THE WEEKEND'S WINNERS: Focus Features’ arty Abruzzese sausage of an assassination thriller The American opened to a tepid $16.4 million over four days, but it was still good enough for the win. Along with the reasonably priced, target-marketed Mexploitation flick Machete, which grossed $14 million for second place, they finally dislodged the manwich that was The Expendables from the top of the charts; Stallone and Co. settled for sixth place in the film's fourth week, but are fast closing in on a $100 million domestic gross.
THE WEEKEND'S LOSERS: Going the Distance simply did not: In as much as a flaccid $8.6 million first weekend can even be considered an "opening," the Drew Barrymore/Justin Long romantic comedy opened to an ignominious fifth place.
HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN: Though this Labor Day weekend drew 5 percent more moviegoers than last year, and though The American came close to nailing one of the biggest Labor Day openings ever, that’s still a bit like saying you own the world’s heaviest Chihuahua: Labor Day is traditionally one of the least-attended weekends at the multiplex all year.
To start with, the moody Clooney Euro-thriller did not test well at all with audiences in research screenings. (As Indiewire’s Anthony D’Allesandro astutely notes, the Cinemascore test ratings for The American were so bad that the studio declined to even share them, which almost never happens.) As a result, it seems Focus Features panicked and hid the film from critics and the media until just before its Wednesday-night opening, leaving The American to essentially be powered by old-fashioned word-of-mouth among literally old-fashioned people: Audiences were primarily the over-35 set, and therefore not as likely to be the kind of folks to use Twitter to tell their pals about it.
Fox, meanwhile, shrewdly and aggressively marketed Robert Rodriguez’s Machete to Latinos — and that’s pretty much who showed up: In a country where only 15 percent of the population identifies itself as Hispanic, fully 60 percent of Machete’s audiences were Latino. Protesting anti-immigration fringe groups will likely take credit for keeping the opening weekend under $20 million, but again, we refer to them the Chihuahua analogy.