It's time for Hollywood to stop being flabbergasted by the popularity of The Hangover.
Original predictions for the R-rated comedy's debut last weekend were in the $25-30 million range. So industry swamis were surprised to see that in the early studio tabulation last Sunday, the movie came in a close second to the Pixar hit Up. The following day they were flummoxed by the full weekend figures, showing that The Hangover actually beat out Up for the No. 1 slot, $45 million to $44.3 million. Films flip-flopping the top two positions from early estimates to final ones: that hardly ever happens.
This weekend the insider consensus was for something like a three-way tie among The Hangover, Up and the new Denzel Washington-John Travolta subway thriller The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. According to today's estimates, that's how the movies finished one two three but The Hangover, at $33.4 million, was a sturdy $3 million ahead of Up and more than $8 million ahead of Pelham.
Dropping only 26% from its first weekend, The Hangover hit the $100 million mark in domestic gross in only eight days, out-sprinting last year's Sex and the City by a day. What happens in Vegas, apparently, goes everywhere fast. And here's one more stat that should tickle the bosses at Warner Bros.: The Hangover's budget was about $35 million less than a fifth of the Pixar film's.
Beyond the numbers are the people. At least half of Up's domestic gross has come from its 3-D showings, where the cost of admission is perhaps 30% higher, The Hangover makes its money the old-fashioned way: at regular ticket prices. That means that many more people saw the R-rated comedy on its opening weekend. They liked what they saw, spread the word, kept the momentum rolling: the picture made another $27 million in the Monday-to-Thursday period, as opposed to $19 million for Up. Success like this becomes its own news, the buzz phrase du jour. And that generates more business. We conclude with what WNYC host Brian Lehrer calls an Uncommon Economic Indicator, and to which film reviewers can testify: Instead of asking a critic the usual question "What new movie is worth seeing?? people just say, "So, should I see The Hangover?"
Not enough folks asked, "Should I see Pelham 1 2 3?" It finished somewhat below industry expectations. But a Sunday-afternoon quarterback has a few explanations. 1. While Washington and Travolta are certified stars who can get movies greenlit, they don't often make blockbusters. 2. The audience for R-rated films, necessarily limited by age, was still flocking to The Hangover. 3. Pelham is a remake of a 1974 thriller that didn't exactly acquire legendary status. 4. Though the new picture was promoted as an action thriller, it's basically two guys talking tensely on the phone in other words, a TV movie and without any urgency to see it, the older people who thought they might be interested in it probably decided to wait for the DVD.
Meanwhile, two comedy stars had nothing to smile about. Will Ferrell's Land of the Lost, which opened lamely last weekend, lost 51% of its business this frame; it's as if there were an Internet whispering campaign that all the Land of the Lost theaters were swine-flu venues. Opening the same day as The Hangover, the Ferrell film has taken in just a third of its revenue. As for Eddie Murphy's kid-friendly Imagine That, it earned better reviews than his 2008 Dave did for Eddie, mixed is raves but registered about the same pathetic first weekend gross: $5.7 million. Next stop for the reigning star of '80s and '90s comedy: dinner theater.
Here, subject to change at any moment, are Box Office Mojo's official weekend estimates of the top 10 movies:
1. The Hangover, $33.4 million; $105.4 million, second week
2. Up, $30.5 million; $187.2 million; third week
3. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, $25 million, first week
4. Night at the Museum: Battles of the Smithsonian, $ 9.6 million; $143.4 million, fourth week
5. Land of the Lost, $ 9.2 million; $35 million, second week
6. Imagine That, $ 5.7 million, first weekend
7. Star Trek, $ 5.6 million; $232 million, sixth week
8. Terminator Salvation, $ 4.7 million; $113.8 million, fourth week
9. Angels & Demons, $ 4.2 million; $123.3 million, fifth week
10. Drag Me To Hell, $ 3.9 million; $35.1 million, third week