After five consecutive weeks of sub-par grosses, the domestic box office rose from the dead this weekend: posting the biggest September debut of all time with Hotel Transylvania and one of the most lucrative frames since July. Looper and Pitch Perfect also had impressive starts. In fact, the only wrong note was struck by the drama Won’t Back Down, which saw one of the worst debuts of all time in more than 2,500 locations.
|3.||End of Watch||$8,000,000||$26.1|
|4.||Trouble With the Curve||$7,530,000||$25.7|
|5.||House at the End of the Street||$7,154,000||$22.2|
|7.||Finding Nemo 3D||$4,066,000||$36.4|
|8.||Resident Evil: Retribution||$3,000,000||$38.7|
|10.||Won’t Back Down||$2,700,000||$2.7|
After the financial famine of the past few weeks, box office watchers were expecting to see grosses climb back in the black this weekend. The feast we were ultimately treated to, however, came as a bit of a surprise. Not only did three of the weekend’s four new releases seriously over-perform, but the frame also saw overall grosses rise by approximately 20% over 2011.
Taking most of the credit for the frame’s robust health is Sony’s Hotel Transylvania. In September 2009, the studio’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs became a hit after debuting to over $30 million. At the time, that was the highest September debut on record for an animated film, and it remained Sony Animation’s best opening (not counting the live action/CGI hybrid The Smurfs) until today. With its estimated $43 million from 3,349 runs, both those records now pass to Hotel Transylvania. Much more impressive, of course, is the record for best September debut of all time – animated or otherwise – that Transylvania toppled. Since 2002 the title was held by Sweet Home Alabama with $35.6 million (not adjusted for inflation).
What makes this particular record even more of a coup for Sony is that it was entirely unexpected. Before Hotel Transylvania took in $11 million on Friday, the highest projection for the family film was just over $25 million. Though Transylvania may not hold up as well against Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, at least the studio has until Friday to savor their record-breaking bounty.
The Sony celebration continues with the frame’s number two film, Looper. Released under the studio’s TriStar label, the sci-fi thriller’s estimated $21.2 million from 2,992 locations was a more modest hit for Sony – though every bit as unexpected. For the past few weeks, critics and fans alike have been singing the praises of Looper (the film has a Rotten Tomato score of 93%). But positive word of mouth has been a fickle box office mistress of late. Fan-favorite Dredd 3D couldn’t make it past $10 million last weekend and, two weeks prior, the critically lauded Premium Rush had a similarly inauspicious debut. Projections put Looper in the mid-teens for its opening frame – in the range of smaller sci-fi features like 2011’s Source Code. On the international front, the news for Looper is even better. The R-rated feature opened day-and-date in China where it earned a reported $24 million – the first time in box office history that Chinese grosses topped a film’s US debut.
Though with Hotel Transylvania and Looper, Sony can claim over 50% of the box office glory, at least one other studio has something to sing about this weekend. Universal launched its comedy Pitch Perfect in 335 locations ahead of its nationwide release on October fifth. The move paid off big as Pitch Perfect took in an estimated $5.2 million, or over $15,500 per screen. That’s the highest per-theatre average of the week (by a wide margin) and is more than twice what Universal was hoping for.
Things were not nearly as sanguine for the debut of Won’t Back Down. The school-house drama, produced by Walden Media and distributed by Fox, might have benefitted from a platform release, Pitch Perfect-style. Instead, Won’t Back Down opened in 2,515 locations and earned an estimated $2.7 million. Only one film opening in over 2,500 locations has had a lower debut: 2008’s The Rocker with just $2.6 million.
Now that the box office has climbed out of its five-week slump, we can look forward to another positive frame next weekend. Hotel Transylvania may have taken some of the bite out of the forthcoming Frankenweenie, but that still leaves Taken 2 to storm the charts. In January 2009 the first Taken launched with $24.7 million and, if their marketing onslaught is any indication, Fox is expecting to dwarf that number with the sequel.