The $19 million horror drama possesses the third highest-grossing September opening ever and the biggest start for a Screen Gems release. Screen Gems is the genre outlet for Sony, and their previous high was Resident Evil: Apocalypse's $23 million on the corresponding post-Labor Day weekend last year. According to Sony's exit polling, 57 percent of Exorcism's audience was under 25, with parity between genders.
Demonic possession seems to have a built-in audience—many still believe in that malarkey—as evidenced by the strong grosses for such poor movies as The Amityville Horror, Exorcist: The Beginning and Stigmata. What's more, the 2000 re-release of The Exorcist was the most successful re-issue since the Star Wars movies in 1997.
Exorcism further grabbed moviegoers' attention with a creepy marketing campaign touting the story as based on true events. It's a common ploy for horror pictures and was successfully used for White Noise and The Amityville Horror earlier this year. Exorcism is also a courtroom drama, but that aspect was de-emphasized in favor of the scares, including shots of everyday people making "demon faces" a la Constantine and The Devil's Advocate.
Exorcism gives Sony its first hit since March after a bleak April through August period that included such duds as Stealth and XXX: State of the Union. The company has been on a roll with September releases since 2003—in addition to Exorcism and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the rest of their September releases, The Forgotten, Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Underworld, each launched to over $20 million. All five are among the ten best September debuts.
New Line Cinema dumped The Man onto 2,040 theaters and managed $4.1 million for the weekend. When first pitched, the picture had promise—an odd couple action-comedy pairing of Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy—but, going by the marketing, the final product appeared clumsy, uninspired and unfunny.
The Man's television spots referenced "Gibson and Glover" (Lethal Weapon) and "Nolte and Murphy" (48 HRS.) before introducing Jackson and Levy, but those movies were also R-rated action pictures. The Man wasn't credible as an action movie. Not to mention, Jackson and New Line spoofed those pictures over 12 years ago in Loaded Weapon 1.
Miramax's An Unfinished Life rustled up $1 million from 139 locations, averaging an okay $7,254 per site. The debut was a titch better than Miramax's The Human Stain, which opened to $1 million at 160 theaters. Directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez and Morgan Freeman, the long-delayed drama also had 285 sneak previews (in addition to the 741 sneaks from last weekend), but the proceeds were added to Miramax stable mate The Brothers Grimm (sneak previews are almost invariably counted towards different movies).
NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, Sept. 11 and was updated on Monday, Sept. 12 with actual grosses.
• 4/18/05 - 'Horror' Takes $23M Toll on Tax Weekend
• 3/21/05 - 'Ring Two' Opens Well
• 2/18/05 - 'Constantine' Smokes in Debut
• 2/7/05 - 'Boogeyman' Creeps Into First
• 1/10/05 - 'White Noise' Resonates with $24M Debut
• Review - An Unfinished Life
• Top September Openings
• Action Buddy Comedies
• Weekend Box Office Results