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Weekend Report: Blue Skies for ‘Cloudy,’ Hazy Starts for ‘Surrogates,’ ‘Fame’

by Brandon Gray
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
 

 
September 28, 2009

Moviegoers came back for a second helping of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but the new items on the menu, Surrogates and Fame (2009), didn't fly. That led to a weekend that was off five percent from the same timeframe last year when Eagle Eye landed.

Standing as the only broadly appealing movie among recent releases, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs dissipated by a mere 17 percent, generating $25 million and lifting its total to a solid $60.5 million in ten days. Its second weekend drop was one of the smallest on record for a September saturation release and was less than such comparable titles as Open Season, Meet the Robinsons and Chicken Little. A steeper decline, though, may be in store next weekend, when the Toy Story double feature will claim much of its 3D attention.

Surrogates plugged in with $14.9 million on approximately 3,600 screens at 2,951 sites, or a fraction of what the similar I, Robot started at. The science fiction thriller featuring Bruce Willis came in at the low end of its sub-genre and in the same range as such past disappointments as The Island, Paycheck, The 6th Day and Virtuosity (in terms of attendance). Distributor Walt Disney Pictures reported an audience breakdown of 58 percent male and 67 percent aged 25 years and older.

What pictures like Surrogates show is that there's no substitute for a compelling story. Much of the awkwardly-titled Surrogates' marketing time was devoted to establishing the context and setting of its near future world where humans live their lives through robot surrogates, from a trailer that started as a commercial (a la ads for The Island and others) to billboards of models with parts of their robotic skeletons exposed. However, relatively little time was devoted to the story, characters and action, which were left vague and nondescript. Given the volume of other like-minded movies, the robot or avatar premise alone does not possess the wow factor with audiences, and, lacking a clear connection to the real world, served only to disconnect Surrogates from moviegoers.

Despite an extravagant ad campaign that clearly dreamt of pirouetting past Step Up and other successful dance pictures, most moviegoers forgot about Fame. The performing arts drama earned $10 million on around 3,400 screens at 3,096 sites, and will likely have a short-lived box office run as a result. Initial attendance was less than half of Step Up and Save the Last Dance and was also lower than box office letdowns like Rent and Take the Lead. Distributor MGM's exit polling indicated that 55 percent of the audience was under 25 years old and 78 percent was female, skewing more female than Step Up and even High School Musical 3: Senior Year.

Fame

While famous, the original Fame wasn't quite the sensation its reputation might suggest. It grossed $21.2 million or the equivalent of around $58 million adjusted for ticket price inflation and far less than the big dance movies of the era like Footloose and Flashdance. The ensemble and episodic nature of the original's examination of the joys, sweat and pitfalls involved with art, coming of age and, of course, fame, which was unique in its day, was a challenge to carry over to the new movie. Because Fame (2009) packed even more characters and lacked a strong central character or storyline to reel audiences in, it was doomed to make less than the recent crop of hit dance movies. With only its loose theme, it rested on the niche appeal of its performing arts milieu, and largely amounted to watching random kids sing and dance, something that people can see anywhere, including free clips on the Internet. There was a sense that the marketers realized this and cut character spotlight ads as an answer, but pickings were transparently slim and only added to the diffuseness.

Looking like a slicker version of the dank creature features one might see on cable television or direct-to-DVD, Pandorum scared up little business with $4.4 million at 2,506 sites, which was in the same spectrum as movies like John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars and Alone in the Dark. Its terror-on-a-spaceship premise contributed to it being less relatable than more popular, comparable titles like Resident Evil and Quarantine.

In addition to Cloudy, The Informant! had a decent hold, down 37 percent to $6.6 million for a $20.7 million tally in ten days, again hewing close to Michael Clayton. Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself continued to follow the Tyler Perry pattern, dipping 52 percent to $4.8 million for a $44.6 million total in 17 days. Love Happens had a second weekend drop as generic as its title, off 47 percent to $4.3 million for a $14.7 million ten-day tally, while 9 continued its rapid descent, falling 47 percent to $3 million for a $27.2 million total in 19 days.

The big disappointment of last weekend, Jennifer's Body, saved no face. The horror comedy lost 47 percent, making $3.7 million for a $12.5 million total in ten days. The looks of its modest-by-horror-standards fall were deceiving, because sneak previews for Whip It were counted towards Jennifer's gross and inflated it significantly. The Drew Barrymore-directed comedy had showings at 502 theaters on Saturday evening and played to an average capacity of 65 percent. According to distributor 20th Century Fox, Whip It's audience skewed slightly female and the age range was primarily 15 to 35 years old.

In limited release, Capitalism: A Love Story made the biggest splash, while the rest ranged from moderate (Bright Star) to poor (I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell). Playing at four sites, Michael Moore's latest screed racked up $231,964 for a $298,550 haul since its Wednesday start. Its real test will be next weekend when it expands to around 1,000 theaters.

Last Weekend
A Feast for 'Meatballs,' Slim Pickings for 'Jennifer'

This Timeframe in Past Years:
• 2008 - 'Eagle Eye' Lands on Top
• 2007 - 'Game Plan' Sacks 'Kingdom'
• 2006 - 'Open Season,' 'Guardian' Lead Weekend
• 2005 - 'Serenity' Moseys to Tame Start

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