MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

You Can’t Take the Na’vi

In its sixth weekend in release Avatar slipped a modest 15% and left the competition in the distance with an estimated $36.2 million. Three films bowed nationally during the frame with the sci-fi adventure Legion the best grosser with $17.9 million that ranked it second. The other wide debuts included the family fantasy The Tooth Fairy with $14.6 million and the maiden outing for CBS Film –the dramatic Extraordinary Measures — that proved a disappointment.

The inspirational To Save a Life was just OK with $1.4 million from 441 theaters. Niche and limited newcomers were also generally blah including Bollywood entry Veer with $171,000 at 92 venues and the historical bio Creation that tallied $84,500 from 21 exposures. More encouraging was the two screen launch of French import Girl on the Train with $18,700.

Overall grosses dipped from both the three-day portion of last weekend’s holiday frame and box office from last year.

It would be interesting to find out the folk still in contention in the Fox pool for Avatar’s eventual box office — domestic and international. Moles in the organization say that few held out hope for more than $500 million in North America and an additional $1.2 million from the rest of the world. Talk about a leap in the dark. Its stratospheric popularity flies in the face of movie-going trends of the past decade when it’s simply de rigeur to experience weekly erosion of 50% and more for the big guns. With the picture now a likely Oscar contender, it’s steaming ahead unabated and (notwithstanding higher ticket costs) in range to surpass the Titanic record.

New and recent films in the marketplace have been largely grist for the mill and this weekend’s trio doesn’t break the rule. Neither the young male targeted Legion nor the family friendly The Tooth Fairy can expect to do more than tickle the fancy of avids and slip away quickly into ancillary revenue streams.

It’s been two decades since CBS dabbled in feature production (Back Roads with Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones) and Extraordinary Measures doesn’t bode well for its vitality or longevity. If the intention is to make quality films for adults they are to be commended. But it’s also like gambling on longshots. You cannot orchestrate the success of The Blind Side employing tracking and marketing strategies used to elevate genre films. The best one can hope for is an anomaly (or several) that erase the misfires unless new methods of gauging the audience are developed.

Weekend revenues should surpass $150 million that translate into a 13% dip from seven days earlier. It’s also 8% less potent than the 2009 frame when the second weekend of Paul Blart: Mall Cop led with $21.6 million; followed by the debut of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans with $20.8 million.

Last evening’s SAG awards didn’t do much in the way of presaging surprises on the award’s circuit leading up to the Oscar finale. There’s a nagging inevitability about the eventual outcome that isn’t helpful to current theatrical box office. Inglorious Basterds is fast approaching its ancillary windows globally and whatever boost it receives from kudos will be difficult to discern. Both Precious and The Blind Side have barely stepped out internationally and while neither can expect to replicate their domestic box office, each will play wider than they would have without the new spotlight.

Unquestionably the largest beneficiary of award attention is Crazy Heart. Again its subject matter limits foreign appeal but that bar has nonetheless been raised several notches. Domestically it continues to roll out slowly with the concern that once it opens wide it won’t have the same commercial vitality despite the sort of heartland appeal that’s figured into some of the biggest box office surprises of the past two decades.

-by Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates: January 22-24, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Avatar Fox 36.2 (11,530) -15% 3141 553
Legion Sony 17.9 (7,220) New 2476 17.9
Book of Eli WB 16.9 (5,430) -49% 3111 61.9
The Tooth Fairy Fox 14.6 (4,360) New 3344 14.6
The Lovely Bones Par 8.7 (3,400) -49% 2571 31.6
Sherlock Holmes WB 7.0 (2,630) -29% 2670 191.5
Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakqueluel Fox 6.6 (2,210) -43% 2973 204.3
Extraordinary Measures CBS 6.4 (2,520) New 2549 6.4
It’s Complicated Uni 6.1 (2,660) -25% 2301 98.6
The Spy Next Door Lions Gate 4.7 (1,600) -52% 2924 18.5
The Blind Side WB 4.5 (2,310) -20% 1932 234
Up in the Air Par 4.2 (2,440) -23% 1707 69.5
Leap Year Uni 3.0 (1,550) -50% 1939 23
Daybreakers Lions Gate 1.6 (1,030) -70% 1523 28.1
To Save a Life IDP 1.4 (3,240) New 441 1.4
Crazy Heart Fox Searchlight 1.4 (15,160) 118% 93 3.9
The Princess and the Frog BV 1.2 (1,150) -55% 1082 99.2
Youth in Revolt Weinstein Co. .86 (1,160) -61% 743 14.3
The Young Victoria Apparition/Alliance .78 (2,270) -24% 344 8.1
A Single Man Weinstein Co. .75 (3,470) -11% 216 7.7
Twilight: New Moon Summit .51 (1,150) -45% 444 293.2
Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus E1/Sony Classics .48 (1,460) -54% 331 5.9
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $145.20
% Change (Last Year) -8%
% Change (Last Week) -13%
Also debuting/expanding
Broken Embraces Sony Classics .32 (1,660) -20% 195 3.6
Tales of Hoffmann Live Fathom .21 (2,900) 74 0.21
Veer Eros .17 (1,820) 92 0.17
The White Ribbon Sony Classics .12 (6,160) 50% 19 0.35
The Last Station Sony Classics .10 (12,750) 8 0.25
Creation Newmrkt/D Film 85,400 (4,070) 21 0.09
Girl on the Train Strand 18,700 (9,350) 2 0.02
Misconceptions Regent 4,200 (2,100) 2 0.01
Watercolors Regent 3,100 (1,550) 2 0.01
drool 1,400 (1,400) 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share: January 1-21, 2010

Distributor (releases) Gross (millions) Mkt Share
Fox (3) 311.3 41.40%
Warner Bros. (7) 170.7 22.70%
Universal (4) 72.9 9.70%
Paramount (3) 54.3 7.20%
Lionsgate (4) 45.2 6.00%
Weinstein Co. (4) 25.9 3.50%
Buena Vista (3) 24.3 3.20%
Sony (7) 13.2 1.80%
Summit (3) 8.6 1.10%
Sony Classics (7) 7.1 0.90%
Apparition (2) 4.6 0.60%
Other (28)* 13.3 1.80%
751.4 100%
* none greater than 0.5%
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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