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''Brave One'' tops lackluster weekend

Jodie Foster-Neil Jordan revenge drama comes in at the low end of expectations ($14 mil), but that’s still good enough to outdraw ”Yuma,” ”Woodcock,” and ”Dragon”

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Well, hmph! Maybe everybody doesn’t like Jodie Foster so much after all. The usually popular actress’ vengeance drama The Brave One did, in fact, open at No. 1 this weekend, according to Sunday’s estimates, but its $14 million take was remarkably soft — it was well below most prognosticators’ estimations and a full half as much as I expected the movie would earn. (But, hey, Michigan clobbered Notre Dame yesterday, to start a one-game winning streak, so it’s not like I’m feeling too bad for myself!)

Certainly, this isn’t wonderful news for Foster. The last time the double-Oscar winner had such an unimpressive debut was in 1999, with the King & I remake, Anna and the King ($5.2 mil), and before that you have to go back to 1993’s Sommersby ($8.1 mil) to find a bow this bad. Point is: Such a weak performance is rare for the actress, and rather than dwell on the nasty combination of so-so reviews, a stiff R rating, and an unhappy looking plot that probably turned away some moviegoers, I’ll just mention that, on the bright side, this was top-notch director Neil Jordan’s second-best premiere ever, after 1994’s Interview With the Vampire ($36.4 mil). Good on ya, Neil!

Anyway, as things worked out, The Brave One wasn’t alone in its gloom: Pretty much all of the bigger-budgeted multiplex releases fared merely fairly this weekend. Second place was won by Western holdover 3:10 to Yuma, with a $9.2 mil take, while a close third went to the long-delayed comedy Mr. Woodcock, which brought in a better-than-expected-but-still-not-fantastic $9.1 mil. Meanwhile, the new CG fantasy Dragon Wars took fourth place with an unremarkable $5.4 mil, edging out Superbad (No. 5), which audiences continue to mclove after five weeks in release. The bawdy teen comedy earned $5.2 mil and brought its cumulative take up to $111.3 mil.

While all the big guys were beating up on each other, it was the smaller releases, the art-house films, the auteur-driven movies that played best. Tops among them was David Cronenberg’s Toronto Film Festival award winner Eastern Promises, which averaged a super-strong $36,845 in 15 theaters. Then, Julie Taymor’s Beatles-music phantasmagoria, Across the Universe (another film that took forever to make it to the screen!), scored a $29,782 average in 23 venues. And the Iraq War-veterans drama In the Valley of Elah, Paul Haggis’ follow up to 2005’s Best Picture, Crash (hey, David Cronenberg made a movie called Crash, too — and they’re both Canadian!), averaged $15,333 in nine locations, no doubt on the strength of rave reviews like this one from EW’s Owen Gleiberman.

Overall, well, the bigger picture featured a few factoids of note. This was the fifth consecutive weekend on which an R-rated movie has taken No. 1 — a sure sign that the summer is over and studios are done courting ultrabroad audiences. The last time such a trend took hold was in 2001. Still, that hasn’t hurt the collective box office performance of late: This weekend’s total was nearly 2 percent better than that from a year ago, and, as a result, the box office has been ”up” for a whopping 10 straight weeks. Now that’s definitely a winning streak worth boasting about.