And yet, when the smoke cleared, the film premiered with just an estimated $6.5 million, opening way down in eighth place. The other movies all did about as well as predicted -- "Guardians," "Turtles," and "If I Stay" all drew around $17 million, with "Guardians" claiming a slight edge and "If I Stay" at third. The weekend's other new wide release, "When the Game Stands Tall," a sports drama from which no one expected much, opened with only an estimated $9.0 million, which still placed it three rungs ahead of "Sin City," which also opened behind last week's flops "The Giver" (No. 6, $6.7 million) and "The Expendables 3" (No. 7, $6.6 million).
What happened? How did "Sin City" debut with only about 1/3 of the predicted audience? Here are the "Sin City" sins that ticketbuyers apparently found unforgivable.
The long wait. Nine years is an awfully long time between sequels. "Sin City" comic-series creator Frank Miller should know that better than anyone, since seven years passed between "300" (the smash based on his graphic novel) and this year's prequel: "300: Rise of an Empire." Still, that film earned a respectable $106.6 million, about half what its predecessor made. By those standards "A Dame to Kill For" would have had to open with at least $14 million and wind up with a total of $37 million. The extra-long wait, however, appears to have diminished the franchise's already cultish fanbase even further.
The "all-star" cast. There are a lot of very famous people and talented actors in the new "Sin City," but not one of them is a box office draw. Not Bruce Willis, who hasn't had a sizable hit in years. Not Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a rising ensemble-film star since "Inception" who also doesn't sell tickets on his own Not Josh Brolin, whose appeared in several of the biggest flops of recent years. And not Eva Green, despite the success of "300: Rise of an Empire." Also not big hitmakers over the past few years: Frank Miller (who had nothing to do with "Rise of an Empire") and "Sin City" co-director Robert Rodriguez, who hasn't mustered an opening weekend above $13 million since the original "Sin City." Based on the cast and the co-directors' combined track records, it's a wonder anyone expected an eight-figure opening.
The poster. Speaking of Green, even though she's not a household name or a proven draw, the initial poster for "Sin City 2" was built around her image, in a clingy white dress that made her appear nude. The Motion Picture Association of America, the Hollywood lobbying group that oversees film ratings and movie advertising, balked. The controversy helped make the original artwork go viral, but that seems to have failed to persuade ticketbuyers. Meanwhile, the controversy also kept Rodriguez and Co. from mounting a poster campaign in a timely manner.
The visuals. One of the great selling points of the 2005 film was its striking look -- saturated black-and-white images with occasional splatters of color. And that was in 2D. This weekend's moviegoers may not have thought that 3D added enough value to the imagery to justify paying the specs-rental surcharge. Also, a lot has changed in the world of digital effects filmmaking in nine years -- much of it catalyzed by the original "Sin City" and "300" -- so that what looked cutting-edge then looks familiar and even old-hat now.
The competition. You wouldn't expect the two new wide releases opening against "Sin City" to steal much of its potential audience. Teen tearjerker "If I Stay" attracted a predominantly female audience of teens and young adults (the same folks who were supposed to go see "The Giver" last week but had other plans). "When the Game Stands Tall" pursued a predominantly Christian audience, of the sort that made hits earlier this year of "Son of God" and 'Heaven Is For Real." Still, competition is competition, and with three new wide releases as well as still-strong older hits like "Guardians" and "Turtles," there just wasn't enough room for everyone to succeed this weekend.
The word-of-mouth. "If I Stay," and "Game Stands Tall" both generated excellent word-of-mouth, as measured by the A- grade each received at CinemaScore. "Sin City" earned a comparatively weak B-. It also did poorly among critics, whose recommendation might have made a difference among older viewers, the movie's target audience, who still read reviews. Instead, older moviegoers apparently went to see "Guardians," with its all-classic-rock vintage soundtrack, one more time.
The dog days. It's not just "Sin City." No one's going to see much of anything these days, which is why "Guardians" could return to the top slot three weeks after it debuted there. Overall, box office has slipped 36 percent over the past three weeks, from a level that was already low to begin with, thanks to a summer-long slump. With Labor Day around the corner, it appears that school is already back in session, and the time for "Sin"-ful indulgence in summer action spectacle is long over.