Box Office Report: 'Argo' Outshines Four Newcomers

Plus: What does 'Cloud Atlas' say about independent film's future?

Bryan Cranston as Jack O’Donnell and Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in 'ARGO.'
Claire Folger/© 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Bryan Cranston as Jack O’Donnell and Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in 'ARGO.'
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WINNER OF THE WEEK: Stalwart '70s Spies. Hanging in there and holding onto most of its audience for three weeks finally paid off for Argo, which ascended from second place to the top spot this week, outshining four new wide releases. Credit good reviews and strong word-of-mouth, the kind of assets that attract older viewers. After its strong opening two weekends ago, the Ben Affleck spy thriller/showbiz spoof lost just 15 percent of its audience last week and just 25 percent more this week, for an estimated take of $12.4 million and a 17-day total of $60.8 million.

LOSER OF THE WEEK: Eye-grabbing visuals. With four new wide releases this week, the competition was bound to be ugly, but pretty much every new film underperformed expectations, even though some of them are stunning to look at. First among the disappointments was Cloud Atlas, which was always going to be a tough sell, even with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in the cast. Its time-hopping narrative and heavy dollops of philosophy were bound to confuse many (including critics, who gave it positive-to-mixed reviews), and its nearly three-hour running time meant fewer showings per day. Still, most pundits expected it to open around $12 or $13 million, but according to estimates, it didn't even break 10. Instead, it opened in third place with an estimated  $9.4 million.

That's still better than horror/videogame sequel Silent Hill: Revelation 3D. Some experts thought it would win the weekend; most expected it to earn at least $14 million. But it scared up just $8.0 million, according to estimates, landing in a virtual tie for fifth place with four-week old Taken 2. (Rounding out the top five: Kiddie horror comedy Hotel Transylvania continued to be the top Halloween pick, earning an estimated $9.5 million and a second-place finish. Last week's champ: Paranormal Activity 4, suffered poor word-of-mouth and fell a frightful 70 percent to $8.7 million, landing in fourth place.)

The weekend's other two new releases barely limped onto the chart. With Halloween comedy Fun Size, Victoria Justice learned what Selena Gomez and Hilary Duff before her have learned: that tween TV stardom doesn't necessarily translate to movie stardom. The film earned an estimated $4.1 million and debuted in tenth place. And Chasing Mavericks, which boasted striking-looking surfing sequences and a lead performance by Gerard Butler, rode the tide in to No. 13 with an estimated $2.2 million.

'CLOUD'-Y FORECAST: Does Cloud Atlas count as an independent movie? Its $100 million budget came from investors outside the studio system, with Warner Bros. coming in at the end to distribute the completed film. So technically it counts, but it's certainly an anomaly, despite a recent Businessweek article suggesting it's a model for how to revive the struggling indie film industry. (By Businessweek's logic, George Lucas' self-financed, Fox-distributed, mega-budgeted Star Wars prequels would all be considered indie films.) The other films citied in the article, including recent hits Magic Mike and End of Watch, are more traditional indies, shot on the cheap, with increased creative freedom as a trade-off for lavish funding.  Not that Cloud Atlas' trio of directors (Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer) seem to have sacrificed any creative freedom, but nine-figure indies characterized by the epic scope and top-notch visual effects of a studio summer blockbuster are always going to be the exception, not the norm. The one thing that is truly indie about the production is its directors' refusal to abide by formula. Without that, Hanks noted recently, "we’re sitting here talking about Forrest Gump 6, which is a lot better than Forrest Gump 5. Who wants to do that for the rest of their lives?"