hopeful drama seeking an audience of older viewers really does depend on critics' good will in order to succeed at the box office, and "Glass Castle" didn't have it.

    Just as it's hard to be a female-targeted movie at a time when there's a glut, it's also good to be the first acclaimed horror movie in a summer that's barely seen any horror releases at all. And it's not good to be a poorly-reviewed cartoon two weeks after another disappointing cartoon ("The Emoji Movie") left audiences feeling burned.
    It's also hard to be an Oscar-seeking movie in August. Sure, "Glass Castle" pretty much has the field to itself right now; distributor Lionsgate may not have wanted it to compete against easier-sell prestige movies that tend to proliferate in the fall months. But it didn't get the reviews it needed to succeed now, and it may peak too early in the awards conversation, to be superseded by newer, stronger films as the end of the year approaches. ("Dunkirk" took the same risk with its July release, but at least it's cleaned up at the box office, with $153.7 million earned so far, which will help voters remember it later.)

    No one really expects much from the multiplex in mid-August. The hyped, would-be blockbusters have usually all come out by this time, and there's not much to look forward to until after Labor Day. That's why it was such a surprise this time last year when "Sausage Party" became a hit (it opened with $34.2 million, nearly as much as "Annabelle: Creation" this weekend).

    This weekend last year also saw the releases of "Pete's Dragon" (a kid movie reboot that disappointed at the box office), "Florence Foster Jenkins" (a period biopic whose critical and commercial response were analogous to "Glass Castle," though Meryl Streep's performance was still memorable enough to earn her an Oscar nomination), and "Hell or High Water" (another indie Oscar-hopeful that rode its strong reviews to a Best Picture nomination.) Still, despite the similarities, last August also had two big late-season hits: comic book film "Suicide Squad" and horror smash "Don't Breathe."

    Nothing like those films has opened (or is likely to open) this August. No wonder this weekend's box office total of about $118.2 million is the lowest of the summer, and that the summer as a whole has come in about 10 percent below last summer's take up to this point.

    Along with Rotten Tomatoes, that's been Hollywood's other scapegoat for poor summer sales. It certainly explains the lack of enthusiasm for "Nut Job 2," whose 2014 predecessor wasn't that beloved to begin with. Then again, new franchises ("The Dark Tower"), original-screenplay comedies and horror movies ("The House," "Wish Upon"), and non-franchise prestige dramas ("Detroit") haven't done that well either. About the only movies that have done well this summer are superhero franchise movies.

    At least "Annabelle" proves that you don't have to wear spandex to have a successful franchise. Sure, "Creation" has the lowest opening of the four, but they've all been in the same ballpark. (The highest was the original 2013 "Conjuring," with $41.9 million, just $6.9 million more than "Creation.")

    Worldwide, the franchise has earned a shocking $967 million after just four movies, making it the fourth biggest horror franchise of all time (after "Alien," "The Mummy," and "Resident Evil"). With more sequels and spinoffs on the way "Conjuring" will continue to be one of the few non-superhero franchises that doesn't give studio executives nightmares.

  24. Box Office: 'Annabelle: Creation' Conjuring $36 Million Domestic Debut

    LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "Annabelle: Creation" isn't just fleshing out New Line Cinema's self-proclaimed "Conjuring Universe," it's also helping to save the back half of the summer box office. The prequel to 2014's "Annabelle" is conjuring up a $36 million domestic debut.

    According to estimates, Warner Bros.' supernatural horror will easily win its opening weekend after taking in $15 million from 3,502 locations on Friday, including Thursday night previews. Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, and Anthony LaPaglia star in the origin story behind the killer, antique doll from director David F. Sandberg.

    Also in the double digits for WB, "Dunkirk" continues to steamroll its blockbuster competition in second place. Despite being in its fourth frame, Christopher Nolan's World War II drama is expected to add just under $11 million to its total after making just over $3 million from 3,762 screens on Friday. That number is also expected to officially put "Dunkirk" over the $150 million marker domestically with $153 million.

    New entry "Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature" also managed to snag a spot in the top 3, despite only pulling off an $8 million heist. The sequel to 2014's "The Nut Job" scored just shy of $3 million from 4,003 screens on Friday. Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph, Brendan Frasier, Katherine Heigl, Liam Neeson, and Jackie Chan lend their voices for the Open Road animation.

    Elsewhere, last week's winner "The Dark Tower" falls from No. 1 to No. 4. It seems the negative word of mouth/press has halted Sony's Stephen King adaptation in its second frame. After making just over $2 million from 3,451 locales on Friday, "The Dark Tower" is only expected to make $7.5 million this time around.

    Last but certainly not least, "Girls Trip" is still going strong. Universal's Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, and Tiffany Haddish R-rated comedy took in another $2 million from just 2,303 venues on Friday. That number will translate to a solid $6 million fourth frame, bringing "Girls Trip" to a near-milestone -- $96 million domestic.

    "The Emoji Movie," "Spider-Man: Homecoming," "Kidnap," new entry "The Glass Castle," and "Atomic Blonde" round out the rest of the top 10.

  25. 'Wonder Woman' Soars to $400 Million Domestic Haul

    "Wonder Woman" is continuing its super run at the box office, officially crossing the $400 million threshold at domestic theaters and marking several more impressive milestones along the way.

    The flick, starring Gal Gadot as the titular DC Comics heroine, hit $400 million on Tuesday, adding to a haul that has already edged out "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" to become the most successful domestic property among Warner Bros.'s recent DC Extended Universe releases. And it shows no signs of slowing down: "Wonder Woman" is now the studio's third-highest grossing flick domestically overall, beating "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" ($381 million) to stand behind only Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" ($534.9 million) and "The Dark Knight Rises" ($448.1 million).

    Earlier this summer, the Patty Jenkins flick soared past "Mamma Mia!" to become the highest-grossing live-action film ever directed by a woman, and now has a whopping $795 million in global ticket sales. Domestically, it's the highest-grossing movie of the summer, and the second-highest grossing female-fronted domestic flick of the entire year so far, behind only "Beauty and the Beast" ($504 million).

    "'Wonder Woman' has become a phenomenon, the must-see movie of the summer," said Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and distribution at Warner Bros., in a statement. "Audiences have embraced this character and her story in such a spectacular fashion, and we couldn't be happier for everyone involved in bringing this incredible property to life and to cinemas across the country."

    After so much success, it's no surprise that "Wonder Woman 2" is already a go, slated for release on December 13, 2019. By then, the first flick will likely have made even more history.

    [via: The Hollywood Reporter]

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