Sure, there was no way in Panem that "Catching Fire" would fail to debut at No. 1 and win the weekend by a huge margin. But that didn't mean that a smartly counter-programmed film couldn't do well, too. Before "Catching Fire" set a November record this weekend with an estimated $161.1 million, the record-holder was 2009's "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," with $142.8 million, and yet "The Blind Side" managed to debut with $34.1 million the same weekend. Similarly, on the July 2008 weekend that "The Dark Knight" premiered with $158.4 million, musical "Mamma Mia!" earned $27.7 million.
No one was expecting numbers like that for "Delivery Man," even though it was expected to appeal to an older audience seeking comedy over action and political allegory. Some optimistic pundits guessed that it might open as high as $15 million. Instead, it debuted with an estimated $8.2 million, opening in fourth place.
Even so, on paper, "Delivery Man" seemed to have a lot going for it. So, what went wrong? In case you're a studio executive trying to counter-program a movie opposite a steamroller-blockbuster debut, here's a look at what "Delivery Man" had going for it, and what it had going against it.
PLUS: Social media. "Delivery Man" had a Facebook page with 157,000 "likes" and had reportedly been reaching out to mom-bloggers for promotional assistance.
MINUS: The premise. The notion of a sperm donor who discovers that he's fathered 533 children and is inspired to work behind-the-scenes as their guardian angel may have been a little too icky/stalker-y to get much traction from the mom-bloggers.
PLUS: Word-of-Mouth. The film earned decent, if not great word-of-mouth, as measured by a B+ grade at CinemaScore.
MINUS: Reviews. Not as strong as the word-of-mouth. Many critics felt that the original version of this story, the little-seen Canadian import "Starbuck," was superior. Unfortunately, to the older crowd "Delivery Man" was trying to reach, reviews matter.
PLUS: Wide release. The movie opened on 3,036 screens.
MINUS: Generally, anything over 3,000 screens is pretty well saturated nationwide. But not this time, not with "Catching Fire" on 4,163 screens and "Thor: The Dark World" still playing on 3,713 screen. Even animated movie "Free Birds," which was chasing some of the same family audience and has been in theaters for a month, was still playing on 3,071 screens, 35 more than "Delivery Man."
PLUS: Ken Scott. The director/co-writer of "Starbuck" returned to direct this remake, so at least it was in the hands of someone with a vested interest in doing right by the original.
MINUS: Vince Vaughn. The "Wedding Crashers" star is not the box office draw he was a few years ago, with movies like "The Watch" and "The Internship" among his recent flops. At least he could share the blame for those with other boldface names (Ben Stiller and Jonah Hill in "The Watch," "Owen Wilson in "Internship"). With "Delivery Man," however, he's out there all by his lonesome, with no other star to blame.
PLUS: Low budget. The movie cost just a reported $22 to $26 million to make. It's still possible that, with foreign grosses, the movie could see a profit, if it stays in theaters a few more weeks.
MINUS: Low incentive. If the movie doesn't need a $30 million opening to be profitable, why try for one? Or, if you do try and fail, it's awfully easy to shrug your shoulders and say "Catching Fire" was just too huge an obstacle. Tough break, Vince.