Box Office Guru

Box Office Guru Wrap-Up: Audiences flock to Zombieland

Plus, the #2 spot stays Cloudy, and Whip It gets whipped.

by | October 4, 2009 | Comments

This weekend Sony ruled the North American box office with an unlikely pair of hit comedies that led the way over a crowded frame that saw five films, each offering its share of laughs, shove their way into wide release. The violent horror-comedy Zombieland enjoyed a strong debut in first place bumping the studio’s animated 3D pic Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs into second after two weeks on top. But some other studios collected a bit of cash too. Disney’s double feature Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D) drew impressive numbers in third while Warner Bros. saw lackluster results for its Ricky Gervais comedy The Invention of Lying in fourth. Debuting less impressively were Drew Barrymore’s roller derby flick Whip It and Michael Moore’s documentary Capitalism: A Love Story which both tied for sixth.

Audiences didn’t skip their latest chance to see characters find new ways to rid the world of the undead as Zombieland powered its way to an estimated $25M this weekend from 3,036 theaters for a muscular $8,235 average. The R-rated film starring Woody Harrelson ended a month-long streak of horror films failing miserably at the box office. In fact, Zombieland fared better than the openings of September’s Pandorum, Jennifer’s Body, White Out, and Sorority Row – combined.

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The comical story of human survivors outsmarting an endless string of zombies appealed to moviegoers as did a quirky marketing campaign. Reviews were extraordinarily positive with many critics calling it the American answer to the British cult hit Shaun of the Dead. Studio research showed that the audience was 56% male and 58% under 25 which was not surprising for this type of pic. With a $24M budget, and early word-of-mouth being positive, Zombieland looks to become a moneymaker. In a business dominated by sequels and tentpoles, Sony has been on fire lately with a series of relatively low-cost hits including District 9, Julie & Julia, and The Ugly Truth.

After two weeks on top of the box office menu, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs slipped to second but only lost one-third of its business to gross an estimated $16.7M in its third course. The Sony hit toon suffered a decline that was twice as big as last weekend’s when it dipped by a mere 17%. However, with Disney stealing away 3D screens and audience attention with Toy Story, the Meatballs drop was commendable. With a stellar cume of $82.4M in 17 days, Cloudy could still go on to reach $130-140M.

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Families flocked to the three-hour double feature Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (3D) spending an estimated $12.5M to see a pair of films that have been available on video for years. The Disney stunt generated a strong $7,163 average from 1,745 digital 3D locations as the studio successfully hyped up the event nature of the release. In addition to the 3D upgrade, moviegoers got two modern classics for the price of one and enjoyed a preview of next summer’s Toy Story 3 in the middle. Disney promoted this as a two-week-only event so moviegoers responded to the limited time offer. The performance was impressive given the staying power of the new 3D hit Meatballs which is playing to the exact same audience.

Ricky Gervais saw good news and bad news this weekend with his latest comedy opening better than his last, but still not putting much of a dent into the overall box office. The well-reviewed The Invention of Lying bowed to an estimated $7.4M from 1,707 playdates for a mediocre $4,306 average. Compared to last fall’s Ghost Town which debuted to only $5M, Lying‘s weekend was 47% better and its average was up 29%. But the tale of the first man in history who learns how to lie showed once again that Gervais, though highly respected, is still no bankable star at the multiplexes on this side of the Atlantic. Lying also launched in the United Kingdom and Ireland this weekend with preliminary estimates showing it in a two-way race for first place with Fame.

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Fifth place was claimed by Bruce Willis and android Bruce Willis who joined forces in the sci-fi pic Surrogates which fell 51% in its second weekend to an estimated $7.3M. After ten days, the Buena Vista release has grossed a disappointing $26.4M and seems headed for a $40-45M final. The action film cost $80M to produce.

Two new wide openers tied for sixth place with an estimated $4.9M each. Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It didn’t whip up too much excitement averaging a mild $2,820 from 1,720 sites. The roller derby pic was released by Fox Searchlight and garnered strong reviews. Also faring well with critics but not paying moviegoers was Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story which expanded nationally after a sizzling limited bow last week. The filmmaker’s latest doc averaged $5,042 from 962 theaters seeing just moderate results that did not match up to Moore’s previous hits. 2007’s Sicko also expanded wide in the second weekend and grossed a similar $4.5M but from a more narrow release in 441 locations for a solid $10,208 average. Capitalism may have gone too wide, too fast. Cume is $5.3M.

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MGM’s dance remake Fame stumbled 53% in its second weekend grossing an estimated $4.8M. The $18M-budgeted film has grossed $16.6M in ten days and should end its run with roughly $25M. Matt Damon followed with The Informant! which collected an estimated $3.8M, off 43%, for a $26.6M total for Warner Bros. Jennifer Aniston’s Love Happens rounded out the top ten dipping 36% to an estimated $2.8M giving Universal a weak $18.9M to date.

In limited release, Paramount saw sensational results for its unorthodox release of the no-budget horror film Paranormal Activity which is only playing midnight shows in selected theaters. The Slamdance hit sold out every one of those showings grossing an estimated $535,000 from only 33 locations for an amazing $16,212 average. Paramount will expand on Friday to over 40 cities with theaters playing the film throughout the day with normal showtimes in hopes of a bigger breakout hit in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $89.9M which was off 1% from last year when Beverly Hills Chihuahua opened in the top spot with $29.3M; but up a healthy 42% from 2007 when The Game Plan remained at number one with $16.6M.

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