WINNER OF THE WEEK: Melissa McCarthy. New York Observer critic Rex Reed may have inadvertently sparked a minor media firestorm this week with his review of Identity Thief, in which he went beyond his dislike of the movie and McCarthy’s performance in it to disparage her weight. (“Tractor-sized” and “hippo” were some of the kinder epithets.) Of course, he was roundly excoriated for his sexism (has he ever used such language to describe movie comics like Kevin James, Chris Farley, or John Candy?), but McCarthy got the best revenge by seeing her movie open with an estimated $36.6 million. That’s awfully good for an R-rated comedy opening in February; most pundits expected the film to open at around $20 million. Indeed, Reed’s review may have backfired and encouraged moviegoers to see what all the fuss was about. Or maybe viewers have just been starved for comedy so far in 2013. Most of all, if the movie’s unexpected success proves one thing, it’s that the Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids actress is now a bona fide box office draw.
Identity Thief easily won the weekend; the second highest gross (an estimated $11.5 million) belonged to Warm Bodies. Last week’s chart tooper, it slipped 43 percent in sales – not unusual for a horror flick – for a 10-day total of $36.6 million that barely exceeds the three-day total amassed by Identity Thief. Opening in third place was the thriller Side Effects (more on that, below), with an estimated $10.0 million, in line with experts’ predictions. Oscar hopeful Silver Linings Playbook was fourth with an estimated $6.9 million, for a total of $90.0 million to date. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, on top two weeks ago, is now fifth, with an estimated $5.8 million and a three-week total of $43.8 million.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Nemo. The Weather Channel’s nickname for the blizzard that shut down the Northeast this weekend may have evoked one of Pixar’s biggest hits, but as a leviathan that threatened to swamp the box office, Nemo turned out to be more of a guppy. The storm did have some impact on Friday night, but the studios still estimate that Nemo suppressed only about 10 percent of the North American box office’s expected business. True, the total weekend box office was about 40 percent behind the business done this same weekend a year ago, but that weekend had more commercial offerings, including Channing Tatum’s romantic weepie The Vow and the Denzel Washington-Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House. Both of those movies opened above $40 million. There were also the mid-20s openings of the family adventure Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and the retrofitted 3D version of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. This year, moviegoers didn’t have such big fish to fry.
SPECIAL ‘EFFECTS’: Will Steven Soderbergh’s career end with a bang or a whimper? The prolific filmmaker, whose filmography includes 25 features since his 1989 debut, sex, lies and videotape, has said Side Effects will be his final feature. His career is a hard one to evaluate financially, since he’s tended to alternate commercial studio fare with experimental indie films. As a result, his box office over time looks like a rollercoaster track, with blockbuster highs (the Ocean’s franchise, each of which earned at least $117 million; last year’s Magic Mike, which earned $113 million) and steep-plunging lows (three of his movies earned less than $100,000 and four more earned less than $1 million – disastrous numbers even for little art-house movies that played in only one or two theaters).
In the last five years, he’s been working at a creative peak, completing nine features, most of which married his indie-style artistry to genre tales with broad commercial appeal. Two of them, Magic Mike and 2011’s Contagion, have been solid hits. Side Effects could have been a third such hit, but this weekend’s $10 million opening suggests the film’s total run will be somewhere in the mid-30s. That’s a little bit below average for Soderbergh, whose movies have a mean of about $39 million – an impressive number considering how infinitesimal some of his grosses have been.
Of course, Soderbergh is a director who has some significant artistic achievements to his credit (from Out of Sight to Traffic) and who has had tremendous influence over the way Hollywood does business (sex, lies launched the ’90s indie film boom and helped make Sundance into Hollywood’s farm-team talent pool; Bubble was the first film released in theaters and on video-on-demand on the same day). If he’s tired of working in an arena where his unorthodox career is judged strictly on box office grosses, you can hardly blame him.