SUNDAY CENTS: ‘Witch Mountain’ takes the crown, ‘Watchmen’ falls hard

Posted by · 5:49 pm · March 15th, 2009

Race to Witch MountainEDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the first installment in what will be a weekly column looking at box office here at In Contention.  Chad Hartigan and I attended film school together in another life.  But for the last three years he’s been a box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.  He’s also tried his hand at making a feature (last year’s “Luke and Brie are on a First Date,” which played the festival circuit) and you may have enjoyed a spat or two with him in our comments section.  Chad will be here every Sunday afternoon wrapping up the weekend and looking ahead to the next one.  We welcome him to the IC family and look forward to his weekly take on the dollars and cents of showbiz.

Hello all.  Before I dive into the first installment of Sunday Cents, two things to note: Figures discussed here are estimates and actual figures released on Monday could change things slightly, but usually not significantly.

Also, any figures I draw from the past will be adjusted for inflation. That’s just how I do things. You may argue that adjusting figures doesn’t portray an accurate comparison because of things like DVD and blah, blah, blah, but in the end, comparisons are all arbitrary anyway so it doesn’t matter.

So, with that out of the way…what happened this weekend?

Well, “Race to Witch Mountain” came out on top with a cool $25 million. That’s almost exactly the same as “The Game Plan,” which debuted at $24 million and represents the only other time Disney picked The Rock to headline one of their films. Family sci-fi is a tough sell (“The Last Mimzy,” anyone?), so on one hand it’s a good result. On the other, compared to the $41.5 million debut that “Wild Hogs” managed in March of 2007, it seems a little soft.  There’s no family competition for two weeks so “Mountain” will have a chance to stretch its legs and it’ll have to make as much as possible before “Monsters vs. Aliens” comes along and obliterates it.

The second remake to open this weekend was Universal’s “The Last House on the Left.”  Debuting in third with $14.7 million is pretty standard issue for this kind of film, with “The Hills Have Eyes,” “House of Wax” and “The Fog” all opening in the same ballpark.  They can’t all be “Friday the 13th.”

Way back in 10th is the final new release of the week, “Miss March.”  Is it too soon to start talking Razzies? Actually, to be honest, if I was forced to choose a film to see out of these three, “Miss March” gets my $10. It could use it, as the $2.4 million the film pulled couldn’t even match “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”‘s ninth week. The Kevin James comedy keeps on plugging and has amassed a ridiculous $138 million so far, by the way.

The Liam Neeson starrer “Taken” is also showing incredible staying power and has a running total of $127 million.  The film still has a spot in the top five. This is a movie that has been out everywhere else in the world for over a year and was widely accessible and downloaded on the internet before release. Could piracy actually be good for the movie business?

I guess that’s it. Oh, wait. There’s that movie everyone was talking about last week. Those were the good old days for “Watchmen.”  It tumbled a disastrous 67% from it’s debut to $18.1 million this weekend, however. At this point, $120 million would be a best-case scenario and that means it would replace “Scary Movie 3” as the lowest grossing film to debut with $50 million or more. In other words, people can’t get away from this thing fast enough. In fact, only three films that were on 3,500 screens or more had a bigger second week tumble. What are those gems you ask? Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” last year’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village.”  Welcome to the club, Mr. Snyder.

Next week we have three new releases. Looking brightest is “I Love You, Man,” which hopes to capitalize on the teen and young adult audience deserting “Watchmen.”  Last year’s “Role Models” opened with $19 million and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” did $17 million, so I expect this one to improve on that slightly with around $20 million.

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen reteam for “Duplicity” and court the older adults. That’s not the typical opening night crowd, so Tony Gilroy’s caper could debut softer and hold strong through April. I’d say $16 million.

Finally, Nicolas Cage sees the future (again) in “Knowing.”  If you’re like me, you thought this movie already came out two years ago and was called “Next.”  I’ve actually been hearing that this could be a surprise #1 but I’m not buying it yet.  $10 million is my gut feeling but I’ll bump it to $12 million for the benefit of the doubt. But what do you guys think?

This week’s box office top 10, courtesy of Exhibitor Relations:

Weekend of Friday, March 13, 2009

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16 responses so far

  • 1 3-15-2009 at 6:10 pm

    amanda said...

    I saw Sunshine Cleaning this weekend and really enjoyed it. Both Amy Adams and Emily Blunt have great careers ahead of them. They were great together btw.

  • 2 3-15-2009 at 10:05 pm

    Marvin said...

    Well, I won’t be dealing with inflated numbers but hey, go ahead…

  • 3 3-16-2009 at 2:00 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Yikes, someone’s got some explaining to do at Warner Bros. I don’t envy whoever it is.

  • 4 3-16-2009 at 2:37 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Welcome, Chad — great to have you around.

    This is as good a place as any to express my bafflement at the success of “Taken,” which opened here last autumn to rather less fanfare.

    On the one hand, I’m puzzled that a film that struck me as about 15 years out of date has found such an audience, but on the other, I’m comforted that someone like Liam Neeson can still open a movie.

  • 5 3-16-2009 at 9:34 am

    RJNeb2 said...

    Oooh, liking this new feature a lot. Yes, big fall-off for Watchmen, quelle surprise. Most superhero movies generally do tumble in the second week. Presumably it’s holding up well in IMAX still though? That will change in the coming weeks however as they clear their times to make way for Monsters vs Aliens.

    Amazing how much Taken has, er, taken in the States though. It’s out on DVD over here in the UK.

  • 6 3-16-2009 at 10:45 am

    Erin said...

    Well, as Witch Mountain is made by Disney, one would expect that the reviews would be a little over the top. Getting the rankings it did in the box office, I wouldn’t have thought it would do better than other movies.

  • 7 3-16-2009 at 12:35 pm

    Blake said...

    The big drop for Watchmen was a surprise. I
    don’t think it will pass 300 mil as was previously predicted by pundits. It might carry well after the drop-off until the other action blockbusters
    get released. It will have a cult-following but not be the revered “classic” or mass favorite that TDK was. I think the cumulative will be around 130-150 mil.

    My predictions:

    1. Knowing: 15-25 mil, 21.3
    2. I Love You Man: 13-20 mil, 19.5
    3. Duplicity: 11-20 mil, 18.1

    The Last House on the Left will suffer a huge drop like most horror movies and will fall
    to 3-4 mil. Miss March will be off the charts, off the top ten, will be in the thousands instead of the millions. Watchmen will still be in the top ten, 11-13 mil, it might carry over better than expected despite the astronomical fall in its second release. Taken and Paul Blart will finally suffer a big drop and come close to the ballpark of what it’s cumulative amount will be. I might
    be way off on Knowing but I think I am in the ballpark with the other predictions.

    What do you think will be the biggest blockbuster of the year?

  • 8 3-16-2009 at 12:39 pm

    Blake said...

    I forgot about Escape to Witch Mountain. I agree with Chad, it will strech its legs for a couple weeks, and carry well until Monster vs. Aliens. It will carry over well in its 2nd week,
    maybe around 13-20 mil. Ranking will be #2 or #3.

  • 9 3-16-2009 at 1:34 pm

    Chad said...

    Final numbers are in and the drop is officially second worst to only Hulk.

  • 10 3-16-2009 at 1:37 pm

    McGuff said...

    Guy: I didn’t see “Taken”, but quite a few of my friends — usually non-moviegoers — went excitedly. I think the trailer really did well to hit its demographic. There’s no doubt it firmly cast Neeson into the badass role that the “24” crowd idolizes so.

  • 11 3-16-2009 at 1:46 pm

    KBJr. said...

    I said it way back on January 30th on this very site, to very little reception: ‘Watchmen’ smells like a Box Office Dissappointment.

    Ask me, the softbatch numbers the film has experienced aren’t hard to figure out. So few people knew (know) anything about this graphic novel or cared. The trailers may have been praised for their visual flare, but they told us nothing about the film. My rule of thumb is, a trailer should at the very least give us some semblence of what a film will be about. Especially if you’re dealing with scantly-recognized source material.

    While in theatres I noticed an expressed indifference from filmgoers when the ‘Watchmen’ trailer would end, that’s never a good sign.

    And what of the “good vs. evil” dynamic? It seems the most successful films (especially fantasy films) have an expressed good guy vs villian storyline. ‘The Dark Knight’ was as much about the Joker than Batman, had this villian not been present in that film, it wouldn’t have grossed a billion dollars in worldwide figures. I could go down a line of successful ‘comicbook’ and action films which either lived or died based on whether they had a buzzworthy “good vs. evil” dynamic.

    Successes: The Dark Knight, Spiderman 1 and 2, Lord of the Rings trilogy, Transformers, original Batman, etc.

    Failures: Daredevil, Last Action Hero, Batman & Robin, Superman (2000s remake), Van Helsing, Fantastic Four sequel, etc.

    I called this flop a mile away. Now I’m a little scared about ‘Wolverine’ for the same reasons…

  • 12 3-16-2009 at 1:50 pm

    KBJr. said...

    From watching the trailer, we don’t know what the good guys or the bad guys are. We don’t know who is fighting who. We’re so out of the loop, that most of us could care less to see the movie. It’s entirely too “insider” focused. There is a time and place for films of this nature, but not with a $150 million production budget. They’ll probably barely make their money back.

  • 13 3-16-2009 at 2:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    KGBJr: I think you’re stretching in your reasoning. It’s simple word-of-mouth issues that causes a drop like this. “Watchmen” sucked, people told their friends, no one turned out for weekend #2, no matter how much Hayter begged. End of story.

    Mass audiences aren’t savvy enough to see a trailer and say “where’s the conflict?” They respond to imagery and only imagery. The trailers for “Watchmen” had that in spades and they showed up last weekend. $50 mil in March is nothing to sneeze at, after all.

  • 14 3-16-2009 at 2:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Make that KBJr. Not trying to paint you as a Commie.

  • 15 3-19-2009 at 2:58 pm

    Chad said...

    Getting closer to the weekend, and Knowing could pull it off. Tracking looks like all three could do $15-$20 mil.

  • 16 3-19-2009 at 4:01 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Hell I saw Taken nearly a year ago I believe. It was silly but fun!