the industry

How Expendables and Eat Pray Love Topped Pilgrim

The Weekend’s Winners: Lionsgate’s elderly ensemble actioner The Expendables did $35 million on 3,270 screens, which was good enough for the top spot. Sony’s Julia Roberts—starring Eat Pray Love placed second with $23.7 million from 3,082 theaters.

The Weekend’s Losers: It may have killed at Comic-Con, but Universal’s Michael Cera—headlined Scott Pilgrim vs. the World could only manage $10.5 million on 2,818 screens.

How It All Went Down: “Simulated weakness postulates strength,” wrote Sun Tzu in the The Art of War, and this weekend proved the rule just as true today as it was 2,500 years ago. But lest you might think Vulture is referencing old Mr. Sun apropos of the reappearance of Mssrs. Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis et al, hold on a sec: In fact, the quote from the famous Chinese general has far more to do with Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love than the panoply of pectorals arrayed in The Expendables. Though, admittedly, the stars of both films have absorbed the maxim and profited from it.

We’ll deal with Ms. Roberts first: For the last ten years, she has convinced Hollywood she’s someone who can still open movies — by shrewdly appearing in movies that have almost always opened. This continues to be the case with Eat Pray Love: Once again, Roberts has appeared in a successful summer movie, and once again, we’re not really sure exactly how much she had to do with that.

A recent survey had found that of those who said they planned to see the film, 53 percent said that the Liz Gilbert book on which Eat was based was the single biggest motivating factor, with another 25 percent citing its exotic locations; only 22 percent picked Julia Roberts as the leading factor. (Similarly, with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger leaving office this fall with a 23 percent approval rating, we suspect his Q-scores can’t be much higher with teen girls.)

Sure enough, to the extent that Roberts still influences ticket buyers, her strength is with older women: A Sony spokesman emailed to say that exit surveys showed 72 percent of the opening weekend audience was female, and that 56 percent were over the age of 25.

Our earlier Star Market on Roberts had predicted Eat would skew older, but Sony didn’t entirely give up on luring in younger females, either.

A spokesman cited “a wide range of marketing and PR initiatives, including successful media promotions, social networking, and retail licensing programs” aimed at them. So while only 44 percent of the film’s audience was under 35 years old, nearly two-thirds of its under-35 viewers were between the ages of 17 and 29.

Good, but not good enough to be No. 1.

By comparison, The Expendables served up action heroes of the last two generations of American men. “Crabbed age and youth / Cannot live together,” wrote The Bard in The Passionate Pilgrim four centuries ago, but Shakespeare’s sonnet proved specious, for in addition to eighties icons like Stallone — who co-wrote and directed the movie — Expendables appealed to younger audiences, too. In fact, it has Generation Y action stars out the yin yang, like former wrestler “Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Jason Statham, and Jet Li, whose character’s name in The Expendables is, in fact, “Yin Yang.”

All this spelled bad news for Michael Cera and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: Asked to choose between an ironic, sunken-chested, would-be ass-kicker and actual ass-kickers, young men chose the latter: Fully 40 percent of its audience was under 25 years old, according to exit surveys.

What’s more, buried in last week’s movie ticket survey was another surprising clue as to just how well The Expendables would do: Forty two percent of respondents planning to see Expendables were female, while 43 percent of respondents said they planned to bring a date or significant other to see the bloody action film.

In the end, nearly 40 percent of Expendables audience was female, too, proving once again just how put-upon America’s wives and girlfriends really are.

Your Top Ten:

1. The Expendables: $35,030,000
2. Eat Pray Love: $23,700,000
3. The Other Guys $18,000,000 ($70,543,000)
4. Inception: $11,370,000 ($248,554,000)
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World $10,525,000
6. Despicable Me: $6,767,000 ($221,993,000)
7. Step Up 3D: $6,626,000 ($29,565,000)
8. Salt: $6,350,000 ($103,569,000)
9. Dinner for Schmucks: $6,316,000 ($58,816,000)
10. Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore $4,075,000 ($35,104,000)

How Expendables and Eat Pray Love Topped Pilgrim