A repeat box office victory for “Oz the Great and Powerful” was a given this weekend, so all the action was on the undercard with the battle for second place between newbies “The Call” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” In other words, it was a bout between two aging fighters who are no longer the box office draws they once were, Halle Berry and Jim Carrey
Going into the weekend, pundits predicted that “Wonderstone,” the PG-13-rated dueling-magicians comedy starring Carrey and Steve Carell, would finish in the high teens, while Berry’s R-rated thriller “The Call” would earn $ 10 million at best. In fact, the reverse happened, with Berry opening in second place with an estimated $ 17.1 million, while “Wonderstone” had to settle for a third-place debut with an estimated $ 10.3 million.
How did Berry, who hasn’t had a solid hit since 2006′s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” win an upset over the Carrey-Carell tag team that had once scored such hits as “Bruce Almighty” and “Horton Hears a Who”? Part of it has to do with execution, but part also has to do with chasing the right audience.
Here’s how the two films matched up in key areas of competition:
Word-of-Mouth: According to CinemaScore, “The Call” earned a B+, while “Wonderstone” earned a C+. That means moviegoers were recommending the Berry thriller to each other highly; the Carrey comedy, not so much. To put it another way, “The Call” delivered the chills and plot twists viewers expect from a kidnapping/serial killer thriller, while “Wonderstone” did not deliver the absurdist laughs audiences expected from the Carrey-Carell pairing.
Reviews: For once, critics and audiences seem to be in agreement. Critics had only modest expectations for both films, so they were pleasantly surprised when “The Call” exceeded them, and they were disappointed when “Wonderstone” failed to meet them. So while both movies earned mixed reviews, those for “The Call” leaned positive while those for “Wonderstone” leaned the other way. Of course, it often doesn’t matter what the critics think, as the audience for most blockbuster fare ignore their reviews. This time, however…
Audience: The audience for “The Call” turned out to be 61 percent female and 53 percent over the age of 30. Not only do older audiences pay more attention to the critics, but they also rush to see thrillers, especially character-driven ones built around recognizable stars. (See Liam Neeson’s recent career renaissance, for example). And they’re not kept out by an R rating.
Star Power: Neither Berry nor Carrey has had much success at the box office in recent years. Having Carell on board should have tipped the scales in Carrey’s favor, but not even the “Despicable Me” star could overcome the movie’s poor word-of-mouth. Berry, however, has come to specialize in these Lifetime-style woman-in-peril roles in recent years, so she was poised to do what viewers expected of her. And the ethnic diversity of her cast (which included Morris Chestnut, David Otunga, Justina Machado, and Jose Zuniga), may have opened “The Call” up to audiences who, like the older female audience, Hollywood usually neglects.
It’s interesting to note that neither film cost that much to make. “Burt Wonderstone’ cost just $ 30 million, a bargain given the cast, the Las Vegas setting, and the lavish-looking production values. “The Call” was even more economical at just $ 13 million. But the haul for “The Call” means it’s already grossed more than it cost to make, while “Burt Wonderstone” will struggle to recoup its cost. Studios will certainly take note of that difference when deciding whether to work with Berry or Carrey any time soon.
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