WINNER OF THE WEEK: Horror hybrids. Turns out this time of year, usually a dead zone for movies, is a good time for the undead. Warm Bodies, the third tongue-in-cheek horror hybrid in the last month, did very well, opening with an estimated $20 million. Its success follows the path recently blazed by winter 2013 hits A Haunted House and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (last week’s champ and this week’s Number Two, with an estimated $9.2 million for the weekend and a total of $34.5 million over 10 days). Add to the list more traditional horror, such as Texas Chainsaw 3D and Mama (this week’s fourth-place film, with an estimated $6.7 million and a three-week total of $58.2 million), and you can see how the winter chill has been good for chillers at the multiplex. (Rounding out the top five are Oscar hopefuls Silver Linings Playbook, up one slot to Number Three on estimated earnings of $8.1 million, for $80.4 million to date, and Zero Dark Thirty, also holding up well in fifth place with an estimated $5.3 million take and a total of $77.8 million so far.)
Warm Bodies could do even better by the time final numbers come out on Monday; its current total is a loose estimate skewed by the Super Bowl, which could keep more of the audience away Sunday afternoon and evening than the studios have predicted. Still, as a blend of two genres with strong female appeal (horror and romantic comedy), the zombie love story probably won’t suffer too much damage from the gridiron extravaganza.
LOSERS OF THE WEEK: Old guys with guns. Conversely, this wasn’t a good weekend to open a movie that appeals primarily to older men. You’d think that the distributors of Sylvester Stallone’s Bullet to the Head and Al Pacino and Christopher Walken’s Stand Up Guys would have waited a weekend or two, but they decided to go head to head against the Ravens and 49ers, with disastrous results. Bullet opened at Number Six with an estimated $4.5 million, about half what pundits were predicting, while Stand Up Guys, which debuted on just 659 screens, debuted way down at Number 17 with just $1.5 million, also a bit lower than expected. Truth is, however, that this has not been a good season for the aging-guys-with-guns genre, as the makers of The Last Stand, Broken City, and Parker could tell you.
BOWLED OVER: With ad time for this year’s Super Bowl running at about $4 million per 30 seconds, it’s no wonder that many summer releases chose to sit out this year’s game. Indeed, the tradition of debuting big splashy spots for summer and fall blockbusters has been dying of attrition in recent years. Last year, such films as The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, Skyfall, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Ted sat out the Super Bowl ad derby without suffering at the box office. This year’s absentees include such anticipated blockbusters as Despicable Me 2, The Great Gatsby, Grown Ups 2, The Hangover Part III, Man of Steel, Monsters University, RED 2, Smurfs 2, 300: Rise of an Empire, and The Wolverine.
That’s not necessarily a bad strategy, argues Shawn Robbins at BoxOffice.com. Sure, a captive audience of 100 million or so is hard to resist, but last year, nine of the top 10 summer movies succeeded without a Super Bowl spot. Posting the trailers online is just as effective, and sometimes moreso, at generating word-of-mouth for upcoming releases.
Some movies do well with Super Bowl ads – movies like last year’s Act of Valor, which was not based on a familiar franchise or title and needed a special push to generate awareness. But as you can see from the list of movies not being advertised during this year’s game, the studios have decided that sequels and other familiar titles don’t need the expensive help. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the game does feature a 60-second ad for Iron Man 3 (commercial cost: about $8 million) and a Lone Ranger ad clocking in at a budget-busting 90 seconds ($12 million). Given the latter film’s well-publicized battles over its cost (reportedly more than $200 million), it’s a wonder Disney is willing to spend that much on one commercial. Guess the studio is recognizing that the ancient Western franchise doesn’t have that much brand awareness among younger viewers, and that even the casting of Johnny Depp as Tonto isn’t going to pull in crowds all by itself.