November 2008 Archives

bolt.jpgAs we all expected, Bolt ran away with this week’s Box Office Power Rankings ... .

Hmmm.

Let’s step back a second. That Disney’s computer-animated dog won isn’t an upset, but its five-point margin is surprising. Even after I began plugging in the numbers, I was anticipating something close to a three-way tie between Bolt, Twilight, and Quantum of Solace. What I didn’t process was the effect of the bunching of critical scores — and the bunching of critical scores higher than we’ve seen for a few months.

Twilight’s Rotten Tomatoes score of 44 isn’t bad; in October, it would have been good enough to be middle of the pack. But last weekend, it was the only movie with a score south of 57. It’s nearly impossible to win the Box Office Power Rankings with just one point in any category, and the teen vampire flick ended up in fourth place, despite a nearly $70-million opening weekend.

Seven movies this past weekend had Rotten Tomatoes scores between 57 and 67. The Metacritic scores were even more concentrated, with seven movies crowded between 55 and 59. It can get messy in there.

The key to Bolt’s easy win was less its dominance than its ability to stay out of the logjam.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.

Vampires

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quantum-of-solace.jpgDoes it make sense to get out of the way of a certain blockbuster? Or should studios try to tap into a market being unserved by that which every human is required to see on its opening weekend?

There are certainly examples of effective counter-programming. Mamma Mia! found a $28-million opening-weekend audience despite The Dark Knight’s $158-million debut. It has earned more than $143 million in the United States.

Yet the numbers suggest that studios were wise to avoid putting any wide releases against Quantum of Solace.

In the period between big summer releases and big holiday releases — September through mid-November — in 2007 and 2008, the combined domestic box office of the top 10 movies averaged $84 million, with a median of $80 million. Outside of this past weekend’s $135-million take, only three of those 20 weekends topped $100 million (ranging from $115 million to $123 million).

So it’s a fair assumption that there’s a ceiling for overall box office on a fall weekend, and that an optimistic but marginally reasonable expectation is $115 million.

To figure whether there’s room for a strong opening (say, $20 million) along with a spectacular one (say, $50 million), let’s figure a 50-percent drop-off for the previous weekend’s top eight movies. That gets us $58 million based on the receipts from November 7 to 9.

That leaves us $57 million. So if one predicted a $50-million weekend for James Bond, that would only leave $7 million on the table for the counter-programming. (Quantum actually made $68 million, but hindquarters are 20/20.)

One could point out that release-date decisions are made far in advance, and one could argue that a 50-percent drop of the $84-million fall average that one might use to make such decisions would give us enough room for a $50-million opener and a $20-million-plus opener under our imaginary $115-million ceiling.

I would point out that Quantum of Solace barely squeaked by Role Models in this week’s Box Office Power Rankings.

One might claim that I’m trying to change the subject.

And I would tell one to shut the hell up.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.

Fixed Favorites

before-the-rain.jpgFor the first time since fall 2006, I updated the 100 Favorite Movies feature of Culture Snob. Thirteen movies were added, and 29 went away. Yes, “100 Favorite Movies” for two years listed 116 movies. I could explain and justify this mathematical conflict, but I’ll spare you; just call me an idjit instead.

Two films joined the list in the top 20: No Country for Old Men (Coens, 2007) and Pan’s Labyrinth (Del Toro, 2006).

Two others moved into the top 20: Before the Rain (Manchevski, 1994) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir, 1975). Making room for those four (but still on the list) were American Movie (Smith, 1999), Intacto (Fresnadillo, 2001), JFK (Stone, 1991), and Rushmore (Anderson, 1998).

The dropouts that had previously been rated the highest were in the middle section, the equivalent of spots 41 to 60 now: The French Connection (Friedkin, 1971), One False Move (Franklin, 1991), Toy Story 2 (Lasseter, 1999), Tucker: The Man and His Dream (Coppola, 1988), and Welcome to the Dollhouse (Solondz, 1995). I am still fond of all these movies, but the test for me was whether I could see myself watching them to the exclusion of other things on the list. The answer was “no.” In other words, I’m not as interested in revisiting them.

The other additions: The Brood (Cronenberg, 1979), Clockers (Lee, 1995), Cronos (Del Toro, 1993), The Descent (Marshall, 2005), The Devil’s Backbone (Del Toro, 2001), Eastern Promises (Cronenberg, 2007), The Last Temptation of Christ (Scorsese, 1988), Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Tykwer, 2006), The Prestige (Nolan, 2006), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974), and Zodiac (Fincher, 2007).

The other subtractions: Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986), Chasing Amy (Smith, 1997), The Cook, the Thief, HIs Wife, and Her Lover (Greenaway, 1990), The Crying Game (Jordan, 1992), Dancer in the Dark (Von Trier, 2000), Dolores Claiborne (Hackford, 1994), The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980), Family Viewing (Egoyan, 1987), Funny Games (Haneke, 1997), Gates of Heaven (Morris, 1978), Happiness (Solondz, 1998), House of Games (Mamet, 1987), Incident at Loch Ness (Penn, 2004), The Incredibles (Bird, 2004), L.A. Story (Jackson, 1991), The Limey (Soderbergh, 1999), The Lion King (Allers and Minkoff, 1994), Lost in Translation (Coppola, 2003), Murderball (Rubin and Shapiro, 2005), Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954), A Simple Plan (Raimi, 1998), Stuart Saves His Family (Ramis, 1994), Suture (McGehee and Siegel, 1993), and Three Colors: Red (Kieslowski, 1994).

Bond

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role-models.jpgIt was odd to read these two things within a few minutes of each other:

On Role Models:

“[T]he kind of movie you don’t see every day, a comedy that is funny. The kind of comedy where funny people say funny things in funny situations, not the kind of comedy that whacks you with manic shocks to force an audible Pavlovian response.”

On Slumdog Millionaire:

“[O]ne of the rare ‘feel-good’ movies that actually makes you feel good, as opposed to merely jerked around.

The latter movie opened in a handful of theaters on November 12, so it doesn’t show up in this week’s Box Office Power Rankings, but Role Models does, and debuts at the top along with the Madagascar sequel.

The curious thing about the Seann William Scott/Paul Rudd comedy is a pair of nearly constant refrains in the reviews: It’s formulaic, and it’s funny.

We shouldn’t be surprised that a Hollywood movie stays on a well-trod path, of course, but are we now in an age when genre tags are so meaningless? When it’s a pleasant shock when a comedy is funny or a thriller makes our pulses pound? Nearly all action movies have action, yes, but it’s one of the rare labels that describes the content rather than the (ostensibly) intended effect.

I don’t want to make too much of this, but both of these reviews contrast the strengths of these movies with what we have been conditioned to anticipate from them: “manic shocks” and being “jerked around,” respectively. The benefit of these diminished expectations is that it doesn’t take much to please people.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.

zackandmiri.jpgThe consensus that Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Clint Eastwood’s Changeling were poor performers — the weakest Halloween weekend in a decade! — certainly isn’t based on the track records of the filmmakers.

Smith’s bawdy comedy debuted with a little more than $10 million, while Eastwood’s missing-child drama brought in $9.4 million in expanded release. Those numbers might not be good for that particular weekend (compared to previous years), but they’re in line with Smith’s and Eastwood’s recent careers.

Zack and Miri is Smith’s second-best opening weekend, a million dollars behind Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and just a hair ahead of Clerks 2. Considering the number of screens it opened on, Zack and Miri is at worst a very mild disappointment compared to those two but is otherwise exactly what one might have guessed.

Similarly, Changeling’s first weekend of wide release was slightly off the peak performances of Flags of Our Fathers and Mystic River, and nearly $3 million off Million Dollar Baby’s Oscar-buzz wide release. Downright predictable.

So while neither was able to knock High School Musical 3 from its box-office or Box Office Power Rankings pedestals, you’d have been a fool to expect them to.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings.

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