The poster image from the White House destruction movie "Olympus… (FilmDistrict )
The success of Antoine Fuqua’s White House blow-em-up “Olympus Has Fallen” this past weekend throws out more mixed signals than that popular kid you nearly asked out in high school.
People came out to see the Gerard Butler actioner in much greater numbers than expected — the film grossed $30.5 million, higher than even optimistic industry projections of the low-to-mid 20s — to notch the second-biggest opening for a non-family film this year. Moviegoers liked what they saw too, giving the FilmDistrict release an A- CinemaScore, which usually bodes well for the remainder of a movie's theatrical life.
Yet these numbers say something more complicated about the prospects for the other White House movie, Roland Emmerich's "White House Down."
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As you may know, Sony Pictures is releasing that film in exactly three months. Like this one, "White House" is also about a violent and terrorist takeover at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and about a man (this time it’s Channing Tatum) who desperately wants to protect the president and is thrust into a situation where he must do just that.
The studio will unveil its campaign shortly (companies with competing pictures like to wait until after the first has done the bulk of its business so they’re not confusing audiences and helping a competitor). And in some ways, the folks at Sony now have an advantage: They can see what worked for FilmDistrict and emulate it, and what didn’t and avoid it.
In some instances they can even see what worked and avoid that too — no one wants to appear to have a copycat film (The early indications are that Sony will emphasize its movie’s buddy-comedy aspects, though there’s only so much you can or want to downplay the action in a Roland Emmerich piece).
The studio now has the best market research available — a bona-fide hit. How much people want to see the Washington Monument implode (yes, that happens in “Olympus” too) is probably directly proportional to how much they want to see the Capitol explode (yes, that happens in “White House Down” too).
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The problem, though, is ... there’s a bona-fide hit. Because even as “Olympus” proves there's an audience for a film about a White House takeover, it also means that a chunk of the moviegoing public may have seen the one White House blow-up flick they’ve had in them, or even taken a look at this movie and made up their minds that they don't want to see any at all.
And while the second release in a race between rival projects can sometimes flourish — "Snow White and the Huntsman" last year, "Armageddon" in 1998 — more often than not (the “other” Capote movie “Infamous," the “other” Alexander movie “Alexander") it struggles, which no doubt is giving Sony plenty of pause.
As for the rest of us, “Olympus” is a sign of sorts that the exploding-monument movie is back. There was a time — years, really — after 9/11 when we didn’t want to see governmental and other landmarks blown up. (Recall even the small gasps at the sight of a healthy World Trade Center in the months after 9/11.) More than 11 years later, a desire for escape or catharsis means we once more want to see notable structures reduced to smithereens. Come June, we’ll find out just how much.