MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

A Watchmen Pot Boils

Propelled by the debut of Watchmen, domestic box office rose by 12% from 2008. The adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel opened to an estimated $56.7 million and accounted for roughly 50% of all movie ticket sales on its opening weekend.

The Watchmen saga – at least in regard to its tortured journey to the screen – is 1) worthy of a frank, unvarnished documentary recap and 2) likely to have several more chapters to play out over pending legal wrangles.

The first wave of its theatrical life is unquestionably dynamic. Others had struggled to adapt the material for the movies with thoughts of a two-parter or updating the material to a contemporary setting. Ultimately the single film (albeit 2 hours, 40 minutes) without benefit of marquee names was risky business and reported tepid response at early previews couldn’t have made studio execs happy in these recessionary times.

Tracking and advance ticket sales were also unremarkable up until a week prior to the movie’s release. Then it was like the floodgates opened and the downplayed expectations ramped up. There was still considerable caution in light of last week’s over-confident prognosis of The Jonas Brothersconcert film. No one was predicting more than a $50 million debut and most underplayed it closer to $40 million.

The bottom line is that it’s a good start for Watchmen with unquestionably a lot of hurdles ahead simply to cover costs. The fan base not atypically went to midnight sneaks and opening day shows and business eased up as the weekend advanced. A 50% drop next weekend would be another good sign; more than 66% would be worrisome.

Batman notwithstanding, most superhero/fantasy special effects movies have grossed better internationally. And the commercial embrace outside North America appears to be unrelated to the familiarity with the source inspiration.

Regardless of how Watchmen is ultimately perceived, it’s likely the majors won’t be introducing many if any new big budget ventures with franchise potential. The tempo of the times in an already risk-averse industry is hunker down and wait out the storm.

– Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates: March 6 – 8, 2009

Title Distributor Gross (avera % chang Theaters Cume
Watchmen WB 56.7 (15,690) 3611 56.7
Madea Goes to Jail Lions Gate 8.7 (4,040) -46% 2151 76.4
Taken Fox 7.4 (2,460) -25% 3016 118
Slumdog Millionaire Fox Searchlight 6.9 (2,380) -43% 2890 125.4
Paul Blart: Mall Cop Sony 4.2 (1,650) -25% 2558 133.7
He’s Just Not That Into You WB 4.0 (1,650) -33% 2445 84.7
Coraline Focus 3.3 (1,670) -38% 1959 65.6
Confessions of a Shopaholic BV 3.1 (1,360) -33% 2290 38.4
Jonas Brothers Concert BV 2.8 (2,220) -77% 1276 16.8
Fired Up Sony 2.6 (1,460) -29% 1798 13.4
Gran Torino WB 2.1 (1,360) -32% 1520 141.6
The Reader Weinstein Co. 1.9 (1,590) -35% 1175 29.8
Friday the 13th WB 1.4 (830) -62% 1705 63.3
The International Sony 1.3 (1,130) -53% 1184 23.7
Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li Fox 1.3 (1,150) -72% 1164 7.1
The Pink Panther 2 Sony 1.3 (1,050) -48% 1219 34.6
Push Summit 1.1 (990) -51% 1142 29.6
Hotel for Dogs Par 1.0 (930) -38% 1120 69.2
Madama Butterfly Metropolitan .81 (2,810) 288 0.81
The Wrestler Fox Searchlight .78 (1,150) -44% 679 24.7
Milk Focus .61 (1,360) -59% 447 31.1
Curious Case of Benjamin Button Par .50 (1,250) -37% 401 126.2
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $113.80
% Change (Last Year) 12%
% Change (Last Week) 9%
Also debuting/expanding
One Week Mongrel .18 (3,030) 61 0.18
The Horsemen Lions Gate 66,300 (880) 75 0.07
Everlasting Moments IFC 41,500 (8,300) 5 0.04
Phoebe in Wonderland Thinkfilm 26,600 (2,420) 11 0.03
Tokyo! Vitagraph 22,700 (22,700) 1 0.02
12 Sony Classics 11,100 (2,220) 5 0.01
Fados Zeitgeist 11,000 (11,000) 1 0.01
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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon