Box Office Special: The Bat Crushes Mulder, Scully

With "The X-Files: I Want to Believe," horror saw its 10th release of the year. Now, as I discussed before, calling the "X-Files" a horror film is a stretch (and it's a little odd that King bashed on "The X-Files" because its budget was really nothing special), but when it's been a month and a half since the last theatrical horror release, I'll take some leeway with genre distinctions just to have something about which to talk.

Sadly for "The X-Files," the discussion here is a somber one. The reunion of Mulder and Scully led to a 4th place finish at the box office this week. And by virtue of another monster week from "The Dark Knight," "I Want to Believe" made nary a ripple in headlines. Even negative coverage would be better than the tumbleweed-quiet the film has gotten thus far. It wasn't long ago that "The X-Files" was genre gold, and despite the fact that 3 out of 3 BGH reviewers thought it was solid, "I Want to Believe" simply fell hard.

Looking at the numbers, it's hard to feel good about "The X-Files" prospects. It was the second worst horror opening of the year, and had the 2nd lowest per screen performance, while opening on the 2nd most screens. In terms of percentage of the top 12 films, "I Want to Believe" performed worse than any other horror release of 2008.

Personally, and maybe this is just the optimist in me talking, I think there are some reasons to be sunny on "X-Files'" long-term prospects. First of all, the other films to beat it out this week—"Step Brothers" and "Mamma Mia!"—aren't really direct competitors. Both of these films did quite well, but I'm dubious as to whether they siphoned off X-viewers. Instead, I don't think it's out of the question to see a slow but steady stream of "X-File" devotees turning out through this week and into next weekend. Despite it's poor opening, I would like to believe (pun intended!) that the Mulder/Scully fanboys have a little more in them than $10 million. It's entirely possible that they were all waiting in line to catch "The Dark Knight," and saving their "X-File" viewing for later.

But even if it doesn't go gang-busters in week two, Fox need not look at $10 million as a total failure. On a budget of $30 million, "I Want to Believe" can be seen as a costly advertisement that at the very least keeps "The X-Files" relevant for a little while longer. One could argue that a poor performance likely spells the end of new entries in the series for good, and that wouldn't be wrong, but I'd be willing to be that the movie helped move some DVD box sets and might even be used to drum up syndication viewership. And if a third "X-Files" film was to be shot, say for a far more modest $10 million, it might be viewed as a savvy play by Fox.

Next week, horror fans world wide should be readying themselves to vote with their feet for "Midnight Meat Train," which is being dumped into only a handful of theaters at last report. The unceremonious dropping of this Clive Barker joint is part of a sea change apparently underway at Lionsgate that could see far fewer horror films making their way to the screen under the production company's banner. Though it might be too late to change the fate of Lionsgate, a strong per screen performance for "Meat Train" should send the message (like "Strangers" did earlier this year) that horror can mean big business. Of course, if the movie's garbage, all bet's are off. Expect discussion here in a week's time.

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