MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

The Cash in the Hat

March 7 , 2010

Holy Moolah! Alice in Wonderland fell down the hole and landed on a record-breaking $115.2 million estimate. Business was buoyant and even the counter-programmed bow of Brooklyn’s Finest exceeded projections with a $13.5 million debut that ranked second in the lineup.

Aside from a sturdy $37,400 single engagement for animation nominee The Secret of the Kells there was a paucity of limited releases. Bollywood entry Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? Was a disappointment with a $102,000 tally from 40 engagements. But Oscar nominees generally received a last minute boost as the minutes ticked down to the opening of envelopes.

Alice in Wonderland entered the marketplace with a combination of fanfare and controversy that suggested limited appeal and a fast fade. The latter was somewhat built in with the announcement of an expedited DVD release date that prompted threats of boycotts from theater owners and frantic last minute negotiations to smooth ruffled feathers.

While tracking and pre-sales were torrid, weekend projections set the ceiling at no higher than $80 million. (The winner in the internal Disney office poll predicted a partisan $94 million.) Understandbly, in light of its staggering numbers, the film played across the boards with its comparatively weakest sector being young males.

When the dust settled the unclassic version of the venerable yarn emerged as the all-time biggest opening gross for a non-sequel as well as setting new benchmarks for both 3D and Imax playdates. The feat was all the more striking for its position at a time that traditionally hasn’t been prime viewing. Initial international estimates added roughly $95 million to the larder.

In light of Alice’s control of 58% of weekend revenues, Brooklyn’s Finest’s performance was no less dynamic. Its debut verdict was in the $8 million to $10 million range. It’s hard to state (without laughing) that the film tapped into the starved young male audience immune to the Hatter’s appeal.

Weekend revenues climbed to near $200 million, which translated into a hefty 67% increase from seven days earlier. It was a whopping 72% greater than the 2009 session when the launch of Watchman led with $55.2 million; trailed by Madea Goes to Jail with $8.5 million.While Oscar fever was present in movie theaters, Avatar took its biggest hit since its December release. Alice usurped all but 660 of its 3D engagements and that resulted in a 45% box office drop. The rest of the slate got an assist from special screenings on Saturday throughout both the AMC and Cinemark circuits that saw surges for the likes of The Hurt Locker and An Education and even a modest bump for The Blind Side.

The media-created David vs. Goliath battle between Avatar and The Hurt Locker will be revealed 26 envelopes from now. It’s safe to say that should the latter movie emerge triumphant that the board members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will be running on swords. Its effort to “open up” the awards to a wider audience with 10 best picture nominees will largely be viewed as a bust should a largely unseen movie trump the biggest grossing film of all time. It will minimally set off national head scratching and at worst leave the audience with the feeling they’ve been slapped in the face.

P.S. With Friday’s Independent Spirit Awards presentation I was reminded that The Hurt Locker didn’t receive a lot of love from its core constituency last year when it became eligible (as a result of screening at the Toronto Film Festival). It received just two nominations in the acting and supporting categories with a single win for Jeremy Renner.

-by Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates: March 5-7, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Alice in Wonderland BV 115.2 (30,890) New 3728 115.2
Brooklyn’s Finest Overture 13.5 (6,960) New 1936 13.5
Shutter Island Par 13.3 (4,190) -41% 3178 95.8
Cop Out WB 9.2 (2,910) -50% 3150 32.4
Avatar Fox 7.5 (3,480) -45% 2163 720
The Crazies Overture 7.1 (2,870) -56% 2479 27.5
Percy Jackson & the Olympians Fox 4.9 (1,650) -48% 2994 77.9
Valentine’s Day WB 4.2 (1,390) -53% 3040 106.4
Crazy Heart Fox Searchlight 3.4 (2,650) 37% 1274 29.6
Dear John Sony 2.8 (1,130) -41% 2496 76.7
The Tooth Fairy Fox 1.7 (960) -51% 1734 56.2
The Wolfman Uni 1.6 (890) -62% 1829 60.4
The Ghost Writer Summit 1.4 (9,590) 79% 147 2.7
The Blind Side WB 1.3 (1,530) 2% 822 250.5
The Last Station Sony Classics .81 (2,270) -17% 356 4.1
Up in the Air Par .63 (1,560) -22% 403 83
When in Rome BV .60 (1,190) -40% 504 31.7
Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel Fox .54 (960) -30% 562 217.4
Book of Eli WB .52 (940) -53% 555 93.4
A Single Man Weinstein Co. .43 (1,210) 44% 354 8.6
Sherlock Holmes WB .42 (1,210) -31% 345 207
The Hurt Locker Summit .41 (1,850) 147% 222 14.6
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $190.20
% Change (Last Year) 72%
% Change (Last Week) 67%
Also debuting/expanding
An Education Sony Classics .39 (1,370) 23% 286 12.1
A Prophet Sony Classics .15 (9,010) -7% 17 0.4
The White Ribbon Sony Classics .14 (1,450) -8% 99 1.7
Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? Viva .10 (2,550) New 40 0.1
Ajami Kino 59,700 (3,140) -13% 19 0.34
Secret of the Kells Gkids 37,400 (37,400) New 1 0.04
Harlan Zeitgeist 9,720 (9,720) New 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share: January 1 – March 4, 2010

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Fox (5) 654.3 35.00%
Warner Bros. (10) 431.7 23.10%
Paramount (4) 174.7 9.40%
Universal (5) 157.4 8.40%
Sony (10) 127.1 6.80%
Lionsgate (5) 85.7 4.60%
Buena Vista (4) 61.7 3.30%
Weinstein Co. (4) 33.6 1.80%
Fox Searchlight (2) 29.4 1.60%
Overture (3) 21.5 1.10%
Sony Classics (7) 18.6 1.00%
Summit (4) 14.4 0.80%
CBS Films (1) 12.4 0.70%
Apparition (2) 9.8 0.50%
Other * (72) 35.4 1.90%
1867.7 100.00%
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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