Now, a reported production budget of $20 million is still greater than many, many independent horror films -- four times as much as Paranormal Activity 4, for example -- but for Warner Bros., it's still far less than what any of their action blockbusters have required. The film's estimated take of $41.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo. therefore, represents a good return on investment. (Compare that to Pacific Rim, released by the same studio, which earned a bit less last weekend but is considered by many a financial disaster due to its reported budget, in the range of $190-$200 million.)
Horror movies are perceived to have a "ceiling" that limits their earnings, with box office takes dropping sharply after the opening weekend, but if the budget is kept to a reasonable level, studios stand a good chance of enjoying reasonable returns. The studios have managed to pump themselves up to a gargantuan corporate level, however, where they feel obliged -- or required -- to roll the dice on multiple projects that cost well over $100 million in the wild hope that one will hit the jackpot and bring in the hundreds of millions of dollars so they can fund more wild gambles.
And speaking of big-budget gambles that didn't work out …
Reportedly budgeted at $130 million, R.I.P.D. surely got the green light in part because it's a supernatural / action-comedy / big-concept picture and producer Neil Moritz was on board to guide it. Moritz has made Universal Studios hundreds of millions of dollars with the Fast and Furious franchise and has a long track record of dealing with big-budget productions.
Ryan Reynolds came on board in 2011 before the damage from Green Lantern had been fully assessed; Jeff Bridges was fresh off his Oscar win for True Grit and he'd be playing a similar type of character. And director Robert Schwentke had shepherded RED, a similar type of action-comedy, to unexpectedly good returns the previous year. (Budget reported at $60 million, worldwide gross estimated to be $199 million.) The source material was a Dark Horse comic by film and TV veteran Peter Lenkov, and it evidently looked like a natural for adaptation to the big screen.
So, yes, smart-asses today might look at the trailer and think, "Who decided to make that movie? It's obvious it wouldn't make a dime." Only it wasn't so obvious two years ago. And now Universal must deal with a movie that made only $12.8 million over the weekend.
Perhaps that's another reason Universal decided to hurry up the production of Fast and Furious 7, fast-tracking it for release next year. Moritz will once again serve as producer; the directing reins, though, have been handed over to the man who made The Conjuring: James Wan.
The Act of Killing
Riding a wave of positive reviews, as well as receiving a boost from the social media skills of Drafthouse Films and their publicity team, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing enjoyed "the best opening per-theater-average of any documentary in 2013 thus far," according to Indiewire.
That was achieved at a single theater in Manhattan, the Landmark Sunshine, where multiple shows sold out and other screenings were added, which also sold out. The film made an estimated $28,067.
Another documentary that did well was Blackfish, which questions the morality of capturing wild animals for the amusement of the public at Seaworld. The company declined to be interviewed for the film, but mounted a publicity campaign against it this past week -- which, in turn, may have helped make more people aware of it. Blackfish averaged $16,625 in four engagements.
Only God Forgives
Among the fictional films debuting in theaters, Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives opened in 78 locations and averaged $4,038 for a total of $315,000, which is 10 times what Valhalla Rising made in its brief, entire run in 2010, and three times what Bronson grossed domestically in 2009.
Of course, it's no Drive, which made $11 million on its opening weekend and eventually made $35 million in the U.S. and $76 million total, worldwide. Three things to keep in mind, however:
(1) The film has already made $5.9 million in other parts of the world.
(2) Its Video On Demand numbers could well exceed its theatrical returns in the U.S.; distributor Radius-TWC says, according to Indiewire that "it reached the number 2 spot on iTunes in record time."
(3) It's an experimental film that showcased the handsome face of Ryan Gosling beaten and bruised almost beyond recognition. Not bad, I say, not bad.
Two Chinese films make the leap to the U.S. this week: the immensely popular Tiny Times and the latest from Johnnie To: Drug War. Both are opening in extremely limited engagements, but should be more readily available via various VOD platforms.
Also opening in limited release in New York and Los Angeles, ahead of a forthcoming rollout, is Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, featuring an incredibly strong performance by Cate Blanchett. The film itself is well worth a longer discussion, and I'll touch on some of those points in my review later this week. In brief: it's a good one.
Expanding across the U.S. in more than 650 theaters: the coming-of-age comedy The Way, Way Back.
This dude, see, he has claws, and he's basically indestructible, but he's conflicted, and then he goes to Japan ...
Our own Pierce Conran had reservations, though he began his review on a positive note:
I can't speak for everyone, but after a summer full of crumbling cities, robots, monsters, and the loudest sound effects I can remember, I felt the need to brace myself as I sat down to another big-budget action spectacle. Thankfully, with a smaller budget, a script concerned with characters (or at least one) and a more atmospheric mise-en-scene, The Wolverine, while still a summer tentpole, is in many ways the antidote to the maelstrom of destruction that's occurred in the multiplexes this season.
The rest of us can decide this week, in multiplexes (nearly) everywhere.
Hollywood Beat is a weekly column on the film industry.