Monday, February 21, 2011

'Unknown' Takes Top Spot, 'Number Four' Is Number Two

by Brandon Gray of BoxOffice Mojo
Moviegoers were numb to Number Four after its marketing blitz. The wannabe franchise starter disappointed in second place and could land lower when Sunday and Monday numbers come in. Instead, the top spot was taken by the less-hyped Unknown, and Gnomeo and Juliet was still in the hunt. Overall business was down 29 percent from last Presidents' Day weekend.

Promoted as the follow-up to Taken, Unknown dredged up an estimated $21.8 million at 3,043 locations over the weekend. While that opening was less showy than Taken's $24.7 million start, it was stronger than Edge of Darkness, and it more than tripled the last thriller featuring Liam Neeson, The Next Three Days, and more than doubled the last Presidents' Day weekend Euro-thriller The International. Ads for Unknown, which was Neeson's first proper action vehicle since Taken, declared "It's Taken meets The Bourne Identity," and Taken was laden throughout the campaign, from Neeson's character saying how his wife and life were "taken" to the word "take" from the tagline "take back your life" being highlighted. So Neeson's Taken card has been thoroughly played. Hope it was worth it.

With an estimated $19.5 million at 3,154 locations (including 230 IMAX venues that accounted for 12 percent of the gross), "flashlight hands" saw his franchise hopes flicker out, despite a flood of advertising prior to release. Among comparable Presidents' Day weekend titles, I Am Number Four's first weekend was significantly worse than Jumper's $27.4 million as well as Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief's $31.2 million, and neither of those movies spawned sequels. The sci-fi action romance, which was an unacknowledged remake of television's Roswell (did they think we wouldn't notice?) among others, also fared worse than Race to Witch Mountain ($24.4 million).

I Am Number Four was a particularly contrived attempt at starting a new franchise in the vein of Twilight. However, it was fundamentally limited by being from the perspective of the supernatural boy, instead of the relatable, normal girl (Twilight would not be as successful if seen through Edward's eyes), and the golden god lead wasn't a sufficient entry point into the story. The marketing, for all its magnitude, failed to convey why anyone should care, and most ads pushed generic sci-fi action with the random appearance of the "Number Six" girl instead of the love interest (all three leads were blond, adding to the confusion) and with only a few bones thrown to girls during Glee and on The CW. Ultimately, I Am Number Four's rote attempt to appeal to both genders meant it wasn't cool enough for boys and wasn't romantic enough for girls. Besides, aliens are not as attractive to girls as vampires. This was borne out in exit polling from Walt Disney Pictures, which distributed the DreamWorks movie through its Touchstone label: 57 percent of the audience was male, though 59 percent was labeled "couples." The key age demographics were 18-34 years old (50 percent) and 12-17 years old (18 percent).

Hot on I Am Number Four's heels, Gnomeo and Juliet had the most impressive showing of the weekend, attracting an estimated $19.4 million (55 percent of which from 3D presentations) for a $50.4 million tally in ten days (Yogi Bear had $35.9 million at the same point). The animated comedy was off only 24 percent from last weekend, and it is projected to be No. 1 on Sunday and Monday and is still in the running to top the long Presidents' Day weekend.

In fourth, Just Go With It racked up an estimated $18.2 million, down 40 percent from last weekend for a $60.8 million tally in ten days. The romantic comedy continued to perform at the low end for an Adam Sandler vehicle, and business was significantly down from Sandler's February movie 50 First Dates, which had $71.7 million by Day Ten (or the equivalent of over $92 million adjusted for ticket price inflation).

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son lumbered into fifth with an estimated $17.0 million debut at 2,821 locations. That was much less than its predecessors: The first Big Momma's House pulled in $25.7 million (or over $38 million adjusted), while Big Momma's House 2 bagged $27.7 million (or nearly $34 million adjusted). The opening was also on the low-end for a fat-suit comedy, but the relatively flabby numbers were understandable considering it's been five years since Big Momma's 2 and that the movie came off as an inessential milking of the franchise. According to distributor 20th Century Fox, 60 percent of Big Mommas's audience was female (compared to 67 percent for Big Momma's 2) and there was an even split over and under 25 years old.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never cooled 54 percent in its second weekend, grossing an estimated $13.6 million for a happening $48.5 million in ten days. Bieber continued to shame the Jonas Bothers, but his total digits were still lower than Hannah Montana and Michael Jackson: This Is It. The Eagle was in ninth, fizzling 59 percent to an estimated $3.6 million for a puny $15 million in ten days.

Meanwhile, The King's Speech held its ground again, boasting the smallest decline among nationwide releases. The Oscar contender was off nine percent to an estimated $6.6 million, lifting its total to $103.3 million in 87 days. After topping The Social Network on Thursday, it surpassed Black Swan on Sunday.

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