Neill Blomkamp's Elysium topped the box office this past weekend, though its lead over the competition ended up being less than anticipated. However, if one were following The Hollywood Reporter's coverage on Friday, that margin was said to be even less, as writer Pamela McClintock claimed that “strong matinee business” suggested Planes was headed for a $30 million weekend, which was set to match that of the Matt Damon actioner. The actual for Planes ended up in third place with $22.2 million, over 25% less than initially reported. More troubling than the inaccurate figures, which are understandable given the unpredictability of internal weekend multipliers and whatnot, is the article's headline, which claims that Planes's performance is “breaking [the] animation curse,” allegedly created from underwhelming box-office openings by Turbo and The Smurfs 2. An animation curse? It's hard to argue for any curse, given the almost $640 million made worldwide by Monsters University and the $745 million made worldwide by Despicable Me 2, the latter of which is second to only Iron Man 3 as the highest-grossing domestic release of 2013.
Now, while the headline isn't exactly “Dewey Defeats Truman,” it's precisely this sort of falsified reporting that calls into question motivations behind what should be a more objective reporting/analysis. If the phrase “animation curse” appeared in the article as a quote from a studio affiliate, then its usage is fair game. Since it doesn't, the rhetoric is clearly intended to associate financial success with Planes, whether or not that success is genuine. With a second Planes film already in the pipeline, the immediacy with which The Hollywood Reporter claimed financial triumph given such a lack of data only reinforces what Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh have recently said about the potentially destructive nature that box-office obsessions wreak on the kinds of films that get made in Hollywood.
Meanwhile, Nikki Finke began constructing an odd argument at Deadline.com this weekend, which suggests that there has been an “interesting development” over the summer months, where “a big schism [separates] audiences and critics…CinemaScores are coming in higher and higher for pics that Rotten Tomatoes is rating lower and lower. Who's out of touch?” Finke is a controversial figure with regard to her notoriously early and often incorrect box-office estimates, though her status as reigning judge of box-office trends remains mostly intact. Yet, the oddity of her argument here is troubling; the suggestion that such a separation exists in greater numbers now than before is patently false.
Let's consult some figures: Of the top 10 grossing films of the year so far, only two have a rotten score (Man of Steel and Oz the Great and Powerful). In 2012, one film from the top 10 was rotten. But in 2011, five of the top 10 had rotten scores. In both 2009 and 2010, there were three. In 2008, there were two. Yet in 2007, there were five. As demonstrated by the past six years, 2013 appears on course for three or four rotten films in the yearly box-office top 10; in other words, an average year. So what's Finke getting at? Her line of thinking also reads disingenuous if one were to discuss titles like The Conjuring, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Fast and Furious 6 along these lines, where critics and audiences not only agree, but share a rabid enthusiasm for the films. All of this amounts to the clear evidence that critics and audiences are, and have been, on the same page for more than 50% of the time, though critics and Hollywood pundits consistently like to claim otherwise and act as if there's a comprehensive divide along lines of taste and cultural preference. None of these results should be surprising, however, when “top critics” like Richard Roeper still get to weigh in. Roeper's three-and-a-half-star “review” of Fast and Furious 6 features passages such as “Gina Carano is BIG fun to watch. The former mixed martial arts sensation and star of Steven Soderbergh's Haywire is still a bit stilted with her line readings, but her two fight scenes with Michelle Rodriguez in FF6 are just epic” and “These cars not only defy gravity, they take on—well, I don't want to give it away. But it's craaaaaazy.” Your honor, I rest my case.
Box Office Weekend Predictions
1. Kick-Ass 2: $23.5 (NEW)
2. Lee Daniels's The Butler: $20.2 (NEW)
3. We're the Millers: $17.4 -34%
4. Elysium: $13.4 -55%
5. Planes: $13.3 -40%
6. Paranoia: $11.1 (NEW)
7. Jobs: $6.9 (NEW)
8. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters: $6.6 -54%
9. The Smurfs 2: $5.5 -41%
10. 2 Guns: $5.2 -53%