The summer's last would-be event picture, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, wielded its kung fu grip on the box office over the weekend, though it wasn't quite a real blockbuster hero. With a big movie opening, the weekend as a whole was up 21 percent over the same timeframe last year, when The Dark Knight led for the fourth weekend in a row and Pineapple Express debuted in second. Compared to previous years, though, weekend attendance was middling.
G.I. Joe enlisted $54.7 million on approximately 5,900 screens at 4,007 sites, ranking as the fourth highest-grossing August opening ever, but a far cry from its Hasbro toyline stable mate, Transformers. Joe's estimated attendance was a bit less than XXX, another action spectacle that opened on the same August weekend in 2002, and it was slightly higher than similar pictures like Mission: Impossible III and Wanted but less than the Fantastic Four movies. Despite the sizable launches, none of those pictures attained true blockbuster status, and Joe would need to be unusually flinty to break the trend. Distributor Paramount Pictures' exit polling indicated that 60 percent of the audience was male and 50 percent was under 25 years old.
While riding on the 1980s toy-cartoon-comic brand name and attempting to cash in on some of the disaster thriller appeal of Transformers with the destruction of the Eiffel Tower, the marketing for G.I. Joe mostly resembled XXX and other movies with its clearly computer-generated action set-pieces, such as the brand's most popular character, Snake Eyes, leaping over cars a la Spider-Man. Much of the focus was on The Rise of Cobra (on the movie poster, the bad guys are featured at the top, while the Joes are relegated below the credits), which was a bit cockeyed considering that G.I. Joe itself had yet to be established as a movie franchise. That lack of central heroic characters for audiences to get behind may have limited the appeal. Curiously, though Paramount publicly eschewed advanced screenings for movie reviewers, they presented reviewer quotes as the centerpiece of their television ads. Such dogmatic (and, in this case, hypocritical) adherence to critics' quotes only comes at the expense of what audiences truly care about: the story, the characters, the spectacle, etc.
Targeting a different audience than G.I. Joe, Julie & Julia julienned the record for biggest-grossing opening for a live-action cooking-themed movie (Ratatouille being tops if animation is counted). The comedy-drama served up a solid $20 million on around 2,700 screens at 2,354 sites, which was more than 60 percent better than No Reservations, another late summer cooking comedy-drama from two years ago. According to distributor Sony Pictures' research, 67 percent of the audience was female and 64 percent was aged 35 years and older. The picture was heavily promoted (including an obvious tie-in with the Food Network) as a relatable tale of two women taking charge of their lives, buoyed by being based on two true stories as well as its cast of Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, who was fresh from her recent summer successes of Mamma Mia! and The Devil Wears Prada.
Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia
Also starting nationwide, A Perfect Getaway nabbed a soft $5.9 million at 2,159 sites, despite an aggressive ad campaign by distributor Rogue Pictures. The ads mostly sold the tropical thriller on its scenes of despair and a promised twist, but lacked the characters needed to lure in potential moviegoers. Rogue reported an audience breakdown of 52 percent female and more than half over 30 years old.
Meanwhile, (500) Days of Summer entered nationwide release and surpassed Sunshine Cleaning to become the highest-grossing specialty release of the year, which is a modest feat given how lackluster that market has been this year. Packing them in about as well as Garden State at the same point, (500) Days grossed $3.7 million at 817 sites, lifting its total to $12.4 million. It is the "quirky" romance of choice currently as Paper Heart and Adam haven't fared nearly as well.
Among nationwide holdovers, G-Force retreated 44 percent to $9.9 million for $86.2 million in 17 days, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince dropped 50 percent to $8.9 million for $273.8 million in 26 days, and the other pictures fell within the norm. Funny People was a stand-out in how much it lost. Judd Apatow's comedy-drama plummeted a sharp 65 percent to $8 million for $40.5 million in ten days, and it's headed for less than half the attendance of The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Down 35 percent, The Hangover had the smallest decline among nationwide releases for the fifth weekend in a row. The comedy made $3.4 million for $262 million in 66 days. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was close behind, again holding better than its predecessor with a 36 percent slide for a massive $393.7 million total in 47 days.