Man, oh man, talk about heartbreak: In one of the bigger upsets at the box office this year, The Rock’s family comedy The Game Plan finished in first place for a second consecutive weekend after Ben Stiller’s R-rated remake The Heartbreak Kid (No. 2) tanked. According to Sunday’s estimates, The Game Plan earned an impressive $16.3 mil on a mere 29 percent decline, while The Heartbreak Kid brought in just $14 mil — nearly half as much as most prognosticators, including yours truly, predicted.
So let’s take a moment to look at what went right and what went wrong. Certainly, The Rock’s movie is a crowd-pleaser: It earned a solid A CinemaScore review from audiences and has been holding on strong (it’s 10-day cumulative gross is a healthy $42.8 mil), especially on the weekends, when kids are out of school. It’s a sweet film that families have identified as a safe option at a multiplex filled with grown-up fare, and Disney’s distribution wizards deserve major props for finding this sweet spot on the crowded release calendar in which their movie has been able to thrive.
But I’d also argue that The Game Plan doesn’t deserve much more credit than that — the wave that it’s riding has been able to roll along smoothly thanks to the failure of the other major movies in its path to catch any momentum. In the case of Stiller’s comedy, its drowning comes down to a combination of its restrictive rating; weak reviews; bad word of mouth (the film got an utterly deadly C- mark in the CinemaScore survey); and the fact that, every now and then, even movies featuring the most popular stars bomb.
Also key here, I think, is the diversity of options in the marketplace. With so many movies in so many different genres aiming for so many different demographics, the box-office bucks were spread thinner than usual. To be sure, no holdover in the top 12 dropped more than 46 percent; quite simply, folks were too busy catching last week’s releases to have time to go see what opened on Friday. The rest of the weekend results bear that out: The Kingdom held strong at No. 3 with $9.3 mil and Resident Evil: Extinction stayed alive in fourth place with $4.3 mil, while the fantasy flick The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (No. 5) flopped with a mere $3.7 mil (which, as I foresaw, translated to a dismal $1,186 per-theater average) and the dance drama Feel the Noise (No. 7) fell even harder with a $3.4 mil gross.
Still, George Clooney’s critically adored legal drama Michael Clayton banked $704,000 in 15 locations for a huge $46,933 average; it goes wide next week. And the umpteenth reissue of Blade Runner banked $95,000 in two locations in advance of its December DVD rollout. Nevertheless, the overall box office was down a whopping 27 percent from the same frame a year ago (when the best movie of 2006, The Departed, premiered). Oh, the heartbreak.