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Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 (#110 of 9)

Box Office Rap Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap

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Box Office Rap: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap
Box Office Rap: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap

Adam McKay’s Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens on Wednesday and looks to become the eighth live-action comedy of 2013 to gross over $100 million in its domestic run. That’s a significant jump from only three comedies in 2012 which made that benchmark—a doubling in margin that suggests, by all conventional accounts, that it was a “good” year for comedies. Yet, upon further inspection, we find the titles of these moneymakers to be Bad Grandpa, Grown Ups 2, The Heat, and The Hangover Part III, which are among the laziest, if not the worst, Hollywood films of the year. Instead of “good,” we should say it was a profitable year for comedies and leave any such evaluative adjectives out of box-office summations.

If live-action comedy hits were aplenty, so were their animated counterparts, with Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, The Croods, Frozen, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 all meeting or exceeding financial expectations. The same could certainly be said for nearly every endeavor into superhero territory, as audiences still prefer cinema that transports them from the confines of reality and into a playground of fantasy-infused triviality, with a treatment of characters that ranged from tongue in cheek (Iron Man 3) to bombastic (Man of Steel) to hopelessly imitable (The Great Gatsby).

Box Office Rap Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown

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Box Office Rap: Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown
Box Office Rap: Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown

Some say the box office is going to end in fire, but some say it’ll end in ice, as Disney’s Frozen looks to unseat Catching Fire over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend. For Catching Fire, the lack of a significant improvement over the opening weekend of the first film suggests many viewers could have been holding out to round up the family for a viewing over the long weekend; nevertheless, almost every box-office prognosticator had Catching Fire pegged too high (especially yours truly), making talk of “catching” The Avengers appear foolish in hindsight.

Frozen goes nationwide on Wednesday, entering a marketplace that hasn’t seen a legitimate animated contender since Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 nearly two months ago. Although trailers make the film look rather pallid, reviews have been white hot, which should boost interest among core demographics and adults alike. In fact, interest could be high enough for Frozen to top Tangled’s $68.7 million opening three Thanksgivings ago.

Box Office Rap Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

Although Thor: The Dark World doesn’t hit North American theaters until this Friday, it’s already amassed $109.4 million from 29 overseas territories in just its first weekend. Opening Hollywood films internationally before debuting them stateside is a trend that’s existed in some capacity for a number of decades, but it’s only become a more common practice in the last few years, beginning with Iron Man 2 in 2010, which saw release in nearly 70 foreign territories weeks before domestic theaters.

The prevalence of American films in foreign markets has existed essentially since the start of World War I; as film scholar David Cook tells it, European studios were forced to shut down production since the same chemicals being used to manufacture celluloid film were needed to make gunpowder, while the American film industry faced no such problems, making over 90% of the world’s motion pictures by 1918. Nearly a century later, little has changed, with mega-budget, Hollywood actioners now dominating the global marketplace. Lynda Obst discusses these trends in her recent book Sleepless in Hollywood with what she calls the “New Abnormal,” where Hollywood studios are heavily reliant on foreign markets to see profits and now produce content with dozens of marketplaces in mind. Thus, international casts in spectacle-driven vehicles are preferred, while U.S.-specific blockbusters are becoming a rare breed (look to White House Down, The Lone Ranger, and R.I.P.D. for recent failings on this front).

Box Office Rap Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares

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Box Office Rap: Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares
Box Office Rap: Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares

This past weekend, The Counselor opened to a mere $7.8 million—second only to Runner Runner for the weakest opening for a film debuting in over 3,000 theaters this year. By all standard accounts, this was a “bad” box-office weekend, and, as I discussed last week, one that perceptive prognosticators should have seen coming. Coupled with a 35% Rotten Tomatoes score, nothing has gone right for Ridley Scott’s latest. But lest we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we need to be certain that The Counselor is ultimately an object of derision because it’s a bad film, and not simply because it’s a poor box-office performer.

Of course, any discerning eye knows quality and capital cannot be equated, but ultimately, a weak box-office showing necessarily diminishes cultural impact and public opinion. A casual viewer reads that The Counselor opened poorly and determines that it mustn’t be very good. There is, indeed, an equation made. In this case, critics and viewers agree on the film’s negative quality, which makes its dismissal easier, but this isn’t always so. Films like Killing Them Softly and Wolf Creek were despised by audiences, as each is one of only a handful of films to receive the dreaded F CinemaScore. However, these films were generally admired by critics, though Wolf Creek was fairly polarizing, with an equal measure of raves and pans. Both floundered at the box office, with each failing to attain a $3,000-per-theater average on opening weekend. When such dissonance occurs, it seems the supremacy of box office reigns over positive reviews.

Box Office Rap The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy

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Box Office Rap: The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy
Box Office Rap: The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy

This Friday sees the release of The Counselor, a film that, by all conventional accounts, should be a lock for a $20-million opening at the box office this weekend, and yet the film is unlikely to crack double digits, even with a mega-wide 3,000 theater release. Certainly, as many have been doing, we could point to Gravity as a reason why The Counselor is likely to stumble; earning over $30 million in its third frame last weekend, I’m inclined to think it will finish on top yet again, besting primo contender Bad Grandpa by a few million, and making it the first film since The Hunger Games in April 2012 to top the box office for four consecutive weekends. However, its highly impressive run cannot fully explain why The Counselor is going to fail. Rather, we would be better served to examine how Fox has been marketing the film and, beyond that, question precisely why Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free, and Fox believed this to be a financially viable project to begin with.

The entirety of the marketing for The Counselor suffers from what I’m calling “prestige-film fallacy” (PFF). The PFF relies on the prior prestige of those involved, rather than ingenuity, to convince prospective viewers of the new film’s worth. Everything about a PFF campaign reeks of derivative, outmoded notions of “quality” cinema and often hitches its wagon to the premise that sexy, rich characters played by sexy, rich stars equal big bucks. The Counselor is an epitome of these tendencies and, for those attuned to these developments, will serve to test our fundamental question: Can you sell a film based purely on prior pedigree?

Box Office Rap 12 Years a Slave and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Oscar Screening

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Box Office Rap: 12 Years a Slave and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Oscar Screening
Box Office Rap: 12 Years a Slave and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Oscar Screening

This week’s column was originally intended to discuss the box-office viability of Carrie, notable as both a remake of Brian De Palma’s classic and Kimberly Peirce’s first feature film since 2008’s Stop-Loss, but then I read Peirce calling Brian De Palma’s film “semicampy” in an otherwise fascinating and spot-on New York Times article, which rubbed me the wrong way. Moreover, giving more ink to yet another cash-in remake of an all-time great horror film would find us caught within the cogs of the Hollywood machine—something this column is actively opposed to.

A more pressing issue than Carrie’s potential box office has presented itself with 12 Years a Slave, opening in limited release this Friday (but even so, it stands a considerable chance at cracking the Top 10), though screened for the first time to Oscar voters on Sunday night. In an excellent, if depressing, Los Angeles Times recap from Glenn Whipp, AMPAS members couldn’t even fill the auditorium for Steve McQueen’s latest, even though the film has been riding a tidal wave of good reviews from festivals and is being called the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture by many prominent prognosticators, such as Sasha Stone of Awards Daily. This comes after the previous weekend, where Academy members were turned away from a screening of Gravity, with the Samuel Goldwyn Theater packed to the brim, much like the rest of North American theaters.

Box Office Rap Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball

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Box Office Rap: Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball
Box Office Rap: Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball

In January of 1993, Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi screened at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and was picked up by Columbia Pictures. A month later, it was released in theaters, grossing over $2 million at the domestic box office, an anomaly for a film made for a mere $7,000. At the time a director with no formal training, Rodriguez served as a beacon for the independent spirit, even writing Rebel Without a Crew in 1996, a book recounting his initial success and subsequent collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. This week, Rodriguez’s Machete Kills opens in theaters, but the film reveals the filmmaker to be far removed from his independent and creative origins.

Rodriguez appears content to make sequels of his own hits: Machete Kills marks his sixth, and next year will bring a second installment in the Sin City franchise. Such practices are certainly not uncommon in Hollywood, nor were they uncommon to the exploitation cinema of the 1970s, which Rodriguez has clearly modeled so much of his work after. As Ian Olney explains in his recent book Euro Horror: Classic European Horror Cinema in Contemporary American Culture, Hollywood stole distribution tactics from B-film production studios, such as saturated openings, while also recognizing the viability of cheap sequels to accompany these methods, where films could make so much money in one weekend, as to become profitable, that whether or not audiences actually liked the film ended up being an afterthought.

Box Office Rap Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster

When Contagion opened in IMAX theaters on September 9, 2011, only a handful of films had previously been offered in that large-scale presentation that weren’t either part of a franchise, an original film with hopes of becoming a franchise, a work based on another text, or a prominent remake a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. From 2002 to September 2011, a total of 77 wide release films made their way to IMAX screens. Of these, and excluding animated and concert films, only three films (Eagle Eye, Inception, and Sanctum) opened over that nine-year span that didn’t fit the above qualifications. Certainly, these anomalous entries can be explained by their potential box-office appeal, but only Inception had directorial (let’s say auteur) pedigree, which is where my interest lies. We shall call such films art-house blockbusters (AHB), in accordance with our established definition.

Box Office Rap Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September

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Box Office Rap: Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September
Box Office Rap: Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September

As the series finale of Breaking Bad nears, and with Walter White set to confront Todd, Uncle Jack, and (potentially) rescue Jesse Pinkman, Americans may pass the time this Friday by heading to the multiplex. Opening, and expected to take the weekend with ease, is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, though it’s unlikely that members of #teamwalt will be interested in that, unless they have kids of their own (“a scary thought”). No, they’ll most likely see one of the other three primary offerings, all with hyper-masculine protagonists. There’s Rush, director Ron Howard’s racing period piece. If not that, perhaps Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut about a guy from Joisey with a porn addiction. If neither of those strike a chord, there’s always the macho spectacle of Metallica: Through the Never, which bumps Dorothy and Toto from IMAX theaters on Friday.