MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Hmmmm Bug

A Christmas Carol gave cheer as the weekend box office leader with an estimated $30.7 million. However, it was the cumbersomely titled Precious: Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire that had industry heads spinning. The well-received, unblinking urban drama grossed $1.88 million from a mere 18 screens for a jaw-dropping theater average of $104,810.

The session had three additional national debuts that opened to slightly better than anticipated business. The offbeat political comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats ranked third with $13.1 million and the paranormal The Fourth Kind was a notch behind with $12.4 million. The Box — largely dismissed or disdained critically — was commercially discarded with a $7.7 million premiere.

Niche and exclusive bows were also generally strong. Bollywood entry Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani had one of the better 2009 openings with a $420,000 tally and La Donation in Quebec grossed $99,300 from 21 cinemas. Exclusives at solo venues were all encouraging including the non-fiction La Danse with $11,600, Splinterheads with $8,200 and indie drama The Evening Sun comparable at $8,100.

It all added up to a sizeable box office boost from last weekend but it wasn’t enough to top the performance from 2008.

Critical response to the new 3D motion capture version of the Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was mixed and its $30.7 million gross puts it on the borderline in regard to its perennial potential. There’s always the possibility it could spike as occurred with The Polar Express during the Thanksgiving period. Roughly 55% of playdates were stereoscopic and those engagements comprised 74% of sales. The 181 Imax dates accounted for about $4.5 million of the total. And to no great surprise, teenagers were a slim 15% of the audience.

The Fourth Kind also received pros and cons from reviewers as it was gauged against the Paranormal Activity phenom. While the similarity of theme of the two pictures likely bled gross, the new film had sufficient distance that improved upon internal estimates in the arena of $10 million.

There were similar expectations for The Men Who Stare at Goats but strong buzz and its older skewing audience pumped up its initial box office.

Overall weekend sales clocked in with approximately $125 million in torn stubs that translated into a 42% upturn from seven days earlier. Still it was 12% diminished from last year when the launches of Madagascar 2 and Role Models led with respective first salvos of $63.1 million and $19.2 million.

A critical and audience favorite on the fest circuit, Precious — with its tough love saga of a young African American woman — was expected to connect in the art house environment. Its appeal to the urban crowd remained a question mark but in its limited exposure response across the board has been ferocious. With awards frenzy mounting, the film could readily turn in box office comparable or better than Monster’s Ball and Crash.

The frame’s other seeming anomaly was the virtual carbon copy b.o. results for Couples Retreat. It appears to have connected with plus 25s who aren’t avid about viewing movies on opening weekend. And with the paucity of titles appealing to adults (especially films with a few laughs) the movie receives at least a momentary second wind.

by Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates: November 6-8, 2009

Title Distributor Gross (avg) % change Theaters Cume
A Christmas Carol BV 30.7 (8,330) New 3683 30.7
This is It Sony 14.1 (4,050) -39% 3481 58
The Men Who Stare at Goats Overture 13.1 (5,370) New 2443 13.1
The Fouth Kind Uni 12.4 (4,920) New 2527 12.4
Paranormal Activity Par 8.4 (3,290) -49% 2558 97.3
The Box WB 7.7 (2,930) New 2635 7.7
Couples Retreat Uni 6.4 (2,230) -1% 2857 95.9
Law Abiding Citizen Overture 6.1 (2,480) -17% 2474 60.8
Where the Wild Things Are WB 4.2 (1,510) -30% 2756 69.2
Astro Boy Summit 2.5 (1,300) -28% 1918 15
Saw VI Lionsgate 2.0 (970) -62% 2091 26.2
Precious Lionsgate 1.9 (104,810) New 18 1.9
The Stepfather Sony 1.8 (1,280) -43% 1424 27.4
Amelia Fox Searchlight 1.8 (1,720) -42% 1030 11.3
Zombieland Sony 1.3 (1,190) -50% 1100 73.5
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Sony 1.3 (1,150) -53% 1126 121
Turandot Live Fathom 1.2 (3,330) New 544 1.2
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant Uni 1.1 (780) -64% 1421 12.9
A Serious Man Focus .85 (3,240) -18% 262 5.8
An Education Sony Classics .55 (6,880) 18% 80 2.3
Coco Before Chanel Alliance/Sony Class .52 (1,910) 66% 272 3.9
The Boondock Saints II Apparition .43 (4,110) -21% 105 1.2
Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani Viva .42 (5,620) New 75 0.42
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $119.90
% Change (Last Year) -12%
% Change (Last Week) 42%

Also debuting/expanding

La Donation Seville .10 (4,730) New 21 0.1
(Untitled) IDP 63,200 (2,528) 355% 25 0.11
AntiChrist IFC 39,600 (2,090) -20% 19 0.23
The Maid Elephant Eye 38,700 (3,870) -30% 10 0.2
La Danse Zipporah 11,600 (11,600) New 1 0.02
Splinterheads Paladin 9,900 (9,900) New 1 0.01
Collapse Vitagraph 8,200 (8,200) New 1 0.01
That Evening Sun FreeStyle 8,100 (8,100) New 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share: To November 5, 2009

Distributor (releases) Gross Mrkt Share
Warner Bros. (29) 1705.8 19.70%
Paramount (14) 1424.7 16.40%
Sony (20) 1185.1 13.70%
Buena Vista (19) 971.8 11.20%
Fox (15) 964.4 11.10%
Universal (19) 805.3 9.30%
Lionsgate (12) 335.1 3.90%
Fox Searchlight (11) 257.7 3.00%
Summit (10) 190.5 2.20%
Weinstein Co. (8) 187.4 2.20%
Focus (9) 149.3 1.70%
Overture (7) 107.2 1.20%
Paramount Vantage (4) 67.6 0.80%
MGM (4) 64.7 0.70%
Miramax (7) 53.1 0.60%
Other * (284) 197.9 2.30%
* none greater than 0.4% 8667.6 100.00%

Top Global Grossers – January 1 – November 5, 2009

Title Distributor (releases) Gross (millions)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince WB 945,204,179
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Fox 880,448,199
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Par 833,313,054
Up BV 645,994,256
Angels & Demons Sony 486,411,857
The Hangover WB 468,337,623
Night at the Museum 2 Fox 412,435,005
Star Trek Par 385,031,543
Monsters vs. Aliens Par 381,139,323
X-Men Origins: Wolverine Fox 373,164,285
Terminator Salvation WB/Sony 371,720,523
Fast & Furious Uni 359,357,594
Slumdog Millionaire * Fox Searchlight 357,237,152
The Proposal BV 316,316,482
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Par 301,070,492
Inglourious Basterds Weinstein/Uni 300,989,341
Curious Case of Benjamin Button * Par/WB 276,124,938
Gran Torino * WB 268,537,042
G-Force BV 266,521,377
District 9 Sony/QED 201,311,559
Public Enemies Uni 198,569,232
The Ugly Truth Sony 197,730,202
* 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