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'Bruno' starts off strong, then stumbles

The Sacha Baron Cohen comedy sells $14.4 million worth of tickets on its opening day, then plunges 39% to $8.8 million Saturday. It ends up earning a studio-estimated $30.4 million for the weekend.

July 13, 2009|Ben Fritz

Friday brought a dose of both good and worrisome news for Universal Pictures, the studio behind "Bruno."

The good news: The second feature comedy starring Sacha Baron Cohen of "Borat" fame had sold $14.4 million worth of tickets on its opening day, a strong start that, under most circumstances, would mean the film was on its way to grossing close to $40 million in the U.S. and Canada for the three-day weekend.

The worrisome news: A representative sample of moviegoers had given "Bruno" a "C," according to market research firm CinemaScore. Considering what easy graders audiences typically are, that's an extremely low mark and signified bad word of mouth that could cause ticket sales to quickly sink.

That's exactly what happened Saturday, as box-office revenue plunged to $8.8 million. The 39% drop is the biggest for any film this year except "Hannah Montana," which opened on Good Friday, when its youthful audience was out of school and thus able to attend opening-day matinees.

The Saturday decline for "Bruno" is the second biggest in modern history for a movie that didn't open on a holiday weekend, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, behind only the hugely anticipated "Twilight."

It's difficult to discern whether audiences' dislike for "Bruno" stemmed from Cohen's outrageous antics, boredom with a routine similar to that of "Borat," or, perhaps, discomfort with the film's graphic sexuality and male nudity. Whatever the reason, as grosses quickly dwindled for "Bruno," it ended up earning a studio-estimated $30.4 million for the weekend.

As a result, it's extremely unlikely that "Bruno" will gross even $100 million, let alone the $128.5 million that "Borat" made in the U.S. and Canada.

Nonetheless, neither Universal nor Media Rights Capital, which financed "Bruno," could be too disappointed with the movie's overall performance, particularly given that it earned $25 million overseas, $20 million of that from the eight foreign territories controlled by Universal.

The studio paid Media Rights Capital $42.5 million to release the movie and negotiated a hefty distribution fee of 25% -- money it takes off the top for its services.

Universal is thus well on its way to earning a profit on the picture.

Media Rights Capital is also in a good position, since it sold the rights for a bigger sum than it cost to produce "Bruno" and will make even more from its cut of the revenue.

"As a studio we are going to have a nice profit, and that's what this business is all about: fun films and profit," said Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution for Universal.

Results continued to be mixed for Universal's "Public Enemies." Second-weekend performance is key for R-rated adult dramas because they usually don't have huge openings. The Michael Mann-directed film starring Johnny Depp declined 44%, a figure that was slightly deflated because Saturday, July 4, was a dead day at the box office last week.

With decent ticket sales of $14.1 million this weekend, the film now stands at $66.5 million and is heading toward a final domestic gross of around $100 million.

Foreign revenue in the 17 countries where it has opened are a similarly so-so $16.7 million after two weeks.

Given the movie's production budget of a little over $100 million, that's hardly as bad as other adult dramas like "State of Play" and "Duplicity" have done this year, but not a big success either.

Fox's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" continued the trend of animated features holding on strong at the box office, declining only 32%.

The third movie in the series from Blue Sky Studios earned $28.5 million this weekend. After a mixed start last week, it has grossed $120.6 million, about the same as the first 12 days of "Ice Age: The Meltdown" in 2006 despite ticket price inflation and surcharges at the more than 1,600 theaters where it is playing in 3-D.

International markets continue to be phenomenal for "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," however. It earned $98 million overseas this weekend, bringing its foreign total to a hefty $327.1 million.

"Ice Age" will probably lose a lot of its box-office momentum Wednesday when Warner Bros. opens "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" worldwide.

Fox also opened its low-budget romantic comedy "I Love You, Beth Cooper" this weekend and, as expected, earned a dismal $5 million.

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ben.fritz@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE

Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada:

*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Percentag Total Days in e change from -- (studio) (millions) Last (millions) release weekend 1 Bruno $30.4 NA $30.4 3 -- (Universal/Media Rights Capital) 2 Ice Age: Dawn of $28.5 -32% $120.6 12 the Dinosaurs -- (Fox) 3 Transformers: $24.2 -43% $339.2 19 Revenge of -- the Fallen -- (Paramount) 4 Public Enemies $14.1 -44% $66.5 12 -- (Universal/Relativi ty) 5 The Proposal $10.5 -18% $113.8 24 -- (Disney) 6 The Hangover $9.9 -12% $222.4 38 -- (Warner Bros./Legendary) 7 I Love You, Beth $5 NA $5 3 Cooper -- (Fox) 8 Up $4.7 -29% $273.8 45 -- (Disney) 9 My Sister's Keeper $4.2 -28% $35.8 17 -- (Warner Bros./New Line) 10 The Taking of $1.6 -37% $61.5 31 Pelham 123 -- (Sony/Relativity) *--*

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Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $145 -4% $5.68 +11% *--*

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Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box Office

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