Watchmen

According to studio estimates, Watchmen (Warner Bros) will finish the weekend with an estimated $55.65M. After seizing $4.5M in Thursday midnight business, there were rumblings about $29M on opening day and an opening weekend of $70M+. When the picture scored a lesser but still good $25.2M Friday, weekend estimates were revised downward. As of Saturday morning, my projection was for $57M, and Watchmen came in even lower than that.

Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s densely written graphic novel tumbled 24% from Friday to Saturday. Granted, midnight shows took a lot of steam out of the movie, but that’s a pretty significant fall given that the Males 25 Plus demo – a key one for this film – were not likely part of the Thursday fanboy crowd and, despite the current unemployment rate, were working on Friday.

Still, Watchmen has posted the all-time #6 opening for an R-rated film.

ALL-TIME TOP 10 OPENINGS FOR AN R-RATED MOVIE
1. The Matrix Reloaded – $91.7M
2. The Passion of the Christ – $83.8M
3. 300 – $70.8M
4. Hannibal – $58M
5. Sex & The City – $57M
6. Watchmen – $55.65M (studio estimate)
7. 8 Mile – $51.2M
8. Wanted – $50.9M
9. The Matrix Revolutions – $48.5M
10. Troy – $46.8M

Hardcore fans of the comic seem satisfied by this relatively faithful adaptation, but a huge swath of the movie-going public doesn’t seem to get it. Watchmen is not a popcorn movie. It is not about characters with super powers (except Dr. Manhattan) who fly around the world trying to save the world from colorful villains. I don’t think that the average 19yo guy and his Friday night date expected to see a movie set in an alternate United States where the Vietnam War was won, Watergate never happens and Nixon has an FDR-like run, the world is on the brink of nuclear annhilation and the U.S.A. is a dystopian mess. Word-of-mouth is mixed at best.

It is possible that Watchmen will finish its run with as little as $135M-$140M. That would put it in the same range as Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony), which passed $133M this weekend. But the Adam Sandler-produced comedy has a reported budget of $26M compared to the $120M budget for the grim tentpole. In the final analysis, Blart won’t have any meaningful revenue overseas while Watchmen has a shot at as much as $200M overseas, but the complex superhero deconstruction yarn will finish well off the $450M worldwide that Snyder’s last movie 300 delivered.

Watchmen is more an exercise of intellectualism than the brute spectacle that Under 25’s have grown accustomed to. This is a movie about ideas that happens to have a bunch of cool special effects. That’s not to say that the marketing is misleading. It’s just that there is no way to properly convey what this movie is really about in :30 and :60 TV spots.

All that being said, I love this movie. Snyder and screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse have managed to approximate the dense plotting of Moore’s original graphic novel. When characters come to blows, the fight sequences are well-choreographed and the blood and guts on the screen don’t bother me the way it does some. Watchmen is for grown-ups. It has absolutely earned its R rating, and, honestly, the average kid wouldn’t be able to figure it out anyway.

The film provokes an interesting discussion about heroes. Whether they are glowing blue beings with the ability to move matter at their will or elected leaders making decisions for the “common good,” citizens cannot ever take things at face value. The end doesn’t always justify the means, and the means must always be questioned.

The cast here is uniformly good. The standout is Jackie Earle Haley as Rohrschach. After playing Kelly Leak in the original Bad News Bears, he fell off the map. His career was resurrected with a creepy, Oscar-nominated turn in Little Children a few years back, and now he has scored again as the snarling, angry and morally uncompromising Rohrschach. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, best known for his work on Grey’s Anatomy, is the embodiment of cynical evil as The Comedian (and he has a more-than-passing resemblance to Javier Bardem). I also enjoyed Carla Gugino as the original Silk Spectre/Sally Jupiter (and old age makeup in movies continues to improve).

March is a solid release frame for Watchmen with spring break coming in the next 6 weeks for high schoolers and college students, but the legs will not be very long for this one. My hunch is that $23M is the best case scenario for second weekend. In the end the movie will likely be profitable when the ancillaries are added, but it’s hard to imagine what a sequel would look like (even if one was attempted). The best bet might be a prequel about the Minutemen.

In other box office news, Tyler Perry continues to add to the haul for his all-time best grossing movie Madea Goes To Jail. The comedy will sell another $8.8M in tickets good for #2 for a new cume of $76.5M. Fox’s long-running French import Taken continues holding strong with $7.45M or so and a new domestic take of $118M, pushing the movie to about $200M worldwide (Luc Besson has got to be thinking sequel here). Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Seartchlight) and Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) will round out the top 5.

EXCLUSIVE STEVE MASON EARLY 3-DAY ESTIMATES
1. NEW – Watchmen (Warner Bros) – $55.65M, $15,413 PTA, $55.65M cume
2. Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes To Jail (Lionsgate) – $8.8M, $4,091 PTA, $76.5M cume
3. Taken (Fox) – $7.45M, $2,470 PTA, $118.04M cume
4. Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight) – $6.92M, $2,396 PTA, $125.44M cume
5. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) – $4.2M, $1,642 PTA, $133.64M cume
6. He’s Just Not That Into You (Warner Bros) – $4.02M, $1,644 PTA, $84.64M cume
7. Coraline (Focus) – $3.31M, $1,691 PTA, $65.68M cume
8. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Disney) – $3.12M, $1,363 PTA, $38.35M cume
9. Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience (Disney) – $2.75M, $2,183 PTA, $16.79M cume
10. Fired Up (Sony) – $2.6M, $1,446 PTA, $13.36M cume

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