Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks’s “Sully” Is Unstoppable at the Box Office

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What happened this weekend at the box office that yielded three stateside bombs? Those being Lionsgate’s Blair Witch (est. $9.65M, $5M production cost, mid-to-high $20M), Universal/Working Title/Miramax/StudioCanal’s Bridget Jones’s Baby (est. $8.2M, $35M production cost) and Open Road’s Snowden (est.$8M, production cost $50M). When films under-deliver, distribution executives love to blame tracking, and with this weekend’s crop, tracking was way off for Blair Witch which originally was projected between $15M-$20M-plus and Baby which was looking at $13M-$17M.

Said one distribution executive this morning, “I think sometimes tracking throws off false indicators. With Blair Witch projected near $20M, it was clear that the people who saw it, didn’t like it and told their friends in big numbers, and there’s no way to come back from that.”

One answer lies in too many female-skewing movies stepping on each other, a demographic that Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s Sully continued to sway the bulk of with 55% women/82% over 25 in its second weekend, pointing toward $22M, -37% for a 10-day total of $70.5M. In addition to Sully‘s continued horde of women, PostTrak showed Baby skewing toward older women at 79% females/84% 25+. CinemaScore also showed Snowden also skewing older females at 53%/77% over 25. Heading into the weekend, Blair Witch was tracking as the first choice among young females and per PostTrak turned in 50% of them at 51% under 25.

Box office forecasts for Blair Witch were close to the $20M range, based on the genre’s success during the fall, plus the wattage coming from Lionsgate’s innovative marketing campaign.

From the outside looking in, it would seem that the microbudget horror business is an easy feat, but just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean a sizeable crowd shows up and a distributor easily makes their money back.  And Blair Witch is bound to lose a couple million. However, what’s upsetting here is that from the moment Lionsgate pulled off its innovative marketing campaign at Comic-Con (revealing that The Woods was actually Blair Witch), it seemed like their was a reinvigorated interest in the property. The initial round of horror reviewers who saw Blair Witch generated a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score before the critical status quo drove it down to 37% rotten. But coming away with a D+ CinemaScore this weekend, it’s clear that Blair Witch was just an excuse among moviegoers to sit and eat candy in the dark. But among Lionsgate’s digital highlights for Blair Witch such as utilizing virtual reality for mobile and launching the first virtual reality website, letting fans have a full 360-experience using Google Cardboard (drawing 2M), Relish Mix reported that the film’s social, “was challenged by both an unknown, non-social cast and mixed conversation.  Some horror fans ranked Blair Witch as one of the best films ever in the genre and are rabid to see this latest installment.  But, others felt exactly the opposite and are not phased by the positive reviews and the initial secrecy surrounding this movie. In the end no amount of clever tricks could put a spell over moviegoers to attend Blair Witch. Coming off of one of the best summers for the genre, this audience responds to great high concepts (blind men in the basement who aren’t so blind in Screen Gems’ Don’t Breathe which stole $5.6M worth of business away from Blair Witch and with $75.3M is the Sony label’s highest grossing horror film ever beatingThe Exorcism of Emily Rose) and auteurs like James Wan.

Despite Snowden‘s misfire at the B.O., Open Road stands by the movie as a potential awards contender. Said the label’s president of marketing Jonathan Helfgot this morning, “Snowden is a smart and provocative thriller that connected strongly with  audiences. While we’d like to have seen a slightly bigger number for the opening weekend, we are very encouraged by Snowden‘s ‘A’ Cinemascore and exit polls and we expect the movie to thrive for several more weeks.”

It’s no surprise to see Snowden tank at the box office. When it comes to putting controversial subjects up on the screen, they always come at a higher-than-indie budget for director Oliver Stone, and we’ve seen this throughout his career with Alexander, W., The Doors, Nixon, etc. It’s not that they’re bad movies, it’s just the nature of doing business with an auteur Stone. And that can be said about other directors like Terrence Malick and Woody Allen. Financiers who put their necks on the line need to realize that it’s about being in business with these guys, it’s not about making money. Art is the ultimate end game here.

The adult audience takes their time to get to the box office, and they read reviews. With a choice between Sully and Snowden, they’re apt to put their money toward the better reviewed titled, Sully (82% fresh) over Snowden (58% rotten). In addition, Sully has the platinum appeal of being an American hero, with red state crowds put off by Edward Snowden’s rebellious maneuvers with the U.S. government.

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SOURCE: Deadline – Anthony D’Alessandro