Newbie distributor Open Road Films has claimed its first number one opening with the wolf vs. man thriller The Grey. From 3,185 locations, The Grey took in an estimated $20 million, or well above the mid-teens that was projected. Second place was claimed by Underworld Awakening, pushing the adaptation of Janet Evanovich’s bestselling novel, One For the Money, into third.
|3||One For the Money||$11,750,000||$11.7|
|5||Man on a Ledge||$8,250,000||$8.2|
|6||Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close||$7,145,000||$21.1|
|9||Beauty & the Beast 3D||$5,345,000||$41.1|
With the first-place finish of The Grey, 2012 has its fourth winning weekend in a row – up by over 10% from last year when The Rite ruled with just $14.7 million. We also have now had four weeks in a row with an R-rated movie at number one: an adult-inspired run that has not been seen since The Final Destination spent two weeks on top in September of 2009. Even with the modest year-to-year gain, however, this is still a January box office: as the low grosses of just about every film but The Grey can attest.
Because Liam Neeson’s career as a tough guy was born with the unexpected success of Taken, that is the film against which the actor’s subsequent thrillers have to be measured. Taken bowed to $24.7 million in January of 2009, on its way to a domestic gross of nearly $150 million. Last February’s Unknown was a more modest success, opening with $21.8 million and grossing $63.6 million by the end of its US run. With its R rating (both Taken and Unknown were PG-13) and less-than-overwhelming Cinemascore of B-, I expected The Grey to fall farther behind Unknown in its debut, but it looks like audiences are more interested in watching wolves get pummeled than I imagined.
Even if The Grey does not produce a strong hold in its sophomore frame, the folks at Open Road still have a lot to celebrate with this win. After its first acquisition, last September’s Killer Elite, grossed just $52.9 million worldwide (from a reported budget of $70 million), anything less than a number one debut for The Grey would have stung. Luckily, the only film that could have challenged the thriller this weekend, One For the Money, had a few big negatives that worked in favor of The Grey.
Chief among those? Katherine Heigl. Though the actress is not quite to the ‘box office poison’ level of audience animosity, grosses for her recent films justify neither her early promise nor her big paychecks. Killers and Life as We Know It were both high-profile flops in 2010, as was the recent New Year’s Eve. And yet, all three of those films had bigger first weekends than One For the Money. With an estimated $11.7 million from 2,737 locations, the film is certainly not the ‘comeback’ that Heigl’s career needed.
What makes the disappointing first weekend of One For The Money even worse is that the film is based on the first of author Janet Evanovich’s popular Stephanie Plum series of books. Some have blamed poor marketing as the reason Plum fans failed to turn out this weekend – the film was not screened for critics and is currently carrying a disastrous 3% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In an attempt to prevent an even more disappointing debut, Lionsgate arranged for their second Groupon ticket deal following last year’s The Lincoln Lawyer offering. It is unclear what percentage of this weekend’s estimate came from that deal but, considering that the studio can’t claim much profit from Groupon arrangements, the prospects for further Stephanie Plum adaptations aren’t looking too rosy.
The week’s third new title also opened with an online ticket deal, this time through Living Social. And if the outcome was less than enthusiastic for One For the Money, what can I say about the response to Summit Entertainment’s Man On a Ledge? From 2,998 locations the thriller grossed an estimated $8.5 million or a per-theatre average of just $2,769. That’s in line with the studio’s projections but a bitter pill to swallow none the less.
Rounding out this weekend’s box office coverage, last weekend’s number one movie, Underworld Awakening, saw a better-than expected hold: down 50% on its second weekend. By comparison, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans was off 63% in its sophomore frame. After ten days the latest Underworld has grossed nearly as much as the last did in its entire run. And, back in the top ten thanks to its nationwide expansion is Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. After eleven weeks in limited runs, the Best Picture nominee has grossed an impressive $58.8 million while the odds-on Oscar favorite, The Artist, continues to struggle commercially.
Next weekend could put an end to 2012’s winning streak. Even with three new releases, and the low bar set by 2011’s winner The Roommate, I’m not expecting big things this Super Bowl weekend… but I’m always happy to be proven wrong!