By Todd Cunningham
The mega-budget action fantasy movie "Jack the Giant Slayer," the year's first event release, has landed with a thud at the North American box office.
Warner Bros.' special effects-laden redo of the classic fairy tale won a very sluggish weekend with an estimated $28 million, but that figure is a disappointment for a film directed by Bryan Singer ("X-Men") and written by Chris McQuarrie ("Jack Reacher"), and with a budget of nearly $200 million. It's clear now that the international box office will be backers New Line and Legendary Pictures' best hope for recouping their investment.
"You have to look at the global picture," Warner Bros. executive vice president of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein told TheWrap, "and we're off to a good start there." The studio reported Sunday that "Jack" brought in $13.7 million and managed seven No. 1 finishes while opening in 10 Asian markets this weekend. The remainder of the foreign rollout will come this month.
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It was a lousy week at the overall box office, nearly 35 percent behind the comparable week last year, when "The Lorax" led the way with $70 million. You could attribute it to post-Oscar blahs, but the box office has been soft since January and was running 13 percent behind 2012 coming into the weekend.
"There's no mystery as to why the box office is down," Goldstein said. "It's the movies. They just haven't done it for audiences, but that's the saving grace, too. A couple of hits and things will be back on track."
Last week's No. 1 film "Identity Thief" became 2013's first $100 million movie and finished second with $9.7 million over the three days. The R-rated Melissa McCarthy-Jason Bateman comedy has made more than $107 million after four weeks.
Relativity's R-rated youth comedy "21 and Over" was third after after opening with $9 million and CBS Films' "The Last Exorcism: Part 2" was fourth after debuting to $8 million. The weekend's other wide opener, the Ed Harris thriller "Phantom," bombed and failed to crack $1 million or the top ten.
The PG-13-rated "Jack" was in a market-high 3,525 theaters, 317 of which were Imax, and those accounted for $3.4 million or roughly 12 percent of the grosses. First-night audiences liked it better than the critics and gave a "B+" CinemaScore to the film, and were 55 percent male. The age numbers -- just 44 percent of the audience was under 25 -- were troubling for a film that was aimed at youngsters and families.
"We targeted older teens with a lot of the marketing," Goldstein said, "hoping that the families would follow. They didn't this weekend but we think that in the coming weeks, with spring break on the way, that they will."
"Jack," starring Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Eleanor Tomlinson and Ewan McGregor, took a twisting path to its big screen debut. Warner Bros. began developing it in 2005 but Singer didn't come aboard until 2009, and production didn't begin until 2011. By that time, Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" had already banked $1 billion at the global box office and "Snow White and the Huntsman" was on the way, so the idea of a CGI take on a classic fairy didn't seem so fresh. It was "Jack the Giant Killer" then, before Warner Bros. switched to a more family-friendly moniker.
It was originally scheduled for a June 2012 release -- summer is traditionally a more opportune time to launch a film that targets kids and families -- but had to be pushed to allow time for the visual effects work to be completed. Late winter is not only a tougher season, but "Jack" landed the week before another action fantasy, Disney's highly anticipated "The Great and Powerful Oz," which is tracking for a $70 million debut when it opens on March 8.
Despite the Oscar Best Picture win and surprising box office success of "Argo," Warner Bros. is off to a tough start this year, with new releases "Gangster Squad," "Bullet to the Head" and Beautiful Creatures" all under-performing. It will next debut "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" on March 15.
Relativity's "21 & Over" was written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writers behind "The Hangover." That and the storyline, which follows three young men -- Miles Teller, Justin Chon and Jonathan Keltz -- as they celebrate a 21st birthday aimed the movie squarely at the college crowd, and it was marketed that way, too.
The cast did extensive promos with MTV and has circulated 1.3 million "21 & Over"-branded plastic red cups -- the flagon of choice at keg parties -- on college campuses. Virgin Produced, which coproduced "21 and Over" with Relativity, pushed an innovative campaign for the film that used chat technology on Virgin America planes. Travelers could send a drink to someone on the plane and chat with them, with the chat surrounded with the film's branding.
The audience, which was 50-50 male-female, was 73 percent under 25. They gave it a "B" CinemaScore. It didn't match the numbers of the similar teen comedy "Project X," which bowed to $21 million on the same weekend last year, but it didn't have to with a budget of $13 million.
The micro-budgeted "Last Exorcism: Part 2" finished well behind the numbers put out by the original, which debuted with $20 million in 2010, but in line with expectations. Audiences gave this film a "C-" CinemaScore, low but not unusual for the genre (and better than the "D" the original received).
It was in 2,700 theaters and its opening was in the same range as that of "Dark Skies," the supernatural horror film that the Weinstein Company debuted last week.
Summit's Dwayne Johnson drug trade saga "Snitch" took in $7.7 million in its second week for fifth, and the Weinstein Company's animated kids film "Escape From Planet Earth" was next $6.6 million in its third week. Relativity's Julianne Hough-Josh Duhamel romance "Safe Haven," it its third week, followed with $6.3 million.
The Weinstein Company's "Silver Linings Playbook," starring Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence, was the strongest of the Oscar films with a $5.6 million haul, giving it a $115 million domestic total. Fox's "Life of Pi" added $2.2 million to raise its domestic gross to $116 million and "Argo" brought in another $2 million to up its domestic haul to $132 million.
The weekend's top 10:
"Jack the Giant Slayer," $28 million
"Identity Thief," $9.7 million
"21 & Over," $9 million
"Last Exorcism: Part 2," $8 million
"Snitch," $7.7 million
"Escape From Planet Earth," $6.7 million
"Safe Haven," $6.3 million
"Silver Linings Playbook," $5.9 million
"Good Day to Die Hard," $4.5 million
"Dark Skies," $3.5 million
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