Action. Science fiction. Graphic-novel source. Bruce Willis. That was supposed to be a recipe for minting money. Yet Surrogates, with Willis in a dual role as a futurist FBI agent and his platinum-blond servo, fizzled, while the 3-D animated feature Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs sizzled. The Sony cartoon pulled in $24.6 million to win the box-office weekend, according to early official studio estimates. Other segments of the potential audience may have renounced moviegoing attending to more manly pursuits like watching football games and begging God's forgiveness but moms and their kids went, or went back, to the CGI fable about meteorological cuisine. Meatballs grossed just 17% less than it did in its opening weekend, one of the smallest second-session drops in recent memory.
Meatballs thus becomes the year's seventh film and its first animated feature to spend two weekends at the top of the box office. None of the other repeaters Paul Blart: Mall Cop in January, Madea Goes to Jail in February and, over the big summer season, Night at the Museum 2, The Hangover, Transformers 2 and Final Destination 4 are likely to earn a slot on the newly expanded, 10-title list of Oscar nominations for Best Picture. Nor did any of them except The Hangover earn money-quote lines from the critical establishment. But they underline the importance of comedies and action films to the one line Hollywood cares about: the bottom.
Surrogates, which industry handicappers had touted to win the weekend with a gross in the $20 millionplus range, just didn't have the legs to beat the spread. The new movie's intriguing premise of a world in which people stay at home while their lifelike robots do all the work virtually told audiences that this was one to catch, if at all, on DVD. And Willis, except for his fourth dip into the Die Hard franchise two years ago, hasn't come near blockbuster status in the past decade. Reports of friction between the star and his director, Jonathan Mostow, certainly didn't create a must-see mood though, in a John Horn story in the Los Angeles Times, the principals issued statements of the sort written by lawyers after the settlement of a messy divorce case. (Mostow: "Bruce is a professional ... I admire Bruce as an actor." A Willis spokesman: "Bruce has no problems with Jonathan Mostow at all.")
The other new releases fell below even Surrogates' wan totals. Dennis Quaid flopped with Pandorum ($4.4 million), yet another sci-fi movie starring an actor in his mid-50s. Nor is the remake of Fame gonna live forever: its third-place finish of $10 million was one more underperformer. Among the holdovers, only Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All by Myself showed any staying power. The Jennifer Aniston romance ($4.3 million) was a box-office wallflower. And how lifeless is the femme horror comedy Jennifer's Body ($3.5 million)? In her host monologue on Saturday Night Live this weekend, the movie's star, Megan Fox, didn't even mention the film, though she did go on at length about doctored nude photos of herself on the Internet. Funny what Hollywood people gleefully promote (porn sites) and what they think they should be ashamed of (box-office turkeys).
In indie action, Michael Moore launched Capitalism: A Love Story in just four theaters in New York City and Los Angeles and pulled in a plutocratic $240,000; Moore's cinematic stimulus plan rolls out in full next weekend. Bright Star, Jane Campion's moony tale of the doomed poet John Keats and his soul mate, Fanny Browne, expanded to 130 screens and earned a hearty $682,000 from lovers of sentimental art-house fare. And Coco Before Chanel, one of three biopics of the couturier to be released in theaters or on DVD this year this one starring Amelie's Audrey Tautou had a moderately glamorous debut, with $177,000 in five boutiques.
Here are the official studio estimates for this weekend's Top 10 movies at the North American box office:
1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, $24.6 million; $60 million, second week
2. Surrogates, $15 million, first weekend
3. Fame, $10 million, first weekend
4. The Informant!, $6.9 million; $21 million, second week
5. Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All by Myself, $4.8 million; $44.5 million, third week
6. Pandorum, $4.4 million, first weekend
7. Love Happens, $4.3 million; $14.7 million, second week
8. Jennifer's Body, $3.5 million; $12.3 million, second week
9. 9, $2.8 million; $27.1 million, third week
10. Inglourious Basterds, $2.7 million; $114.5 million, sixth week