WINNERS OF THE WEEK: Critic-Proof Movies. A Good Day to Die Hard earned some of the worst reviews in the Bruce Willis franchise’s 25-year history, but that didn’t stop it from debuting at Number One. According to studio estimates, it blew away moviegoers to the tune of $25.0 million from Friday to Sunday. Add to that its earnings from opening Thursday and its projected earnings on President’s Day on Monday, that’s an estimated $38.7 million debut. That’s also below the $50 million experts had predicted for the five-day weekend, but hey, winning is winning.
Last week’s champ, Identity Thief, also earned awful reviews, but that didn’t slow the film’s sales. It took in an estimated $23.4 million from Friday to Sunday (down just 32 percent from last weekend), for a two-week total of $70.7 million.
Debuting in third place, Safe Haven also received the same dismal reviews that most Nicholas Sparks adaptations earn, but again, that didn’t stop the film’s predominantly female target audience from making it the date movie of choice for Valentine’s Day weekend. It earned an estimated $21.4 million from Friday to Sunday; add Thursday and Monday projections, and you have a $34 million debut, far better than any pundits predicted.
The cartoon Escape From Planet Earth wasn’t even screened for reviewers (usually not a good sign), but even that movie debuted with a stronger-than-expected $16.1 million, according to studio estimates. As the only family movie in the marketplace – indeed, it’s pretty much the first family movie of the year – it tapped into demand so strong that parents were even willing to cough up the 3D surcharge. Not bad for a cartoon that didn’t have the brand awareness of a well-known franchise.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Jeremy Irons. Remember when Irons was an A-lister, in demand after his Oscar win for his uncanny performance in 1990’s Reversal of Fortune? In recent years, however, he’s been stuck in supporting roles in failed attempts to launch fantasy franchises. He could have been the Ian McKellen of the Dungeons & Dragons films or the Eragon films – had either of those movies done well enough to yield a series of sequels. His latest, Beautiful Creatures, might have done the trick, but it debuted in sixth place, with an estimated $7.5 million from Friday to Sunday and a total of $10.0 million since Thursday. Though it aimed for a younger audience than Safe Haven, there was still a lot of overlap. The film’s young, little-known stars will get to bounce back, presumably in other, less fantasy-oriented romances, but Irons may not surface again until there’s another gathering of witches, goblins, and dragons.
WHAT DO YOUNG WOMEN WANT? A lot more than Irons’ career prospects were riding on the success or failure of Beautiful Creatures. The film was the latest attempt to turn a young-adult fantasy book title or series into a film franchise. (The last attempt, Warm Bodies, debuted at Number One two weeks ago; this week, it was fifth, with an estimated $9.0 million from Friday to Sunday and a total of $50.2 million to date.) Why is that so important? Because studio executives recognize the purchase power of the young, female market, a demographic that has minted smash hits from Titanic to Twilight. But what those studio executives, who are largely older men, do not know is how to reach those girls and young women. (Reaching everybody else is relatively easy, as this week’s top-grossing debuts suggest.) One thing that has worked, however, is fantasy-romance tales based on proven book titles, like the Twilight and Hunger Games series. The lesson of Beautiful Creatures could be that it’s a bad idea to open such a movie opposite a Nicholas Sparks love story, or it could just be that the studios still don’t really know how to please this particular audience. Either way, the search continues.