WINNERS OF THE WEEK: Good titles. Whatever you may think of the film itself, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a terrific title. It tells you everything you need to know about the movie, including whether or not it’s your kind of movie. If it is, you probably were among those who helped it debut at Number One this weekend with an estimated $19.0 million. Indeed, the title may have been the biggest selling point of the movie; not its horror/action premise, not its stars (despite The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy, Jeremy Renner is not a proven box office draw, and neither is erstwhile Bond girl Gemma Arterton), and not the 3D retrofitting that helped keep the movie on the shelf for a year. The film opened in line with pundits’ modest expectations; imagine how much more poorly it would have done without such a vivid and apt title.
Last week’s champ, evocatively titled horror movie Mama, dropped to second place with an estimated $12.9 million, down 55 percent from its premiere a week ago, which is not unusual for a horror movie. Silver Linings Playbook is not an evocative title, but at least it’s a unique and memorable one; the Oscar-hopeful dramedy came in third and earned a strong $10.0 million according to estimates, down just a hair (seven percent) from last week. Fellow Oscar contender Zero Dark Thirty (fantastic title for a spy thriller) was close behind with an estimated $9.8 million, down 38 percent from last week. Both films have earned about $69 million to date; if they cross $100 million, that will be seven out of nine Best Picture nominees that are nine-figure hits, making this year’s crop the most popular slate of Academy Award nominees in memory.
LOSERS OF THE WEEK: Bad Titles. Can you tell from the title what Parker is about? Is it about Sarah Jessica? About the guy who stows your car while you dine at a fancy restaurant? No, it’s about the hero of several Donald E. Westlake novels, as played by Jason Statham. Despite a pedigreed director (Taylor Hackford, of Ray and An Officer and a Gentleman fame) and a high-powered supporting cast (Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte), Parker mustered only a fifth-place opening with just an estimated $7.0 million.
At least it outperformed Movie 43. Again, a confusing title (Was there any clue that the film is a collection of raunchy comic sketches? Did moviegoers fear they wouldn’t be able to follow the plot if they hadn’t seen Movies 1 through 42?) didn’t help. Despite an all-star cast, the film, which had been expected to open around $9 million, came in seventh with an estimated $5.0 million. Guess this means there won’t be a Movie 44.
HEAD OF STATHAM: Jason Statham occupies a curious niche in Hollywood. He’s a dependable lead in action movies; in fact, he’s a one-man genre. You always know what you’re getting with a Statham movie, including a battle-scarred action hero who can out-think, out-mutter, and out-headbutt a parade of bad guys. And yet it’s not at all clear that he’s a star. The actor works steadily (he’s made about 18 movies over the last decade), but primarily in independent films (his last studio feature was Death Race five years ago). His movies routinely open below $10 million and top out around $25 or $30 million in North America. Even a movie like Parker, with a literary source, an arty director, and a top-notch supporting cast, isn’t doing any better than the standard Statham film.
So how does he keep getting lead roles? Well, his movies are inexpensive to make – cheap enough for indie distributors, at least. And they do very well overseas (where his laconic style translates easily), typically earning half or more of their total gross outside North America. And there’s something to be said for a guy who reliably delivers exactly what he’s called upon to deliver, with no muss, no fuss. Careers have been built on less.