Weekend Briefing: 'Machete,' 'American' Hack Into Labor Day

by Brandon Gray

September 3, 2010

The summer movie season is poised for a typically quiet close this Labor Day weekend. Three pictures enter the nationwide fray: Going the Distance strikes over 3,300 screens at 3,030 locations, The American hits approximately 3,200 screens at 2,823 locations, and Machete slashes onto around 3,400 screens at 2,670 locations.

The American opened on Wednesday to $1.67 million and made another $1.47 million on Thursday, topping both days. While that may seem ho-hum, it actually was solid for its genre and for the time of year. Past comparable movies, The Constant Gardener and Traitor, each debuted on the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend and had grossed around half as much as The American. If American were to follow a similar pattern as those movies, its four-day Labor Day weekend haul would be close to $20 million. Aside from that, The American finds George Clooney on familiar movie turf, and its marketing has promised an internationally-flavored action thriller, though nothing about it suggests a break-out from genre norms.

With Machete, director Robert Rodriguez turned Grindhouse's fake movie trailer of the same name into a real movie, and hitched a large, name cast to go along with it, including Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson and Steven Seagal in addition to the Rodriguez regulars, namely Danny Trejo in the title role. A barrage of actors and exploitation thrills, though, doesn't guarantee box office success: Grindhouse itself was a bust, grossing just $25 million in its entire run. These late summer action movies rarely gross much more than that, and it would be unrealistic to expect Machete to break the mold, despite the cast and added controversy of the movie taking on Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Machete has continued the Grindhouse theme in its advertising, and the fan base for such fare is vocal but limited, much like it was for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Going the Distance, a romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, aims for women and the date crowd, but its premise of two people trying to maintain a long-distance relationship doesn't exactly set off sparks: there's little sense of romantic anticipation and conflict. Perhaps realizing this, the movie's television spots have honed in on the antics of the supporting characters, seemingly trying to pass the movie off as a Judd Apatow production. Another issue was a last minute release date change from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3: the TV ads had been pushing Aug. 27, and billboards and internet ads still stated Aug. 27 when that date had passed. All told, Going the Distance appears to have as much going for it as movies like The Switch and Love Happens.

In Box Office Mojo's reader polling, Machete has generated the most opening weekend interest, logging over 25 percent of the votes in the "when will you see it" poll. Generally, though, scoring for this type of picture sees a low ratio compared to the actual box office. The opening weekend grosses for Grindhouse, Gamer, Shoot 'Em Up and Sin City were all fractions of their polling scores. Machete's results were close to Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, but with a bit more heat.

The American's poll results were curiously less auspicious than its Wednesday and Thursday grosses. Its opening weekend score was 13.4 percent, and most of its comparables had modest voting-to-opening ratios, including recent George Clooney movies like Michael Clayton and The Men Who Stare at Goats. American's numbers, however, were closest to but less than Edge of Darkness, which had a more favorable ratio.

Going the Distance's opening weekend score was less than six percent, and its results had a near identical pattern to The Switch and Catch and Release, only with slightly less interest.

For each of the three new releases, more people voted to never see them than any other option.

For further perspective, the past similar movies and polling results suggest the following grosses for the four-day Labor Day weekend:
1. The American - $17 million
2. Machete - $14 million
3. Takers - $11 million
4. Going the Distance - $9.5 million
5. The Last Exorcism - $8.5 million

Last Weekend
'Takers,' 'Exorcism' Possess Top Two Spots

This Timeframe in Past Years:
2009 - 'Final Destination' Clings to Labor Day Lead
2008 - 'Bangkok Dangerous' Tops Weekend with Small Opening
2007 - '3:10 to Yuma' Arrives at Top Spot
2006 - 'Covenant' Hovers Over Weak Weekend
2005 - 'Exorcism' Torments Top Spot, Sticks It to 'The Man'

Similar Movies to:
'Going the Distance'
'The American'

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New MPAA Ratings Added
DAILY: Monday, 1/21 (33 tracked)
WEEKEND: 4-Day Weekend Actuals, 'Glass' #1
WEEKEND: Weekend Actuals, 'Glass' #1
DAILY: Friday, 'Glass' #1
WEEKLY: 'The Upside' Tops the Week with $28.3m
DAILY: Thursday 1/17, (42 tracked)
DAILY: Wednesday, 1/16 (34 tracked)
DAILY: Tuesday, 1/15 (34 tracked)