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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

weekend box office: ‘Tropic Thunder’ stays atop for third week

For those few of you reading here from outside the United States, the box office report is coming on Tuesday this week because yesterday was Labor Day, the holiday marking the traditional, if not actual, end of summer. Unlike most other long holiday weekends, it’s never a big weekend for movies — the kids have either already gone back to school, or are about to, and everyone else is just pooped from the summer and is relaxing around the barbecue or the pool. But this Labor Day weekend was even slower than most:

1. Tropic Thunder: $14.3 million
2. Babylon A.D.: $12 million
3. The Dark Knight: $11 million
4. The House Bunny: $10.2 million (dropping 30% in its second week)
5. Traitor: $10 million
Though the summer overall broke records for ticket sales — $4.2 billion — this weekend itself was down 24 percent from the same weekend last year. Part of that may have to do with the fact that three of the four new releases were not screened for critics: Babylon A.D.; Disaster Movie, living up to its name by debuting at No. 7 with only $6.9 million; and College, flunking at No. 15 with $2.6 million.

Instead, the small crowds that went to the multiplex went to see films that have been hanging around for a while, either returning for a second or third viewing or — and this is what I suspect — it was infrequent moviegoers checking out what all the fuss had been about all summer. Because something a little bit extraordinary did happen at the box office weekend: a bunch of movies saw the number of screens they were playing on go down while at the same time their takings went up over the previous weekend:

The Dark Knight: lost 413 venues; takings up 4.6%
Mamma Mia!: lost 358 venues; takings up 34%
Vicky Cristina Barcelona: lost no venues; takings up 17.5%
Journey to the Center of the Earth: lost 250 venues; takings up 5.1%
Bottle Shock: lost 29 venues; takings up 8.3%
Sixty Six: lost 2 venues; takings up 132%

This is really amazing — this hardly even happens to even a single movie over a weekend. And to see it happening with all these movies… well, I don’t know what it means, except that, obviously, word of mouth still works to bring people into movie theaters weeks and weeks after a movie has debuted. And that we might see this happen more often if movies were given a chance to find their audience, and if the multiplexes weren’t so overcrowded with titles.

Knight passed $500 million this weekend, but other would-be blockbusters are struggling. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor hit $98.8 million this weekend, and will drag itself past the $100 million mark in the next week or two. But since it cost $145 million, that won’t be enough. (Interestingly, though, the other Brendan Fraser flick, Journey to the Center of the Earth, is currently hovering in the $94 million range, but it cost only $60, so that looks good.) Hellboy II: The Golden Army hauled itself past $75 million this week, but it cost $85 million.

Indies and foreign films did well this weekend, as they do almost every weekend, enjoying the highest per-screen averages of all:

Sukiyaki Western Django: $13,100 on 1 screen
I Served the King of England: $8,487 on each of 8 screens
Elegy: $5,697/139 screens
Vicky Cristina Barcelona: $5,102/692 screens
Frozen River: $5,028/69 screens

For comparison’s sake, Tropic Thunder’s per-screen was $4,117.

[numbers via Box Office Mojo]



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