your box office explained

Your Box Office Explained: The Possession Remains Unexpelled From Top Spot

Tzadok (Matisyahu) and Em (Natasha Calis) in THE POSSESSION.
Photo: Diyah Pera

This Weekend’s “Winner”: The Possession hung on better than most demonic-themed films, which are typically expelled from theaters right quick after their opening weekend. But even so, you know things are bad when the first place finisher doesn’t even crack double digits. In this case, it managed only $9.5 million.

This Weekend’s Losers:
The Words opened — and here, we use the term ‘opened’ very loosely — to $5 million. (Which is to say, a half-teaspoon better than the 1996 Shaquille O’Neal Disney comedy, Kazaam, to pick one random film.) Even more ignominious was the fate of the aptly titled The Cold Light of Day, which opened to just $1.8 million, and didn’t even make it into this week’s dirty dozen of top finishers. Also worthy of scorn: Box office overall, which at just shy of $52 million is not just more than a third worse than the year’s previous low-water mark, but the worst showing for the weekend in a half-dozen years.

How It All Went Down: The confluence of the first week of NFL football and the second of the collegiate gridiron frame did the box office no favors. But the real problem (at the risk of stating the obvious) was the product. To use the technical Hollywood term, it was what’s known as a “suck fest.” Yet what’s truly interesting about this past weekend is how two different studios (CBS Films and Lionsgate/Summit) decided to handle two very bad situations.

With The Words, CBS decided, clearly to its detriment, to double down on its $2 million Sundance acquisition, spending what one marketing expert estimates to be at least $15 million to open the film on more than 2,000 screens. The film’s meager $5 million haul came from an audience of mostly older women (58 percent female; 78 percent 25 and older), hardly enough to give the film legs much beyond $15 million domestically.

By comparison, Lionsgate/Summit decided to utterly abandon Cold Light of Day, dumping it into just over 1,500 theaters with virtually no marketing support outside of a few trailers, thereby saving tens of millions in un-recoupable costs for prints and advertising.

Meanwhile, speaking of abandoned without marketing, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the gold standard for action–adventure movies (and this reporter’s favorite boyhood film), was re-released into a little over 250 IMAX theaters by Paramount Pictures this weekend, and grossed about as much as Cold Light, taking in $1.73 million. If you, like me, heard this news and actually snapped your fingers, screaming, “Raiders was … in theaters last weekend?!?” in frustrated dismay, you’re not alone: Mr. and Mrs. YBOE did, too.

Paramount’s marketing stinginess aside, Raiders does raise an intriguing question: If a studio can make just shy of $2 million re-releasing one of the greatest films of all time into a little over 250 IMAX theaters without so much as spending a penny, why aren’t all the studios re-releasing some of the greatest films of all time into IMAX theaters without so much as spending a penny? There’s low-hanging fruit, and then there’s fruit that falls out of the tree and lands directly in your mouth.

The Possession Remains Box Office No. 1