The action showdown this weekend was supposed to be a dead heat, so to speak. "The Heat" and "White House Down" were both supposed to open around $35 million. Both earned very good word-of-mouth, as measured by equal A- grades at CinemaScore. If anything, the Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx action thriller had a slight edge over the Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy action comedy.
And yet, when the dust cleared, "The Heat" debuted with an estimated $40.0 million, well above expectations, while "White House Down" fizzled with an estimated $25.7 million, well below the most pessimistic prediction.
What went wrong? Here are some possible reasons "White House Down" made so few moviegoers' ballots.
"Olympus Has Fallen" Stole Its Thunder. Moviegoers may have found "WHD"'s terrorists-seize-the-White-House scenario overly familiar. After all, it's been only three months since the similar "Olympus Has Fallen" became a sleeper hit. And that movie opened with a surprisingly strong $30.4 million, a figure "WHD" couldn't match. (By the way, "Olympus" is still in theaters. It was No. 24 on the chart this weekend, earning an estimated $104,000 in its 15th week, for a total of $98.8 million, a total "WHD" may have trouble reaching.)
Roland Emmerich Stole His Own Thunder. The "WHD" director had already destroyed the White House 17 years ago, in the most famous shot from 1996's "Independence Day." This time, he couldn't go back to that well, so he destroyed the Capitol. Somehow, obliterating the home of Congress is not likely to have the same shock value or emotional resonance as blowing up the president's home.
Bloat. Emmerich is known for over-the-top destruct-o-thon disaster movies like "2012" and "The Day After Tomorrow." "WHD" isn't about the extreme wrath of nature (or aliens), but rather, about regular people caught up in an extraordinary but at least remotely plausible situation. Still, the movie cost an estimated $150 million to make and is full of eye-filling explosions and other violent spectacle. "Olympus" told the same story, more or less, at a leaner $70 million. It may have seemed more inventive, not just because it came first, but because it had to do more with less.
Star Power Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be. In the right role ("21 Jump Street," "The Vow," "Magic Mike"), Tatum is a big box office draw. In the wrong role ("G.I. Joe: Retaliation," "Side Effects"), not so much. He's a weapon who must be deployed carefully. And Foxx isn't a reliable box office draw at all. For every Foxx smash like "Django Unchained" (the star of which, arguably, was writer/director Quentin Tarantino), there's a handful of Foxx flops like "Stealth," "Miami Vice," "The Kingdom," and "The Soloist."
Word-of-Mouth Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be. According to CinemaScore, recommendations for this movie were just as strong as those for "The Heat." But if your friend recommended "WHD" to you, you apparently didn't follow through and take him/her up on it, perhaps because...
The Marketplace for Guy Movies Is Saturated. Guys could find action in "The Heat," or more likely, in the still-strong "Man of Steel" and "World War Z." Dads who might have been part of the target audience may well have been busy taking their tots to see "Monster's University." Conversely...
The Marketplace Keeps Underestimating Women as a Ticketbuying Force. Exit polling showed that women made up most of the audience last week for "Monsters University" and the surprise smash of "World War Z." So perhaps it's no surprise that pundits underestimated the appeal of "The Heat" while overestimating that of "White House Down."