The numbers don’t tell the whole story. Sure, it looks like "Ender’s Game" handily won the week, topping the North American box office chart with an estimated $28.0 million. But the galactic war saga may have gotten its franchise-launching behind kicked by a movie that didn’t even open yet on these shores.
Similarly, by falling 36 percent from its debut last weekend, "Jackass Present: Bad Grandpa" may have actually proved a surprise winner. It may be too early to call a winner between newbies "Last Vegas" and "Free Birds," as the old-guys comedy and the time-traveling turkey cartoon are running neck-wattle-and-neck-wattle. And while Universal opened Rachel McAdams‘s new romantic comedy on just a handful of screens, it may yet get the last laugh there.
You really do need a scorecard to tell the players. Here’s our scorecard for what really happened this weekend at the box office, and how to tell the winners from the losers.
Winner: It premiered at No. 1. With $28.0 million, it slightly outperformed expectations (pegged at about $27 million).
Loser: The new Lionsgate/Summit studio’s franchise-launcher was all but upstaged by the news that Disney/Marvel’s "Thor: The Dark World," a major sequel chasing the same sci-fi/adventure demographic, opened around the world with an estimated $109.4 million, for the fourth-biggest international weekend of 2013. The movie opens here on Friday, giving "Ender’s Game" just a week of breathing room before it’s likely clobbered by the Norse god’s hammer. Plus, there’s Lionsgate’s own "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" coming along a couple weeks after that. Even with the ubiquitous Harrison Ford out there promoting the movie as if the "Star Wars" legend himself were the star (and not 16-year-old Asa Butterfield), it’s likely that "Ender’s Game" may get lost in the shuffle.
‘Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa‘
Loser: Last week’s top earner, the latest Johnny Knoxville slapstick movie lost a third of last weekend’s business and fell to second place on earnings estimated at $20.5 million.
Winner: Given the history of the franchise, pundits expected a much steeper second-week plunge, a drop of more than half. So the film is doing surprisingly well; after 10 days, "Bad Grandpa" (which cost only a reported $15 million to make) has earned $62.1 million.
Winner: The codger comedy snared an estimated $16.5 million, a bit above expectations (which were in the $11 to $15 million range). Also, it had very strong word-of-mouth (as indicated by an A- at CinemaScore), which could be enough to give the film legs over the next few weeks.
Loser: It’s in a virtual tie for third place with "Free Birds," which debuted just $320,000 behind "Last Vegas." When final numbers come out on Monday, "Last Vegas" may fall to fourth place.
Loser: It opened in fourth place with an estimate $16.2 million, well below expectations ($18 to $22 million). This despite the 3D surcharge, which not enough viewers thought was worth paying for.
Winner: It could still end up in third place by the time final figures come out on Monday. It earned an A- from CinemaScore, meaning excellent word-of-mouth. As the only new animated feature out in more than a month (since "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2") and the only one yet for a while, it should be able to ride that word-of-mouth for a while as it has the family market to itself.
Loser: Even though it’s written and directed by romantic-comedy guru Richard Curtis ("Love Actually") and stars Rachel McAdams, Universal is treating this delicately, like an art-house film. It opened on just 175 screens and took in an estimated $1.1 million, debuting outside the top 10 at No. 12.
Winner: The good buzz and reviews it earned in major markets ought to help next week, when the movie opens wider. Also, that per-screen average of $6,286 isn’t bad; it suggests there’ll be interest in the film once it opens wider.
‘Dallas Buyers Club‘
Loser: It opened in 20th place, on nine screens, with an estimated $264,000.
Winner: That means an average of $29,333 per screen, the highest of any movie this week. The indie drama about the early days of the AIDS epidemic, starring an emaciated Matthew McConaughey, is a tough sell subject-wise, but buzz for McConaughey’s and Jared Leto’s performances, and that per-screen average suggest that the movie will do well when it opens wider in the coming weeks.
Loser: Once a hot Oscar prospect (until the early reviews came in), Naomi Watts‘s biopic of the last two years in the late princess’s life limped onto 38 screens this week and earned an estimated $64,900, or just $1,708 per screen.
Winner: Uh… not seeing an upside here.