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Your Box Office Explained: Top Flick Resident Evil: Afterlife Triumphs Over … Well, No One, Actually

THE WEEKEND’S WINNERS: Sony’s fittingly un-killable zombie franchise, Resident Evil: Afterlife, dined on the brains of moviegoers silly enough to part with their hard-earned cash. Result: a $27.7 million opening weekend for Milla Jovovich, a record high for the Screen Gems franchise, and an excuse to make a fifth installment. Also: Despite taking in only $5.9 million, Focus Features’ The American, with its production budget of $20 million, has already made $28.3 million.

THE WEEKEND’S LOSERS: Fox’s Machete was cut off at the knees. It plunged 63 percent in its second weekend, taking in only $4.2 million. Also: Summit Entertainment’s cynical re-release of Twilight: Eclipse in nearly 1,200 theaters was ostensibly a “celebration” of Bella Swan’s fictional birthday, September 13, but was really a greedy ploy to push Eclipse over the $300 million hump. Nice try, Summit: Almost no one showed up, with Eclipse taking barely three-quarters of a million dollars and leaving Summit still $400,000 short of its goal.

HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN: If you want to be the smartest guy in the room, try being the only guy in the room. Indeed, with literally nothing else new opening against it, Resident Evil had an easy time. It also helped that Sony hid its fourth outing of Alice-in-Zombieland from critics, and apparently, wisely so. Entertainment Weekly warned that “it has an unquenchable appetite for your brain cells,” and as the New York Times sniffed, even its own star, Wentworth Miller (late of Prison Break), found the latest Resident Evil plot risible:

“When I first got the script, I thought it was a practical joke,” Mr. Miller says in the film’s press notes. He’s probably not the only one.

Still, the crowd that went to see this movie wasn’t one that spends a lot of time reading newspapers or magazines — or has even held one: fifty-eight percent of Resident Evil audiences were male, and 49 percent of them under the age of 25. Aside from an aggressive and varied outdoor ad campaign, Sony reached all the young dudes by the usual means: geek-ventions and devotees of genre films. Filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson himself trekked to San Francisco’s Wondercon 2010 to premiere the 3-D trailer to the faithful, and the ad was released on MySpace (remember MySpace?) shortly thereafter. Actual movie theaters ran the teaser trailer in front of A Nightmare on Elm Street, which opened at No. 1 back on April 30.

But it should be noted that this isn’t the high-water mark for the lowbrow franchise that it brags about being: As Box Office Mojo points out, when you compare it by number of tickets purchased, Afterlife likely had the smallest-attended opening of the four films. The huge gross was more due to inflation and 3-D ticket premiums.

Elsewhere, on the specialty circuit, the Joaquin Phoenix documentary (mockumentary?) I’m Still Here proved that it’s title was technically true, though not an understatement: It earned a middling $104,500 from 18 cities on 19 screens.

Your Box Office Explained: Top Flick Resident Evil: Afterlife Triumphs Over … Well, No One, Actually