Box Office Special - The Changing of the Box

I spent some time two weeks ago talking about the late summer swoon we've seen this year at the box office. And then, only a week later, we hit a notable nadir. Well, apparently all that swooning may have been part of some sort of cathartic cleansing ritual because this week change came to the box office.

At $99 million, 2008's was the most lucrative 37th week on record. The previous high came in 2003 when "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" was number one. Even more surprising about this week's success is the fact that it came with four new releases in the top four positions. It's the first time that particular feat has been achieved this year. There's been three new releases in the top four on three separate occasions: week 16 ("Forbidden Kingdom"), week 10 ("10,000 BC") and week 7 ("Jumper"). And just to fully cover all the oddities that distinguish this week's success from other weeks: not one of the films cracked the $20 million barrier.

At number one was the new Coen Brothers film "Burn After Reading." It was a wide-ish release at 2,651 theaters, making its per screen pull of over $7,000 quite impressive. That number was actually second best on the weekend though behind the overall number two film at the box office: "Tyler Perry's The Family that Prays." This most recent offering from the prolific black director brought in over $8,700 per screen. There is currently no production budget info available, but I feel like it's a safe bet to assume that these Tyler Perry films make a killing. By way of example, "Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion" made $63 million on a budget of $6 million. That's a great way to ensure you can get your next film made (or your next 10 films, at the rate that Perry churns them out).

In what may come as a surprise to some, "Righteous Kill" aka "Old Men Shooting Guns," placed a disappointing third with $16.5 million. Considering this film likely wouldn't have gotten made without notable turns from De Niro and Pacino (neither of whom has actually worked for a paycheck in what seems like forever), the $16 million is probably the best that anyone could have hoped for. But with a budget of $60 million, you can bet that someone is at least going to be chewed out pretty hard over this nonsense. I'm not sure what to make of the director, Jon Avnet, on this one, who appears to have a long career as a director, but only possesses one film credit of any note. Even more bizarre is the fact that that credit is for "Fried Green Tomatoes", which, while Oscar nominated, seems to be pretty far away on the film spectrum from "Righteous Kill".

Lastly, among our top four films anyway, is "The Women", which has been virtually universally panned. "The Women" is notable only for the fact that there was some chatter about how this film was being heaped into the Hollywood dumpster earlier this year. That all changed when "Sex and the City" out performed everyone's expectations, and sent the message to producers that lady-folk would go to the theater if Hollywood gave them something worth seeing. Someone (possibly again heading for a chewing out) thought that that something could be "The Women" — it seems like a can't miss, right? Just look at the title — but the negative coverage and mediocre ads probably didn't help this one. With a budget of $16 million, however, Picturehosue can definitely chalk this one up in the win column.

Next week sees several interesting offerings making their way to some theaters. Going wide are "Lake Terrerce" aka "Don't Make Sam Jackson Start Swearing Now", "My Best Friend's Girl" aka "The Most Intolerable Dane Cook Film Since his Last Film", and Ricky Gervais's first starring turn "Ghost Town". In limited release though we're going to start seeing some potential award bait. "Blindness", starring Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, and Gabriel Garcia Bernal, and directed by Fernando Meirelles ("City of God", "Constant Gardner") will probably be worth a look. "Appaloosa", a Western starring Viggo and Ed Harris, who also directs, will be getting a look from yours truly. And we'll also get a look at "Hounddog", which made waves a while back while on the festival circuit because it features a rape scene starring Dakota Fanning (yeah, the adolescent one).

If you need some economic stimulation of the horror variety, I did recently update the Horrors of 2008 spreadsheet. We're still a couple of weeks out from "Quarantine", but some of this year's earlier releases have been making some noise over seas. So check it out.

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