Box office report: ‘Carnage’ weak opening; ‘The Artist,’ ‘The Descendants’ stay strong

The weekend before Christmas is traditionally dedicated more to parties, travel and shopping than moviegoing. However, it is significant as awards-oriented films fight for audience attention both to spark word-of-mouth (WOM) at Christmas dinners and add screens in the gross-rich days starting next Sunday. Distributors have to hope that the generally disappointing results this weekend aren’t a sign of things to come with the particularly adult-oriented set of wide releases beginning with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” on Tuesday.

Carnage” (Sony Pictures Classics)
$85,000 in 5 theaters; PSA (Per screen average): $17,000
This is a weak opening, about 50% ahead of “Rabbit Hole” last year (PSA $11,000 in five, leading to a gross of only slightly over $2 million despite an Oscar bid for Nicole Kidman.) “The Ghost Writer”, Roman Polanski’s last film, opening in February 2010, had a PSA of $46,000 in four theaters. Both of the 2008 Kate Winslet releases also did better: “Revolutionary Road” in three theaters (opening right after Christmas) had a PSA of $63,000 its first weekend while “The Reader” pre-Christmas reached $21,000 in eight. “The Wrestler,” which also opened on the pre-Christmas weekend, had $51,000 in four.

Bottom line: The two Golden Globe nominations for Comedy/Musical Actress could be its only hope for awards attention. Considering the source material, the cast and the director, this is one of the major disappointments among specialized releases this year.

“Corman’s World” (Anchor Bay)
$7,000 in 2 theaters; PSA: $3,500
“Cook County” (Hannover House)
$8,000 in 5 theaters; PSA: $1,600
Fighting both heavy competition and an unfriendly weekend, neither film found attention. The Roger Corman documentary had substantial press coverage which at least gives its upcoming DVD release more attention.

Continuing/Expanding films
Young Adult” (Paramount)
$3.7 million in 986 theatres (+978); PSA: $3,700; Cumulative: $4.1 million
At first blush, this looks weak, and it will likely widely be reported as such. But it is premature to write this film’s obituary. Why? With a production budget of only $12 million, it will take only a modest shelf life to turn an eventual profit. It is guaranteed much better Christmas playtime ahead on these screens. And the weekday grosses last week in NY/LA showed a steady growth with apparent decent WOM, which if replicated from the early sampling in these new runs could mean more life ahead. Its PSA is similar to “The Descendants,” considered successful in slightly more theaters. That’s not a bad standard to equal.

Exactly one year ago, “Black Swan” expanded to about as many theaters, and grossed more than double ($8.4 million) on its way to passing $100 million. That weekend gross was rightly considered exceptional. Director Jason Reitman’s two previous films were both eventual major Oscar contenders, while this is mainly contending for actress and perhaps screenplay. They waited until Christmas weekend to expand to this level on their way to substantial total grosses. “Young Adult” is unlikely to reach those levels.

Bottom line: If those who have seen the film so far like it, “Young Adult” still has a chance to perform, if not sensationally, at least well enough to keep Reitman’s solid track record intact.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (Focus)
$452,000 in 16 theaters (+12); PSA: $28,500; Cumulative: $852,000
Who needs awards recognition? Performing at a solid level as Focus added a few new cities to its platform release, the strong reviews and interest in this adaptation of the John LeCarre classic among adult audiences builds on its very strong openings next week. If it continues to show similar life as it grows, it will be like defying gravity — this film was meant to be buttressed by awards recognition which has not been forthcoming as yet. At a similar number of theates, its PSA is substantially better than those of  “The Artist.”

Bottom line: The results so far likely indicate it will still justify at a least viewing by Academy members, who perhaps may be more in tune with the film.

The Artist” (The Weinstein Co.)
$287,000 in 17 theaters (+1); PSA: $16,900; Cumulative: $1,327,000
With the next cities (still limited) being added next Friday, this unusually slow Weinstein roll-out shows signs of improvement from not much above ordinary previous grosses this weekend. The total, with only one new theater added, fell only 3%, a sign that both the significant award recognition and slowly developing WOM are taking hold. This more limited approach is appropriate as there is clearly some resistance to the film, which has performed below what would be expected of such an acclaimed property. However, slow and steady could still turn out to be the right decision.

Bottom line: The experiment so far has been reasonably successful. How this performs in more cities during the next few weeks as awards momentum grows could make a big difference to its ultimate Oscar chances.

The Descendants” (Fox Searchlight)
$3,350,000 in 878 theaters (+2); PSA: $3,815; Cumulative: $28.8 million
Down only about 23% from last weekend, which would be terrific even not taking into account the lack of interest in moviegoing this weekend. As a pre-Christmas, pre-Oscar nomination, pre-wider release total this justifies earlier expectations of passing $100 million down the line. This continues to be the people’s choice so far among top Oscar contenders. 

Bottom line: This has been a text-book example of maximizing a film’s potential and positioning it for even greater rewards ahead. How will it hold up against so many other films going after a similar audience?

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Hugo” (Paramount)
$3,625,000 in 2,532 theaters (-76); PSA: $1,400; Cumulative: $39.1 million
Monday could very well determine this film’s future, both in terms of eventual box office and awards. Much of its take comes from prime 3D screens that “Tintin” will soon be on. Its gross is equal to several other November releases that either will be coming off-screen or limited to matinees. With Paramount looking for maximum screens for “Mission: Impossible” and to keep “Young Adult” going, they are going to have to fight hard to keep “Hugo” in so many theaters..

It did have the smallest falloff (- 40%) of any film on over 1,000 screens, but it comes from a weak starting position. It doesn’t seem yet to be gaining sufficient adult attention to make up for the lack of children’s interest, and even if it does keep playing at a reasonable number of screens, the increased overall audience is going to have a lot of other alternatives in the next few weeks.

Bottom line: Clearly this will continue to be somewhat of an on-screen presence until the Oscar nominations, which it could well lead. But Paramount is going to have to keep spending disproportionate advertising to sustain any sort of gross, adding to its expense. This is increasingly looking like the “Reds” of 2011 — an acclaimed film by a major director that remains an Oscar contender but suffers from the perception of lack of audience interest.

Shame” (Fox Searchlight)
$305,000 in 51 theaters (+30); PSA: $6,000; Cumulative: $1.3 million
Moving out quickly now to many markets, its gross increasing slightly while the total theaters more than doubled, this is performing adequately enough to make Michael Fassbender a real Oscar contender. Fox Searchlight has proven that NC-17 need not be a barrier to playing a normal, even somewhat expedited specialized release. That is a crucial part in its eventual total gross. 

Bottom line: This already looks like it will substantially outperform tough sell “Rabbit Hole,” and might come close to the nearly $10 million total of “Blue Valentine,” particularly if Fassbender is nominated. That would be a significant achievement.

A Dangerous Method” (Sony Classics)
$159,000 in 17 theaters (+14); PSA: $9,400; Cumulative: $728,000
Ater a steady, decent initial NY/LA platform, this is a mediocre expansion and looks particularly anemic when compared to “Tinker, Tailor”’s very similar add-ons this weekend (often at the same theaters).

Bottom line: Again, it is pre-Christmas, but when this looks like, at best, a minor awards’ player, it looks now far more like a niche, lower-grossing film than David Cronenberg’s other recent films.

My Week with Marilyn” (The Weinstein Co.)
$586,000 in 244 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,400; Cumulative: $6.1 million
Down only 25% this weekend, this film ends its pre-holiday life well-positioned to compete in the upcoming crowded field before eventually reaching a much-wider audience as mid-January’s award schedule justifies. However, for this number of theaters, it is not a strong PSA.

Bottom line: Weinstein again is going more slowly with a potential Oscar winner, which likely was the right choice. This was never going to achieve teh grosses of last year’s “Black Swan” or this year’s “The Help,”  but it is doing well enough to support Michelle Williams’ chances.

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