A funny thing happened over the weekend: Hollywood released two original movies (or at least two non-sequels) to great acclaim and was rewarded with stellar box-office numbers. It’s easy to get cynical about a system that keeps banking on the safe bets of sequels, reboots, and widely known properties, so it’s refreshing when studios try something new and look semi-competent in pulling it off. Granted, Wreck-It Ralph is basically a repurposed Toy Story, produced by a company that’s been the unquestioned giant in animation for 75 years, and Flight pairs one of the most commercially successful directors ever with one of the industry’s few bankable leading men. Nevertheless, Wreck-It Ralph enjoyed a robust $49.1 million opening weekend, improving on the open of star John C. Reilly’s last big starring vehicle, Cedar Rapids, by $48.8 million, and presenting Pixar’s Brave with the prospect of real competition for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. For its part, Flight was a more legitimate gamble, a portrait of alcoholism and deceit that asks its audience to sympathize with a drunk pilot whose talent overcomes his inebriation just enough to crash-land a commercial liner. Paramount only unloosed $31 million for the film, despite the proven commercial instincts of director Robert Zemeckis and star Denzel Washington, but a $25 million opening more than justified the risk. The RZA martial arts movie The Man With The Iron Fists opened to a softer $8.2 million for fourth place, but the low production costs ($15 million) and high ancillary values (people enjoy eating Cheetos and watching kung fu) will cushion the fall.
While Hollywood had a cheering weekend, indies had its opposite, though given that New York City is the wellspring for new indie box office, it’s likely that Hurricane Sandy had a significant impact. A Late Quartet fared best with $8,444 per screen on nine screens, buoyed by a cast that includes Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Imogen Poots. (Yes, there’s no evidence that Imogen Poots is a big draw, but we just like saying her name. Imogen Poots.) Everything else performed terribly, with This Must Be The Place the least-terrible at $3,550 per screen on two screens, a number that actually looks much worse considering the backing of The Weinstein Company and presence of Sean Penn in the leading role. The long-shelved Tobey Maguire vehicle The Details—also from the Weinsteins—tanked to the tune of $1,425 per screen on 14 screens, and Barry Levinson’s widely admired horror movie The Bay scored a pitiful $930 per screen, proving again that indie horror has no support in arthouses. And then there’s poor, underrated Vamps: You’d think the Clueless reunion of director Amy Heckerling and star Alicia Silverstone would earn more than, say, the Tobias Family dropped on a bedroom dresser yesterday. But nope: It made $500.
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