WINNER OF THE WEEK: Leatherface. Remember all that hand wringing about how Americans were going to be more squeamish about screen violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting? Well, scratch that. This week's chart offered the bloody one-two punch of Texas Chainsaw 3D – debuting at Number One with a better-than-expected $23.0 million, according to studio estimates – and Django Unchained, with Quentin Tarantino's crimson-spattered historical revenge fantasy taking in another estimated $20.1 million, for a 13-day total of $106.4 million. Chainsaw, whose studio, Lionsgate, expected it to open in the high teens, had a lot going for it at the ticket booth: a familiar brand, the 3D surcharge, and excellent timing. There were no other new movies this weekend, and the holdovers were largely Oscar hopefuls chasing older viewers or family films targeting young kids. The latest Leatherface opus followed the playbook of 2012's horror hit The Devil Inside, which opened on the same usually horror-averse weekend a year ago and scared up $33.7 million. So for all of the new movie's technical advances over the low-budget horror sleeper that launched the franchise 39 years ago, the most cutting-edge thing about Texas Chainsaw may have been its scheduling.
Dethroned after three weeks on top was The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which slipped to Number Three on estimated earnings of $17.5 million, for a four-weekend total of $263.8 million. Les Miserables, which may offer more violent death than any movie musical in recent memory, was close behind in fourth place with an estimated $16.1 million, crossing the nine-figure mark to $103.6 million after 13 days of release. In fifth place, Parental Guidance earned an estimated $10.1 million, for a two-week total of $52.8 million.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Matt Damon. The actor's prestige project, Promised Land, may be as much a victim of bad timing as Texas Chainsaw is a beneficiary of good timing. The film was supposed to figure in the Oscar race, since it reunites Damon (as star and co-screenwriter) with Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant, and since it addresses a hot-button topic – the "fracking" method of natural gas extraction, which has offered rural towns both potential economic rescue and environmental ruin. But the movie was barely released last weekend, coming in just under the wire for awards eligibility but too late for many critics to see it . This weekend, it expanded wide to 1,676 theaters and cracked the top 10 with an estimated $4.3 million, which sounds good until you realize that's a per-screen average of just $2,573. So not only does Promised Land have no awards buzz but it lacks audience buzz as well. The same release strategy worked wonders 15 years ago for Good Will Hunting, but that film had a lot of advantages this one doesn't (an easy-to-summarize plot, the marketing genius of Harvey Weinstein, and a friendlier art-house marketplace). Sorry, Matt, but that's how it is. How do you like them apples?
RECENT HISTORY: Two other reasons why it's good for Oscar hopefuls to have easy-to-summarize plots: the expansions this weekend of The Impossible (about the 2004 tsunami) and Zero Dark Thirty (about the hunt for Osama bin Laden), both of which earned about $2.8 million this weekend. (Sunday estimates have Impossible just $10,000 ahead of ZDT.) Then again, Impossible is playing on about 600 screens while ZDT is playing on 60, meaning the latter earned nearly 10 times as much per screen ($45,833, compared to $4,825). Which suggests that ZDT will be a smash when it opens nationwide next weekend, while Impossible may have rough waters ahead.