Your Box Office Explained: How Super 8 Overcame Its Bad Tracking

Photo: Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Copyright ? 2010 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. All Rights Reserved.

This Weekend’s Winners: Super 8 (with an asterisk). Its estimated $38 million opening was between $8 million and $13 million more than was expected, given the film’s anemic tracking. With no asterisk is Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, now rolling toward $14 million in grosses in its second week. This weekend it took in $6.1 million take on fewer than a thousand screens — Allen's best showing since Hannah and Her Sisters 25 (!) years ago

This Weekend’s Loser: And here comes the asterisk. In a week with no opening competition save Judy Moody and her summer devoid of bummers, we have to put Super 8 in this category, too. Though better than many expected, its $38 million opening was $3 million less than that of 2008's Cloverfield. Now there was a monster America was dying to see!

How It All Went Down: That Super 8 didn't end up more loser than winner is due to the impressive eleventh-hour push by Paramount; new, flashier ads, early screenings on Thursday, and an encouraged Twitter drum beat of largely positive word-of-mouth saved all concerned the considerable embarrassment of not opening at No. 1 when it was the only new big film in theaters. Up until last week, in spite (or perhaps because?) of its heavyweight parentage, Super 8 seemed to have been doing its level best not to intrigue ever since its explosive teaser trailer debuted last summer. Contrary to the now-iconic, headless Statue of Liberty that came to define Cloverfield, Super 8's posters and print ads featured a drab, nondescript landscape view, tilted on its side, telling us ... nothing. Indeed, if Super 8 sinned, then its chief transgression was an implicit “Abrams. Spielberg. Alien monster. You'll be there” arrogance in its posture, one that almost left the film forgotten, overshadowed by the more bombastic show-you-everything trailers for the summer's superhero events.

The studio insists the whole enchilada cost $75 million; haters insist it’s double that, but whatever the case, the real stumble of Super 8 was the marketing that might have been. In the winter of 1996, after Roland Emmerich blew up the White House during Independence Day's Super Bowl XXX ad, I recall my then-girlfriend insisting, half-seriously, "I don’t care if I have to sell my body to the night: We are going to be at the first showing of that." When it came to Super 8's trailers, instead of sparking interest in the film itself, their early-Spielberg-nostalgia vibe just left many wanting to run out and rent Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Determined to keep his mystery box shut, Abrams still never gave in and trotted out his alien in order to lure audiences: That teasing approach worked better for Cloverfield, but that opened in February, far from the height of special effects season. But as opening day neared, later Super 8 TV ads became more showy, traditionally blockbuster-y, and Inception-y. And they seemed to have worked to reenergize late interest.

Meanwhile, the well-reviewed X-Men: First Class held on tight, losing 53 percent of its audience. That's pretty standard for Spandex-heavy moviemaking, but better than just about every X-Men film save the second. One never imagined that a day would come when a Marvel Comics movie would rely on rumpled film critics for sustenance. O, bitter irony!