CATEGORIES Movies
As expected, The Hunger Games (review/trailer) again topped the box office this weekend, but its relatively strong hold suggests that it may be a bit mightier than a conventional Twilight/Harry Potter sequel. With $61 million in weekend two (the eighth-biggest non-opening weekend ever, ahead of all the respective Harry Potter and Twilight Saga films), the film dropped 60% and ended day ten with a whopping $251 million. That's the biggest ten-day total for a non-sequel ever, and the fifth-biggest ever. It came in above the $240 million ten-day total of Spider-Man 3, and it is that film which its performance most resembles. Spider-Man 3 opened with $151 million in May of 2007 before dropping 61% for a $58 million weekend. Spidey took a drop on weekend two despite having no new releases to compete against because it wasn't exclaimed critically-acclaimed among the fanbase. The Hunger Games had two big releases this weekend, plus the loss of its IMAX screens which represented about 7 of its gross last weekend. No other mega-opener on this level that benefited from IMAX has had to deal with the immediate loss of those premium screens, so it bares mention when comparing it to the respective second weekends of The Dark Knight ($75 million off a $158 million debut) or Alice In Wonderland ($62 million off a $116 million debut). Spider-Man 3 ended its domestic run with $336 million, and its ten day total represented 71% of the gross. Giving The Hunger Games a similar pattern would give this franchise-starter a final domestic cume of $353 million. We'll see how it weathers the 3D reissue of Titanic next weekend. Oh, and it's up to $365 million worldwide, all on a mere $90 million budget.

The top new release was Wrath of the Titans (review/trailer) which earned $34.2 million via its 2D, 3D, and IMAX screens. That's 55% of the $61 million that Clash of the Titans earned two years ago on its opening weekend. That film had a terrific marketing campaign and benefited from being one of the first films to toy with 3D conversion in the wake of Avatar. Of course, the film grossed nearly $500 million worldwide but earned scorn for its quick and cheap-looking 3D work. The film had better-than-expected legs partially due to the ability to hold onto the biggest screens due to its then-rare 3D gimmickry and ended its domestic run with $163 million. Normally I'd hem and haw about a sequel opening to half of its predecessor, especially when it cost more ($150 million versus $125 million). But Warner Bros faced this last December with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which opened at 2/3 the original. But the film had uncommonly strong legs and ended with $180 million domestic (versus the original's $209 million) and $534 million worldwide ($10 million *more* than the original film's global gross). So I wouldn't call the pallbearer quite yet, as Warner is banking on similar overseas strength and hoping the word to spread about its (frankly and ironically) fantastic 3D work this time around. As for why the film didn't perform as well on opening weekend despite saturation marketing and a fine trailer, chalk it up to general audience disinterest, the appearance of being a smaller fish in the big pond this time around, and sheer competition. Oh, and everyone hated Clash of the Titans.

The sequel, as expected, fell victim to something I like to call the "Tomb Raider trap". In short, when a studio makes a would-be franchise film that succeeds not on its merits but based on pre-release hype and solid marketing, they set themselves up to get burned when the sequel arrives. If audiences didn't like the first film, they won't flock to the sequel even if its a noticeable improvement on all fronts. Tomb Raider was a terrible would-be action film with little action (most of it was Croft shooting at obviously-CGI stuff) and a narrative that looked like it had been chopped to bits in the editing room. But pre-release interest fueled a $47 million opening weekend, so audience desertion still allowed the film to gross $131 million. Two years later, the vastly superior Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life got stiffed, opening with just $22 million and ending with $65 million. Other examples include Addams Family Values (probably the biggest quality upswing from a bad sequel to a superior original in modern history) and Angels and Demons (which still made $450 million worldwide), The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (which grossed less than Star Trek: The Motion Picture back in 1982, even if only by $3 million).

The other wide release was Relativity's Mirror Mirror (review/trailer). The first of two Snow White films this year debuted with just $19 million. The film cost $85 million, but the studio claims that tax rebates and foreign pre-sales and the like have limited their exposure to $30 million. If that's true, then it's merely a disappointing result and not a financial problem. The picture was marketed like a sequel to the much-loathed Mike Myers Cat in the Hat vehicle, with eye-rolling pop-culture reference jokes that weren't even in the film. Like John Carter (which finally matched its $250 million budget worldwide, even as its nearing the end of its tragic run), the film fell victim to some truly awful marketing, with trailers and print ads that arguably drove audiences away from the picture. It's not a good film, but it's a very different kind of bad film than what was advertised. The picture was squarely aimed at kids, which is a rarity for a live-action feature these days. Kids and their parents did seems to be who showed up, as I mentioned I had taken my daughter and received several responses inquiring about its appropriateness for their kids. My four-year old seemed to have enjoyed it, although I should show her Ella Enchanted instead. Anyway, this Snow White film is so different that it should have no bearing on the June release of Universal's $175 million (!!) Snow White and the Huntsman.

The major limited release was the five-screen debut of Weinstein Company's Bully. After trumpeting a fake controversy over the film getting an R rating due to too many f-words (which Harvey Weinstein knows full well gets you an R rating, as he played this game with The King's Speech and The Tillman Story), he's spent the last six weeks or so bullying the MPAA by getting his famous celebrity friends to call the MPAA all kinds of mean names and cast them as evil tyrants while selling the lie that an R-rating keeps kids out of the theater (kids can see an R-rated film with parental supervision). All because the rich and powerful Weinstein couldn't garner preferential treatment for *his* film. The film went out unrated, and it had a solid but unspectacular limited debut. The film earned $115,000 for a $23,000 per-screen average. That's a solid opening, but it exemplifies that Weinstein's would-be war on the MPAA was a bullshit crusade intended to gather free publicity and the media and the critical establishment fell for it like fools. Here's hoping we call his bluff next time.

For holdover news, read the rest of this article at Mendelson's Memos.