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'Zombieland' takes a bite out of the box office

The film starring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg goes to No. 1, breaking a recent trend of poor openings for horror movies.

October 05, 2009|Ben Fritz

The directorial debuts of two well-known stars didn't combine to do half the business of a new horror comedy this weekend.

Ricky Gervais' "The Invention of Lying" and Drew Barrymore's "Whip It" both had weak openings, collecting a studio-estimated $7.4 million and $4.9 million, respectively. The films, which co-starred and were aggressively publicized by their directors, were easily beaten by the weekend's other new wide release, "Zombieland," which sold $25 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada.

The weekend also saw Michael Moore's documentary "Capitalism: A Love Story" open nationwide relatively well. Also, Disney saw decent numbers for its 3-D version of the two "Toy Story" movies," and Paramount continued to sell out midnight shows for its horror flick "Paranormal Activity."

The strong start for "Zombieland" ended a recent trend of poor openings for horror films including "Pandorum," "Jennifer's Body" and "Sorority Row."

"The movie is more of an action comedy first and zombies are kind of like the icing on the cake," Sony Pictures distribution President Rory Bruer said of its appeal.

"Zombieland," which stars Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, cost Sony and co-financier Relativity Media only $23.6 million to produce, meaning it's already well on its way to profitability. Studios keep approximately half of ticket sales and also have to pay for marketing, but opening with a gross bigger than production cost is usually a very good sign.

Ticket sales were virtually flat Friday and Saturday, and audiences gave the movie an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore, meaning "Zombieland" will probably benefit from good buzz and play well for several weeks.

Disney re-released its two "Toy Story" films in digital 3-D to $12.5 million. Given that the studio's only cost was converting the movies to 3-D and that both are already on DVD, that's a relatively solid start. The movies are set to play in a limited run for only two weeks.

Despite losing more than half its 3-D screens to "Toy Story," Sony's "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" held on well, dropping 33% and coming in a solid No. 2 at the box office with $16.7 million. The adaptation of the popular children's book, which cost about $100 million to produce, has collected $82.4 million domestically and will end up at well over $100 million, making it by far the most successful of three films released by Sony Pictures Animation.

Overseas, where it has opened in 31 territories and has a number of major markets left to go, "Cloudy" has grossed $21.9 million.

"Whip It" was the weekend's biggest disappointment. Produced on a small budget of $15 million but marketed heavily, including a nationwide sneak preview last weekend, its opening was particularly anemic. The only consolation for Fox Searchlight was that moviegoers, who were 70% female, largely liked it, giving it an average grade of A-minus, suggesting it will receive positive word of mouth.

The same can't be said for "The Invention of Lying," which had a slightly better opening but received an average audience grade of C-plus. The comedy, which starred Jennifer Garner and Rob Lowe, was produced by Radar Pictures, Media Rights Capital and Warner Bros. for a reported cost of $18.5 million.

After a strong start at four theaters last weekend, Overture Films expanded "Capitalism: A Love Story" to nearly 1,000 locations and sold $4.9 million worth of tickets. Although nowhere close to Moore's biggest hit, "Fahrenheit 9/11," the opening of "Capitalism" was healthy for a documentary.

Moore's movies traditionally play well for several weeks. Overture and partner Paramount are surely hoping that "Capitalism" will do the same and ultimately gross more than $20 million domestically.

In limited release, Paramount's ultra-low-budget horror film "Paranormal Activity" continues to sell out nearly all its midnight shows. Its $16,000-per-theater average was the second highest for any movie this weekend even though the movie had only three screenings at each location, late at night on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The independently made "Paranormal," which Paramount is trying to publicize as a viral phenomenon, sold $535,000 worth of tickets, bringing its total over two weekends to $780,000.

On Friday, Paramount will expand the movie to 10 more theaters and start playing it at all times of the day in a test of whether its buzz is reaching beyond young late-night crowds.





Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada:

*--* Movie 3-day gross % change Total (studio) (millions) from last (millions) Days in release weekend

1 Zombieland $25.0 NA $25.0 3 (Sony/Relati vity)

2 Cloudy With 16.7 -33% 82.4 17 a Chance of Meatballs (Sony)

3 Toy Story 12.5 NA 12.5 3 and Toy Story 2 3-D (Disney)

4 The 7.4 NA 7.4 3 Invention of Lying (Warner Bros./ MRC/Radar)

5 Surrogates 7.3 -51 26.4 10 (Disney)

6 Capitalism: 4.9 +1991 5.3 12 A Love Story (Overture/Pa ramount)

Whip It (Fox 4.9 NA 4.9 3 Searchlight)

8 Fame 4.8 -53 16.6 10 (MGM/Lakesho re)

9 The 3.8 -43 26.6 17 Informant (Warner Bros./Partic ipant/ Groundswell)

10 Love Happens 2.8 -36 18.9 17 (Universal/R elativity) *--*

Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $109.0 -3.9% $7.96 +7.5% *--*

Sources: Times research and Box-Office

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