Box Office Power Rankings: March 20-29, 2009

monsters-aliens.jpgThe $59.3-million opening-weekend domestic take for Monsters Vs. Aliens is being touted as proof that 3D is a viable way to pry people off their couches and get them into the damned movie theater. Nearly 56 percent of that amount came from 3D theaters, even though 3D projection accounted for only 28 percent of the movie’s screens.

That all sounds impressive, but consider that WALL·E took in $63.1 million its first weekend, Kung Fu Panda $60.2 million, and Cars $60.1 million. Yes, those were all summer movies, but they didn’t benefit from the higher ticket prices for 3D that inflated the take of Monsters Vs. Aliens. They also didn’t have the aid of a massive and well-timed handjob (in 3D, of course) from Time Inc.

Monsters Vs. Aliens admittedly did well; on the strength of its box office and solid reviews, it won this past weekend’s Box Office Power Rankings — unseating I Love You, Man.

But its success doesn’t herald the dawn of a new era, no matter what 3D messiahs Jeffrey Katzenberg and James Cameron say. Their sermons amount to wishful thinking on the part of the speakers and the converted.

Here’s my argument, having seen Monster House and some IMAX movies in 3D:

  • The supposed value of 3D is immersion. Yet surround sound already effectively and cheaply provides that illusion without the damned glasses and all the negatives that go along with them.
  • If you’ve ever watched a plunge on an IMAX screen (say, in The Dark Knight), you know that scale can also create the illusion of immersion without the glasses.
  • Great painters aren’t necessarily great sculptors, and the extra dimension requires different skills. 3D movies suck (or the 3D is superfluous) because those making them don’t know how to appropriately use the extra space. We’d have to unlearn more than a century of filmmaking to do it right.
  • 3D is antithetical to one of the major trends in cinema: the decreasing shot length. 3D effects must be set up with a stable perspective, which runs counter to the current cut-cut-cut culture.
  • 3D will be best employed in mindless entertainments, but isn’t one of the goals of mindless entertainments to maintain a safe distance — and a wall — between the consumer and the entertainment? An immersive movie — no matter the genre — will likely be too intense to allow escape; it would replace one set of stressors with another.
  • Obviously, the novelty will wear off.
  • Remember how we were all supposed to be living in our virtual-reality suits by now, and having virtual sex, and flying virtual planes?

Box Office Power Rankings: March 20-22, 2009
Box Office RanksCritics’ Ranks
RankMovieLast WeekGrossPer TheaterRotten TomatoesMetacriticTotal
1I Love You, Man-9 ($17.8M)9 ($6.6K)8 (80)8 (71)34
2Duplicity-8 ($14.0M)8 ($5.4K)7 (66)7 (69)30
3Slumdog Millionaire33 ($2.7M)1 ($1.3K)10 (94)10 (86)24
4Knowing-10 ($24.6M)10 ($7.4K)2 (32)1 (41)23
4Watchmen16 ($6.8M)5 ($1.9K)6 (64)6 (56)23
6Coraline61 ($2.1M)3 ($1.5K)9 (88)9 (79)22
6Race to Witch Mountain27 ($12.8M)7 ($4.0K)3 (40)5 (52)22
8The Last House on the Left45 ($5.8M)6 ($2.4K)4 (42)2 (42)17
8Taken44 ($4.1M)4 ($1.5K)5 (57)4 (50)17
10Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail72 ($2.6M)2 ($1.4K)1 (26)4 (50)9
Box Office Power Rankings: March 27-29, 2009
Box Office RanksCritics’ Ranks
RankMovieLast WeekGrossPer TheaterRotten TomatoesMetacriticTotal
1Monsters Vs. Aliens-10 ($59.3M)10 ($14.5K)9 (69)8 (56)37
2I Love You, Man17 ($12.7M)8 ($4.7K)10 (80)10 (71)35
3Duplicity26 ($7.7M)6 ($3.0K)8 (66)9 (69)29
4The Haunting in Connecticut-9 ($23.0M)9 ($8.4K)1 (20)2 (33)21
4Knowing48 ($14.7M)7 ($4.4K)3 (32)3 (41)21
6Watchmen43 ($2.7M)2 ($1.4K)7 (64)8 (56)20
7Race to Witch Mountain65 ($5.8M)4 ($1.8K)4 (40)6 (52)19
8Taken82 ($2.7M)3 ($1.4K)6 (57)5 (50)16
912 Rounds-4 ($5.3M)5 ($2.3K)2 (23)1 (27)12
10The Last House on the Left81 ($2.6M)1 ($1.2K)5 (42)4 (42)11

Methodology

Culture Snob’s Box Office Power Rankings balance box office and critical reception to create a better measure of a movie’s overall performance against its peers than gross receipts alone.

The weekly rankings cover the 10 top-grossing movies in the United States for the previous weekend. We assign equal weight to box office and critical opinion, with each having two components. The measures are: box-office gross, per-theater average, Rotten Tomatoes score, and Metacritic score.

Why those four? Box-office gross basically measures the number of people who saw a movie in a given weekend. Per-theater average corrects for blockbuster-wannabes that flood the market with prints, and gives limited-release movies a fighting chance. Rotten Tomatoes measures critical opinion in a binary way. And Metacritic gives a better sense of critics’ enthusiasm (or bile) for a movie.

For each of the four measures, the movies are ranked and assigned points (10 for the best performer, one for the worst). Finally, those points are added up, with a maximum score of 40 and a minimum score of four.

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