"The Social Network" got off to a good start on its first weekend in theaters. Now the question is whether it will skyrocket like Facebook or fizzle like Friendster.
The drama about the controversy surrounding the founding of Facebook took in $23 million on its first weekend in movie theaters in the United States and Canada, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures. That's a solid though not spectacular debut for a serious drama, leaving it in need of only modest declines for the next few weeks to turn into a full-fledged hit.
On a relatively slow moviegoing weekend, "Social Network" was by far the hottest ticket. Two other new releases, the long-delayed horror film "Case 39" and the well-reviewed vampire drama "Let Me In," both flopped, collecting $5.4 million and $5.3 million, respectively.
The kickoff for "The Social Network" — directed by David Fincher, written by "The West Wing's" Aaron Sorkin and starring Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg — was just slightly below what most in Hollywood had expected based on pre-release surveys. The aggressively advertised picture played similarly to another well-reviewed drama, Ben Affleck's "The Town," which launched with $23.8 million two weeks ago.
The big question for Sony now is whether its movie will ride strong word-of- mouth to a long box-office run, as "The Town" is doing. That film has fallen about 35% its second and third weekends in theaters and is already at $64.3 million after 17 days.
Sony and its financing partner, Relativity Media, spent just under $40 million to make "The Social Network," meaning they would be in good shape if it holds up as well as "The Town" has.
In good news for the film's backers, audiences gave "The Social Network" an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore, indicating that most liked it, if not as intensely as critics, who were near unanimous in their praise. In addition, crowds were diverse, with just a slight tilt toward women and those 25 and older. That means it can draw from a broad pool of potential fans going forward.
However, "The Social Network" did most of its business in large cities, particularly those on the coasts. To keep playing well, it will need to draw from other geographic markets.
"It definitely launched stronger in the big cities, but because it's a subject matter so many people embrace, it's going to be talked about throughout the country for a long time to come," said Sony distribution president Rory Bruer.
"Case 39" and "Let Me In" both had more limited advertising campaigns than that of "The Social Network" but still managed to open below mild expectations. Paramount Pictures had repeatedly delayed the opening of "39," which stars Renée Zellwegger, before finally releasing the frightening film this weekend. It cost $27 million to make and has already generated $17 million overseas.
"Let Me In" is one of three movies that moved to Relativity Media when it bought the distribution and marketing assets of now-defunct Overture Films this summer. Despite strong reviews, few saw the remake of a critically acclaimed Swedish vampire drama. Those who did didn't particularly like it, giving it an average grade of C+.
Overture and Hammer Films spent about $20 million to produce the picture, making it a financial disappointment.
Last weekend's No. 1 movie, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," fell a bit shy of hopes it would ride good word-of-mouth to small declines, because its ticket sales fell 47% to an estimated $10.1 million. But the family film "Legend of the Guardians" dropped only 33% to $10.9 million. That's an impressive hold, though not enough to recover from a weak opening for the pricey 3-D animated movie.