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'Beowulf' Can't Fell Box Office Blahs

by Brandon Gray
Ray Winstone in Beowulf
November 19, 2007

Though it opened solidly in first place, Beowulf wasn't the hero to save the dreadful overall box office. The weekend was the least attended mid-November frame in 14 years, continuing the market's weakness exhibited since September. The movies have lacked broad appeal, and only one, American Gangster, has significantly exceeded genre norms. Consider that the same weekend last year saw the debuts of Happy Feet and Casino Royale and it's clear how off its game the industry is right now in delivering fare to excite audiences.

Beowulf drew relatively muscular numbers for an animated action picture, a sub-genre with a considerably lower bar than family cartoons like Bee Movie. Director Robert Zemeckis' computer-rendered fantasy spawned $27.5 million on approximately 4,900 screens at 3,153 theaters, which was a lot better than similar movies like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. The gross included Thursday night previews, but distributor Paramount Pictures refused to separate them from the weekend.

More than 40 percent of Beowulf's gross came from 742 theaters showing the picture in 3D at higher ticket prices. The Real D digital 3D format rang up an estimated $8 million at 638 sites, while IMAX 3D accounted for an estimated $3.6 million at 84. It was the widest Real D launch yet, ahead of Meet the Robinsons, which earned $7.1 million at 484 sites on its opening weekend earlier this year (out of $25.1 million total). For IMAX, it was a record in terms of percentage share of an opening weekend, accounting for 13 percent of the gross with less than two percent of the screens.

With marketing that harkened 300, the most compelling aspect of Beowulf was its 3D spectacle, and that was enough to stand out in this depressed market. Paramount's exit polling indicated that Beowulf's audience composition was 50 percent over 25 years old and 60 percent male, different than most animated features. The grade from moviegoer pollster CinemaScore was a mixed "B," though Paramount claimed the response varied depending on whether the picture was seen in 3D or not.

Beowulf also started to a bit higher than Mr. Zemeckis' last picture, The Polar Express. While both movies relied on the visual splash of their 3D performance capture animation as the key selling point, the adult-skewing Beowulf is unlikely to have the stamina of Polar Express, which powered through the holidays on its Christmas theme and family orientation to a $162.8 million haul. Like Polar Express, Beowulf was backed by Shangri-La Entertainment, which contributed two thirds of the $150 million price tag with Paramount picking up the remaining third.

Tumbling around 45 percent apiece, Bee Movie and American Gangster were second and third, respectively. Bee squeezed out $14 million for $93.6 million in 17 days, while Gangster nabbed $12.9 million for $100.7 million in 17 days. Fred Claus continued to trail the Santa Clause and Elf movies on all fronts, off 36 percent to $11.9 million for $35.7 million in ten days.

Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium blundered with $9.6 million on around 3,600 screens at 3,164 theaters in its debut. The marketing campaign tried to dazzle with its magical toy store and its eccentric proprietor, but played like an extra sugary Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without a plot to engage potential moviegoers and lacking Charlie's built-in audience to overcome its awkward title and other negatives.

Also opening was period romance Love in the Time of Cholera to an anemic $1.9 million at 852 venues. The picture was eclipsed by another featuring actor Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men, which grabbed a good $3.1 million at 148 sites for $4.9 million in ten days of limited release. The crime drama expands nationwide on Wednesday.

Dan in Real Life again had the smallest drop among wide holdovers, down 28 percent to $4.3 million for $36.9 million in 24 days. Lions for Lambs, on the other hand, retreated 57 percent to $2.9 million. The war drama has mustered only $11.6 million in ten days.

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Review: 'Beowulf'
11/20/06 - Penguins Tip-Tap Past Bond (Same Weekend, 2006)

11/21/05 - Harry Potter's 'Goblet' Runneth Over with Cash (Same Weekend, 2005)
11/22/04 - 'National Treasure,' 'SpongeBob' Clean Up (Same Weekend, 2004)

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