North American movie theaters served as the field of combat for two action figures from '60s TV: the Hasbro toy soldier G.I. Joe and the animated "French chef" Julia Child. The raw box-office count suggests an overwhelming victory for the would-be blockbuster. Behind the numbers, though, was evidence of a standoff, with each side able to claim victory.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra took in $56.2 million, according to early studio estimates of the weekend total. That's a bit higher than prerelease predictions for a movie that had been victimized by such dire rumors that Paramount, its distributor, didn't screen the film for critics who, being critics, panned it. Real people gave the movie a gentleman's B+ on Cinemascore, but Joe still dropped 18% from Friday (including midnight Thursday showings) to Saturday. And Joe has a sizable investment to recoup; according to the Wrap, it "cost $175 million to produce and well north of $100 million (and counting) to market worldwide." In the high-risk, junk-bond action-movie world, the only question is whether Joe did well enough to spawn a sequel, and then a franchise. Well, it's no Transformers.
In second place, with $20.1 million, was Julie & Julia, which cost just $38 million to make and got reams of free upscale publicity. (Nora Ephron, the movie's writer-director, was the subject of 15 New York Times articles in the past month.) The bright comedy-drama switches between postwar Paris, where Child (Meryl Streep) finds her calling as a cookbook author, and modern-day Queens, where budding writer Julie Powell (Amy Adams) resolves to cook every recipe in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The film played big to the NPR-AARP crowd: more than half the customers were over 50. That makes the cume even more noteworthy, considering how many of the J&J crowd were getting senior discounts. Also impressive was Streep's drawing power. With The Devil Wears Prada and Mamma Mia! both earning well over $100 million domestic and her new picture on its way to hit status, she is arguably the movies' top female star. And she's 60. That's never happened in Hollywood history.
Give Sony extra points for having the estrogen excess needed to distribute a movie whose one familiar character was a best-selling writer and public-television personality from the 1960s through the '80s. Will Hollywood spot a budding trend and green-light biopics of PBS graybeards Alistair Cooke, William Buckley and David Attenborough? How about a Lawrence Welk retro-musical? Or Bachelor Friends Forever: The Bert & Ernie You Never Knew?
Joe and Julia were the only two films to break the $10 million mark; on virtually every other weekend this summer, at least four movies topped that number. The box-office take generally was pretty wan. The honeymoon-killer horror film A Perfect Getaway arrived preslaughtered and opened with $5.8 million, while G-Force, Jerry Bruckheimer's commando-guinea-pig comedy, pulled in $9.8 million. The sixth Harry Potter grabbed $8.9 million; it should still finish as the second highest Potter domestic grosser. And in fifth place was last week's winner, Judd Apatow's Funny People, whose 65% second-weekend drop nearly matched the 73% crash-and-burn of Bruno, Universal's earlier summer comedy. As Nikke Finke opined on her Deadline Hollywood Daily blog, "The studio must be sitting shiva."
Funny People's star, Adam Sandler, is a dominant, almost unparalleled moneymaker when he appears in recognizably "Adam Sandler movies," that is. Ten of his rowdy laff-fests have passed the $100 million domestic box-office mark in little over a decade. But when the king of comedy steps out of his doofus character to headline off-center projects like Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish and Reign Over Me, his fans stay away. So they skipped Funny People, an inside-show-biz dramatic comedy about a terminal-illness guy who is both filthy rich and borderline rotten. (You think you're gonna die? Fine. Do it. Call us when you come back as Adam Sandler.) And somehow Apatow's promise of wall-to-wall penis jokes didn't lure the masses, who must have decided they could get those elsewhere for free.
Here are the studios, official weekend estimates for the top 10 movies, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, $56.2 million, first weekend
2. Julie & Julia, $20.1 million, first weekend
3. G-Force, $9.8 million; $86.1 million, third week
4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, $8.9 million; $273.8 million, fourth week
5. Funny People, $7.9 million; $40.4 million, second week
6. The Ugly Truth $7 million; $69.1 million, third week
7. A Perfect Getaway, $5.8 million, first weekend
8. Aliens in the Attic, $4 million; $16.3 million, second week
9. Orphan, $3.7 million; $34.8 million, third week
10. (500) Days of Summer, $3.7 million; $12.3 million, fourth week