Friday Box Office Analysis (9/30)
Serenity poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published October 1, 2005
It seems {Serenity} mostly attracted the diehards of the series, which doesn?t boast well for its durability; its Saturday holdup will say quite a bit about its appeal.
Joss Whedon?s big-screen adaptation of the Fox series Firefly withdrew modest results on Friday, as Serenity grossed $3.9 million in 2,188 theaters, averaging $1,803 per-screen. The movie had the potential to surprise on the upside given the quantity of Firefly fans who were extremely disappointed when the show was cancelled after just one season (which created an uproar). However, it seems the movie mostly attracted the diehards of the series rather than average folk, which doesn?t boast well for its durability; its Saturday holdup will say quite a bit about its general appeal.

Serenity debuted closely to the sci-fi family flick, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which took in $5.2 million in 3,170 theaters for a $1,633 average. That movie featured Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, which was what partly warranted a 3,000-theater release, whereas Serenity only has a cast that is based in cult-audience territory from the series (hence 2,188 theaters).

Serenity has had fans engaged in online gossip for months ever since advanced screening reviews had been posted, and DVD sales of Firefly have gone through the roof this year (which produced speculation about whether the movie would break through to a mainstream audience). Ironically, it?s one of the best-reviewed movies of the year for such a mediocre performance to ensue, but that?s not a big surprise considering that not many people outside the Browncoat fan group (which is what they call themselves) knew what Firefly or this movie was. And that is the problem with such cult territory: a concept needs to reach a general audience to perform well ? and it?s not the first time a critical darling has gone ignored by the mainstream public, either.

It is very likely that Serenity is going to drop on Saturday considering the opening night rush-out factor, and the only question is how much. Land of the Dead, which was another movie based in cult territory, opened to $4.3 million in 2,249 theaters ($1,895/screen) and fell 21% to $3.4 million ($1,490/screen) on Saturday. Sci-fi is as dangerous a genre as horror films in terms of front-loaded opening day business, and a Saturday drop of at least 20% could ensue for Serenity. Sky Captain jumped 26% in its second day but it also had decent family appeal, which helped ? Serenity could very well keep within its close-knit Firefly audience. A second-day drop of 20 - 30% (or possibly more) could result, which would give the Joss Whedon vehicle a weekend take of $8 - 9 million (and Universal might claim $10 in the estimates to hit the double-digit mark).

A History of Violence debuted decently nationwide after doing very well in limited release, as the Viggo Mortensen drama took in $2.5 million in only 1,340 theaters for a $1,884 average. On a per-screen front, the debut was equivalent to Viggo?s Hidalgo, which grossed $5.8 million but averaged $1,890/screen in 3,063 theaters. The debut is somewhat impressive given the film?s more-so art house sensibility (the trailer doesn?t represent the tone well). And the picture?s durability is likely to be in question considering so. When I saw it on Friday night, many people in the audience did not seem to like it, especially with its vague ending (I heard comments from people that the finale was an introduction to a story rather than a fulfilling ending). A Saturday increase between 20 - 30% could result, which would put the film at $7 - 7.5 million for the weekend.

Into the Blue fared just as poorly as The Cave, bringing in just $2.5 million in 2,789 theaters, averaging $880/screen. For Paul Walker, the earning is on par with his road thriller, Joy Ride, which had ranked in at $2.5 million and $986/screen in 2,497 theaters. But for Jessica Alba, the performance is a huge dip in the road this year after the success of Fantastic Four and Sin City. If The Cave could get a 20% Saturday increase, one would think Into the Blue has just as fair of a chance. The MGM flick should follow through with around $7.0 million.

Despite being marketed as the type of inspirational, feel-good family fare that Disney is so good at succeeding with, The Greatest Game Ever Played opened to lackluster sales; the movie grossed $1.1 million in 1,014 theaters for a $1,064 average. The trailer featured the tagline, ?From the studio that brought you Remember the Titans, The Rookie, and Miracle,? which seemed like a solid sign that they were at it again with a hit, but a story about golf? The movie didn?t have a great title for marketing?s sake either. The title Remember the Titans couldn?t have been a more vibrant sign that the team was going to win (which is a plus for parents who want a guarantee for their kids), and The Rookie is a very positive title and deals with a favorite sport (while not as favorable as football), and with the title Miracle, well? I think that?s pretty self-explanatory.

The title The Greatest Game Ever Played can mean various things depending on one?s sports preference, and golf has never proven to be a hot selling card as a genre. The Legend of Bagger Vance had a very recognizable cast and only took in $3.8 million on its opening day, finishing the weekend with $11.5 million. On a per-screen front (and demographically), Greatest Game was close to the debut of Two Brothers, which opened to $2.1 million in 2,175 theaters and $980/screen. And for director Bill Paxton, the figure was very close to the $1.4 million ($939/screen in 1,497 theaters) earning of Frailty, which he also directed. A Saturday increase of up to 35% or so could result for Greatest Game, but given the period piece setting and the lack of stars besides Shia LaBeouf (Holes had adult draws), its durability will be in question. The film is heading for a weekend take of around $3 - 3.5 million.
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'Serenity' Articles
  • Serenity Fails at the Box Office
    October 12, 2005    Most cult movies and TV shows don?t last long or do very well at the box office. Mainstream audiences don?t want ?niche? programming; all they desire are paintings in very broad strokes. -- Scott Sycamore
  • Scott's Serenity review D+
    October 3, 2005    Non-fans {of Firefly} are not going to be captivated at all by this lame and lightweight tripe. -- Scott Sycamore
  • Serenity B.O. Forecast / Crowd Report
    September 30, 2005    This is one of those rare movies in which my predictions are all over the map; I?m not confidently locked on $4.5, 6 - 7, or 8 million for opening day (I?m ready for anything). -- Lee Tistaert
  • Not so Serene: The Review That Burst a Beehive
    September 29, 2005    After the review was posted, links to his review started showing up all over the internet, and Lee was bombarded with hate mail, most of which was so vulgar and confused that it was hard to take seriously. -- Stephen Lucas
  • Lee's Serenity review D+
    April 25, 2005    If you took the sci-fi element of Pluto Nash, mixed it with the outrageousness of Steel, and added in the really bad dialogue from Paycheck, Serenity would be the result. -- Lee Tistaert