CATEGORIES Movies, Box Office
When movies like the critically savaged duo of 'Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star' and 'Creature' bottom out at the box office, it's an excuse for a quick joke and little else. (Example: "Double the $220 per-screen average for 'Creature' and you still couldn't even buy an iPad!") When a movie like 'Warrior' underperforms, however, box office prognosticators are left to wonder where it went wrong. After all, with near-uniform critical praise and pre-release Oscar buzz, 'Warrior' should have earned significantly more money during its opening weekend than $5.3 million. That it didn't raises the question: What happened? Ahead, six reasons why 'Warrior' tapped out at the weekend box office.

1. No One Went to the Movies
To put how few people went to theaters this past weekend in perspective, consider that the solid $23.1 million opening for 'Contagion' was nearly as much as the other films in the top-five grossed... combined. This was the least-attended weekend of the year at the box office; even less people trekked to their local multiplex over the last three days than during the weekend of Aug. 26 -- better known as Hurricane Irene. Whether the low attendance figures can be blamed on the long shadow cast by the 10th anniversary of 9/11 or the dregs of late August ('Shark Night,' 'Apollo 18,' 'Colombiana,' etc.) finally wearing out their limited welcome is unclear. What is clear, though, is people simply didn't have any interest in sitting in a dark theater for two hours. Unless, of course, the dark theater featured a movie with massive stars like Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne and Marion Cotillard. Which brings us to issue two...

2. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton Are Not Movie Stars
It's hard to get upset with Lionsgate for how they marketed 'Warrior': the trailers were slick and exciting (even if they gave away the third act confrontation) and the posters showed off beefcake stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, sans shirts. The only problem? Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton aren't stars. Yet. For most audience members, Hardy is best known as the fifth lead in 'Inception,' while Edgerton is barely known at all. Had 'Warrior' come out in September 2012 -- after Hardy showed his teeth as Bane in 'The Dark Knight Rises,' and Edgerton had seen his own stock grow on the anticipation of 'The Great Gatsby' and Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden film -- it's likely the piddling gross 'Warrior' earned would have doubled. Or tripled. As the saying goes, timing is everything.

3. Women Didn't Show Up
At least one prominent blogger felt that 'Warrior' was better suited for women and "men who wished they were tough." Unfortunately, the audience breakdown didn't quite agree: a mere 34 percent of 'Warrior' ticket buyers were female. Maybe the trailers needed more Jennifer Morrison -- underrated and underused in a great performance as Joel Edgerton's supportive-but-tough onscreen wife?

4. Men Showed Up, But Not Nearly Enough of Them
With 'Warrior' stumbling with the women in the audience, it would have needed to rely on a huge push from men. Percentage-wise, that occurred, but not in big enough numbers -- something likely damped down by the start of the NFL season. In that regard, 'Warrior' couldn't have picked a worse calendar position (unless, of course, it came out on Super Bowl Sunday). The film also struggled to find young men: only 51 percent of the audience for 'Warrior' was under the age of 25. Were MMA fans turned off by the fact that the trailers didn't showcase enough pulverizing action? Conversely...

5. MMA Is Still a Niche Sport
Despite continually being heralded as the sport of the future, MMA is still sorta fledgling. Television ratings for the UFC have shown little growth over the past five years, and while the sport generates big numbers via Pay-Per-View events and at arenas, it isn't uniformly accepted. (Competitions are still banned in New York.) It's also hella violent. For 'Warrior,' this mattered: it's easy to envision a scenario where some audience members were turned off by the barbaric nature of mixed martial arts, which features violence that makes a boxing film like 'The Fighter' seem like 'Bambi.'

6. Forget It, Jake; It's September
As films like 'Taken,' 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop' have proved, a well-marketed movie can open at any time on the calendar. Except maybe the first few weeks in September. Traditionally, the early portion of the month is a dumping ground for also-rans, and without major stars or an easy-to-sell subject matter, 'Warrior' probably looked to be on par with Lionsgate's 2009 September release dump 'Gamer' -- only it performed worse. (The forgotten Gerard Butler actioner grossed $9 million during its opening weekend.) Word of mouth will be great with this one -- 'Warrior' received an A grade on Cinemascore -- but when so few people are spreading said words, will that matter to the bottom line come weekend two? Fingers crossed, if only because 'Warrior' deserves a better fate than being one of the bigger box office disappointments of the year. Don't be afraid to root for the underdog.

Photo: Opulence Studios / Lionsgate