"Doctor, I have this strange dream: Every three years, there's a movie about some guy who has a strange dream about people who die in some awful calamity. He acts on the dream by saving his friends, who then begin dying in grotesque ways. Each time, it's really the same movie, just with a different calamity. And this is the weirdest part: Large numbers of moviegoers keep paying to see it! What do you think I should do?"
"Buy stock in the company that produces the movies."
We wouldn't absolutely insist on that last part Warner Bros., the studio in charge of the Final Destination horror films, is a corporate sibling of your favorite website but there's no question that the series has been a triennial cash cow. The 2000 original (plane crash) earned $113 million worldwide; the 2003 sequel (highway crash) took in $90 million; and the third (roller-coaster ride), in 2006, took in another $113 million. And since each movie was made for a thrifty $25 million, there are big profits in the franchise. The only obligation for the screenwriters going forward is to come up with a new catastrophe. What would it be this time? A stock-market crash? A Thanksgiving Day Kmart trampling? The explosion of a movie theater where the feature attraction is a Final Destination movie? Nothing so imaginative: just a race-car crash and stadium collapse with multiple, gruesome fatalities.
This past weekend was supposed to have been a bloody standoff between horror films sort of a Freddy vs. Jason or Alien vs. Predator slamdown for whatever spending money young people had left at the end of the summer. Masked killer Michael Myers in Halloween 2 (a sequel to a remake of a series that launched more than 30 years ago) would battle the more impersonal, implacable Death in FD4, known as The Final Destination. The latter was given a slight edge by industry analysts because it was playing on 1,600 screens in 3-D, with a $3 surcharge for wearing goggles and watching severed heads propel into the audience. But FD4 slaughtered the competition with a surprising $28.4 million weekend gross, according to early industry estimates. That was the best opening by far for the series, which had never before hit $20 million in its initial frame. The race-car premise must have appealed to soccer kids and NASCAR dads.
FD4's take was 63% higher than that of Halloween 2. The teen slasher film cadged $17.4 million and will finish the frame in third place, behind the Nazi-scalping-and strangling Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino's World War II epic dropped a less-than-expected 47% from last weekend to pull in about $20 million. In 10 days, the polylingual action drama has amassed $73.8 million in the North American market and another $60 million abroad which, in any language, means boffo. The South African sci-fi thriller District 9 was next with a $10.7 million weekend and a $90.8 million three-week total. For the first time in, well, quite a while, the films in the top four box-office slots were all R-rated kill-fests.
In movies with a lower body count and slower pulse, Julie & Julia and The Time Traveler's Wife kept purring along; Meryl Streep's impersonation of Julia Child has now earned more than $70 million, while the Eric BanaRachel McAdams love story is nearing $50 million. In its opening weekend, Taking Woodstock Ang Lee's tale of peace, love and outrageous Jewish stereotypes took in a wan $3.7 million. That wouldn't be too big a disappointment for a low-budget film, but Woodstock cost a mediumish $30 million the same as District 9.
Finally, the Vogue doc The September Issue opened in six theaters to a very glamorous $240,000. Its per-screen average was the highest of the weekend and why not? Vogue editor Anna Wintour, whom Streep parodied in The Devil Wears Prada, has a fearsome reputation in the fashion world. Whether in horror films or art films, audiences flocked to see killers with style. And that's a dream Hollywood would enjoy having over and over.
Here are the studios' official weekend estimates for the top 10 movies, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. The Final Destination, $28.3 million, first weekend
2. Inglourious Basterds, $20 million; $73.8 million, second week
3. Halloween 2, $17.4 million, first weekend
4. District 9, $10.7 million; $90.8 million, third week
5. G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, $8 million; $132.4 million, fourth week
6. Julie & Julia, $7.4 million; $71 million, fourth week
7. The Time Traveler's Wife, $6.7 million; $48.1 million, third week
8. Shorts, $4.9 million; $13.6 million, second week
9. Taking Woodstock, $3.7 million, first weekend; $3.8 million, first five days
10. G-Force, $2.8 million; $111.8 million, sixth week