fast and furious

Universal’s Fast & Furious will be “burning rubber” this weekend at America’s multiplexes as the original street-racing cast reunites after some sub-par chapters of the franchise.

The original The Fast & The Furious hit theatres in 2001 under the direction of Rob Cohen who had shown a knack for action with Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story ($35M US cume) and Sly Stallone’s Daylight ($33M US cume) and a savvy feel for bigger-than-life characters in his Golden Globe winning biopic The Rat Pack (which, if you’ve never seen you should put in your Netflix cue and prepare to be amazed by Don Cheadle’s turn as Sammy Davis, Jr.). In tow, he had a 34-year-old Vin Diesel in only his second starring role following the surprise low budget hit Pitch Black ($39M cume) and 28-year-old Paul Walker, who had just starred in Cohen’s forgettable The Skulls. Also in the cast was Jordana Brewster (As the World Turns) and a pre-Lost Michelle Rodriguez, whose most notable credit was a gritty little indie called Girlfight.

The result was box office jet fuel. Seemingly out of nowhere, The Fast & The Furious scored a scalding $40M opening weekend and reached $144.5M domestic and over $200M worldwide. But Diesel, whose signature line in the original movie is “I live my life one quarter of a mile at a time,” didn’t like the script for the sequel (or they wouldn’t pay his asking price depending on who you ask). That led to the 2003 sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious directed by Academy Award nominee John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) starring Walker along with rapper Tyrese Gibson and Eva Mendes. Despite Diesel’s conspicuous absence, 2 Fast still delivered $127M in the US.

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monsters vs aliens

Jeffrey Katzenberg and Dreamworks Animation have definitively proven that Digital 3-D is a blockbuster format. Not only has Monsters vs. Aliens seized a monstrous $58.2M in opening weekend ticket sales, Real-D (the technology provider) and Dreamworks have revealed that $25M or so of that gross was generated specifically from 3-D and IMAX 3-D. Fox is reporting that fully 43% of the total take was from the estimated 2,218 Digital 3-D screens.

That means that the Per Screen Average for the movie in 3-D was about $11,700, while the 4,800 or so traditional 35MM 2-D engagements had a Per Theatre of just an estimated $4,780. Exhibitors who figured out a way to overcome the credit crunch and pay the estimated $100,000 to convert a traditional theatre into one that can show Digital 3-D made a killing this weekend.

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monsters vs. aliens

It is an excellent weekend for Dreamworks Animation. Although the credit crunch prevented financing that would allow exhibitors to undertake the digital conversion of more of its theatres, Monsters vs. Aliens is benefiting spectacularly from the 2,075 or so standard Digital 3-D engagements and the added 143 Digital IMAX runs. The audaciously ambitious animated send-up of 50’s B-movies has used the “bleeding edge” of technology to milk an estimated $16M in opening day ticket sales, which could translate to $56M or so for the 3-day weekend according to competing studio execs. (They all explained that we are in uncharted territory here with 3-D upcharges and the widest 3-D IMAX release ever. Everyone that I have spoken with has the movie over $55M.)

If that number holds, and, if anything, they could drift higher as family audiences flood America’s multiplexes, Monsters vs. Aliens will be the all-time third-best opening in the month of March.

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monsters vs aliens

Jeffrey Katzenberg has been the film industry’s strongest proponent of 3-D over the past few years, and this weekend his advocacy will start paying dividends for Dreamworks Amimation. Monsters Vs. Aliens will debut with 4,104 playdates. That makes it the 13th-widest release in modern film history, and it becomes the biggest non-summer debut of all-time.

ALL-TIME WIDEST NON-SUMMER RELEASES
– with summer defined as May 1 – August 30 –
1. 3/27/09 – Monsters Vs. Aliens – 4,104 playdates
2. 11/07/08 – Madagascar 2 – 4,056 playdates
3. 10/01/04 – Shark Tale – 4,016
4. 3/31/06 – Ice Age: The Meltdown – 3,964
5. 3/14/08 – Dr. Suess’ Horton Hears A Who – 3,954

Many of those playdates are multiple screen engagements. In fact, MVA will be on over 7,000 screens. Screen counts are generally treated as “state secrets” at studios. Sony was able to secure a reported 10,000 screens for Spider-Man 3 with its 4,252 playdates back in May of 2007 (that’s an average of 2.35 screens per playdate). The all-time playdate record still belongs to The Dark Knight last July with 4,366, but TDK’s screen count was just over 9,200 (2.1 screens per location). Based on that calculation, Dreamworks/Paramount has on average 1.7 screens at each of its playdates.
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Box Office: Summit Scores a Nice Hit With Knowing

knowing

It was another good weekend for Summit Entertainment. The distributor behind last year’s meteoric hit Twilight has scored a solid hit with the Alex Proyas-directed Knowing, starring Nicolas Cage. Despite shaky word-of-mouth and negative reviews, the sci-fi thriller got a solid 9% bump on Saturday for a $9.7M second day, and it will likely finish its opening weekend with a possible $24.8M.

As a production company, Summit is responsible for some monster hits, including commercially and/or artistically successful films like Once (Oscar nominee for Best Picture), American Pie ($102..5M domestic), Memento (Oscar nominee for Best Original Screenplay: Chris Nolan), Mr. & Mrs. Smith ($186.3M domestic) and In the Valley of Ellah (Tommy Lee Jones nominated for Best Actor). But as a distributor, they got off to a slow start.

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knowingpostertop

Early box office returns are pointing to a weekend win for Knowing from Summit, but I will put my money on I Love You, Man (Dreamworks/Paramount) to generate more in US ticket sales over the long haul. The Nicolas Cage sci-fi thriller has grabbed an estimated $8.8M to start the weekend, and it will likely finish at $24M or so. That is, unless word-of-mouth catches up to it first.

Reviews for Knowing, written and directed by Alex Proyas, the inventive filmmaker behind the visually striking 1998 film Dark City and the 2004 Will Smith mega-hit I, Robot, has received overwhelmingly negative reviews (25% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), but thanks to Twitter, real-time movie-goer reactions spread like wildfire. Here are some Tweets I just grabbed off the social networking platform.

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stormtroopers witch mountain

As Watchmen (Warner Bros) falls, “The Rock” appears to be racing to a weekend win. Disney’s Race To Witch Mountain, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is off to a solid start with $7.2M or so on opening day, and, with its expected surge in family matinee audiences on Saturday and Sunday, it will likely triumph with a possible $25M.

Meanwhile last weekend’s winner Watchmen staggered to a second Friday of only $5.2M or so, and I am projecting only $15.75M for the 3-day. That marks a 71% drop. Anything over $20M would have been acceptable, but the bottom has fallen out of this movie, and it will now struggle to reach $100M domestic. When the foreign and DVD are added, it may make a small profit, but it will likely be negligible. The superstitious might suggest that Watchmen writer Alan Moore’s alleged curse may be to blame, but the reality is that word-of-mouth has been more negative than for any movie in recent memory.

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witch mountain cast

One of the coolest ways to use the social networking platform Twitter is to find out what people are thinking, saying and Twittering about in real time. Here’s a small sampling of Tweets from the opening weekend of Watchmen (Warner Bros).

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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.

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watchmen bomb

The Zack Snyder-directed $120M epic started with $4.5M in Thursday midnight business which is outstanding. There was no way for Watchmen to approach the $18.5M midnight start for lat summer’s The Dark Knight. First off, it is March and not the middle of summer blockbuster season. Kids have school. People are working. These are not the lazy days of July when it is easier for many to see a movie at midnight on Thursday, and hit the office late on Friday. The other factor is the movie’s rating. This is an R-rated movie, not PG-13 like The Dark Knight.

The Thursday night start for Watchmen was 44% better than the $2.5M midnight shows for director Snyder’s last epic 300 (also rated R). It was also virtually double the $2.3M midnight start for November’s Quantum of Solace (PG-13). Those are much better comparables than The Dark Knight or say last year’s PG-13 rated Twilight, which grabbed a reported $7M midnight preview gross.

Watchmen was spectacular at the box office Friday, and, after consulting with multiple sources, I am projecting a staggering $25.2M (that does include midnight previews) for Friday. That is approximately the 32nd-best opening day in modern box office history, but it is the all-time #12 opening day for a non-sequel.

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