Weekend Box Office: Never Underestimate the Power of Minions

This weekend saw the debut of a pair of high profile releases, some smaller indie gems making their way into the market, and some heavy-hitters trying to stick around and make a few more bucks before being cast off into home video oblivion. The week’s biggest, at least from a production and marketing standpoint, was the $60 million-budgeted ‘Despicable Me.’ Despite having a marketing campaign that stretched back to last year (I remember seeing a teaser trailer attached to ‘Transformers 2‘), some voice-work star power (Steve Carell, Julie Andrews, etc.) and some appealingly eye-catching characters (those little yellow minions are all around New York), people were estimating that it might not be the surefire hit Universal and new animation partner Illumination Entertainment were hoping for. Well, it turns out the naysayers were wrong.

Coming in at #1, ‘Despicable Me‘ made $60.1 million over the weekend, which is at least $10 million more than the conservative studio estimates predicted. Sure, the fact that it was projected in 3-D at many locations, which offered up a nice high ticket premium, certainly helped matters. But the movie was warmly received by critics (or at least critics who aren’t A.O. Scott), and family audiences seem to be eating it up. I haven’t seen the movie yet (going tonight), but will report back. I’m sure it doesn’t offer the quality or depth that ‘Toy Story 3‘ provided. Then again, what will? It’ll be interesting to see how this movie fares against Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer’s ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,’ which will go after that same, highly coveted family audience. We shall see.

The other biggish movie to open this weekend was the Robert Rodriguez-produced ‘Predators.’ I really enjoyed the flick, but most of my contemporaries seem to have given it the see-sawing hand of indifference. (Indeed, its Metacritic score of 50 exemplifies this split-down-the-middle consensus.) It debuted at #3 with $25.3 million. That’s not too shabby considering that the film was really the first R-rated major player this summer (besides the shambling ‘Get Him to the Greek,’ which went for a much different crowd). Also, the movie only cost $38 million to produce. Most of this summer’s big budget fare has cost upwards of $200 million, such as ‘The Last Airbender,’ ‘Knight and Day,’ ‘The A-Team,’ or ‘Prince of Persia.’ In comparison, this thing was made for peanuts. Even ‘Twilight: Eclipse,’ which hung tough at #2 despite a drop of 48.5% for another $33.4 million, cost $65 million to produce and doesn’t have a fraction of the visual wit or style. I saw it again this weekend to a packed house of paying moviegoers, and they seemed to really like it. This could end up being a little sleeper hit, and will undoubtedly lead to a sequel.

I’ve previously stated my curiosity at how much of a tumble the abysmal ‘Last Airbender‘ would take in its second week. The answer was: pretty big, but not as much as I expected. It was down 57.5%, which meant that it went from #2 to #5. It’ll be interesting to see what happens this next weekend, after ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ comes out. Not only is ‘Apprentice’ in the market for the same audience, it’s also similar thematically, in terms of a young man learning to use his magical abilities. ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ is, on the other hand, way more fun than ‘Last Airbender,’ and a better movie overall. (My review is forthcoming.)

The rest of the Top 10 is pretty much what you’d expect, without a lot of change. In the indie market realm, ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire,’ the very meh sequel to ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ nearly cracked the Top 10 while only playing in 85 theaters. The movie above it, ‘Cyrus,’ played in 200. When ‘Girl’ expands next week, I’m sure we’ll see it hit the Top 10, even against some new heavyweight openings.

The biggest question, of course, is what will happen with ‘Inception.’ I remember sitting in a theater a few weeks ago next to a couple of older, gray-haired women. A trailer for ‘Inception’ played. I leaned over. “You excited about this one, ladies?” They replied: “We don’t know what it’s about!” My answer: “Nobody does!” And it’s true: nobody does know what ‘Inception’ is about, and those last-minute television commercials that try to explain something about the characters aren’t helping matters. When I showed my mother the trailer a few months ago, she said: “I didn’t understand the last Leonardo DiCpario movie.” This is going to be a big stumbling block. The kind of anticipatory curiosity for this one is just off-the-charts, especially in the movie geek community. But can the movie, a high-minded meditation on dreams, connect with an average American audience? It could be too intellectual for the popcorn-munching public. At the very least, it’ll have an explosively huge opening. Look for my review mid-week. Until then: dream on…

The Top 10:

01 ‘Despicable Me’ (Univeral) – $60.1 million

02 ‘Twilight: Eclipse’ (Summit) – $33.4 million

03 ‘Predators’ (Fox) – $25.3 million

04 ‘Toy Story 3’ (Disney/Pixar) – $22 million

05 ‘The Last Airbender’ (Paramount) – $17.1 million

06 ‘Grown Ups’ (Sony) – $16.4 million

07 ‘Knight and Day’ (Fox) – $7.8 million

08 ‘The Karate Kid’ (Sony) – $5.7 million

09 ‘The A-Team’ (Fox) – $1.8 million

10 ‘Cyrus’ (Fox) – $1.3 million


  1. It amazes me that we’re in the thick of the summer blockbuster season, and a movie that’s only playing on 200 screens and only made a little over $1 million can hit the Top 10. It’s like each week, audiences flock to whatever the small handful of big new openings are, but see almost nothing else.

    Movies just don’t have staying power in theaters anymore. Even the highest grossing titles of the year are lucky to get two or three weekends in the Top 10 before fading away.

    • JoeRo

      I think the rapidity with which one film replaces another in the top 10 spots is symptomatic of our times. Theaters have to compete with the internet, home theaters, various vod services (Netflix being the best of the bunch IMO), and an increasingly dense summer TV landscape. It seems appropriate that this kind of boxoffice turnover is becoming increasingly speedy.

      Not to mention the premiums you pay to see a film in theaters these days, although at my local multiplex two adults can easily see a weekend matinee with no bells and whistles (read no Imax or 3d) for 10 bucks total. Add in theater refreshment staples and your total cost easily more than doubles. Concession stand indeed.

      Still I think we live in a world where media, and film specifically, is becoming increasingly disposable. Theatrical releases are basically big ad campaigns for dvd/blu-ray releases, at least that’s how I view it. Even some of the biggest box office flops have turned a profit on dvd, so it kind of makes sense in that aspect as well.

      • EM

        I’ve noticed this disposability as well (though I had trouble landing on the right vocabulary for it—thank you!). I wonder if, in terms of quality, we might be better off slimming down our cineplexes—not necessarily going back to the days of single-screen movie houses, but just reducing the number of screens overall. I’d like to think such a move would reduce the amount of cinepablum. I’m not sure if it would hurt the market for offbeat pictures or not. Too often I see expected blockbusters booked in multiple screens at the same cineplex: obviously the great number of screens does not mean that an equally great variety of films are being screened.

    • This list actually surprised me. I can’t find a theater in my area still playing A-Team or Karate Kid, and I am in a major metropolitan area. Wonder if those are proceeds coming from dollar theaters and drive-ins.

      I actaully saw Airbender last night. The theater was pretty full. It was also not the taversity I thought it was – it stayed very true to its source material. My only issue with it (and many others I know who saw it) is that we just wish it was about half an hour longer to develope characters and story lines a bit more. I was disappointed in the 3D – this movie did not benefit at all. In fact, there were a few scenes that were not in 3D at all and I actually pulled off my glasses so I could enjoy the richer colors.

      Still haven’t made it to see Toy Story. With movie prices these days, the concept of paying $6-$15 a movie (depending on theater and 2D or 3D or Imax) for anything less than 100 minutes long to me is just a waste of money. My biggest disappointment in the past couple of years was Surrogates – I have seen animated Disney cartoons longer than that. I know that after people were complaining about how rushed the Harry Potter movies were, and fans wishing they were jsut a bit longer, I am shocked to see them getting shorter in length rather than longer (at least they split the last into two, but I hope each is at least 2 hours long).

  2. Jane Morgan

    Box office this weekend isn’t much different than this weekend ten years ago…

    July 14-16, 2000 Weekend Box Office

    1 – X-Men – $54,471,475
    2 – Scary Movie – $26,195,912
    3 – The Perfect Storm – $17,130,295
    4 – The Patriot – $10,612,898
    5 – Disney’s The Kid – $10,471,322
    6 – Chicken Run – $7,914,302
    7 – Me, Myself & Irene – $5,702,657
    8 – Big Momma’s House – $2,831,239
    9 – Gone In 60 Seconds – $2,543,766
    10 – Shaft – $2,386,057
    11 – Mission Impossible 2 – $2,311,647
    12 – Rocky & Bullwinkle – $2,281,455
    13 – Gladiator – $1,571,917

    Maybe movies are disposable. Each of these, I have seen only once. Except ‘Gladiator’ which I saw once in the theater, once on dvd, and once on blu-ray. Will it ever get a good transfer??

    ‘The Patriot’ makes me wonder if we will ever see an event movie from Mel Gibson again, what with his current baby mama drama. I’ve never boycotted a celebrity before, but…

    • Interesting info, Jane. I hadn’t looked that far back. Perhaps it’s always been this way and I never paid enough attention to the numbers. I would have assumed that this time of year all of the Top 10 would come in with big grosses.

      I think Mel’s career as an actor is done. He might try to direct again in a few years and stay off camera, though.

    • What’s interesting, Jane, is that the list from ten years ago had way more Big movies in it. With the exception of Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Kid, I have seen every one of those. The Patriot is one of my all time favorite movies, and XMen is always fun

  3. Jane Morgan

    Top 10 weekend box office results for the last 10 years, regardless of the season or the month, is always the same. On average. Very slight fluctuations.

    Top 3 movies make over 10 million.
    Movies 4-10 make 1-10 million.
    Movies 11-100 make less than 1 million.

    Each week the only question is two questions. Who made over 10 million? And how much over? Because it’s a contest. A boxing match. Marketing vs Audience. This week was unusually profitable for Hollywood. 6 movies made over 10 million. That’s very rare.

    But I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Hollywood makes fewer Big Movies these days. It just looks that way because increasingly, more and more event movies are Kid Movies.

    Does anyone know how many American households have home theater projectors and blu-ray players?

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