Breezing past industry expectations that had it pegged for the mid-teen million range, Paramount Pictures' romantic comedy flew higher than Disney's family remake, The Shaggy Dog, which was projected to win, and Fox Searchlight's horror remake, The Hills Have Eyes, neither of which came close to the recent heights of their respective genres. Despite the three high profile releases, overall business was down five percent from the comparable frame last year when Robots bowed to $36 million.
"You have to be happy when a movie opens 40 to 50 percent more than the tracking indicated," said Paramount's president of distribution, Jim Tharp, of Failure to Launch's opening. "I think people were in the mood for a romantic comedy, and, clearly, they like Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker in the roles." Tharp reported Friday exit polling figures that showed 70 percent of the audience was female and 59 percent was over 25 years old.
Produced for over $50 million, Failure's tale of a 35-year-old man (McConaughey) still living at his parents' home appealed as the first broadly-mounted romantic comedy of the year, and it featured a clear, catchy premise and actors that fit the genre.
Failure to Launch succeeded by following the same formula as McConaughey's last negatively-titled foray into the genre, Paramount's How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Failure's poster was even similar with a full-body shot of McConaughey leaning against Parker, like he did with Kate Hudson on How to Lose.
After just revisiting The Pink Panther, moviegoers were less charmed by The Shaggy Dog. Disney's super-saturation release featuring Tim Allen lapped up $16.3 million at 3,501 theaters, soft relative to the recent opening of the studio's other dog-themed picture, Eight Below. The studio's research indicated families made up 75 percent of the audience, much higher than Eight Below and The Pink Panther, each of which were in the 50 percent range.
Disney has been a leader in remaking family movies, most notably with 101 Dalmatians and Freaky Friday, but it takes more than special effects and a brand name of yore to strike a chord. The Shaggy Dog, which sold fewer tickets out of the gate than any past Tim Allen family movie, may have shed its audience further with a strange poster of Allen's eyes on a dog's face and a marketing campaign that focused on the crude gag of Allen ramming into an elderly lady.
The Hills Have Eyes, a Wes Craven-produced $15 million remake of Craven's own 1977 horror picture of the same name, gutted $15.7 million from 2,620 venues. Another entry in the ever preponderant horror remake sub-genre, the opening was more House of Wax than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the picture didn't stand out in a market bombarded with gruesome horror pictures, like the twistier Hostel and Saw II. Nonetheless, it marked Fox Searchlight's biggest nationwide start yet, topping Brown Sugar from 2002.
"We were expecting $13 to $14 million," said Fox Searchlight's head of distribution, Steve Gilula, of The Hills Have Eyes. "We have been doing independent and lower budget films for some years, and when something unique comes along, with Craven producing and Alexandre Aja directing, we thought it would be notable for the genre."
Seeing its first national exposure after an unfruitful one-week Oscar-qualifying run last year, The Libertine limped to a flaccid $2.2 million at 815 theaters. The Weinstein Company's murky period drama starring Johnny Depp was promoted as "The Most Controversial Film of the Year," but the promise of debauchery alone couldn't lure moviegoers as the genre is not known for high returns (Casanova, Quills).
Also over the weekend, the Oscar winner for Best Picture, Crash, had a theatrical re-hash. Out on DVD since September, Lionsgate's urban drama grossed a mere $342,709 at 175 locations for a lifetime tally of $53.7 million—still the least-attended Best Picture winner ever on record.
• 2/21/06 - 'Eight Below' Enjoys Warm Reception
• 5/9/05 - 'Kingdom' of Limbo, 'House' of Lax
• 3/14/05 - 'Robots' Rivets (Same Weekend, Last Year)
• Review - Failure to Launch
• Romantic Comedies
• Family Remakes
• Horror Remakes
• Weekend Box Office Results
NOTE: This report was originally written on Sunday, Mar. 12 and was revised on Monday, Mar. 13 with actual grosses.