Weekend Box Office (September 17 - 19, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers listened to film critics as the acclaimed new releases The Town starring Ben Affleck and Easy A with Emma Stone debuted in the top two spots with strong ticket sales by appealing to older men and younger women, respectively. Meanwhile, the new Hollywood offerings with bad reviews - the horror pic Devil and the 3D animated film Alpha and Omega - struggled to find ticket buyers over what was a relatively active weekend for mid-September.

Warner Bros. scored a well-needed hit with Ben Affleck's bank robbery thriller The Town which powered ahead of expectations to open with $23.8M, according to final studio figures, easily winning a crowded frame. The R-rated crime flick averaged a terrific $8,322 from 2,861 locations and played to an adult audience looking for a quality fall drama. Reviews were exceptionally good with many critics calling it a contender for one of the ten Best Picture Oscar nomination slots. Town also starred Jon Hamm of the red hot Emmy Award-winning series Mad Men, Jeremy Renner of the Academy Award-winning The Hurt Locker, and Blake Lively from the hit teen soap Gossip Girl.

Affleck, who also directed, hasn't occupied the number one spot in a lead role since February 2003 when his Daredevil scored a strong debut. He followed up that superhero flick with Gigli later in the year which became one of the most panned films of the decade. With a reasonably modest production budget of less than $35M, the Boston-set Town skewed towards older men with 75% of the audience being over 25 and 55% being male. Connecting with that demographic in the fall when NFL and college football are major distractions is not easy. Plenty of cash was spent on marketing with the acclaimed film playing at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals and a major premiere held at Fenway Park in Boston to help generate waves of publicity.

With the exception of Inception, Warner Bros. had a lousy summer suffering through the likes of the comic book dud Jonah Hex and the subpar performance of the pricey comedy sequel Sex and the City 2. The Town gives the studio what could be a leggy fall performer given the strong reviews and older audience base. The studio's Boston-set crime dramas The Departed and Mystic River - also released in the fall and loved by critics - went on to finish with about five times their opening weekend takes before making additional coin from Oscar re-releases.

Young women powered the high school comedy Easy A into a strong second place showing with $17.7M. Yet another hit from Sony's Screen Gems unit following Takers and Resident Evil: Afterlife, the PG-13 film about a clean cut high school girl that profits from rumors of her sexual exploits averaged a healthy $6,209 from 2,856 theaters. Critics gave high marks to the Emma Stone vehicle which also starred Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. With a low production cost of only $8M, Easy A looks to become an easy moneymaker. Studio research showed that 67% of the audience was female and half was under 18.

A slick marketing campaign exciting teenagers was key to the success. Stone had appeared in supporting roles in Superbad, The House Bunny, and Zombieland but had never anchored a film before. Her stock has certainly climbed. Sony is hoping that strong reviews and good word-of-mouth will help broaden the audience. But a slim 5% uptick on Saturday indicates the usual upfront teen turnout.

The horror entry Devil, the first of M. Night Shyamalan's three-picture pet project deal with Media Rights Capital, didn't scare up much business opening in third place with only $12.3M. The PG-13 pic about a group of people trapped in an elevator with Satan averaged $4,375 from 2,809 locations for Universal which is distributing worldwide. The studio paid $27M for global rights and will try to reach a domestic gross of the same amount. Devil also opened in seven international territories including the U.K. but collected just $2.3M. The trim 80-minute supernatural thriller was not screened for the press in advance and earned a troubling C+ CinemaScore from paying audiences. It stands as yet another clunker for Universal over these past two years.

The Night Chronicles project aims to capitalize on the Shyamalan name when selling to audiences, but after a string of creative disappointments from the filmmaker, many thriller fans may have been turned off. Production begins next year on the second film in the series Reincarnate which tells of a jury being haunted by supernatural forces when deciding the fate of an accused murderer.

Following its top spot debut, Sony's Resident Evil: Afterlife tumbled 63% to $10M in its sophomore round dropping down to fourth place. The fall for the 3D four-quel was nearly identical to the 62% drop suffered by 2004's Resident Evil: Apocalypse which was released on the exact same date six years ago. After ten days, Afterlife has hauled in $43.9M and could be headed for a $60M domestic finish. Overseas, the latest Alice adventure rocketed to $103.2M for a global tally of $147M in ten days on a trajectory towards the $200M mark.

Faring worst among the frame's quartet of new titles was the 3D wolf toon Alpha and Omega which bowed to $9.1M from 2,625 locations for a weak $3,469 average. The PG-rated film follows a recent string of 3D films to underperform including Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Piranha 3D, and Step Up 3D. With so much cash already spent this year on higher-priced tickets for the format, consumers are being extra cautious and picky when it comes to the brands and titles they actually go out and see. This Friday, Warner Bros. tests the waters with Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole while new 3D installments of Jackass and Saw may fare better in October.

Leftovers rounded out the top ten. The heist pic Takers grossed $3M, down 47%, pushing the cume to $52.4M for Sony. George Clooney's The American dropped 53% to $2.7M in its third frame giving Focus $32.8M to date.

Christopher Nolan's Inception became only the second 2010 movie to spend ten weekends in the top ten. The Warner Bros. smash eased just 30% to $2M for a $285.1M cume. Only the 3D toon How to Train Your Dragon has spent the same amount of time in the top ten this year. Avatar spent 12 weekends on the list this calendar year, but was a 2009 release. The Will Ferrell action-comedy The Other Guys also took in $2M, off 41%, lifting Sony's total to $115.4M. The revenge actioner Machete fell 59% to $1.8M and has taken in $24.4M for Fox.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight enjoyed a solid platform bow for its British drama Never Let Me Go which grossed $111,734 from just four locations in New York and Los Angeles for a potent $27,934 average. With $156,733 since its Wednesday bow, the R-rated sci-fi romance will expand to major markets in the weeks ahead. Universal debuted the Sundance reality thriller Catfish in a dozen sites and opened with $257,285 for an impressive $21,440 average. It opens in 19 more markets next weekend and reviews were generally good. Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut Jack Goes Boating fared worse opening to $28,916 from four playdates for a mild $7,229 average for Overture.

The top ten films grossed $84.3M which was up 1% from last year when Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs opened in the top spot with $30.3M; and up 16% from 2008 when Lakeview Terrace debuted at number one with $15M.

Compared to projections, The Town and Easy A both opened above my respective forecasts of $16M and $13M. Devil was below my $15M prediction while Alpha and Omega was on target with my $9M projection.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter. Be sure to check the UPDATED chart for the top September openings of all-time.

For NEW reviews of The Town, Never Let Me Go, and I'm Still Here visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, You Again, and Legend of the Guardians all open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Sep 17 - 19 Sep 10 - 12 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Town $ 23,808,032 2,861 1 $ 8,322 $ 23,808,032 Warner Bros.
2 Easy A 17,734,040 2,856 1 6,209 17,734,040 Sony
3 Devil 12,289,375 2,809 1 4,375 12,289,375 Universal
4 Resident Evil: Afterlife 10,002,592 26,650,264 -62.5 3,209 2 3,117 43,893,958 Sony
5 Alpha and Omega 9,106,906 2,625 1 3,469 9,106,906 Lionsgate
6 Takers 3,026,285 5,675,611 -46.7 2,139 4 1,415 52,372,349 Sony
7 The American 2,672,521 5,674,240 -52.9 2,457 3 1,088 32,772,475 Focus
8 The Other Guys 1,972,046 3,347,995 -41.1 1,827 7 1,079 115,403,440 Sony
9 Inception 1,967,137 2,802,390 -29.8 1,305 10 1,507 285,129,855 Warner Bros.
10 Machete 1,755,550 4,294,120 -59.1 1,704 3 1,030 24,391,354 Fox
11 Eat Pray Love 1,614,431 2,928,256 -44.9 1,668 6 968 77,600,235 Sony
12 The Expendables 1,373,298 3,223,651 -57.4 1,854 6 741 101,020,533 Lionsgate
13 Going the Distance 1,355,246 3,788,222 -64.2 2,007 3 675 16,771,305 Warner Bros.
14 The Last Exorcism 1,211,349 3,322,853 -63.5 2,013 4 602 40,113,370 Lionsgate
15 Nanny McPhee Returns 969,345 2,080,315 -53.4 1,588 5 610 27,617,940 Universal
16 The Switch 930,037 2,001,103 -53.5 1,158 5 803 26,600,152 Buena Vista/Maple
17 Despicable Me 910,965 1,657,100 -45.0 944 11 965 244,739,015 Universal
18 Lottery Ticket 625,812 1,206,043 -48.1 677 5 924 23,505,360 Warner Bros.
19 Vampires Suck 568,012 1,480,909 -61.6 964 5 589 35,865,445 Fox
20 Get Low 551,494 864,834 -36.2 467 8 1,181 7,785,090 Sony Classics
Top 5 $ 72,940,945 $ 46,082,457 58.3
Top 10 84,334,484 61,707,602 36.7
Top 20 94,444,473 74,054,685 27.5
Top 20 vs. 2009 94,444,473 95,538,299 -1.1

Last Updated: September 20, 2010 at 8:50PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.