This weekend’s box office winners and losers defied expectations in extreme ways; with its estimated $ 51.1 million debut, the R-rated comedy “Neighbors” knocked “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ off its perch and earned $ 10 to $ 15 million more than anyone predicted, while the animated musical “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” barely managed an eighth-place debut with an estimated $ 3.7 million, about a half to a third of what many pundits predicted. But both movies have something in common: they’re examples of the importance of booking the right number of theaters.
“Neighbors” had a lot going for it: it was well-marketed, it follows the trend of raunchy comedies doing well in the summer, it had weak competition, and even critics liked it. Still, Universal was wise to book it on 3,279 screens and no more. “Spider-Man 2″ is playing on nearly 1,000 more screens, but it was due for a big fall (almost 60 percent) in its second week, as is typical for superhero movies. Had it booked more aggressively; “Neighbors” might have spread itself too thin, but its impressive per-screen average of $ 15,575 (far and away the best of any new wide release this weekend, and nearly twice the $ 8,603 of “Spider-Man 2,”) suggests that Universal played it just right.
“Oz,” on the other hand, was a $ 70 million musical from a first-time distributor, Clarius Entertainment. So maybe 2,575 venues was too ambitious, especially given that fellow animated feature “Rio 2″ is still going strong on 2,973 screens (it nabbed an estimated $ 5.1 million this weekend, its fifth in theaters. Plus, reviews were weak, which likely discouraged parents and older kids. Had the movie opened on fewer screens, it might have been able to build over a few weeks. As it is, its poor $ ,1439 per-screen average suggests that theater owners will be quick to boot it to make room for the next major fantasy film (probably May 30’s “Maleficent”).
Other films on this week’s chart also illustrated the importance of the right theater count. The new “Moms’ Night Out,” a Christian-targeted comedy meant to emulate the likes of “Bridesmaids” and “The Other Woman” without the raunch, managed to land a major distributor in Tri-Star and a timely slot on Mother’s Day weekend, but even with studio backing and church group pre-sales, 1,044 screens was overly optimistic. As a result, the film opened with a modest $ 4,023 per-screen average, good for seventh place and an estimated total of $ 4.2 million. It was an especially tough week to open yet another Christian-themed film, given that similar movies are still holding up well in the marketplace — notably, “God’s Not Dead,” whose estimated $ 1.3 million take this weekend gives it an eight-week total of $ 57.5 million, and “Heaven Is for Real,” which actually added another 118 screens in its fourth weekend (for a total count of 3,048) and was rewarded with a fourth-place finish estimated at $ 7.0 million and a total to date of $ 75.2 million.
Speaking of “The Other Woman,” it bravely added 68 screens this weekend (despite competition from “Neighbors” and “Moms’ Night Out” ) for a total of 3,306. The tactic worked, and the movie earned an estimate $ 9.3 million, good for third place and a three-week total of $ 61.7 million.
Even among art-house movies, smart booking paid off this weekend. Historical drama “Belle,” which opened on four screens last weekend, expanded to 45 screens and averaged $ 10.511 per theater, for a weekend take estimated at $ 473,000. Jon Favreau’s “Chef” opened on just six screens but averaged $ 34,000 on each of them, the best per-theater average of any movie this week. James Franco’s “Palo Alto” opened on four screens but did very well on each of them, averaging $ 20,150 per venue. Those high per-screen averages bode well as these movies slowly expand over the next few weeks and word-of-mouth takes hold.
By the way, in its fourth weekend, “Transcendence” dropped 1,260 screens (it’s down to just 515) and finished in 23rd place with an estimated $ 321,000, or just $ 621 per venue. Which proves that, if no one really wants to see your movie, any theater count is too big.
Gallery | 10 Horrible Neighbors From the Movies
- The Griswolds (‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’)
Sometimes it’s the movie’s protagonists who are the bad eggs. Even if we’re meant to dislike the yuppies who live next to the Griswolds, we also can’t help but feel bad for them in situations where they’re being blinded by Christmas decorations, pelted by missile-like icicles shooting through their window, or getting attacked by squirrels (and the dogs attacking those squirrels).
- The Klopeks (‘The ‘Burbs’)
This odd trio, who’ve just made Mayfield Place their new home, might be murderers. Even if they’re not, though, their house has poor curb appeal, and that will certainly bring prices down for the rest of the cul-de-sac. But, again, they’re probably murderers, and the suspicious guy next-door (Tom Hanks) is not having any of that. Of course, if the Klopeks are innocent, then it’s their pesky new neighbors who are the bad ones.
- Vic and Ramona (‘Neighbors’)
Before Seth Rogen and Zac Efron made their property lines the frontlines for war, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd had a similar conflict in a 1981 comedy that really isn’t all that comedic — a real disappointment for the duo after “The Blues Brothers.” Still, we can look to the movie for another nut (an Aryan-esque Aykroyd) whom we wouldn’t want to share a street with, let alone a property line. Some guys might not mind having the seductive Ramona (Cathy Moriarty) living next door, however. At least there’s that.
- Clapet (‘Delicatessen’)
It doesn’t get much worse than living in the same building as a cannibal butcher who sells you human meat. Unless maybe he’s also your landlord. Jean-Claude Dreyfus plays this wicked man in Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s fantastical post-apocalyptic feature debut. At least the butcher has a nice daughter to adorably romance.
- The Castevets (‘Rosemary’s Baby’)
OK, maybe it can get worse, as in the situation of poor Rosemary (Mia Farrow), whose neighbors are Satanists. Not just the Castevets but many of the residents at the Dakota, where she lives. But the Castevets are the ringleaders, instrumental in getting Rosemary impregnated by the Devil and then later kidnapping the baby. If you’re a woman living next to them, the same thing might happen to you. If you’re a man, then you’ll still, at the very least, wind up seduced into their coven.
- Charlie Meadows (‘Barton Fink’)
A lot of people consider Charlie (John Goodman) to be the Devil himself in this Coen brothers masterpiece, partly due to the way walls catch on fire around him near the end. He might just be a simple serial killer, though, which isn’t all that better a neighbor to have in the tight quarters of a mostly deserted hotel. Especially if he leaves you a box with what you presume to be a decapitated head inside.
- The Langs (‘Arlington Road’)
A movie that surely instilled more fear in people after 9/11 than when it was released, “Arlington Road” poses the question of what you’d do if you were sure your new neighbors were terrorists. Coincidentally, maybe, the guy dealing with this recently moved-in family is an expert on terrorism, so he’s more likely to spot clues than the rest of us. If their arrival is intentional, then you’re actually better off not being in the know.
- Dennis Mitchell (‘Dennis the Menace’)
Mason Gamble, who is also one of the Langs in “Arlington Road,” plays the title character in the adaptation of Hank Ketcham’s famous comic strip, “Dennis the Menace.” And as his nickname implies, he is indeed a menace, especially to his neighbor Mr. Wilson (Walter Matthau). Most of the trouble with Dennis is not of his intention; he’s just sort of careless and prone to accidents that affect his next-door neighbor rather than himself. Could happen to the best of us.
- Sid Phillips (‘Toy Story’)
Sid Phillips is a kid who likes to perform terrible (yet creative) experiments on dolls and action figures, including those he steals from the boy next door. But really, isn’t the whole Phillips family guilty of being bad neighbors, since Sid’s parents do nothing to curb their son’s rotten (and psychologically worrisome) behavior?
- Lawrence (‘Office Space’)
In his defense, it’s not totally his fault that he can hear through the very thin walls of his apartment building. Yet, by continually talking to Peter (Ron Livingston), from one living room to another, Lawrence (Diedrich Bader) proves that he’s still eavesdropping and that he’s not polite enough to pretend he isn’t listening or let you know he’s there. It’s like living next-door to a beer-guzzling, completely inept spy.
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