Weekend Box Office (September 21 - 23, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Two new releases were in a dead heat for the number one spot according to Sunday estimates, but final weekend grosses showed the cop drama End of Watch winning the number one spot over the horror film House at the End of the Street. Overall the North American box office remained dull, once again posting double-digit declines from the same frame in recent years.

Claiming first place with $13.2M -$153,000 better than originally estimated - was the LAPD cop thriller End of Watch which averaged a respectable $4,818 from 2,730 theaters, beating expectations. The R-rated pic starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña scored glowing reviews which helped to attract an adult audience for Open Road Films. Watch earned a good A- from CinemaScore and coupled with solid reviews could have a nice shelf life. Going into the weekend it seemed that Clint Eastwood's Trouble With the Curve and the fright film House at the End of the Street would be the ones fighting it out for the number one spot but instead Watch came in and surprised the industry. It is the second number one debut of the year for rookie distributor Open Road following Liam Neeson's The Grey in January.

The horror film House at the End of the Street headlined by Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence finished in second with $12.3M - $700,000 less than estimated - driven by teenage girls and young women who have been underserved in recent weeks by Hollywood's latest menu of action flicks, older-skewing dramas, and kidpics. The Relativity Media release scared up a decent $3,985 average from 3,083 theaters which may be good enough to lead a sluggish frame once final grosses are tabulated. The suspense thriller was produced for just $10M with the distributor acquiring domestic rights for $2.5M and kicking in a targeted P&A campaign.

According to studio research, House's audience was 61% female and 70% under 25. Timing worked in the thriller's favor as The Possession was the only scary movie to connect with moviegoers over the last few months and with Halloween right around the corner, the target audience was in the mood for a creepy flick. The PG-13 rating also opened the door to business from younger teens. Reviews were mostly negative and audiences polled by CinemaScore gave it a B. But even steep declines in the weeks ahead would leave House in a profitable state especially with a promising home entertainment audience to still tap into down the road.

Clint Eastwood's latest film, the baseball scout drama Trouble with the Curve, came in close behind in third place. The PG-13 film from Warner Bros. reported an opening weekend of $12.2M from 3,212 theaters for a mild $3,786 average. Co-starring Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman, Curve played to an older adult audience like most of Eastwood's films do.

Reviews were mixed for Trouble which was the actor's first starring vehicle in 19 years which he didn't also direct. His longtime producing partner Robert Lorenz made his helming debut here. The opening was nowhere close to the $29.5M that Clint's last acting venture Gran Torino grossed in its first weekend of wide release in January 2009. That film failed to score a single Oscar nomination, but was helped by buzz that it was probably going to be the legendary star's last acting gig. Instead it bowed much closer to the $12.3M of Million Dollar Baby in its first frame of national expansion in January 2005. Curve came into the marketplace with much lighter fanfare, zero awards chatter, no must-see buzz, and so it was never expected to draw huge numbers. A lack of strong reviews probably had a significant impact on the mature target audience too.

Rounding out the top five were last weekend's two new openers which fell in different manners. The Disney/Pixar 3D release of Finding Nemo slipped 42% to $9.6M putting the ten-day tally at $30.2M giving the fish flick a lifetime domestic cume of $369.9M. The decline was not as good as The Lion King's 27% from this weekend a year ago, but was better than the 51% for Beauty and the Beast last January when it came off of a holiday weekend.

Falling sharply from first place, Sony's fivequel Resident Evil: Retribution tumbled 68% to $6.7M making for the largest sophomore drop yet for the decade-old franchise. It was just slightly worse than the last three films which all fell by more than 60% in their second weekends. Retribution has shot up $33.5M in North America in its first ten days and looks headed for a domestic finish of just under $45M, the smallest amount in the series since the first installment in 2002. But international business was still solid with the frame collecting an estimated $30.5M boosting the overseas cume to $103.4M and worldwide to $136.9M (76% from offshore territories led by Japan) with major markets Italy and the U.K. to still open next week.

Lionsgate failed to draw in young men with its 3D action offering Dredd which opened in sixth place with $6.3M from 2,506 locations for a slow $2,505 average. Competition from other action films as well as football were factors as was the memory of Stallone's poorly-received take on the comic book character in Judge Dredd from 1995. Repelling the ladies, Dredd skewed 75% male and 69% to those 25 and older. Although many film critics gave the R-rated sci-fi flick good reviews, audiences were not as thrilled as the CinemaScore grade was a mediocre B and its 8% Friday-to-Saturday bump was the smallest increase of any pic in the top ten.

The Weinstein Co. enjoyed a decent national expansion for its arthouse hit The Master starring Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and claimed eighth place with $4.4M from 788 locations (up from five last weekend) for a respectable $5,572 average. The critically-acclaimed cult leader pic fared slightly better than director Paul Thomas Anderson's last film There Will Be Blood which didn't expand to this level until its fifth weekend when it grossed $4.9M from 885 sites for a $5,502 average. Master hopes to follow Blood and become a contender in the Oscar race for Picture and Actor. It will have a long line of worthy titles to deal with over the next three months, though, competing for attention during awards season. Cume stands at $5.4M.

The horror hit The Possession fell 54% to $2.6M giving Lionsgate $45.3M to date. Dropping 47% to $2.3M was the crime drama Lawless which has banked $34.5M so far for The Weinstein Co. The leggy kidpic ParaNorman rounded out the top ten with $2.3M, off just 24%, for a $52.6M cume.

The top ten films grossed $71.9M which was down 31% from last year when The Lion King 3D remained at number one with $21.9M; and down 19% from 2010 when Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opened on top with $19M.

Compared to projections, House at the End of the Street opened a bit below my $15M forecast while End of Watch came in above my $11M prediction. Trouble with the Curve and Dredd both debuted below my respective forecasts of $16M and $13M but The Master was on target with my $5M projection.

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Watch the NEW trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. For film reviews visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Hotel Transylvania, Looper, and Won't Back Down all open.

# Title Sep 21 - 23 Sep 14 - 16 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 End of Watch $ 13,152,683 2,730 1 $ 4,818 $ 13,152,683 Open Road
2 House at the End of the Street 12,287,234 3,083 1 3,985 12,287,234 Relativity
3 Trouble with the Curve 12,162,040 3,212 1 3,786 12,162,040 Warner Bros.
4 Finding Nemo 3D 9,641,474 16,687,773 -42.2 2,904 2 3,320 30,175,449 Disney
5 Resident Evil: Retribution 6,701,803 21,052,227 -68.2 3,016 2 2,222 33,469,530 Sony
6 Dredd 6,278,491 2,506 1 2,505 6,278,491 Lionsgate
7 The Master 4,391,092 736,311 496.4 788 2 5,572 5,446,975 Weinstein Co.
8 The Possession 2,641,990 5,766,378 -54.2 2,598 4 1,017 45,291,617 Lionsgate
9 ParaNorman 2,345,630 3,092,941 -24.2 1,617 6 1,451 52,582,728 Focus
10 Lawless 2,286,215 4,348,377 -47.4 2,614 4 875 34,477,134 Weinstein Co.
11 The Bourne Legacy 1,609,875 2,852,475 -43.6 1,431 7 1,125 110,402,575 Universal
12 The Odd Life of Timothy Green 1,543,090 2,598,636 -40.6 1,752 6 881 48,655,828 Disney
13 The Expendables 2 1,457,853 3,146,001 -53.7 1,820 6 801 83,019,805 Lionsgate
14 The Dark Knight Rises 1,266,144 2,182,449 -42.0 948 10 1,336 443,124,014 Warner Bros.
15 The Campaign 1,205,136 2,418,163 -50.2 1,250 7 964 84,986,201 Warner Bros.
16 Arbitrage 1,174,193 2,002,165 -41.4 244 2 4,812 3,842,700 Roadside Attr.
17 2016 Obama’s America 937,524 1,988,294 -52.8 1,216 11 771 32,022,601 Rocky Mountain
18 Hope Springs 856,228 1,825,180 -53.1 1,147 7 746 62,154,383 Sony
19 The Words 755,640 2,861,273 -73.6 1,247 3 606 11,000,211 CBS
20 Barfi! 643,260 1,061,713 -39.4 130 2 4,948 1,977,528 UTV
Top 5 $ 53,945,234 $ 51,000,756 5.8
Top 10 71,888,652 64,824,244 10.9
Top 20 83,337,595 78,918,617 5.6
Top 20 vs. 2011 83,337,595 112,081,042 -25.6

Last Updated: September 24, 2012 at 5:15PM ET

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