News

'Doom' and Gloom

by Brandon Gray
A scene from Doom
October 24, 2005

Few paid to watch someone else play a video game over the weekend, and fewer were interested in a hyper-precocious girl and her horse and a beautiful actress in another de-glamorized role.

Overall business was down 16 percent from the comparable frame last year, when The Grudge gripped the nation. Worse still, this weekend and last were the two least attended October frames of the decade. With the exception of Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the October slate was riddled with unappealing movies from the outset, and the resulting box office has been predictably pathetic.

Doom, the $60 million adaptation of the famous first-person shooter game series, scored $15.5 million at 3,044 sites, below industry tracking that pegged it for the high teen millions. Universal Picture's action horror romp starring The Rock bowed to less business than the similar Resident Evil, which grabbed $17.7 million out of the gate at 2,528 theaters in 2002.

"I'm happy to be No. 1," said Universal's head of distribution, Nikki Rocco, "but saddened that the marketplace is depressed," noting that Doom's start was a "little lower" than her expectations. The studio's exit polling indicated that 69 percent of the audience was male, 61 percent was under the age of 25, and 59 percent had played the game before.

Successful video game adaptations like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil had some awareness outside gaming circles of their characters or set-ups. Doom was merely known as a bleak game about killing creatures with big guns, chainsaws and other weapons—a flimsy premise even by video game movie standards. The final product was too steroidal to attract females, the demographic that drives most horror hits, and too hokey, with the look and feel of a bad 1980s sci-fi movie, to be taken seriously by anyone but video game fans.

Doom is yet another movie featuring The Rock to disappoint, after the former wrestler was pumped up as the next big action star—Arnold Schwarzenegger passed the baton at the beginning of The Rundown in 2003. While The Rock's first vehicle, The Scorpion King, did muscular business, follow-ups The Rundown and Walking Tall were relatively flabby, and Doom will likely be his weakest yet.

Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell in Dreamer
Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story cantered to second place with $9.2 million at 2,007 venues. Lacking a distinctive hook beyond vague underdog and family themes, DreamWorks' $32 million horse-racing drama with Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning was not in the same league as recent horsey hits, Seabiscuit or Racing Stripes.

DreamWorks was excited about the audience reaction suggested by their research. "I don't remember seeing numbers like this," said distribution chief Jim Tharp, pointing out how 97 percent of polled parents and 100 percent of children rated the Dreamer "excellent" or "very good." "They are extraordinarily high under any circumstances. Wallace and Gromit is grossing best in the larger and medium markets, and, at least on the initial weekend, Dreamer played best in the medium and smaller markets." The studio's polling also showed that well over 60 percent of the audience was female, an expected figure given the subject matter. DreamWorks will roll Dreamer out to between 2,400 and 2,600 runs next weekend.

Warner Bros.' $35 million sexual harassment drama, North Country, attracted little attention with $6.4 million at 2,555 locations, selling about as many tickets initially as such past October dramas as White Oleander and The Contender.

Charlize Theron stars in North Country
"[The opening] was less than my expectations, but we have a lot of positive things going for this movie," said Warner Bros.' head of distribution, Dan Fellman, pointing to the "A" that North Country received from CinemaScore, which polls opening night audiences. "Hopefully, since it was a soft weekend, we'll hold things together in the coming weekends." According to the studio's exit polling, 62 percent of moviegoers were female, and 68 percent were over 30.

Aiming for the broad appeal of Erin Brockovich, Silkwood, The Accused and Norma Rae, North Country faltered due to a subject matter that's long past its prime as a hot topic and due to the marketing's emphasis on victimhood that gave the picture a Lifetime television movie stigma. Centering promotion around star Charlize Theron making herself look ugly again after winning the Oscar for Monster did not help the cause—contrary to the industry's predilections, audiences don't need grunginess to take actresses seriously.

The least of the new wide releases, Stay will not linger in theaters after an anemic $2.2 million debut at 1,684 venues. The 20th Century Fox-distributed supernatural thriller had a convoluted trailer that made The Jacket's look like a paradigm of clarity.

RELATED ARTICLES
• 10/17/05 - 'Fog' Tops Soggy Weekend
• 10/25/04 - 'Grudge' Grabs No. 1
• Review - 'North Country'
• Review - 'Dreamer'

RELATED CHARTS
Video Game Adaptations
Horse Movies
Weekend Box Office Results

NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, Oct. 23 and was updated on Monday, Oct. 24 with actual grosses.



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