Star power still clearly counts for something. Despite a shocking “D-” CinemaScore indicating near-toxic word-of-mouth, The American rose to the top of the Labor Day weekend box office largely on star George Clooney’s handsome shoulders, making $16.4 million over the four-day holiday and $19.5 million since its Wednesday debut, according to early estimates. That’s a terrific sum for a moviegoing weekend known as one of the sleepiest of the year, even more so considering the film’s lean $20 million budget. Audiences, evenly split between men and women, were markedly outside the usual multiplex whippersnapper demographic, too: 55 percent were 50-years-old and older. But why were they apparently so turned off by the film? (Women gave it an F.) I’d look to a marketing campaign that had ticket buyers expecting a fleet spy thriller led by a dashing Clooney, à la the gritty Hollywood studio films of the 1970s. In reality, they walked into an austere character study focused on a dour Clooney, à la the esoteric European art films of the 1970s. (My mother, who liked the movie, put it this way: “The plot…well, there is no plot.”) Regardless of why audiences have soured on the film, the negative feedback doesn’t exactly bode well for its financial longevity.
After coming in third in the three-day box office estimates, the “mexploitation” thriller Machete clawed its way back to second place with an estimated $14 million over the four-day Labor Day holiday. That’s just over the opening gross of the film’s progenitor, the 2007 double-feature Grindhouse. Last weekend’s number one film, meanwhile, showed some staying power. (While the dollar figures I’ll be discussing will include projected Labor Day grosses, all the percentage drops are for the Friday to Sunday period only, to equitably compare with last weekend’s grosses.) Dropping 47 percent, Takers took in $13.5 million, for a $40 million total and third place. In fourth place, The Last Exorcist plunged 64 percent in its second weekend, which is about right for a horror film with a polarizing final act. It grossed $8.8 million through Labor Day, for a $33.6 million cume.
The third film to open over Labor Day weekend may have suffered from a marketing snafu of a different sort. Going the Distance debuted to a feeble $8.6 million over four days for fifth place, a serious underperformance and one of the worst ever wide opening weekends for stars Drew Barrymore and Justin Long. Tepid reviews didn’t help, but I also question the wisdom of pushing the film’s release to Labor Day weekend after billboards and bus stop ads touting the film’s release as Aug. 27 had saturated many top markets.
Thanks in part to a weak crop of opening films, the rest of the top ten showed impressive staying power. At sixth place, The Expendables dropped 30 percent with $8.5 million through Labor Day and $94.1 million total. At this rate, it’s on track to be Sylvester Stallone’s first star vehicle to gross over $100 million since 1985′s Rocky IV. (You read that right.) The Other Guys dipped just 16 percent for seventh place, laughing up $6.7 million over four days for a $108.1 million cume. At eighth, Eat Pray Love declined 29 percent, chewing up $6.3 million for a total of $70.4 million. Inception slipped a tiny 7 percent for ninth place, dreaming up $5.9 million and bringing its cume to $278.5 million. And in tenth place, Nanny McPhee Returns dropped just 24 percent, banking $4.7 million for $23.5 million total.
Next weekend, Resident Evil: Afterlife tries to take a 3-D bite out of the cineplex, and I’ll attempt to predict the box office with better accuracy than my one-two epic fail — way overestimating Going the Distance and grossly underestimating The American — from this past week.