The North American box office bounced back to life thanks to a pair of new releases from Sony which drove the marketplace to the best September frame in history. The animated comedy Hotel Transylvania overperformed and checked into the number one spot while the studio’s release of the sci-fi action pic Looper gave the it the runner-up spot too with over $64M in combined ticket sales leading the Top 20 to a potent $115M, a new high for what is normally the slowest month of the year. Especially noteworthy is that the weekend was driven by original films as none of the top six movies were sequels or based on well-known brands.
Mixing comedy and spooky monsters into a family-friendly 3D toon during the pre-Halloween period, Hotel Transylvania opened to spectacular results in first place with an estimated $43M generating the biggest September opening ever. The PG-rated film averaged a stellar $12,840 from 3,349 locations including 3D surcharges and beat the decade-old record for the top September bow set this weekend in 2002 when Sweet Home Alabama debuted to $35.6M. Hotel also marked a comeback of sorts for box office heavyweight Adam Sandler who provided the lead voice. His last two films over the past year performed poorly. But now, Sandler is well on his way to scoring his 13th $100M+ grosser of the past 14 years displaying his commercial consistency once again. Also lending their voices were Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, and CeeLo Green.
Look for solid playability here as the CinemaScore grade was an A- and Saturday sales surged by a remarkable 73% which was better than what many kidpics during the school year see. The opening was a new high for Sony Animation beating out the $35.6M of The Smurfs and the $30.3M of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs which was another 3D September hit. Both of those had good legs.
The critically-acclaimed sci-fi actioner Looper gave Sony another big win with its strong opening in second place with an estimated $21.2M. The R-rated futuristic film averaged a solid $7,086 from 2,992 theaters and took advantage of exceptional reviews to draw in a sizable audience. R-rated action films rarely open north of $20M in September and the fact that Looper is an original story not based on any well-known brand made the performance even more impressive. Headliners Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis spent five weeks at number one this summer with supporting roles in the hit sequels The Dark Knight Rises and The Expendables 2 and now joined forces playing the same person but from different time periods.
As expected, Looper skewed towards adult men. Studio research showed that 59% of the audience was male and 70% was 25 or older. But despite universal praise from film critics, actual paying customers were only moderately satisfied as the CinemaScore grade was a B. While not terrible, it is nothing worth bragging about. Saturday sales climbed 28% so there could be long-term strength into October.
Lots of companies wanted their share of credit for the hit pic which was made by FilmDistrict, TriStar, EndGame and China’s DMG. In fact, preliminary estimates put the opening weekend in China at $23-25M making it the first Hollywood film in history to open bigger there than in its home market of North America. A side story involving China’s prosperous future helped in getting financing and government approval of the script from that lucrative market. Willis has long been a huge action draw across Asia and JGL’s star has been on the rise thanks to recent Christopher Nolan films and other high quality acting projects.
Following its solid top spot debut last weekend, the cop thriller End of Watch held up well in its second round dropping 39% to an estimated $8M giving Open Road $26.2M in ten days. Fellow sophomore Trouble with the Curve followed with an estimated $7.5M falling an encouraging 38%. Recent Clint Eastwood films fell 47-51% in their second weekends so the performance of this latest Warner Bros. release – which finds the legend acting instead of directing – is commendable. Total is $23.7M. Also doing well in its second session was the fright flick House at the End of the Street which declined by 42% to an estimated $7.2M for $22.2M to date. That’s an amazing hold for a horror film.
The all-girl college a cappella comedy Pitch Perfect opened in moderate release this weekend with only 335 theaters but attracted huge crowds and landed at number six with an estimated $5.2M for a scorching $15,561 average. Universal is aiming for a word-of-mouth hit here and aggressively screened the PG-13 pic ahead of the limited bow. Now it plans to take it to the next level with next weekend’s expansion into 2,800+ locations hoping that enough buzz will have circulated among teens and young adults that it can become a must-see hit. Reviews have been mostly positive and the CinemaScore grade was an A with females making up 74% of the crowd. Pitch hopes to prove that a good product can sell itself.
Falling 58% to seventh place was the 3D release of Finding Nemo which grabbed an estimated $4.1M bumping the sum to $36.5M and the lifetime tally to $376.2M. The clown fish pic has re-entered the Top 20 list of all-time domestic blockbusters sitting at number 19. Sony’s fifth Alice pic Resident Evil: Retribution dropped 55% to an estimated $3M in its third round and has banked $38.7M to date.
The Paul Thomas Anderson Oscar hopeful The Master slowed down in its second weekend of wide play and grossed an estimated $2.7M, off 38%. The Weinstein Co. release averaged just $3,207 from 856 theaters and has shown signs of struggling with a mainstream audience. Cume to date is $9.6M. Sophisticated adult audiences will quickly start turning their attention to other pictures in October including Liam Neeson’s hostage sequel Taken 2 opening next weekend and Ben Affleck’s buzzworthy hostage drama Argo bowing a week later.
The inner city school drama Won’t Back Down failed to connect with paying moviegoers opening to dismal results in tenth place with an estimated $2.7M from 2,515 locations for a horrible $1,074 average. Fox’s PG-rated release starring Academy Award nominees Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis generated no commercial interest and was panned by critics.
The Emma Watson film The Perks of Being a Wallflower enjoyed a nice expansion this weekend widening from 4 to 102 theaters grossing an estimated $1.1M. That delivered a potent $11,147 average which keeps the Summit pic on track for further expansions. Total is $1.5M. Perks earned an encouraging A grade from CinemaScore and skewed 70% female.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $104.6M which was up 26% from last year when Dolphin Tale climbed into the number one spot with $13.9M; and up 27% from 2010 when The Social Network opened on top with $22.4M.