"Neighbors" had a lot going for it: it was well-marketed, it follows the trend of raunchy comedies doing well in the summer, it had weak competition, and even critics liked it. Still, Universal was wise to book it on 3,279 screens and no more. "Spider-Man 2" is playing on nearly 1,000 more screens, but it was due for a big fall (almost 60 percent) in its second week, as is typical for superhero movies. Had it booked more aggressively; "Neighbors" might have spread itself too thin, but its impressive per-screen average of $15,575 (far and away the best of any new wide release this weekend, and nearly twice the $8,603 of "Spider-Man 2,") suggests that Universal played it just right.
"Oz," on the other hand, was a $70 million musical from a first-time distributor, Clarius Entertainment. So maybe 2,575 venues was too ambitious, especially given that fellow animated feature "Rio 2" is still going strong on 2,973 screens (it nabbed an estimated $5.1 million this weekend, its fifth in theaters. Plus, reviews were weak, which likely discouraged parents and older kids. Had the movie opened on fewer screens, it might have been able to build over a few weeks. As it is, its poor $,1439 per-screen average suggests that theater owners will be quick to boot it to make room for the next major fantasy film (probably May 30's "Maleficent").
Other films on this week's chart also illustrated the importance of the right theater count. The new "Moms' Night Out," a Christian-targeted comedy meant to emulate the likes of "Bridesmaids" and "The Other Woman" without the raunch, managed to land a major distributor in Tri-Star and a timely slot on Mother's Day weekend, but even with studio backing and church group pre-sales, 1,044 screens was overly optimistic. As a result, the film opened with a modest $4,023 per-screen average, good for seventh place and an estimated total of $4.2 million. It was an especially tough week to open yet another Christian-themed film, given that similar movies are still holding up well in the marketplace -- notably, "God's Not Dead," whose estimated $1.3 million take this weekend gives it an eight-week total of $57.5 million, and "Heaven Is for Real," which actually added another 118 screens in its fourth weekend (for a total count of 3,048) and was rewarded with a fourth-place finish estimated at $7.0 million and a total to date of $75.2 million.
Speaking of "The Other Woman," it bravely added 68 screens this weekend (despite competition from "Neighbors" and "Moms' Night Out" ) for a total of 3,306. The tactic worked, and the movie earned an estimate $9.3 million, good for third place and a three-week total of $61.7 million.
Even among art-house movies, smart booking paid off this weekend. Historical drama "Belle," which opened on four screens last weekend, expanded to 45 screens and averaged $10.511 per theater, for a weekend take estimated at $473,000. Jon Favreau's "Chef" opened on just six screens but averaged $34,000 on each of them, the best per-theater average of any movie this week. James Franco's "Palo Alto" opened on four screens but did very well on each of them, averaging $20,150 per venue. Those high per-screen averages bode well as these movies slowly expand over the next few weeks and word-of-mouth takes hold.
By the way, in its fourth weekend, "Transcendence" dropped 1,260 screens (it's down to just 515) and finished in 23rd place with an estimated $321,000, or just $621 per venue. Which proves that, if no one really wants to see your movie, any theater count is too big.