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Open Salon's resident movie nerd and box office geek.

Scott Mendelson

Scott Mendelson
Woodland Hills, California, United States
April 02
A ten-year Salon reader, Mendelson also has a film and politics blog/column at Mendelon's Memos: located at: He is also a free lance voice over artist and occasionally contributes film reviews for

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Editor’s Pick
JUNE 14, 2009 1:23PM

Open Salon box office in review (06/14/09)

Rate: 6 Flag

The official number one film this weekend was again The Hangover.  One of the unlikeliest films to open at number one this summer is now arguably the least predictable contender to hold onto the top spot for two weekends running (a feat accomplished this year only by Madea Goes to Jail and Paul Blart: Mall Cop).  It dropped a shockingly low 27% for a weekend total of $32.7 million.  Its ten day total is now about $105 million.  $200 million+ is all but certain and the film may in fact threaten the all-time comedy champs (Home Alone, Meet the Fockers, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, at $285 million, $279 million, and $241 million respectively).  At this point in the game, even The Wedding Crashers (a far inferior film in every way, I might add) was at merely $81 million.

Obviously a shockingly strong hold such as this indicates that the film is already spreading out far beyond the stereotypical frat-boy audience that was to be its primary demo.  And, as I said in last weekend's write-up, the film isn't nearly as vulgar or sexist as you'd think.  The pundits decrying its victory as some kind of judgment on the maturity and sophistication of American moviegoers either haven't seen it or were unable to get past their preconceived notions.  The film's strongest suit is its genuinely compelling narrative, which works as a comedic variation on Memento. While it lacks the social science of Observe & Report (a film that has become ever more timely), it is a character-and-plot driven laugh-fest which puts story ahead of arbitrary punchlines and improv riffs.  Point being, it deserves every dollar of its success and I can't wait to see it again on Blu Ray with my wife.

Speaking of movies I can't wait to show my wife (if only so I can listen to her complain about having openly wept at yet another Disney cartoon), Pixar's Up took another 30% drop to end weekend three with $30.7 million.  This one will end its seventeenth day with a whopping $187 million.  That puts it just $4 million behind Finding Nemo's seventeen-day total, and Up's daily figures are starting to surpass that all-time Pixar champ.  It's becoming apparent that Up may in fact challenge Finding Nemo's $339 million domestic total, as well as its hold as the top film of its respective summer (2003).  If Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince plays like a normal Harry Potter sequel ($270-290 million) and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen doesn't dramatically improve on its predecessor, then Pixar's Up will likely be the summer's top film.  Of course, that's two awfully speculative 'ifs', so we'll see soon enough if the Ed Asner floating house fable can keep this up.

The third place finisher was the picture that many thought would be first.  But this is not a case of one film failing, but rather two others overperforming.  The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3 opened to $23.3 million, which is right in line with most Denzel Washington action vehicles.  Unless there is something uber interesting to advertise (American Gangster opened with $43 million while Inside Man opened with $29 million), nearly all of Washington's vehicles in this decade usually open to $20-23 million.  Remember the Titans, Training Day, John Q, Man on Fire, The Manchurian Candidate, and Deja Vu and  all met this criteria.  Only Out of Time (a terrifically entertaining piece of B-movie film noir) faltered with a $16 million start.  So, basically, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is actually Denzel Washington's third-biggest opening weekend.  And, as for John Travolta, this is his fifth-biggest start. It's a solid start for this adult counter-programmer that will have the field to itself until Michael Mann's Public Enemies opens on July 1st.

The big flop of the weekend was Eddie Murphy's Imagine That, which opened with just $5.5 million.  I'm assuming that this one didn't cost nearly as much as Meet Dave, so the damage should be limited.  The big-picture isn't as glum for Eddie Murphy as you'd think.  He's still a star, he just needs to pick projects that people actually want to see.  He's a worthwhile draw in films that audiences would otherwise be interested in.  Norbit opened to $34 million just two years ago, and all-ages fare like Daddy Daycare and The Haunted Mansion opened north of $24 million.  Murphy simply needs to pick projects that have mainstream appeal regardless of who is starring, or he needs to keep his personal pics under a reasonable cost.  Artistically, it wouldn't kill him to take more juicy supporting roles in films where he's not the only draw.  Murphy is a better and more generous actor than he's given credit for, so doing a supporting or star turn in a Tyler Perry film would be a fascinating experiment.  Don't laugh, this would put him in with such company as Angella Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Kathy Bates, Viola Davis, Cicely Tyson, and Lou Gossitt Jr.  I so wish that Perry would pursue the insanely underutilized Tony Todd, although there are countless actors of all colors who could benefit, since Perry is one of the only filmmakers left who makes mainstream dramas these days.

Among the holdovers, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian held steady, dropping 34% for a new total of $143 million.  It won't touch the original's $250 million gross, but it isn't as finished as most of us thought a week or so ago.  Star Trek now sits at $231 million, which is about $4 million from becoming the highest grossing Star Trek film of all time, adjusted for inflation.  And since it's still only dipping by about 34% in weekend six, $250 million should be an easy mark.  This is an incredible and unexpected achievement and Paramount's marketing department should be very proud.  Let's just make sure that the sequel is better.  Terminator Salvation is now at $113 million and Angels & Demons is now at $123 million.  Both are (relative) domestic under performers that are being rescued by foreign business.  While it won't remain as such, Angels & Demons is currently the highest grossing film on 2009, with $414 million in global grosses thus far.  Even the much-derided X-Men Origins: Wolverine has passed $350 million in global sales.

Universal's twin shames, Land of the Lost and Drag Me to Hell, both continued to plummet.  Both are now at $35 million and each could have performed better.  In the 'trying to make lemonade out of lemons', at least Land of the Lost will outgross Speed Racer, while Drag Me to Hell will outgross the opening weekend of Friday the 13th. Moon and Food Inc had solid debuts in super limited release.   On a side note, Disney won't have to worry much about the US box office for Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo.  It doesn't open here until August 14th, but it's already done $182 million worldwide.

And that's all the news that's fit to print.  One more note before we move on... there's a very good chance that Up and The Hangover will again share the top two spots next weekend.  Year One is getting terrible buzz and (to the best of my knowledge) has yet to be screened for anyone in its final form.  Sandra Bullock's The Proposal certainly has buzz (it had a paid sneak last night), but Bullock is the rare star whose pictures have great legs but low opening weekends.  Her biggest opening weekend is Premonition, which opened to $17 million.

Scott Mendelson

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Scott, how much time did you put into this post? What great reviews.. I'm impressed. Wanted to add my .02 cents about The Hangover. My husband and I went Saturday night and didn't have high expectations. What a great movie! It was smart, intelligent, confusing in the best of ways, the music was great, the shots of Vegas unique and artistic. The Alan character stole the show. I loved the non-PC nature of this movie and even the crudeness was well thought out instead of gratuitous. We're going to see it again. I know I should go see up UP but I hate animated films (I know this shows a character defect) and my uncle just lost his beautiful wife of 60 years (my dear aunt) and from what I've heard, it might be hard to see right now. Thanks for your post and your reviews.
I don't agree with this statement:

"Star Trek now sits at $231 million, which is about $4 million from becoming the highest grossing Star Trek film of all time, adjusted for inflation. And since it's still only dipping by about 34% in weekend six, $250 million should be an easy mark. This is an incredible and unexpected achievement and Paramount's marketing department should be very proud."

This is not about a 'marketing achievement'. I am not a Trekker but I went to see this film twice to get the time line correct in my head. When you're dealing with alternative universes the way this one was filmed, it can become confusing. Besides, seeing Capt. Kirk being beat up twice was fun, too. So give the credit to the writers and the directors, thank-you.
I had my choice of seeing Imagine That or The Hangover this weekend in a long window. With my 13-year-old daughter.

We saw The Hangover. Awesome.

And I intend to get it on BluRay as well. I know it moved too fast for me to follow every joke and bit and pun, so I can't wait to see it again. It was hilarious. I was chortling about "Fat Jesus" all the way home yesterday (200-plus miles). Not to mention Mutheh-fuckhuhhhhhhh (in an asian falsetto!).

It wasn't unlikely at all for "The Hangover" to open number one if you read this. Or if you saw "Knocked Up" or "Saving Sarah Marshall"