By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Hollywood fumbled the ball during a quiet Super Bowl weekend at the multiplexes as new releases such as “Hail, Caesar!” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” failed to make much noise.
For the second weekend in a row, DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda 3” easily topped box office charts. The animated sequel added $21 million to its $69 million domestic haul.
The film is playing particularly well in China, where it is being distributed by Oriental DreamWorks, a $330-million East-West joint venture. It crossed the $100 million mark in the People’s Republic this weekend after opening day-and-date in the U.S. and China on Jan. 29.
Universal’s “Hail, Caesar!,” a sendup of the Hollywood studio system from the Coen brothers, fared best among the new entrants, though that’s grading on a generous curve. It picked up a mediocre $11.4 million for a second place finish.
A C-minus CinemaScore could spell trouble for the film’s long-term prospects, signaling the satire is divisive with audiences.
Universal distribution chief Nicholas Carpou said that CinemaScore may not capture the brothers’ fan base, noting that previous films from the pair, such as “The Ladykillers” (C CinemaScore) and “Intolerable Cruelty” (C+) have scored poorly, but showed some endurance. The pair’s biggest hit, “True Grit,” earned a B+ CinemaScore.
“There are some films that really defy polling in a general sense,” said Carpou. “The Coen brothers are legitimate auteur filmmakers and they have a loyal fan base that is coming out to see this movie.”
“Hail, Caesar!” stars Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson and cost $22 million to produce. Universal distributed the film across 2,222 locations. The opening weekend crowd was 52% male, 69% over the age of 35 and 86% Caucasian.
The weekend was particularly hostile for the other films elbowing into theaters. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” a hybrid of Jane Austen’s romances and “The Walking Dead,” earned a wan $5.2 million from 2,931 locations. It’s another sign that Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of the book that inspired the movie, has had trouble translating his genre-mashing style to the big screen.
Grahame-Smith’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” also struggled at the box office when it was released in 2012. Sony and Screen Gems distributed the film, while Cross Creek fully financed the $28 million production.
The film skewed female, with women making up 58% of ticket buyers and was seen as a counter-programming play against the Super Bowl.
"We would have liked to have done more,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution chief. “It’s a movie that screened well and that we all really liked a lot. It’s clever and smart and fun.”
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” has been in the works for years, with directors such as David O. Russell and stars such as Natalie Portman falling into and out of the project at various stages in its development. The cast that finally shepherded the film to screens includes Lily James, Matt Smith, Sam Riley and Jack Huston, with Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”) directing from a script he wrote.
Lionsgate’s “The Choice” rounded out the top five, mustering a feeble $6.1 million from 2,631 North American theaters. The story of a veteran (Benjamin Walker) who falls in love with his neighbor (Teresa Palmer) comes from the pen of romance novelist Nicholas Sparks. Given the tepid reception, it seems unlikely to rival the popularity of previous Sparks adaptations such as “Dear John” or “The Notebook,” both of which made more than $80 million stateside. Lionsgate acquired the film for $10 million.
Two holdovers secured third and fourth place on the charts — “The Revenant” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The Leonardo Dicaprio survivalist drama picked up $7.1 million to bring its domestic total to $149.7 million. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” nabbed $6.9 million pushing its North American haul to a godly $906 million.
On Saturday, the space opera became only the third film in history along with “Avatar” and “Titanic” to cross $2 billion globally.
In limited release, the Weinstein Company debuted the Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson psychological thriller “Regression” in 100 theaters where it eked out $31,000 for a dismal $310 per-screen average.
Look for ticket sales to flatline on Sunday as Americans gather around their television sets to watch the Denver Broncos take on the Carolina Panthers. Historically, Super Bowl weekend is a down one for the industry — last year football’s biggest game caused ticket sales to drop 57% from the previous weekend. But the match-ups also provide a marketing bonanza for the movie business, with studios preparing to tease upcoming blockbusters such as “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” during this year’s broadcast.
“It’s like an annuity,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “Super Bowl may take a bite out of the box office, but it allows Hollywood to put their trailers on a worldwide stage in a way that will pay off later.”