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'Green Hornet' finds its footing with $40-million opening

The superhero comedy misses a Martin Luther King Day weekend box office record, but has a solid start. 'The Dilemma' has a soft opening of about $21 million.

January 18, 2011|By Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times
  • Seth Rogen (right) stars in "The Green Hornet."
Seth Rogen (right) stars in "The Green Hornet." (Jaimie Trueblood, Columbia…)

With the first major releases of the year, 2011 started off with neither a bang nor a whimper.

Over the four-day holiday weekend, big-budget comedic superhero movie "The Green Hornet" opened to a solid though not spectacular $40 million, according to studio estimates, while adult comedy "The Dilemma" started off with a soft but far from disastrous $21.1 million.

Total receipts were off a whopping 26% from the same weekend last year, when "Avatar" continued to dominate the box office.

Some in Hollywood who watched pre-release tracking thought the "Green Hornet," which stars Seth Rogen in an unusual mixture of wacky comedy and over-the-top action, could break the Martin Luther King Day weekend box office record of $46 million, set by "Cloverfield" in 2008.

Despite the advantage of higher 3-D ticket prices, the new superhero movie fell well short. It marked a surprising turnaround, however, for a picture that just a few months ago was considered a troubled project by financier and distributor Sony Pictures. "The Green Hornet" was significantly changed over the last few months in the editing room with the addition of new scenes, as was its marketing campaign.

The effort largely worked, as "The Green Hornet" drew mostly positive responses from a male-dominated audience, who gave it an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Combined with the fact that ticket sales rose from Friday to Saturday, Sony executives were optimistic that "Green Hornet" won't fade quickly from theaters, as some male-skewing, big-budget event movies do.

"We got nice indications that the picture is being well received, so not only do I think it opened well, but it's going to do well," said Sony distribution president Rory Bruer.

Given its sizable budget, "The Green Hornet" still needs to do solid business for several weeks to turn into the full-fledged hit worthy of sequels for which Sony is hoping. Two people familiar with the budget said the movie cost $130 million, though a studio spokesman insisted the cost was closer to $110 million.

The movie's overseas numbers, which are key to its future as a franchise, remain mixed. "The Green Hornet" had good but not great debuts in co-star Christoph Waltz's native Germany and in Great Britain at $4.5 million and $3.2 million, respectively. But in director Michel Gondry's native France, the movie opened to a soft $2.4 million. In total, "Green Hornet" took in $16.1 million from 35 foreign markets, but it has yet to open in many places, including East Asia, where co-star Jay Chou is very popular.

"The Dilemma," meanwhile, marked the lowest nationwide opening for a movie directed by Ron Howard since 2003's "The Missing," the lowest for star Vince Vaughn since 2003's "Old School," and the lowest ever for fellow star Kevin James.

The film skewed older and more female than is normal for its stars, with 58% of audiences over 30 and 60% female. Distributor Universal Pictures is hoping that, as with other comedies about relationships that appeal to adult women, such as "It's Complicated," word-of-mouth will eventually turn "The Dilemma" into a hit.

"We were not competing with 'The Green Hornet' and, given the subject matter, we're pleased," said Universal domestic distribution president Nikki Rocco.

Its chances of good buzz seem mixed, however. The movie, about a pair of best friends who face a crisis when one suspects the other's wife of cheating, received a CinemaScore of B.

"The Dilemma" cost Universal and its partner Spyglass Entertainment $70 million to $75 million to make, a high amount for a comedy. A very healthy life at the U.S. box office over the next few weeks will be critical for "The Dilemma" to avoid being a financial disappointment, as most previous comedies starring Vaughn and James haven't been popular overseas.

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