This Weekend’s Winners: With an estimated $34 million opening, DreamWorks Animation’s smooth-talking feline action-comedy Puss in Boots. Honorable mention: Sony’s release of Courageous, the million-dollar Christian film, now in its fifth week, is proving to be the Energizer Bunny of cheapie-weepies, having just crested the $27 million mark.
This Weekend’s Losers: The critically pan-roasted Justin Timberlake vehicle In Time ($12 million) and Johnny Depp’s The Rum Diary ($5 million, roughly half what was forecasted by studio suits) means it might not be too late to change the latter's title to The Hangover, Too.
How It All Went Down: Little brain power is required to understand why DreamWorks’ gato had so much gusto: A spinoff to the $1.2 billion Shrek franchise was always going to do well with families, especially one that was so brilliantly marketed: Meme-yow! (Also helping: Critics embraced it as well.)
No, the more interesting result this weekend was the flaccid response to Andrew Niccol’s In Time, which has gotten admittedly mediocre reviews, but then, lots of poorly reviewed films at least open.
“Everyone in town wanted that part,” says one of our spies of Timberlake’s role. “And Niccol is a solid director I don't think he has a guy audience, which is crucial for In Time.”
Oddly, younger guys were, by far, the demographic that initially seemed to be most ready to give Timberlake a shot as a new action hero: NRG tracking leaked to Vulture by a studio source showed that 45 percent of males under 25 expressed "definite interest" in seeing In Time late last week, compared with just 41 percent of women under 25, and just 32 percent of men over 25. The problem was, our spy says, all those young dudes didn’t show up.
“While men think Justin in funny in SNL, they have yet to show up to his movies,” explained one studio executive, who declined to speak for attribution. “In Time had a big concept and one that you would expect to work. Men who would have normally gone were possibly turned away because of Justin and the bad reviews.”
Of course, In Time is nowhere near as big a bomb as Niccol’s 1997 film Gattaca, which opened to about half what Timberlake’s thriller did (roughly $6.7 million in 2011 dollars). Even still, it’s hardly the vote of confidence that major studios would have liked to see, particularly Warner Bros., which as Vulture was first to report is developing Fully Automatic as a Lethal Weapon–style action film for Timberlake.
Considering the weekend's other dud, what can we say about Rum Diary? Puerto Rico is clearly in the neighborhood of the Caribbean, but the popcorn-munching Pirates audiences know an inaccessible art house film when they smell one.
Notwithstanding Depp’s in-person tub-thumping at several colleges stretching from Berkeley, California, to Austin, Texas, younger audiences remained unenthused: Just one-in-three males under 25 express “definite interest” late last week, while only a teaspoon more of young women under 25 (35 percent) expressed the same.
Equally damning was distributor Film District’s somewhat cynical decision to uncork Rum in 2,000 theaters when a limited, word-of-mouth building release would seem to be more warranted. More warranted, of course, unless one lacks confidence in what’s going to come out of people’s mouths. Going this big, this fast, one of our studio spies suggests, means Film District is pursuing “a strategy to get as many of Johnny Depp’s fans into the theater as possible before the bad word-of-mouth spreads.”
By comparison, Paramount Vantage's specialty release Like Crazy showed how it’s done: After a promising start with 2010’s Douchebag, director Drake Doremus further garnered confidence with his Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Like Crazy, and it wasn't misplaced. The Anton Yelchin–Felicity Jones romance grossed $120,000 on just four screens this weekend. $30,000 per screen is promising as all get-out.