WINNERS OF THE WEEK: Directors Named Paul Anderson. Both Paul W.S. Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson had great weekends. W.S. saw Resident Evil: Retribution, the latest movie in his horror/thriller series starring Mrs. W.S. (Milla Jovovich), earn a minor upset victory as the top seller at the multiplex, scaring up an estimated $21.1 million. That’s a bit less than the $26.7 million earned by the last sequel, Resident Evil: Afterlife, when it opened two years ago, but still not bad for a movie in its fifth installment. Thanks to 3D, Afterlife ultimately did much better overseas than any of its predecessors, and Retribution should enjoy similar results.
Meanwhile, Thomas saw his new movie The Master set a record for per-screen average with an estimated $145,949. (It beat the record of $130,749 set earlier this summer by similarly much-anticipated art-house film Moonrise Kingdom.) The film opened on just five screens, for a total of about $730,000, but a per-screen average like that speaks of a strong want-to-see factor, meaning the Joaquin Phoenix-Philip Seymour Hoffman drama should do well as it expands across the country.
LOSERS OF THE WEEK: Fish. Many observers expected Finding Nemo, the most popular movie in Pixar’s history, to take the crown this weekend with its 3D reissue, but the colorful sea creatures had to settle for second place, netting an estimated $17.5 million. At least that was enough to displace two-week champ The Possession, which fell to third place on estimated earnings of $5.8 million. (It was followed by fellow holdovers Lawless, with an estimated $4.2 million, and The Expendables 2, with an estimated $3 million.) All these movies helped the box office rebound, with a total take that was up 25 percent from last weekend, the worst in 11 years, though this weekend’s earnings were still behind the same frame this time last year.
WHATEVER WORKS: Nemo’s underwhelming haul could be a sign that the 3D reissue boom has lost its novelty; it earned the least of any of the five major reissues of converted 2D classics since last year’s unexpected smash success of the retrofitted The Lion King. Or it could just be growing pains as the current transitions – towards digital cinema and towards same-day releases in theaters and video-on-demand – shake out. This weekend’s chart offers several examples of distributors attempting new ways of grabbing audience attention as they try to maintain a foothold in this new marketplace. Besides re-releasing 2D movies in 3D, there’s also the retro technique, successfully employed by The Master, of screening the movie in glorious, non-digital, widescreen 70mm (though there are few theaters left that can accommodate that format). There’s the direct marketing approach of Rocky Mountain Pictures, known for targeting audiences of political and religious conservatives, which paid off this week with the solid opening of Last Ounce of Courage (Number 15 with an estimated $1.7 million), while Rocky Mountain’s 2016 Obama’s America, hovered at Number 13 with an estimated $2 million, for a total take of $30.1 million over 10 weeks. And there was the Richard Gere thriller Arbitrage, which expanded on the strategy pioneered this time a year ago by Margin Call and earned an estimated $2.1 million in theaters (good for 12th place) on the same day that it was released for on-demand viewing (it was Number Two on iTunes). That’s a record for a same-day opening, suggesting that making certain movies available at home on the day they’re released in theaters is not going to kill the theatrical market. Which means we’ll only be seeing more such experiments in the near future.