STRONG B.O.: Silent Critics

As recently as AEON FLUX, a film not screened for critics meant something terrible was entering the multiplex. Starting this year, however, there’s been an increase in films bypassing critical judgment. While the audience for DOOM may not care what Ebert & Roper thought of the film, immense bad buzz can lower expectations enough to turn a ‘must see’ into a ‘might rent’.
The strategy has paid off for studios trying to produce coin from crap. In the instant opinion world of Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, it’s taking longer for the bad buzz to spread. So far none of the films have proven themselves to be diamonds in the rough, but quite a few have made a bigger than expected splash at the box office.
Taking $20.2 million, Sony’s SILENT HILL is the 6th film so far this year to open at #1 without a critics screening. It joins UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION (26.9m), WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (21.6m), and THE BENCHWARMERS (19.7m) (Sony releases all) as well as MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION (30m) and SCARY MOVIE 4 (40.2m). In comparison, DOOM (which did screen for critics) made a total of $28.2m.
SCARY MOVIE 4 eased on down to 2nd place with $16.8m. Even with a budget of $45m, the film’s $68m haul so far means you can safely predict a SCARY MOVIE 5. All four films in the franchise have been wildly successful, taking in over $405m total so far. Three of the films collected over $40m in their opening weekend.
Michael Douglas’ THE SENTINEL opened in 3rd with $14.4m. For Douglas, this is on par with THE GAME ($14.3m) and slightly below A PERFECT MURDER ($16.6m) and DON’T SAY A WORD ($17.1m). Like last years THE INTERPRETER, this should do okay before reaching a wider audience on DVD.
With a total of over $168m, 4th Place ICE AGE 2 is already the #1 film so far this year. That’s nearly double the $86m take of 2nd place FAILURE TO LAUNCH. With another $276m from overseas markets, it leads 2006's World Wide pack by nearly $300m. (2nd place…THE PINK PANTHER with $155m) Less than $10m behind its predecessor, ICE AGE 2 stands poised to crack the CGI Top 10 any day now.

Of the 23 CGI films ever given a wide release, 16 have made over $100 million. Disney’s THE WILD is one of the 7 that won’t. Even though it declined a mere 14% in it’s 2nd week, the $8.3m take only brings the total up to $22.2m.
INSIDE MAN cracked $80m and came in 8th place. The film’s a major success for director Spike Lee, but with the name talent and very strong word of mouth I expected a stronger overall haul. While this is Clive Owen’s biggest stateside success (not counting his small part in THE BOURNE IDENTITY), the gross is only slightly better than Denzel’s TRAINING DAY and slightly worse than Jodie’s FLIGHTPLAN.
AMERICAN DREAMZ died a painful death, opening behind week 3 of THE BENCHWARMERS (7.3m) and TAKE THE LEAD (4.2m) with 3.7m. The film, expected to be one of the Spring’s bigger releases, suffered a last minute change of heart from distributor Universal. They scaled the wide release back to just 1500 screens and still suffered a low per screen average.

AMERICAN DREAMZ was preceeded by two weeks of sneak previews and numerous critic screenings at various festivals. I'm not suggesting the movie would have made more money if it had gone the same route as SILENT HILL, but the facts are interesting.


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