MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Saw-ed in Half

The little chiller that could — Paranormal Activity — ascended to the top of the movie-going charts with an estimated $21.6 million. That was bad news for the launch of the latest installment of the Saw horror franchise with its sixth installment drawing less than half the box office of the prior edition with $14.8 million.

The other new national releases also underperformed with the big screen version of Astro Boy grossing $6.8 million, the mawkish Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant a notch behind with $6.2 million and the biopic Amelia airless on a wing and a prayer of $3.9 million.

Limited and exclusive debuts weren’t appreciably better though Lars von Trier’s AntiChrist managed a decent $12,450 theater average at six venues. The steam was running thin from the umpteenth re-issue of The Nightmare Before Christmas and new entries including Motherhood, Ong-Bak 2 and (Untitled) garnered neither critical plaudits nor tidy commercial returns.

Adding it all up, the marketplace experienced rollbacks from last weekend and the comparable frame in 2008.

The bright spot in multiplexes was unquestionably Paranormal Activity. Finally attaining national exposure in its fifth week in release, the film maintained a very impressive $11,120 theater average and while it’s unlikely to attain Blair Witch status, the ultra low budget spine tingler appears to be the most profitable release of the year on a cost to return basis.

The session also saw good holds for last weekend freshmen Law Abiding Citizen and The Stepfather. But the adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are fell precipitously.

The new entries pretty much took it on the chin. The previously robust record of the graphically violent Saw series anticipated a modest slice to $25 million from last year’s $30 million bow of edition V. However, familiarity bred ticket buyer contempt and the ironic juxtaposition of its “show all” with the snowballing appeal of Paranormal’s “let your mind imagine the worst” shouldn’t be lost on the industry.

Also, even low-ball expectations for Astro Boy and Amelia turned out to be buoyant. The former should have been apparent when it was commercially rejected in Japan where the character was spawned. Amelia, on iconographic aviator Earhart, received some of the worst reviews of the year and the core audience obviously took those words to heart.

Overall ticket sales translated into revenues just shy of $120 million. That represented a 13% slide from the prior weekend and an 11% dip from 2008. Last year the openings of High School Musical 3 and Saw V debuted with respective box office of $42 million and $30.1 million.

Among the platform releases, A Serious Man and An Education continue to have effective response on glacial roll outs while Coco Before Chanel is holding steady in limited exposure. And the stealth commerciality of live opera — this weekend the venerable Aida — remains an under-appreciated steady earner.

by Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates: October 23 – 25, 2009

Title Distributor Gross (avg) % change Theaters Cume
Paranormal Activity Par 21.6 (11,120) 11% 1945 62.1
Saw VI Lionsgate 14.8 (4,900) New 3036 14.8
Where the Wild Things Are WB 14.4 (3,860) -56% 3735 54
Law Abiding Citizen Overture 12.6 (4,350) -40% 2890 40.2
Couples Retreat Uni 11.0 (3,570) -36% 3074 78.1
Astro Boy Summit 6.8 (2,260) New 3014 6.8
The Stepfather Sony 6.5 (2,400) -44% 2734 20.4
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant Uni 6.2 (2,260) New 2754 6.2
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Sony 5.5 (2,000) -32% 2741 115.1
Zombieland Sony 4.2 (1,730) -45% 2447 67.2
Amelia Fox Searchlight 3.9 (4,800) New 818 3.9
Aida Live Fathom 1.3 (3,210) New 403 1.3
A Serious Man Focus 1.1 (6,430) 34% 176 3.2
Good Hair Roadside Attraction 1.0 (2,110) 144% 460 2.6
Toy Story 1 & 2 (3D) BV 1.0 (1,310) -66% 778 30.1
The Invention of Lying WB .90 (1,120) -53% 802 17
Capitalism: A Love Story Overture .71 (1,120) -51% 636 12.9
Surrogates BV .59 (740) -59% 797 37.6
Whip It Fox Searchlight .45 (1,030) -48% 435 12.3
Coco Before Chanel Alliance/Sony Class .41 (3,980) 8% 103 2.85
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $114.10
% Change (Last Year) -11%
% Change (Last Week) -13%
Also debuting/expanding
An Education Sony Classics .37 (12,330) 51% 30 0.94
Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D (reissue) BV .13 (1,280) New 105 0.13
More Than a Game Lionsgate .11 (1,040) -45% 107 0.76
AntiChrist IFC 74,700 (12,450) New 6 0.07
The Boys Are Back Miramax 72,600 (670) -53% 108 0.69
Motherhood FreeStyle 55,500 (1,160) New 48 0.06
The Maid Elephant Eye 43,200 (7,200) 153% 6 0.07
Ong-Bak 2 Magnolia 23,800 (2,380) New 10 0.02
(Untitled) IDP 18,100 (6,030) New 3 0.02
Killing Kasztner GR Films 4,200 (4,200) New 1 0.01
Stan Helsing Anchor Bay 2,200 (70) New 30 0.01

Domestic Market Share: To October 15, 2009

Distributor (releases) Gross Mrkt Share
Warner Bros. (29) 1676.2 20.00%
Paramount (14) 1375.9 16.40%
Sony (19) 1109.4 13.20%
Buena Vista (18) 967.9 11.60%
Fox (15) 963.8 11.50%
Universal (18) 770.7 9.20%
Lionsgate (11) 310.2 3.70%
Fox Searchlight (10) 247.2 3.00%
Weinstein Co. (8) 186.3 2.20%
Summit (9) 177.9 2.10%
Focus (9) 146.3 1.80%
Overture (7) 78.3 0.90%
Paramount Vantage (4) 67.6 0.80%
MGM (4) 64.3 0.80%
Miramax (7) 52.8 0.60%
Other * (267) 186.2 2.20%
* none greater than 0.4% 8381 100.00%

Top Limited Releases – January 1 – October 22, 2009

Title Distributor (releases) Gross (millions)
The Wrestler * Fox Searchlight 25,068,864
Under the Sea 3D WB 18,177,676
Milk * Focus 17,246,974
The Hurt Locker Summit 12,582,593
Sunshine Cleaning Overture 12,062,558
Away We Go Focus 9,552,776
Du Pere en flic Alliance 9,115,014
Deep Sea 3-D WB/Imax 5,341,642
Whatever Works Sony Classics 5,304,618
Moon Sony Classics 4,951,090
Food, Inc. Magnolia/Alliance 4,401,009
Entre les murs (The Class) Sony Classics 3,766,810
Bright Star Apparition 3,689,076
The Brothers Bloom Summit 3,531,756
The September Issue Roadside Attractions 3,396,485
Two Lovers Magnolia 3,149,034
Magnificent Desolation * Imax 3,037,110
Cheri Mrmx 2,715,657
Space Station * Imax 2,709,897
The Trailer Park Boys 2 Alliance 2,700,496
* does not include 2008 box office
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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