Box Office Guru Wrapup: Devil Draws In Massive $35M Debut

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Audiences flocked to the multiplexes giving Hollywood a terrific start to 2012 thanks to the surprisingly powerful opening of the horror film The Devil Inside which more than doubled expectations to capture the box office crown in the first full weekend of the new year. With no other new films opening, the rest of the top ten was filled mostly with holdovers with relatively small declines although the spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy enjoyed a solid nationwide expansion and made the cut. Thanks to Devil, the overall marketplace roared with the Top 20 soaring 26% above last year which could be a good omen for the new year.

Paramount replaced itself at the top of the box office with the low-budget horror film The Devil Inside which shocked the industry with an estimated $34.5M opening weekend, the third best of all-time in the normally slow month of January. Spooking patrons in only 2,285 theaters, the R-rated chiller about a young woman out to find out how her mother got possessed by demons two decades earlier averaged a frightening $15,098 per location. The only two films to ever open better in the first month of the year were 2008's Cloverfield - another low-budget found-footage flick from Paramount - with $40.1M and 1997's Star Wars - Special Edition with $35.9M which itself was an industry shocker 15 years ago.

Going into the weekend the studio was expecting a bow in the high single digits while box office observers were looking at something in the low teens which also would have been solid. But Paramount's marketing machine, which has overtaken Lionsgate's as the best in the business at effectively promoting fright flicks, did a magical job at taking a cheap $1M acquisition and turning it into something that older teens and young adults could genuinely get excited about. That translated into heavy social media traffic during the week with fans expressing their anticipation for the film's release.

But those same fans quickly turned on Devil spreading horrendous buzz immediately after coming out of theaters with numerous reports of booing and yelling at theaters across the country. While some found the film to be truly scary, many others were outraged - especially about the ending - calling it one of the worst films they've ever seen. Brilliant marketing led to an astonishing $16.9M opening day which included $2M from Thursday night midnight shows. But Saturday tumbled 30% to $11.8M while Sunday is projected to drop by another 50% to $5.9M. Final figures to be reported on Monday will show if that Sunday projection is accurate or if the bad buzz scares away an even larger audience.

CinemaScore reported an embarrassing overall grade of F which will spell doom for the weeks ahead. But Paramount countered by stating that 81% of those polled by CinemaScore gave a grade better than F breaking it down as 16% A, 18% B, 24% C, 23% D, and 19% F. Regardless of how the numbers are spun, huge drops will follow. Studio research showed that the audience was 54% male and 59% under the age of 25. That's good in that young adults have not been showing up at theaters as much recently. But a bad moviegoing experience helps nobody.

Paramount, and its low-budget Insurge label, created an effective marketing playbook with the Paranormal Activity franchise. With combined production costs of only $8M, the three films have now grossed over $575M worldwide. So new out-of-the-box tactics were thought up to promote Devil so it wouldn't sit in the marketplace as a generic horror film that could easily be missed and streamed on Netflix a few months down the road. The campaign worked, in the short-term at least.

Tom Cruise was hoping to threepeat but instead got bumped off by the Devil. However, the rejuvenated star's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol still remained very popular with moviegoers dropping only 30% from the Friday-to-Sunday portion of last weekend's New Year's holiday frame to an estimated $20.5M. Paramount's domestic cume rose to an impressive $170.2M putting it on track to finish with about $220M or so which would make it Cruise's second biggest grosser ever trailing just War of the Worlds which did $234.3M in 2005. Of course, other hits like 1986's Top Gun and 1996's original Mission: Impossible have sold more tickets as prices have climbed significantly during his long career. But still, Ghost Protocol has overperformed and has done remarkable business for a star who very recently was thought of as being past his prime. Star/producer Cruise focused on making a solid entertaining film while the global marketing and distribution machine at Paramount took a strong product and promoted it vigorously creating a real event for ticket buyers.

Like most holdovers, Mission enjoyed a good weekend-to-weekend decline due in part to last weekend's numbers being affected by New Year's Eve activities which hurt Saturday grosses for all films. Many saw slim Saturday-to-Saturday dips - or even increases as was the case with Ghost Protocol which inched up 5%. Last weekend's Friday and Sunday takes were also affected somewhat by the holidays but gave a more accurate look at sales erosion. Mission saw a Friday-to-Friday drop of 42% and a Sunday-to-Sunday fall of 49%. Sunday's football playoffs are also expected to give films a hit, especially action pictures.

Overseas, the new Mission: Impossible flick remained a top contender with an estimated $27.7M from 55 markets lifting the international tally to $287.9M and the global gross to a hefty $458.1M which is more than three times the reported production cost of $145M. The final worldwide gross might even break $600M.

Robert Downey Jr. has now starred in $150M+ domestic blockbusters over four consecutive years thanks to his latest venture Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows which grossed an estimated $14.1M, off 33%, for a total of $157.4M to date. The Warner Bros. tentpole joins the actor's hit streak following the 2008 smash Iron Man, 2009's Sherlock Holmes, and 2010's Iron Man 2. With May's superhero juggernaut The Avengers likely to top $150M in its first week, and Iron Man 3 tentatively set to open 52 weeks later, Downey could easily extend his streak to six straight years or more - all by playing just two characters. Currently, the new Holmes is running 13% behind the pace of its predecessor which stood at $180.1M at this point in its run.

Sherlock had a sensational international weekend with an estimated $43.4M from 50 markets, including a dozen openers, propelling the overseas take to $177.2M and the global tally to $334.6M. Australia and Spain delivered standout debuts as Warner Bros. has implemented a slower release around the world than Paramount did with Ghost Protocol which had been dominating since mid-December. The eccentric sleuth still has major markets to open like Brazil, China, France and Japan so much more cash will be rolling in. Overseas audiences are responding better than Americans are as the pic is running 16% ahead of the first Holmes internationally in the same markets at the same time. Game of Shadows will have no problems busting through the $500M worldwide mark like the last installment did.

Enjoying the smallest drop of any film in the top ten, Sony's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo held steady at number four with an estimated $11.3M, off a slim 24%. David Fincher's remake of the hit Swedish crime tale has grossed $76.8M to date and could be on its way to ending up with $110M or more from North America. The well-reviewed mystery was bullied by the media after its softer-than-expected opening weekend but has stayed in the game week after week thanks to strong word-of-mouth. The studio patiently waited as upscale adult audiences got through the much flashier Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. action sequels. They are now getting around to Dragon Tattoo and the road ahead does not offer much quality product for this audience. Of course, waiting in this business does not come cheap as sustained advertising buys add up.

Off 42% in its fourth weekend was the kidpic threequel Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked with an estimated $9.5M bumping the total to $111.6M for Fox. A final gross in the $140M neighborhood seems likely which would be substantially less than the $215M+ that each of the first two installments grossed. Steven Spielberg's acclaimed period drama War Horse followed with a good hold dipping 40% to an estimated $8.6M putting the Disney release at $56.8M since its Christmas Day bow. Look for a $80M final.

Holding up better was Matt Damon's feel-good pic We Bought a Zoo which slipped 36% to an estimated $8.5M for $56.4M to date. The Adventures of Tintin fell 42% to an estimated $6.6M and has banked $61.9M so far from North America. A final tally of about $80M should result for both Fox and Paramount.

Focus executed a successful nationwide expansion for its Cold War spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which jumped into the top ten with the second best average on the list. The Gary Oldman film grossed an estimated $5.8M from 809 locations (up from 57 last week) averaging an encouraging $7,129 per site. It was a commendable performance for a non-star vehicle especially given how competitive the marketplace has been for reaching mature adults. The distributor patiently used four weeks of limited play to generate buzz and excite upscale audiences while letting the higher profile films play out over the holidays knowing it couldn't compete head-to-head. Now that millions have already seen Mission, Sherlock, Tattoo, and others, Tinker is connecting with audiences on a nationwide playing field. Cume to date is $10.4M for the British film and good legs in the weeks ahead could lead to a lengthy run for Oldman who rarely is the solo anchor of a film.

The all-star comedy New Year's Eve suffered the worst decline of any film in the top ten tumbling 49% to an estimated $3.3M. Warner Bros. has grossed $52M to date and should end with nearly $60M.

A handful of films thrived in platform release trying to build buzz and momentum so they can expand later during awards season. The Meryl Streep film The Iron Lady averaged a stellar $34,400 thanks to an estimated $172,000 from just five locations for The Weinstein Co. which has collected $516,000 to date. A national expansion is set for this Friday the 13th. The Margaret Thatcher pic opened at number three at the U.K. box office this weekend. With a sturdy $16,167 average was the Iranian film A Separation from Sony Classics which took in an estimated $97,000 from six houses. The marital drama was one of last year's best reviewed films and is seen as the one to beat in the Foreign Language race. Sum to date is $202,000.

The 9/11 story Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock made an estimated $96,000 from only six sites for a solid $16,000 average. With $496,000 overall, Warner Bros. goes wide on January 20 just four days before Oscar nominations are announced. Focus grossed an estimated $112,000 from 11 theaters for its lesbian drama Pariah which averaged a respectable $10,182 per site as it debuted in new markets like Boston, Chicago, and D.C. Total stands at $235,000 with a slow roll-out to continue for the rest of the month.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $122.5M which was up a sharp 37% from last year when True Grit climbed into the top spot with $14.6M in its third round; but down 16% from 2010 when Avatar remained at number one with a massive $50.3M in its fourth lap.

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