Box office report: “Dear John” takes down “Avatar”

But don't believe the chicks-vs.-Cameron hype. Plus: "From Paris" and "Edge of Darkness," official bombs

Topics: Box office report, Film Salon, Avatar, Crazy Heart, Dear John, Denzel Washington, James Cameron, Mel Gibson, Oscars, Sherlock Holmes, Movies,

Box office report: "Dear John" takes down "Avatar"Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in "Dear John"

“Dear John” opened at No. 1 this weekend, with a stellar $32.4 million debut weekend. That gives the picture a mediocre 2.3x weekend multiplier, but the first three days alone puts the picture well ahead of its $25 million budget. More importantly, this is the biggest weekend in Super Bowl weekend history, as well as the biggest opening weekend of all-time for a pure romantic drama. The film played to an 84 percent female crowd, and 64 percent of the audience was under 21. This is the first real test of opening weekend mettle for Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, and both passed with flying colors. Of course, this number raises new questions about how much credit Tatum deserved for the $54.7 million debut of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” Conversely, as I mentioned last September, one wonders how much better “Jennifer’s Body” could have opened had the marketing focused even a little on co-star Seyfried and not just Megan Fox. This also makes Nicholas Sparks the first brand-name author since the mid-’90s heyday of Michael Crichton, Stephen King and John Grisham. Regardless, this is a smashing debut and should weather the storm of “Valentine’s Day: The Movie” as this far more serious love story will prove solid counter-programming to the overtly comedic all-star mush-fest (or as I’ve heard the film called: “Garry Marshall Calls in All His Favors Before He Dies: The Movie”).

Yes, yes, “Dear John” dethroned “Avatar” at the top of the box office over Super Bowl weekend. Wow… a film’s opening weekend managed to exceed another film’s eighth weekend. I got into this in some detail on my Open Salon blog over the weekend, but I personally think that the whole ‘”Dear John” beat “Avatar”‘ story is relatively pointless. And I certainly enjoy the irony of pundits jumping up and down over the fact that a very female-driven film defeated another film that itself was playing very well for women. “Avatar” writer/director James Cameron is a man. “Dear John” author Nicolas Sparks and director Lasse Hallström are also men. Both films involve (to differing degrees of emphasis) romantic drama in the shadow of war. Both films involve handsome but somewhat bland male leads (Sam Worthington and Channing Tatum) being out-acted and generally outclassed by their female partners (Zoe Saldana and Amanda Seyfried). Trying to spin the weekend’s box office as the girls smacking down the boys on Super Bowl weekend is not only relatively false, but awfully condescending and sexist to boot. It’s basically saying: Wow, a “girl movie” was able to compete in a male dominated marketplace! That’s so shocking! No one could have predicted that because girl movies are lame! Besides, we all know that Channing Tatum will walk away with the lion’s share of the credit, just as the media bent over backwards to give Ryan Reynolds credit for “The Proposal.” Tatum will get his pick of franchises, while Seyfried will get to choose between being the token love interest/damsel in distress in one of said franchises or starring in another installment of “I’m Nothing Without a Man.”

But weep not for James Cameron, for “Avatar” still pulled in another $23.6 million. Having crossed the $600 million mark and overtaken “Titanic” as the top domestic grosser of all time, “Avatar” now sits with a massive $630 million domestic gross. The film had its second-biggest weekend plunge yet, dropping a whole 24 percent in weekend eight. Still, the comparatively large drop lends credence to the idea that the film was playing very well with females, hence it was hurt by direct demo competition. The film’s new worldwide total is a whopping $2.204 billion, or just short of the magic $2.39 billion mark (at which point it will have doubled the worldwide take of every other film ever made save “Titanic”). I suppose if you wanted to nitpick, you could say that “Avatar” was number one for a mere seven weekends while “Titanic” was number one for 15 weekends. As many of you probably recall, “Titanic” was No. 1 all the way up until April 3, when it was dethroned by “Lost in Space” (quick — what are the two connections between “Lost in Space” and “Dear John”?). Like “Avatar’s” close calls with “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Book of Eli,” “Titanic” actually lost the Friday race three times during its spree, to “U.S. Marshals,” “The Man in the Iron Mask” and the re-release of “Grease,” respectively.

It now shares its top in the top 10 for consecutive No. 1 weekends with “Ghostbusters” and “On Golden Pond,” and shares the No. 12 spot for total number one weekends with the Henry Fonda melodrama. Slightly more troubling (relative to a picture that’s already the biggest moneymaker of all time) is that “Avatar” just barely beat “Titanic’s” $23 million record for the biggest eighth weekend. By next weekend, barring a miracle, “Avatar” will likely start grossing less on a weekend-to-weekend basis than “Titanic” (the doomed ocean romancer actually went up 22 percent for a $28 million “Valentine’s Day”-infused eighth weekend). Still, the movie is going to take a huge hit on March 5 anyway, when it loses its IMAX and many of its 3D screens to Tim Burton’s “Return to Oz,” I mean “Alice in Wonderland.” The goal from here on out is to cross the fabled $700 million mark and try for $2.5 billion worldwide before all is said and done. Point being, “Avatar” may have lost its No. 1 weekend ranking, but the phenomenon is still ‘king of the world’ for all intents and purposes.

Third place went to the horribly marketed “From Paris With Love.” The John Travolta/Jonathan Rhys Meyers action vehicle attempted to replicate the Super Bowl opening of “Taken” (same director), but Lionsgate forgot that 20th Century Fox did a bang-up job marketing the Liam Neeson vehicle, with a tense and provocative teaser that gave away almost nothing from the film’s second and third acts. Lionsgate released a flurry of confused and off-putting trailers (John Travolta is: the Ugly American!) that couldn’t decide whether to sell the ultra-violence or the comedy. Frankly the earlier film benefited just a touch from the widespread availability of DVD-quality bootlegs a month prior to the U.S. release. Since the film played a little older than the normal downloading crowd, the youngsters had a month to tell their parents that grown-up star Liam Neeson’s new action picture was all kinds of bad-ass. So “Taken” opened with $24.7 million while “From Paris With Love” opened with just $8.1 million. To quote Lionsgate’s flagship character, “game over.”

Martin Campbell’s “Edge of Darkness” plunged a disturbing 59 percent in weekend two, meaning that it won’t come close to its $80 million production budget. I finally saw the picture and it’s better than I expected (the second half is awfully strong). But it’s more a portrait of wrenching grief than an action picture or even a thriller. Point being, the ads tried to sell it as a hard action thriller and now everybody knows otherwise. Its second weekend was $7 million and the film now sits at $29 million. When all is said and done, this will be Mel Gibson’s lowest-grossing vehicle since his directorial debut, “The Man Without a Face” (the dark, character-driven drama grossed $24 million in summer 1993). Oh well, better luck next time, Campbell and Gibson. “The Tooth Fairy” dropped 35 percent and now sits with $34 million, as does “Legion.” Last weekend’s other opener, “When in Rome,” fell 55 percent, leaving its 10-day total at $20 million. “The Book of Eli” crossed the $80 million mark, although $100 million may be out of reach. Still, as Denzel Washington vehicles go, this one ranks sixth at $82 million. Next on the list is the $88 million gross of “Inside Man” and the $91 million take of “Crimson Tide,” both of which are approachable. Oh, and “Sherlock Holmes” finally crossed the $200 million mark, so we’ll see a sequel in the next couple years.

The biggest beneficiary of Oscar nominations was “Crazy Heart,” which capitalized on last week’s nominations for stars Jeff Bridges (the likely winner for Best Actor) and Maggie Gyllenhaal by expanding to 819 screens. I still contend that opening this acclaimed country-music drama on Super Bowl weekend may have hindered the potential of the film’s wide release opening, but it still pulled in a decent $3.6 million, which leaves the $8 million picture with $11 million and a month to play wide before the awards are given out. The rest of the Oscar field was as expected. The more mainstream nominees (“Up in the Air,” “The Blind Side,” “Avatar,” “The Lovely Bones,” etc) were relatively unaffected. Many of the nominees are already on DVD (“A Serious Man,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Up,” “The Hurt Locker,” “District 9,” etc.). But those smallish films that could be helped (“An Education,” “Precious,” “The Last Station”) generally received relatively large upswings at least in terms of pure weekend-to-weekend percentage changes.

Finally, there were a bazillion limited-release openings this weekend, and none of them particularly impressed. Of note, “The Red Riding Trilogy” and “Terribly Happy” did $15,000 and $11,000 on their respective single screens while “Frozen” and “District 13: Ultimatum” did a whopping $1,200 per in their respective 106 and nine-screen debuts. That’s about all the news for this weekend. Join us around Monday evening for a holiday wrap-up of the President’s Day long weekend, where the holdovers face off against three major new releases. Joe Johnston’s delayed and much-fussed-over “The Wolfman” opens against “Valentine’s Day.” Plus Chris Columbus, the man who cast the Harry Potter series, attempts to launch a new young-adult fantasy franchise with “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”


Scott Mendelson is a blogger for Open Salon.

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