The short answer is: the jury is still out.
Going into the weekend, pundits predicted a debut around $13 million. After all, the family-friendly Disney film looked like smart counter-programming to the new "Godzilla" and the week-old adult comedy "Neighbors." The strange-but-true premise -- a desperate baseball scout goes to India to recruit cricket aces as pitchers -- was supposed to seem less exotic with the all-American Hamm at the helm.
Unfortunately, "Million Dollar Arm" came up a couple of arms short of the predictions. According to studio estimates, the film debuted with $10.5 million, opening in fourth place. Playing on 3,019 screens, the movie earned an average of $3,482 per venue, a respectable but not great number.
Sure, there were extenuating circumstances. One is that "Godzilla" far exceeded expectations; with predictions around $75 million, it premiered atop the chart with an estimated $93.2 million, some 25 percent ahead of what was predicted. It did especially well on 3D and IMAX screens, which together accounted for more than half the monster-reboot's revenue and helped boost the per-screen average to $23,584, the best of any movie this weekend.
As it turns out, there was a lot of overlap between the "Godzilla" audience and the "Million Dollar Arm" audience. Thanks to canny marketing, audiences and critics thought of "Godzilla" less as the return of the green rubber lizard than an actor- and character-driven disaster movie with relevance to current nuclear and environmental issues. So it played largely to older viewers (60 percent over age 25) as well as male moviegoers (58 percent).
"Million Dollar Arm" turned out to have a similar viewership: sports-loving guys (54 percent of the viewers were male) and older (73 percent over 25). Kids and families were less interested, with family viewership at just 28 percent.
The older audience pays more attention to reviews than most viewers. "Godzilla" may be a summer popcorn monster movie, but older viewers came after it got better-than-expected reviews. Conversely, "Million Dollar Arm" didn't get as good reviews as its makers had hoped. So older viewers looking for a new, critically acclaimed film may have been more likely to choose "Godzilla."
It's worth noting that, as large as "Mad Men" looms in the cultural conversation, it averages only about 2 million viewers each week. Still, if every one of those 2 million had gone to see "Million Dollar Arm," it would have grossed $16 million this weekend. Hamm is a versatile dramatic and comic actor and an able leading man, but it's possible that some "Mad Men" viewers don't want to see him out of character, playing an earnest, redeemable man who is far from Don Draper.
Will Hamm's film career suffer because of "Million Dollar Arm"'s lackluster debut? Not likely. No one will blame him for whatever the film's weaknesses may be, much less for failing to muster much of a crowd opposite "Godzilla." The real test of Hamm's box office bankability will have to wait at least until his next leading role.
By the way, the human star of "Godzilla" was Bryan Cranston, who, like Hamm, starred as an anti-hero on another much-buzzed-about AMC channel show, "Breaking Bad." When that show left the air last fall, it was averaging 5.4 million viewers, more than twice as many as "Mad Men." Of course, while Cranston's presence may have helped convince some moviegoers that "Godzilla" was a piece of prestige entertainment and not just a giant-monster movie, it's still clear that the big draw was the nuclear-breath lizard, not the crystal-meth wizard.
Still, in the big screen Walter White vs. Don Draper showdown, it's White 1, Draper 0.
Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP