Box Office Power Rankings: October 16-25, 2009

wild-things.jpgShould we consider Spike Jonze’s and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are a disappointment?

It is certainly not a miserable failure. It received good reviews, won the box office when it debuted, and also topped the Box Office Power Rankings in its opening weekend.

But its gross dropped 57 percent its second weekend. Thirty-five movies have opened in wide release atop the box-office top 10 this year, and 20 lost a lower percentage of revenue than Wild Things:

Movie: Debut weekend, Second weekend, Drop
Gran Torino: $29.5M, $25.6M, 13.2%
Taken: $24.7M, $20.5M, 16.9%
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: $30.3M, $25M, 17.4%
He’s Just Not That Into You: $27.8M, $22.3M, 19.6%
The Hangover: $45M, $32.8M, 27.1%
Up: $68.1M, $44.1M, 35.2%
Zombieland: $24.7M, $14.8M, 40.2%
Knowing: $24.6M, $14.7M, 40.2%
Angels and Demons: $46.2M, $27.4M, 40.7%
Star Trek: $75.2M, $43M, 42.8%
The Final Destination: $27.4M, $15.3M, 44.2%
The Proposal: $33.6M, $18.6M, 44.8%
G-Force: $31.7M, $17.5M, 44.8%
Paul Blart: Mall Cop: $39.2M, $21.6M, 44.9%
Monsters Vs. Aliens: $59.3M, $32.6M, 45.0%
Race to Witch Mountain: $24.4M, $12.8M, 47.6%
Inglourious Basterds: $38.1M, $19.3M, 49.3%
Couples Retreat: $34.3M, $17.2M, 49.8%
District 9: $37.4M, $18.2M, 51.2%
17 Again: $23.7M, $11.5M, 51.4%
Where the Wild Things Are: $32.7M, $14M, 57.1%
Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself: $23.4M, $9.9M, 57.9%
Obsessed: $28.6M, $12.1M, 57.9%
Hannah Montana: The Movie: $32.3M, $13.4M, 58.5%
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: $54.7M, $22.3M, 59.2%
Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail: $41M, $16.2M, 60.6%
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: $109M, $42.3M, 61.2%
Fast and Furious: $71M, $27.2M, 61.6%
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: $77.8M, $29.5M, 62.1%
Funny People: $22.7M, $8M, 64.8%
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian: $70.1M, $24.4M, 65.2%
Watchmen: $55.2M, $17.8M, 67.7%
X-Men Origins: Wolverine: $85.1M, $26.4M, 69.0%
Bruno: $30.6M, $8.3M, 72.8%
Friday the 13th: $43.6M, $7.9M, 81.8%

Perusing the list, there’s no obvious correlation between second-weekend performance and a movie’s critical reception. There are poorly received movies that did better than Wild Things (Paul Blart and Couples Retreat, for example). And there are well reviewed titles that did worse (such as Funny People and Harry Potter).

But there is possibly a relationship: Above Wild Things, the average combined score from Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritc is 115, and the median is 105. Below Wild Things, the average score is 90, and the median is 83.

The circumstances of each movie’s release are unique, and it’s dangerous to read too much into box-office numbers. But speaking generally, those steep drop-offs usually happen to disposable one-weekend movies (Friday the 13th) and first-weekend movies — those for which there is fervent anticipation (Harry Potter, Watchmen). First-weekend movies are often considered successes; one-weekend movies are successes only if they were cheap to make.

Surely, Where the Wild Things Are was a first-weekend movie: It is drawn from a book beloved by millions, it was not directed by Ron Howard, it does not star Jim Carrey or Mike Meyers, and it has the hipster cachet of Jones and Eggers.

Yet I think it’s also a bit of a one-weekend movie. If audiences felt the film is, as Jim Emerson argued, about “the misery of being a kid,” then they probably spoke of it with ambivalence at best. And that’s precisely the sort of word-of-mouth that keeps folks away after the first weekend.

As for the other champion in this edition of our rankings, I offer an updated box-office comparison, with the additional context that the numbers are not adjusted for inflation.

The Blair Witch Project after five weekends: 5,713 theater weeks (the sum of all weekends’ theater counts), $71.5 million gross (weekends only), $12,515 per theater.

Paranormal Activity after five weekends: 5,312 theater weeks, $49.2 million gross (weekends only), $9,264 per theater.

Box Office Power Rankings: October 16-18, 2009
Box Office RanksCritics’ Ranks
RankMovieLast WeekGrossPer TheaterRotten TomatoesMetacriticTotal
1Where the Wild Things Are-10 ($32.7M)9 ($8.8K)6 (70)8 (71)33
2Paranormal Activity28 ($19.6M)10 ($25.8K)7 (84)7 (68)32
3Toy Story/Toy Story 223 ($3M)3 ($2K)10 (100)10 (96)26
3Zombieland14 ($7.6M)4 ($2.4K)9 (88)9 (73)26
5Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs45 ($8M)5 ($2.6K)8 (85)6 (66)24
6Law Abiding Citizen-9 ($21M)8 ($7.3K)3 (24)3 (34)23
7Couples Retreat57 ($17.2M)7 ($5.7K)2 (11)1 (23)17
8The Stepfather-6 ($11.6M)6 ($4.2K)2 (11)2 (33)16
9The Invention of Lying81 ($1.9M)2 ($1.2K)5 (55)5 (58)13
10Surrogates92 ($1.9M)1 ($0.8K)4 (38)4 (45)11
Box Office Power Rankings: October 23-25, 2009
Box Office RanksCritics’ Ranks
RankMovieLast WeekGrossPer TheaterRotten TomatoesMetacriticTotal
1Paranormal Activity210 ($21.1M)10 ($10.9K)8 (84)8 (68)36
2Where the Wild Things Are18 ($14M)7 ($3.8K)7 (70)9 (71)31
3Saw VI-9 ($14.1M)9 ($4.7K)5 (44)2 (30)25
4Law Abiding Citizen67 ($12.4M)8 ($4.3K)3 (24)4 (34)22
4Zombieland31 ($4.2M)1 ($1.7K)10 (88)10 (73)22
6Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs52 ($5.3M)2 ($1.9K)9 (85)7 (66)20
6Astro Boy-5 ($6.7M)3 ($2.2K)6 (47)6 (53)20
8Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant-4 ($6.3M)5 ($2.3K)4 (36)5 (43)18
9Couples Retreat76 ($10.6M)6 ($3.5K)2 (11)1 (23)15
10The Stepfather83 ($6.2M)4 ($2.3K)2 (11)3 (33)12

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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