the industry

How ‘Despicable Me’ Turned Into a Surprise Hit

THE WEEKEND’S WINNERS: Even though its young target audience likely had little idea what “despicable” meant, Despicable Me dominated with an estimated $60.1 million opening. That’s a stunning opening for an animated movie that is neither a sequel nor a Pixar movie. (And speaking of Pixar, Toy Story 3 climbed to $340.2 million, making it the highest-grossing film of 2010 so far and the highest-grossing Pixar movie ever.) Meanwhile, the other big opener of the weekend, Predators, took third place (after Eclipse) with $25.3 million.

THE WEEKEND’S LOSERS: Technically, the concept of “funny” took a beating, considering that Grown Ups passed the $100 million mark. But there were no financial losers: In fact, the weekend’s total take was up 43 percent over the same time period last year.

HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN: Despicable Me’s giant opening is doubly shocking when you consider where it was just a month ago. Vulture obtained one firm’s tracking numbers, and on June 16, only 57 percent of people polled had general awareness of the film (when told the title, they recognized it), and only 26 percent expressed definite interest. These are not encouraging numbers for a big summer movie one month prior to opening, and some box-office watchers started writing its obit early. But then Universal paired its trailer up with the behemoth Toy Story 3 and the numbers started rising. Posters ran everywhere, focusing less on the despicable main character (voiced by Steve Carell) and more on his little green yellow minions.

It was a wise move; these little guys not only made a far better hook than Carell’s hook-nosed Gru, but they also likely created a positive connection in people’s minds with the tiny three-eyed martians in Toy Story 3. Soon, kids recognized them on sight, and the tracking numbers quickly began to climb; by last Friday, Universal was all the way up to 91 percent general awareness and 41 percent definite interest. And somewhere out there, a film exec is now ordering a new animated film that features a tiny bug-eyed army: “I don’t give a fuck what it’s about, just make sure they’re little, cute, and speak in helium voices!”

Predators also exceeded expectations with its take. Obviously, the franchise has a loyal following, but Fox also made sure to lure in the geeks by preceding all trailers with the words “Robert Rodriguez Presents.” Back in 1994, the writer-director (who already has a loyal following of genre-movie lovers) had written an infamous script for a Predator sequel that was eventually leaked online, and over the last decade it has become a lust object for the series’ fans.

By putting Rodriguez’s name so prominently on the marketing materials (he is also a producer), Fox was likely hoping that acolytes of the infamous script would come running. However, if these fans looked closely at the title card that whizzed quickly by at the end of the ads, they would have seen that Rodriguez wasn’t credited with the script, Alex Litvak and Michael Finch were. Rodriguez didn’t even get a “Story By” nod, and Vulture has learned that that was a result of WGA arbitration; the Writers Guild decided that the script had been so extensively rewritten that Rodriguez didn’t warrant any credit at all. Well, perhaps Rodriguez can take some solace in the fact that Cinemascore exit polling showed that audiences only gave Predators a C+. Don’t blame him, he didn’t write it!

How ‘Despicable Me’ Turned Into a Surprise Hit