Weekend Box Office Recap: 'Expendables' Out-Muscles Competition, 'Scott Pilgrim' Taps Out

The star power of 'The Expendables' and 'Eat Pray Love' overwhelms the largely-ignored 'Scott Pilgrim’ this weekend.

By Alan Man

‘The Expendables’ muscled into the top spot in this weekend’s multiplexes, grossing approximately $35 million in ticket sales. ‘The Expendables’ sprinted to an early lead on Friday and never faced a threat of relinquishing it.

In what could be considered ‘Wild Hogs’ meets Call of Duty, ‘The Expendables’ jam-packed three decades’ worth of action film stars: Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), the transporter (Jason Statham), the token Asian kung fu guy (Jet Li), and even cameos from John McClaine (Bruce Willis) and the dad from Jingle All the Way (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Rounding out the cast with Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and real-life action hero, Dolph Lundgren, ensured that (male) audiences of all tastes were covered.

Stallone, who also directed the film, was keen to ramp up the camp factor. Audiences may have soured if the film took itself too seriously – and ‘The Expendables’ unequivocally avoids doing that. First, we have Yin Yang, Toll Road and Hale Caesar as character names. The film also featured a Michael Bay diaper full of explosions and “bang-bang!” It also didn’t hurt that after Stallone, Arnold, and Willis wrapped up their Planet Hollywood business meeting at a local church, they stuck around to shoot a completely unnecessary scene as an indulgent wink at the fans. The testosterone jolt was exactly what this box office needed after the year’s earlier misfires from Edge of Darkness, The Losers, and The A-Team.

Users returned the favor by giving it a “B+” on CinemaScore and a healthy “A-” on Yahoo! Considering the film’s R-rating and 43% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the execs at Lions Gate have to be pleased that ‘The Expendables’ netted $35 million. If nothing else, the hearty rake will give the independent studio some ammunition to temporarily fend off Carl Icahn’s all-too-frequent takeover attempts.

Claiming the runner-up spot was ‘Eat Pray Love’ with a gross of $23.7 million. The Bizarro version of ‘The Expendables,’ ‘Eat Pray Love’ was the ideal counter-programming to the meaty action film. The film set the stage to allow megastar Julia Roberts to do what she does best: charmingly ham it up as a middle-aged woman looking to rediscover herself. Females of all ages above 18 took the bait. Approximately 72% of the audience was female, although only 56% of those viewers were over 35 – somewhat disproportionate considering the film’s premise of navigating post-divorce midlife.

The silver-screen adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir of the same name, ‘Eat Pray Love’ chronicles a woman’s travels around the world after a spate of rough luck and heartbreak. The marriage of that premise to Julia Roberts typically means a long box office run and some flirtation with Globes and Oscar noms. However, the buzz of ‘EPL’ feels different. The film was slammed by critics, and it managed only a lukewarm “B” from CinemaScore and a “B-” from Yahoo! users. There’s also something unsettling about a Julia Roberts vehicle opening in mid-August. It’s unlikely that ‘EPL’ will have the legs of last year’s ‘Julie and Julia’ – a $40 million chick flick adaptation that legged out $100 million. More likely, expect something close to $60 million, at best, giving ‘EPL’ a pedestrian sub-3x weekend multiplier.

The car crash that Hollywood was staring at all weekend was the false start by ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.’ Stifled gasps of pity emerged on Friday night after figures slotted ‘Pilgrim’ into 4th place with a meager $4.7 million in estimated sales. What scant optimism remained from Friday night virtually evaporated Sunday when the final numbers came out: ‘Pilgrim’ dropped to 5th place with only a weekend take of $10.5 million. The Friday gross was readjusted from $4.7 million to $4.5 million, and its Friday-to-weekend multiplier was a miniscule 2.33.

The 2.33 multiplier is even more alarming – and confounding – than at first glance. By and large, the few who watched ‘Pilgrim’ enjoyed it: critics favored the movie at an 81% clip per Rotten Tomatoes, and users from CinemaScore and Yahoo! graded it out at ‘A-.’ With critical and consumer praise, where is the beef? Presumably, the word-of-mouth should have driven fans in droves to theaters on Saturday after Friday’s guinea pigs watched and enjoyed ‘Pilgrim.’ After all, internet users can be the harshest of critics, and the ‘A-’ at the biggest aggregator sites – not to mention, the top 5 buzz ‘Pilgrim’ generated on Twitter – should have meant that everyone and their mother watched ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ with everyone else and their mother.

And therein lies a possible explanation. The film was marketed towards the hip, internet-savvy youth, and the glowing reviews are reflected on all the internet aggregators and feedback sites. But how big exactly is the Web 2.0 user market? Even if ‘Pilgrim’ captured the lion’s share of those to whom it marketed, how big are the raw numbers? This is far from sound macroeconomic theory, but ‘Pilgrim’s YouTube trailer has roughly 920,000 views (as of this writing), which sounds like a healthy number. By comparison, ‘The Expendables’ YouTube trailer struts in with 7,550,000 views – more than 8 times that of ‘Pilgrim.’ Even ‘Eat Pray Love’ has managed over 1,000,000 views with its trailer, and who knows if Sony had even heard of the film until ‘EPL’s marketing bonanza the last two weeks. Again, it is far from sound economic theory, but even if 920,000 unique visitors watched the ‘Pilgrim’ YouTube trailer, and all 920,000 went to see ‘Pilgrim,’ that’s still less than $10 million in sales (assuming a $10 stub price). [Also, ‘Pilgrim’s presumably official Twitter account has only roughly 8,000 followers.]

Perhaps studios should be careful what they wish far: if you market primarily towards one segment, you may exclude all others. Then again, Universal’s marketing team should not shoulder the blame, assuming there is any blame to pass around. Clearly, audiences enjoyed the film. As it is said too often:the most enjoyable films are not always the most popular. Modern cult-classic like ‘Office Space’, ‘Fight Club’ and even ‘Boondock Saints’ found mass appeal after they hit home media. Also, April’s “disappointing” ‘Kick-Ass’ is thriving in its second life. ‘Pilgrim’ was never going to be the film you tell your mother, coworker, mailman, dentist, or little nephew to see – no, this will be the film you will enjoy on Blu-Ray five months from now, and many times after that.

Sandwiched between ‘EPL’ and ‘Pilgrim’ were ‘The Other Guys’ and ‘Inception.’ ‘The Other Guys’ dropped roughly 49% from its debut last week, coming in at $18 million. The buddy cop flick opened at a near-perfect time, with its only competition being awkward and rather esoteric ‘Dinner for Schmucks.’ Will Ferrell has seen his bankability factor drop almost as fast as Lindsay Lohan’s (exaggeration), and ‘Other Guys’ is the shot in the arm he needed. With film earning $70 million in only 10 days, Ferrell ought to clip a lock of Mark Wahlberg’s hair as a lucky charm.

‘Inception’ suffered its biggest percentage decline, but still managed $11.3 million to inch closer to a $250 million cume. Perhaps the repeat viewers have
given up trying to figure it out.

Lastly, ‘Step Up 3D’ free-fell 58% from last weekend, stepping down to a paltry $6.6 million. It’s odd that Disney Studios chose not to make this a straight-to-DVD release, yet flirted with the idea of sending ‘Toy Story 2’ straight to shelves. Speaking of which: Congrats to ‘Toy Story 3’ for hitting the $400 million club – a well-deserved bookend to a truly magical trilogy.

Here are the weekend’s figures(LA Times):

1. The Expendables, 35 million dollars
2. Eat Pray Love, 23.7 million dollars
3. The Other Guys, 18 million dollars
4. Inception, 11.4 million dollars
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 10.5 million dollars
6. Despicable Me, 6.8 million dollars
7. Step Up 3D, 6.6 million dollars
8. Salt, 6.4 million dollars
9. Dinner for Schmucks, 6.3 million dollars
10. Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, 4.1 million dollars.

(Alan Man is a registered user of ComicBookMovie.com and the owner of the fansite, The Box Office Watchmen, a website devoted to the box office analysis of comic book films. For questions, comments, or advertising information, please send feel free to e-mail us)

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