Weekend Box Office – It’s a Draw. COWBOYS AND ALIENS Tie THE SMURFS with $36.2 Million Each

     July 31, 2011

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At the moment the estimates for the weekend’s two top films are dead even: a box office rarity.  Both Cowboys and Aliens and The Smurfs are claiming estimates of $36.2 million – a figure that is slightly embarrassing for one film and a near miracle for the other.

Title Weekend Total
1 Cowboys and Aliens $36,200,000 $36.2
2 The Smurfs $36,200,000 $36.2
3 Captain America $24,900,000 $116.7
4 Harry Potter 7b $21,900,000 $318.4
5 Crazy Stupid Love $19,300,000 $19.3
6 Friends With Benefits $9,300,000 $38.2
7 Horrible Bosses $7,100,000 $96.2
8 Transformers 3 $5,970,000 $337.8
9 Zookeeper $4,200,000 $68.7
10 Cars 2 $2,300,000 $182

The Smurfs 3D movie poster (1)One week ago Cowboys and Aliens was the obvious choice for a number one finish with as much as $50 million while The Smurfs seemed destined for the type of “Judy Moody,” also-ran commentary that I routinely tack on to the end of my column.  Instead it seems probable that The Smurfs will wind up the weekend winner by the time actual figures are revealed on Monday thanks to Sunday’s family audience uptick.

There has been talk of bringing The Smurfs to the big screen for at least a decade.  The little blue gnomes were a marketing juggernaut in the 1980s (thanks to a popular cartoon and thousands of tiny plastic collectables) and continued to be big overseas even longer.  The Smurfs movie truly got off the ground following the success of Fox’s Alvin and the Chipmunks films, both of which earned over $200 million at the domestic box office.  Still, few outside of Sony foresaw an outsized success for The Smurfs. For starters, both Alvin films had December release dates: prime time for family films.  Add in the recent trend of diminishing returns for both talking critter pics and 3D releases and it looked like the $110 million The Smurfs might break even (at best) or wind up a box office punchline (at worst).

In terms of reviews, The Smurfs scored just 20% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Early tracking for the film was not promising, with projections putting it as low as $18 million.  Even if Monday’s actuals give Cowboys and Aliens the crown, Sony can feel vindicated that they doubled expectations.  So how to explain this outcome?  Although The Smurfs played in fewer locations (3,395 runs to Cowboys 3,750), higher 3D ticket prices accounted for approximately 40% of its grosses.  Additionally, this summer was especially light on all-ages releases (Cars 2 debuted six weeks ago and Kung Fu Panda 2 three weeks before that) so the time was right for a family-sized PG hit.

cowboys-and-aliens-poster-daniel-craig-harrison-ford-ign-brandedOne thing this summer was not light on was big action pics… though what summer is?  After Transformers 3, Captain America and all of 2011’s other male-skewing titles, perhaps audiences were feeling a bit jaded by the time Cowboys and Aliens came along.  Though the film has an impeccable pedigree (Favreau, Spielberg, etc., etc.) and was marketed to within an inch of its life, Friday’s disappointing launch of $13 million (less than what Battle: Los Angeles earned in March) spelled trouble for the would-be tentpole.

Earlier this summer I saw the $35.4 million launch of Super 8 (another summer pic with Spielberg in the credits) as a bit of a disappointment.  That film had an early summer release date nearly to itself and I believed it should have come out of the gate stronger.  Well, there’s nothing like a little perspective to reevaluate your position.  Super 8 has so far earned $124.6 million in the US alone – a figure that would be impressive for an original film even without its thrifty $50 million budget.  In contrast Cowboys and Aliens – a movie that took nearly ten years and as many writers to merit only 44% on Rotten Tomatoes – ended up with an opening equivalent to Super 8 but a budget more than three times as high.  Previous summer movies have been saved by international interest, but without 3D effects I’m not sure that’s in the cards for Cowboys and Aliens.

As the weekend’s best reviewed film, (74% at RT) Crazy, Stupid, Love probably deserves better than to be stuck at the end of this article, but box office life is rarely fair.  From its debut 3,020 locations the romantic dramedy took in an estimated $19.3 million which was just slightly higher than projected.

In other news: last week’s number one Captain America: The First Avenger crossed the $100 million mark on Saturday while Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 officially passed The Sorcerer’s Stone to become the franchise’s top domestic grosser with a giant $318.4 million in 17 days.  Overall, this was the third weekend in a row to top 2010 levels.  Next week should make it four if the early tracking for Rise of the Planet of the Apes can be trusted.

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