Weekend Box Office (October 7 - 9, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Hugh Jackman scored an easy victory over George Clooney in the battle of People magazine's former sexiest men alive as the robot boxing actioner Real Steel punched up a number one debut well ahead of the political thriller The Ides of March which played in one-third fewer theaters. Overall box office during the Columbus Day holiday weekend was decent but not exceptional with holdovers filling up the rest of the top ten.

Topping the charts for six of the last eight weeks, Disney enjoyed another number one hit with the big-budget pic Real Steel which bowed to $27.3M, according to final studio figures, marking the third largest opening ever over the Columbus Day holiday frame. The PG-13 film starring Jackman averaged a muscular $7,942 from 3,440 theaters and got some help from $3.2M in higher-priced tickets from its 270 IMAX locations. Produced for more than $100M by DreamWorks, Steel follows the sleeper sensation The Help in the Spielberg company's recent rebound after a string of films that struggled at the box office.

Jackman also found good news from the opening as his past non-Wolverine roles have never generated big numbers in the American market. Mixed but generally positive reviews from critics helped but audiences mostly responded to the exciting look of the marketing of the picture. Plus it was the first major action film with broad appeal to hit theaters since the summer. According to studio research, males made up 66% of the audience while 70% were under 35. Real Steel earned an encouraging A CinemaScore grade which could bode well for the long-term run of the film.

Overseas, the robotic pic grossed $22.1M from 19 territories making for a $49.4M global debut. Russia, where the cast and crew traveled to for a lavish premiere, led the way with $6.9M while Jackman's home country of Australia saw a $5.3M bow. Given that the star and the action genre play much better abroad, Real Steel could continue to post impressive global numbers as it rolls out into more markets. That will be crucial to the film breaking even since the marketing push has been elaborate and pricey.

Opening in second place with a good but not stellar performance was the political thriller The Ides of March with $10.5M from 2,199 theaters for a respectable $4,761 average. The R-rated election pic starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney (who also directed), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Evan Rachel Wood earned very good reviews from critics, however it did not wow paying audiences as the Sony release scored only a B grade from CinemaScore. Ides played exactly like a Clooney vehicle as its gross and average were in line with the actor's recent films including The American ($13.2M opening, $4,668 average), Michael Clayton ($10.4M, $4,131), The Men Who Stare At Goats ($12.7M, $5,201), and Up in the Air ($11.3M, $5,947). Without Brad Pitt at his side adding extra box office muscle, the polarizing actor/director's films only sell to so many people.

Sony is expecting a strong multiple given the Oscar buzz for Ides and the fact that Clayton also opened to the same gross in mid-October finishing with $49M for a multiple of nearly 5. However, $10M of that figure was collected during the film's re-release when Oscar nominations were announced. The lawyer flick grossed $39.4M during its initial run giving it a multiple of 3.8 in that period. Sony's other fall awards contender Moneyball is on course to finish its run with a multiple of about 3.7 while last fall's well-reviewed dramas The Town and The Social Network enjoyed multiples of 3.9 and 4.3, respectively.

Ides, the story of a press spokesman for a presidential candidate who finds himself swept into the vicious world of politics, is a lower cost film so it carries less financial risk thanks to a production cost of only $12.5M. Sony acquired domestic rights to the title for an undisclosed amount and paid for the marketing. Having Clooney and Gosling certainly upped the female interest as exit polls showed that a very high 58% of the audience consisted of women. The thriller skewed much older as 60% was over 35. Over the last three months, Gosling has won raves from critics for his performances in Ides, Drive, and Crazy, Stupid, Love but still eluding him is the abiliity to draw in a sizable crowd at the multiplexes. If Ides succeeds in earning a Best Picture nomination, a January re-release would certainly be possible especially since it would be right at the start of the 2012 presidential primaries.

For the third weekend in a row, Seven co-stars Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt were side by side on the charts with their inspirational films which have grossed the same amount of money over the last 17 days. The Warner Bros. release Dolphin Tale dropped from first to third with $9.1M, off 34%, for a $49M cume. Sony's Moneyball fell 38% to $7.5M giving the baseball drama $49.2M to date. Both look set to end up with around $70M.

The cancer comedy 50/50 enjoyed the best hold among last weekend's four new releases dipping only 35% to $5.7M. The Summit release has collected a modest $17.5M in ten days and hopes to reach the $30M vicinity. The faith-based fatherhood pic Courageous lost 46% of its crowd and took in $4.9M giving Sony $16.2M. The low-budget $2M drama is headed for $25M or so.

Two-time chart-topper The Lion King 3D followed with $4.6M tumbling a steep 57% now that the updated film is available in stores on Blu-ray. Still, the re-release has banked an impressive $86M to date boosting the lifetime total for Simba and pals to $414.5M. Later this week, it will surpass the $415M of last year's Toy Story 3 to reclaim the title of top-grossing animated film ever for Disney. 2004's Shrek 2 from DreamWorks still holds the crown for all toons with $436.7M.

Universal's spookfest Dream House dropped 45% after its lousy debut to $4.5M for a ten-day tally of only $14.5M. Falling 42% from its dismal start was the Anna Faris comedy What's Your Number? which collected $3.1M and $10.4M across ten days. Final totals should reach $25M and $15M, respectively. Steven Soderbergh's virus thriller Contagion rounded out the top ten with $2.9M, down 40%, for a $69M sum for Warner Bros.

The top ten films grossed $80M which was up 4% from last year when The Social Network remained in the top spot with $15.5M; but down 13% from 2009 when Couples Retreat debuted at number one with a new Columbus Day weekend record of $34.3M.

Compared to projections, Real Steel surged ahead of my $23M forecast while The Ides of March debuted below my $14M prediction.

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Watch the NEW trailer for Steven Spielberg's Christmas film War Horse.

Click here for a NEW DVD review of Jake and the Never Land Pirates. For a NEW Blu-ray  review of The Lion King visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Footloose, The Thing, and The Big Year all open.

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# Title Oct 7 - 9 Sep 30 - Oct 2 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Real Steel $ 27,319,677 3,440 1 $ 7,942 $ 27,319,677 Disney
2 The Ides of March 10,470,143 2,199 1 4,761 10,470,143 Sony
3 Dolphin Tale 9,131,091 13,912,419 -34.4 3,478 3 2,625 49,040,736 Warner Bros.
4 Moneyball 7,453,989 12,031,592 -38.0 3,018 3 2,470 49,207,167 Sony
5 50/50 5,652,149 8,644,095 -34.6 2,479 2 2,280 17,482,521 Summit
6 Courageous 4,867,876 9,063,147 -46.3 1,161 2 4,193 16,160,032 Sony
7 The Lion King 3D 4,598,606 10,615,645 -56.7 2,267 4 2,028 86,008,595 Disney
8 Dream House 4,475,525 8,129,355 -44.9 2,664 2 1,680 14,467,490 Universal
9 What's Your Number? 3,126,782 5,421,669 -42.3 3,011 2 1,038 10,382,800 Fox
10 Contagion 2,942,322 4,907,154 -40.0 2,250 5 1,308 69,026,543 Warner Bros.
11 Abduction 2,893,684 5,608,053 -48.4 2,591 3 1,117 23,362,826 Lionsgate
12 Killer Elite 2,201,362 4,916,839 -55.2 2,411 3 913 21,646,929 Open Road
13 The Help 1,945,048 3,015,995 -35.5 2,064 9 942 162,652,363 Disney
14 Drive 1,842,563 3,289,714 -44.0 1,330 4 1,385 30,107,885 FilmDistrict
15 The Smurfs 512,056 336,049 52.4 515 11 994 139,381,799 Sony
16 Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain 467,823 735,231 -36.4 248 5 1,886 6,929,760 Code Black
17 Harry Potter / Deathly Hallows Part 2 405,861 273,263 48.5 407 13 997 379,750,747 Warner Bros.
18 Captain America: The First Avenger 311,753 436,207 -28.5 303 12 1,029 175,805,853 Paramount
19 Rise of the Planet of the Apes 295,891 541,075 -45.3 382 10 775 174,937,803 Fox
20 Cars 2 284,613 382,241 -25.5 262 16 1,086 190,462,898 Disney
Top 5 $ 60,027,049 $ 54,266,898 10.6
Top 10 80,038,160 83,249,968 -3.9
Top 20 91,198,814 93,665,189 -2.6
Top 20 vs. 2010 91,198,814 88,320,726 3.3

Last Updated: October 10, 2011 at 10:10PM ET

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