The American family went to the movies this weekend, but they went their separate ways at the multiplex. Dad saw The Expendables, an action film starring Sylvester Stallone and his over-the-hill fellow gym rats. Mom remembered that she once loved Julia Roberts and attended Eat Pray Love. And Junior, who was supposed to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World the hip new action-romance that wowed 'em at Comic-Con fooled everyone by choosing an older video-gamish adventure that's been in theaters for weeks, Inception.
For Sly and his fans, it was as if he was 40 again. The sloppy, defiantly anachronistic Expendables convened a senior citizens' brigade of action stars, from Stallone's Rocky IV co-star Dolph Lundgren to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, and earned $35 million at North American theaters, according to early studio estimates, to outmuscle this weekend's competition. That's the highest opening for any Stallone picture, and an indication that the 64-year-old star has box-office Viagra.
Mind you, in real dollars, The Expendables shrivels before two of his franchise movies back in 1985, when the average ticket price was just $3.55, compared with this year's $7.95. That year, Rocky IV took in $20 million its first weekend ($44.8 million today), on its way to a $127.9 million domestic total ($286.4 million today). Rambo: First Blood Part II was even more successful, opening with $20.2 million ($45.2 million) and finishing with $150.4 million ($336.8 million). Rambo's real-dollar total would have made it this summer's second biggest hit right behind Toy Story 3, which has passed the $400 million mark in domestic revenue to become (in current dollars) the all-time top-grossing animated feature.
Roberts also had a reunion of sorts: with her fans from the '90s, when she was the No. 1 female star and among the top box-office lures of any gender. Eat Pray Love, based on Elizabeth Gilbert's New Agey best seller about searching for good pasta, inner peace and a hunky beau, took in $23.7 million this weekend. That's the best for a solo Roberts vehicle (we eliminate such group efforts as Oceans Eleven, Oceans Twelve and Valentine's Day) since America's Sweethearts in 2001 but, again, in real dollars it might not make the top 10 of Roberts hits.
Any hopes that EPL would be a good movie as well as a box-office success were tied to the track record of its director and co-scripter, Ryan Murphy, who runs the retro sing-along angst-fest comedy TV hit Glee. But all Murphy did for his big-screen debut was borrow Glee's sappy and preachy bits, leave out the fabulous musical numbers and make it three times as long. EPL did bring in the ladies, though: 72% of its audience was female, 56% over age 35. The Roberts film scored by luring a largely ignored movie demographic: adults.
The weekend's most precipitous swan dive was executed by Scott Pilgrim. Based on the first of Bryan Lee O'Malley's popular comix, directed by cult-classic auteur Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and starring Michael Cera, North America's favorite perennial preadolescent, Scott was expected to open in the honorable $15 million range. Those who saw the movie gave it a lustrous A-minus CinemaScore rating. Problem is, few people saw it: the actual first-weekend take was a lame $10.5 million, which put it in fifth place, behind not only the new The Expendables and Eat Pray Love but also two older films, The Other Guys and Inception. "Well, this is disappointing," wrote Jordan Rapp of the Film Stage. "In an almost predictable fashion, America got the Top 5 completely backwards."
Universal, the company that distributed Scott Pilgrim and put up $60 million of its hefty $85 million budget, was similarly distraught. Instead of the usual Sunday-morning announcement of ticket sales, Universal spokesman Paul Pflug e-mailed this poignant death notice: "Regardless of the perceived outcome, we are proud of this film and our relationship with the visionary and creative filmmaker Edgar Wright. Studios need to continue to offer audiences good and original ideas/films. Edgar has created a truly unique film that is both envelope pushing and genre bending and when examined down the road will be identified as an important piece of filmmaking. We have always been aware of the challenges of broadening this film to a mainstream audience. We do wish a greater number of people went to see the film but hope that people will still make the effort to see this wonderful film." Nicely, sadly put.
But the chance that Scott Pilgrim or, for that matter, The Expendables or Eat Pray Love can grow its audience is an iffy proposition. Saturday is typically the week's busiest night at the box office, and seven of this weekend's top 10 finishers saw an increase in ticket sales from Friday to Saturday. The only films that dropped were the three new ones, suggesting that word of mouth was muted at best. Expendables was down 11%, Eat Pray Love 4% and Scott Pilgrim a calamitous 24.4%. Movie studios still have to figure a way to get moviegoers beyond the core fanboy base to see the film versions of comix faves. Watchmen collapsed after one big weekend. Kick-Ass slunk away with its butt in a sling. Scott Pilgrim fought the world, and the world won.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. The Expendables, $35 million, first weekend
2. Eat Pray Love, $23.7 million, first weekend
3. The Other Guys, $18 million; $70.5 million, second week
4. Inception, $11.4 million; $248.5 million, fifth week
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, $10.5 million, first weekend
6. Despicable Me, $6.8 million; $222 million, sixth week
7. Step Up 3-D, $6.6 million; $29.6 million, second week
8. Salt, $6.35 million; $103.6 million, fourth week
9. Dinner for Schmucks, $6.3 million; $58.8 million, third week
10. Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, $4.1 million; $35.1 million, third week