Weekend Box Office (September 28 - 30, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The North American box office bounced back to life thanks to a pair of new releases from Sony which drove the marketplace to the best September frame in history. The animated comedy Hotel Transylvania overperformed and checked into the number one spot while the studio's release of the sci-fi action pic Looper gave the it the runner-up spot too with over $63M in combined ticket sales leading the Top 20 to a potent $113M, a new high for what is normally the slowest month of the year. Especially noteworthy is that the weekend was driven by original films as none of the top six movies were sequels or based on well-known brands.

Mixing comedy and spooky monsters into a family-friendly 3D toon during the pre-Halloween period, Hotel Transylvania opened to spectacular results in first place with $42.5M, according to final studio figures, generating the biggest September opening ever. The PG-rated film averaged a stellar $12,697 from 3,349 locations including 3D surcharges and beat the decade-old record for the top September bow set this weekend in 2002 when Sweet Home Alabama debuted to $35.6M. Hotel also marked a comeback of sorts for box office heavyweight Adam Sandler who provided the lead voice. His last two films over the past year performed poorly. But now, Sandler is well on his way to scoring his 13th $100M+ grosser of the past 14 years displaying his commercial consistency once again. Also lending their voices were Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, and CeeLo Green.

Look for solid playability here as the CinemaScore grade was an A- and Saturday sales surged by a remarkable 73% which was better than what many kidpics during the school year see. The opening was a new high for Sony Animation beating out the $35.6M of The Smurfs and the $30.3M of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs which was another 3D September hit. Both of those had good legs.

The critically-acclaimed sci-fi actioner Looper gave Sony another big win with its strong opening in second place with $20.8M. The R-rated futuristic film averaged a solid $6,952 from 2,992 theaters and took advantage of exceptional reviews to draw in a sizable audience. R-rated action films rarely open north of $20M in September and the fact that Looper is an original story not based on any well-known brand made the performance even more impressive. Headliners Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis spent five weeks at number one this summer with supporting roles in the hit sequels The Dark Knight Rises and The Expendables 2 and now joined forces playing the same person but from different time periods.

As expected, Looper skewed towards adult men. Studio research showed that 59% of the audience was male and 70% was 25 or older. But despite universal praise from film critics, actual paying customers were only moderately satisfied as the CinemaScore grade was a B. While not terrible, it is nothing worth bragging about. Saturday sales climbed 28% so there could be long-term strength into October.

Lots of companies wanted their share of credit for the hit pic which was made by FilmDistrict, TriStar, EndGame and China's DMG. In fact, preliminary estimates put the opening weekend in China at $23-25M making it the first Hollywood film in history to open bigger there than in its home market of North America. A side story involving China's prosperous future helped in getting financing and government approval of the script from that lucrative market. Willis has long been a huge action draw across Asia and JGL's star has been on the rise thanks to recent Christopher Nolan films and other high quality acting projects.

Following its solid top spot debut last weekend, the cop thriller End of Watch held up well in its second round dropping 41% to $7.8M giving Open Road $26M in ten days. Fellow sophomore Trouble with the Curve followed with $7.3M falling a decent 40%. Recent Clint Eastwood films fell 47-51% in their second weekends so the performance of this latest Warner Bros. release - which finds the legend acting instead of directing - is commendable. Total is $23.5M. Also doing well in its second session was the fright flick House at the End of the Street which declined by 42% to $7.1M for $22.2M to date. That's an amazing hold for a horror film.

The all-girl college a cappella comedy Pitch Perfect opened in moderate release this weekend with only 335 theaters but attracted huge crowds and landed at number six with $5.1M for a scorching $15,371 average. Universal is aiming for a word-of-mouth hit here and aggressively screened the PG-13 pic ahead of the limited bow. Now it plans to take it to the next level with next weekend's expansion into 2,800+ locations hoping that enough buzz will have circulated among teens and young adults that it can become a must-see hit. Reviews have been mostly positive and the CinemaScore grade was an A with females making up 74% of the crowd. Pitch hopes to prove that a good product can sell itself.

Falling 58% to seventh place was the 3D release of Finding Nemo which grabbed $4M bumping the sum to $36.4M and the lifetime tally to $376.1M. The clown fish pic has re-entered the Top 20 list of all-time domestic blockbusters sitting at number 19. Sony's fifth Alice pic Resident Evil: Retribution dropped 55% to $3M in its third round and has banked $38.7M to date.

The Paul Thomas Anderson Oscar hopeful The Master slowed down in its second weekend of wide play and grossed $2.7M, off 39%. The Weinstein Co. release averaged just $3,131 from 856 theaters and has shown signs of struggling with a mainstream audience. Cume to date is $9.6M. Sophisticated adult audiences will quickly start turning their attention to other pictures in October including Liam Neeson's hostage sequel Taken 2 opening next weekend and Ben Affleck's buzzworthy hostage drama Argo bowing a week later.

The inner city school drama Won't Back Down failed to connect with paying moviegoers opening to dismal results in tenth place with $2.6M from 2,515 locations for a horrible $1,035 average. Fox's PG-rated release starring Academy Award nominees Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis generated no commercial interest and was panned by critics.

The Emma Watson film The Perks of Being a Wallflower enjoyed a nice expansion this weekend widening from 4 to 102 theaters grossing $1.1M. That delivered a potent $10,823 average which keeps the Summit pic on track for further expansions. Total is $1.4M. Perks earned an encouraging A grade from CinemaScore and skewed 70% female.

The top ten films grossed $103M which was up 24% from last year when Dolphin Tale climbed into the number one spot with $13.9M; and up 25% from 2010 when The Social Network opened on top with $22.4M.

Compared to projections, Hotel Transylvania opened well ahead of my $24M forecast while Looper came in a few notches above my $17M prediction. Won't Back Down debuted below my $6M projection.

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Watch the NEW trailer for Paranormal Activity 4.

For a NEW review of Hotel Transylvania visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Taken 2, Frankenweenie, and Sinister open.

# Title Sep 28 - 30 Sep 21 - 23 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Hotel Transylvania $ 42,522,194 3,349 1 $ 12,697 $ 42,522,194 Sony
2 Looper 20,801,552 2,992 1 6,952 20,801,552 Sony
3 End of Watch 7,812,077 13,152,683 -40.6 2,780 2 2,810 25,980,710 Open Road
4 Trouble with the Curve 7,277,385 12,162,040 -40.2 3,212 2 2,266 23,473,347 Warner Bros.
5 House at the End of the Street 7,122,347 12,287,234 -42.0 3,083 2 2,310 22,193,316 Relativity
6 Pitch Perfect 5,149,433 335 1 15,371 5,149,433 Universal
7 Finding Nemo 3D 4,035,826 9,641,474 -58.1 2,639 3 1,529 36,444,806 Disney
8 Resident Evil: Retribution 2,986,356 6,701,803 -55.4 2,381 3 1,254 38,691,289 Sony
9 The Master 2,680,554 4,391,092 -39.0 856 3 3,131 9,568,624 Weinstein Co.
10 Won't Back Down 2,603,370 2,515 1 1,035 2,603,370 Fox
11 Dredd 2,363,956 6,278,491 -62.3 2,557 2 925 10,948,563 Lionsgate
12 The Possession 1,362,404 2,641,990 -48.4 1,618 5 842 47,411,722 Lionsgate
13 The Perks of Being a Wallflower 1,103,946 228,359 383.4 102 2 10,823 1,428,785 Summit
14 Arbitrage 869,407 1,174,193 -26.0 255 2 3,409 5,110,166 Roadside Attr.
15 Lawless 867,807 2,286,215 -62.0 1,503 5 577 36,277,447 Weinstein Co.
16 The Dark Knight Rises 789,429 1,266,144 -37.7 655 10 1,205 444,377,660 Warner Bros.
17 The Bourne Legacy 782,800 1,609,875 -51.4 824 7 950 111,699,955 Universal
18 ParaNorman 780,975 2,345,630 -66.7 1,209 7 646 53,934,944 Focus
19 The Odd Life of Timothy Green 648,195 1,543,090 -58.0 1,187 6 546 49,711,037 Disney
20 The Expendables 2 524,199 1,457,853 -64.0 815 6 643 84,025,347 Lionsgate
Top 5 $ 85,535,555 $ 53,945,234 58.6
Top 10 102,991,094 71,888,652 43.3
Top 20 113,084,212 83,337,595 35.7
Top 20 vs. 2011 113,084,212 93,665,189 20.7

Last Updated: October 1, 2012 at 11:15PM ET

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