Weekend Box Office: September Starts Soft with $18.6 Million RIDDICK Debut

     September 8, 2013

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The September box office kicked off with a single major debut: Universal’s Riddick. After the crazy-crowded summer season, you might think that a break from the competition would guarantee Riddick a robust start. You’d be wrong. The sci-fi sequel wound up with a mediocre estimate of $18.6 million from 3,107 locations instead of the $20-$25 million that many expected. Surrounded by holdovers that are now weeks past their prime, Riddick’s poor showing also helped September’s inaugural frame qualify as 2013’s weakest to date.

 Title Weekend Total
1.  Riddick $18,673,000 $18.6
2.  Lee Daniels’ The Butler $8,900,000 $91.9
3.  Instructions Not Included $8,100,000 $21.3
4.  We’re the Millers $7,925,000 $123.8
5.  Planes $4,274,000 $79.2
6.  One Direction: This IS Us $4,100,000 $23.9
7.  Elysium $3,100,000 $85
8.  Blue Jasmine $2,688,000 $25.4
9.  Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters $2,500,000 $59.8
10.  The World’s End $2,302,000 $21.7

riddick-posterSeptember has arrived and, so far, it is every bit as underwhelming as anticipated. Never the most robust of frames, 2013’s post-Labor Day weekend brought in a total of $83.1 million: less than any weekend so far this year. To be fair, September’s first box office is never a blockbuster – it has ranked as either the lowest or the second-lowest frame in each of the last five years. Making 2013 look marginally better? Based on today’s cumulative estimate, this weekend tops last year by more than 15%. Of course, 2012 had one of the lowest post-Labor Day weekends of all time so that’s clearly a pyrrhic victory.

Despite its reputation for being a box office dead zone, September’s first frame has yielded solid results in the past. In 2011, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion caught on after a bigger-than-expected $22.4 million launch and, in 2010, Resident Evil: Afterlife had the post-Labor Day’s best-ever debut with $26.6 million. Universal clearly hoped that Riddick would match, or exceed, those previous releases but it was not to be.

In a year with more than its share of sequels and franchise titles, Riddick ranks as one of the oddest. Named for the light-sensitive criminal first introduced in 2000’s Pitch Black, Richard Riddick appeared next in 2004’s Chronicles of Riddick. The first film was a modest effort ($23 million budget; $53.1 million global gross) that went on to become a cult classic on the secondary market. Hence the sequel. For Chronicles the budget was raised to $105 million, which made the sequel’s final US gross of $57.7 million a near disaster.

riddick-final-posterWith that in mind, you may well wonder why Riddick qualified for a third installment. The answer is that Vin Diesel, who has played the light-sensitive badass in all three features and two video game releases, now owns franchise rights to the character. By returning to the Pitch Black model (R-rating, reasonable budget), Diesel saw his chance to revitalize the character that put him on the map… or at least the chance to make himself some money.

Considering that Riddick cost a reported $38 million, this weekend’s modest debut won’t put an end to Diesel’s dream. The threequel may not have equaled the $24.2 million debut of Chronicles, but there is a good chance that it will surpass its predecessor in the weeks to come. Chronicles of Riddick was down 61% in its second week and ranks a terrible 24% on Rotten Tomatoes. Riddick, though not exactly ‘fresh’, looks stronger with its current 59% rating. And there’s also international grosses to consider. Fast & Furious 6 has earned $550 outside of the US and is still playing in some territories. The exposure can only benefit Riddick.

One Direction: This Is Us was down a giant 74% in its sophomore frame. After topping Labor Day’s three-day chart last Sunday, the 3D concert film was overtaken by Lee Daniels’ The Butler for the holiday’s four day rankings, proving how insanely front-loaded fan-driven concert films can be. After ten days in theatres, This Is Us has now earned just under $24 million, or less than the $29.5 million Justin Bieber: Never Say Never earned on its first weekend in 2011.

For those not previously seduced by the dulcet tones of One Direction, Instructions Not Included provided a welcome distraction over Labor Day. Barely a footnote on the release schedule before the holiday began, the Spanish-language comedy emerged as the biggest story of the weekend after making the top five on the strength of just 347 venues. No surprise then that the film’s US distributor, Lionsgate, decided to capitalize on its word of mouth by doubling the film’s theatre count this weekend. From 717 locations, Instructions Not Included earned an estimated $8.1 million giving it, once again, the highest per-theatre average in the top ten.

In one final bit of box office news, Focus Features re-released This Is The End this weekend; adding 2,161 locations to a theatre count that had been steadily dropping since late June. The recent roast of James Franco may have been a factor but, more likely, the studio was hoping to push the R-rated comedy over that all-important $100 million mark before ending its release. This weekend added an estimated $2 million to their campaign, giving This Is The End a grand total of $98.9 million and counting.

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