Is there such a thing as a movie that's too violent? At the box office, apparently not. Exhibit A: 'Immortals,' which, despite extreme gore that includes bloody entrails flying at the viewer in 3D, opened at no. 1 with an estimated $32.0 million. That's a stunning feat for a movie that faced competition from a new Adam Sandler comedy, had little star power of its own, belonged to a genre of sword-and-sandals movies that hasn't been popular lately, and comes from an indie distributor with only one other big hit under its belt. Oh, and did we mention the flying entrails?
Actually, the intentionally repulsive combat scenes were probably a big selling point. Given such recent movies as 'Conan the Barbarian' and 'The Eagle' (movies in the same genre as 'Immortals' that failed to dent the box office), you have to go all the way back to 'Clash of the Titans' and '300' for ancient-world action blockbusters, and 'Immortals' director Tarsem Singh dismissed those movies as overly tame. It's doubtful that anyone would find 'Immortals' tame, which must have helped overcome the movie's box office negatives - its biggest stars were Mickey Rourke and future Superman Henry Cavill, its marketing didn't really hint at the movie's over-the-top visual spectacle, and its distributor, Relativity, has previously struck box office gold only with 'Limitless.'
It's no wonder that pundits thought they were generous predicting an opening for 'Immortals' in the low 20s. The $32 million estimated gross comes as a welcome surprise for Relativity, but even that isn't all good news. After all, Friday's opening take of $15 million should have heralded a total weekend gross of $36 million, but the film was already slipping by a third as of Saturday. That quick decline suggests that the movie may not have strong legs, especially if teen girls drag their boyfriends to see 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1' when it opens this coming weekend. At that rate, 'Immortals' may have a hard time recouping its estimated $75 million budget from domestic receipts alone, though overseas, the movie has already earned at least $36 million more.
Moviegoers apparently found the combat carnage in 'Immortals' less stomach-churning than the spectacle of Adam Sandler in drag being wooed by Al Pacino. 'Jack and Jill' opened in second place with an estimated $26.0 million. That makes it the first of Sandler's adult comedies in almost 14 years (since 'The Wedding Singer') to open with less than $30 million. Yet it actually did a little better than pundits predicted, which was about $24 million. The lowballing came not from the almost universally negative reviews, since Sandler movies are critic-proof, but from the fact that the multiplex already has two other comedies competing for the same audience in 'Tower Heist' and 'A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas'
Given the weaknesses on paper of 'Immortals' and 'Jack and Jill,' many box office prognosticators expected last week's champ, 'Puss in Boots,' to threepeat. Indeed, the cartoon did very well, losing just 23 percent of last week's audience and nabbing another estimated $25.5 million. That landed the film in third place, though at just $500,000 behind 'Jack and Jill,' 'Puss' could wind up in second place once final numbers are released on Monday. In three weeks, the 'Shrek' spinoff has earned $108.8 million.
'Tower Heist' slipped two spots to fourth place, marking a 45 percent decline to an estimated $13.2 million. That's about what was expected for the middling comedy release, whose two-week total stands at $43.9 million.
Opening in fifth was Clint Eastwood's'J. Edgar,' with an estimated $11.5 million. That was also right on track for the Oscar-hopeful biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The leading man's star power and the director's prestige were supposed to sell the picture to adult audiences, but the film's weak reviews made that difficult. The movie's limited-release opening in seven theaters on Wednesday (before expanding to 1,910 theaters over the weekend) pulled in an initial $53,000; last year, Eastwood tried a similar ploy with 'Hereafter' and netted $60,000, toward an eventual lifetime gross of just $32.7 million. 'J. Edgar' could beat that, but with four more prestige movies opening in the next two weeks, Eastwood's top G-man has his work cut out for him.
Overall, box office was up about 25 percent from a week ago. Still, figures for the year remain more than 3 percent behind last year, with 2011 domestic grosses to date at about $8.75 billion, compared to $9.05 billion a year ago.
The full top 10:
1. 'Immortals,' $32.0 million (3,112 screens), new release
2. 'Jack and Jill,' $26.0 million (3,438), new release
3. 'Puss in Boots,' $25.5 million (3,903), $108.8 million total
4. 'Tower Heist,' $13.2 million (3,370), $43.9 million
5. 'J. Edgar,' $11.5 million (1,910), $11.6 million
6. 'A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas,' $5.9 million (2,875), $23.2 million
7. 'In Time,' $4.2 million (2,591), $30.7 million
8. 'Paranormal Activity 3,' $3.6 million (2,776), $100.8 million
9. 'Footloose,' $2.7 million (2,215), $48.9 million
10. 'Real Steel,' $2.0 million (1,758), $81.7 million
[Photos: Relativity, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros.]
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