People who offer their Monday-morning quarterback opinions in spaces like this -- yours truly included -- like to parse every number, every success or failure, for a larger meaning. And sometimes you have to look pretty hard to see a trend. Other times, like a possessed spirit in a dark forest, it just jumps out at you.
Consider the most recent box office numbers. Coming in to the weekend, "Evil Dead" and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" seemed to be locked in a tight battle. Fede Alvarez's big horror sequel and Jon Chu's big action sequel each had a good shot to win the weekend. But when all was said and done Sunday, the race wound up not even being close, with "Evil Dead" solidly beating "G.I. Joe” by a tally of $26 million to $21.1 million.
Now, "G.I. Joe" is of course in its second week; the total of $40-plus million over its first Friday-Sunday period last week handily outdid "Evil Dead’s" totals this weekend. But that’s somewhat beside the point.
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"G.I Joe," with its enormous TV marketing campaign and major stars, is almost always going to beat a smaller production on the raw box-office totals. But using the more subtle metric of investment-to-return, it’s actually been pretty soundly defeated. With a budget of under $20 million, "Evil Dead" has already taken in, in its first weekend, more than it cost to produce. And “G.I. Joe?" Even after two weeks, it’s taken in barely half of its $135 million production budget in the U.S.
Ah, but there's the very significant matter of international box office. More on that in a moment.
The “G.I. Joe”-“Evil Dead” contrast illustrates what's been happening these past few months at the U.S. box office, a few months that are indicative of where these genres have in fact been heading.
In 2013 there has been a clear case of major overperformers and underperformers -- movies that did really well given their expectations and their costs, and movies that didn't.