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Box-office gods smile on 'Immortals'

The 3-D swords-and-sandals epic about ancient Greek gods vanquishes rivals Clint Eastwood and Adam Sandler to take in $32 million on its opening weekend.

November 14, 2011|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

"Immortals," Relativity Media's first big-budget bet, battled to the top of the box office this weekend, hewing down rivals from Clint Eastwood and Adam Sandler.

The film, an expensive 3-D sword-and-sandals epic based on Greek mythology, claimed the top spot with a solid $32 million, according to an estimate from its distributor. That was enough to fend off Sandler's cross-dressing comedy, "Jack and Jill," which took in a decent $26 million. "J. Edgar," the Eastwood-directed biopic of the longtime FBI director, meanwhile, collected a modest $11.5 million.

"Immortals" marks Relativity's biggest self-released opening — good news, since the film is also one of the most expensive the company has made. The Ryan Kavanaugh-headed entity spent about $80 million to produce the Tarsem Singh-directed picture and at least $50 million more to market it.

The good start for "Immortals" comes at an important time for Relativity, many of whose films — including "Machine Gun Preacher" and "Take Me Home Tonight" — have failed to resonate with audiences in recent months. If the film continues to draw audiences, that may help Relativity in its bid to raise cash as it seeks to become a well-funded independent studio.

The audience for "Immortals" consisted largely of young males, a demographic that has proved difficult to lure into theaters in recent months. About 66% of the audience — 75% of which was younger than age 35 and 60% of which was male — opted to shell out a few extra bucks to watch the movie in 3-D.

"I think the market was a little concerned as to where that demographic was, but this weekend's result shows that there was pent-up demand for this kind of picture," said Kyle Davies, Relativity's president of worldwide theatrical distribution. "I think we've got the action-adventure market covered for the next few weeks, but the good news is that we brought in a diverse audience — 70% nonwhite. The film played broadly with different races in big and small cities."

Indeed, the film attracted a diverse crowd, because roughly 35% of the audience was Latino. Moviegoers assigned "Immortals" an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore — the same score that both "Jack and Jill" and "J. Edgar" received this weekend.

"Immortals," set in ancient Greece and starring future "Superman" Henry Cavill, was produced by the filmmakers behind the 2006 blockbuster "300."

"Immortals" will fail to generate the kind of revenues that film did, however, as "300" ended up raking in more than $450 million worldwide. This weekend, "Immortals" opened internationally in 35 foreign markets, collecting an estimated $36 million. The film performed especially well in the United Kingdom, Russia and Greece, claiming the No. 1 spot in each country. Relativity is not self-releasing the film overseas, however — the company presold it to a number of foreign distributors, minimizing the upside if "Immortals" is successful abroad.

"Jack and Jill" is one of the lowest debuts Sandler has had with a broad commercial comedy. In the last decade, most of the actor's similarly themed films have opened to between $30 million and $40 million. The opening for "Jack and Jill" is only slightly higher than that of 2009's "Funny People," the Judd Apatow-directed comedy about cancer that premiered with about $22 million.

Sony Pictures spent about $79 million to make "Jack and Jill," which appealed to a 53% family audience this weekend. While Sandler's films typically maintain strong holds at the box office, a number of kid-centric pictures are opening around Thanksgiving and will present serious competition.

"All of Adam's pictures have great multiples," insisted Sony's distribution president, Rory Bruer, referring to the figure the first weekend's gross is eventually multiplied by. "Heading into Thanksgiving, I think we'll get a big bump and play out to a very positive result, because this is a good family choice."

The film could make up ground overseas, where Sandler's big comedies have crossed the $100-million milestone in recent years. The movie, which received a dismal 3% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, grossed $2.7 million in Mexico and Colombia this weekend.

Eastwood's film, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, appealed largely to an older crowd this weekend. About 66% of those who saw the picture were older than 50.

While "J. Edgar" earned the best reviews of any new film released this weekend, critics did not like it nearly as much as some of Eastwood's other recent movies. To spread positive word of mouth about the picture, Warner Bros. released the movie in seven theaters Wednesday. Including those midweek grosses, the film has made $11.6 million.

"J. Edgar," produced for about $35 million, opened to slightly less than Eastwood's last film, "Hereafter." That movie also earned middling reviews, debuting last year with $12 million and ultimately collecting $32.7 million domestically. The film did far better abroad, however, where it grossed $72.5 million. It remains to be seen how "J. Edgar," which has far more American themes than the supernatural "Hereafter," will fare internationally.

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