By Grady Smith
Updated November 13, 2011 at 07:37 PM EST
Leo Dicaprio Edgar Hoover
Credit: Keith Bernstein
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After two weekends atop the box office, Puss in Boots was thwarted by a pair of newcomers, Immortals and Jack and Jill, both of which opened to solid numbers. J. Edgar wasn’t quite as fortunate, but overall, the box office exhibited life like it hasn’t for the past few months, and the top ten ticked up 18 percent over the same weekend last year — a good sign headed into Thanksgiving. Check out all the details below:

Relativity’s Immortals became the new box office titan, fending off competition and scoring a strong $32 million opening. While that number pales in comparison to the openings of 300 ($70.8 million) and Clash of the Titans ($61.2 mil), it puts Immortals ahead of other swords-and-sandals debuts like Prince of Persia ($30.1 mil) and Alexander (13.7 mil). The Tarsem Singh-directed visual feast, which stars Henry Cavill and Freida Pinto, also revives the ancient epic genre’s viability in 2011 after flop openings from The Eagle ($8.7 mil) and Conan the Barbarian ($10 mil).

For Relativity, a $32 million debut (66 percent of which came from 3-D screens) is a major win. The studio spent a surprisingly small $75 million on the film, and a rep told me on Friday that they were hoping for a $25-26 million start. Now, Relativity is hoping that broad appeal will continue to drive attendance. The studio’s exit polling reveals that Immortals‘ audience was 60/40 percent male/female and ethnically diverse as well — 35 percent Hispanic, 30 percent Caucasian, 13 percent Asian, and 12 percent African-American. According to Kyle Davies, Relativity’s President of Worldwide Theatrical Distribution, “A lot of people are enjoying the picture, and when you look down the road going into the holidays, there’s just nothing for the action fans, so I think that’s good for us.” But will the film actually continue to perform well into the Thanksgiving holiday?

That could be difficult. Immortals looks like it may already be suffering from the fanboy effect, which occurs when eager sci-fi fans rush out to the theater en masse on opening night, thereby inflating numbers on the front end of a film’s box office run. This can often lead precipitous drops in the days/weeks that follow. Just look at Immortals‘ weekend trajectory: the flick earned $15 million on Friday, followed by a 32 percent drop to $10.2 million on Saturday (while the rest of the Top 10 increased by an average of 8 percent), followed by a more-standard 33 percent decline to $6.8 million on Sunday. Davies attributes the large Friday-to-Saturday drop to the fact that Veterans Day fell on a Friday. He claims that with kids out of school all day, Fridays numbers were boosted substantially. We’ll have to wait and see how Immortals, which earned an alright “B” CinemaScore grade, does in the weeks to come.

FAMILY FEUD Adam Sandler and... Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill
FAMILY FEUD Adam Sandler and… Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill
| Credit: Tracy Bennett

In second place (for now) was Adam Sandler’s latest comedy, Jack and Jill, which scored a $26 million debut out of 3,438 theaters — good for a $7,563 per theater average. Sony’s $80 million picture performed within expectations, but when compared to the rest of Sandler’s bawdy mainstream comedy wheelhouse, this is one of his poorer results, and his worst live-action comedic opening (not including 2009’s death-themed dramedy Funny People) since Little Nicky‘s $16.1 million bow in 2000.

Jack and Jill received atrocious reviews, and while those have never stopped Sandler’s films from succeeding in the past, there is a sense that the summation of so many truly awful critical reactions back-to-back-to-back — when not balanced by winking affection for lovably dumb films like Big Daddy and Anger Management — may actually be hurting Sandler’s golden box office record.

That being said, it’s too soon to write off Jack and Jill. Working in the cross-dressing comedy’s favor is a family-friendly PG-rating, which could help Jack and Jill hold nicely with parents and children as we move into the extra-lucrative holidays — although Happy Feet Two, Hugo, The Muppets, and Arthur Christmas will provide ample competition. But the comedy, which received a fair “B” CinemaScore grade, will have to work very hard to reach the $100 million plateau that Sandler is so used to.

After two weekends in first place, Puss in Boots settled for third (though it may swap places with Jack and Jill once final results are released tomorrow) with an estimated $25.5 million. The Shrek spin-off only dropped 3 percent last weekend, and this time around, Puss scored another terrific 23 percent decline. The $130 million DreamWorks picture, which looked like a bust when it opened, has now earned a robust $103 million. With a Thanksgiving boost, Puss in Boots should march right past the $160 million mark with ease.

Tower Heist drooped 45 percent this weekend to $13.2 million, giving the $85 million Universal caper a ten-day total of $43.9 million. The one-two punch of Brett Ratner’s Oscar ousting and Tower Heist‘s underperformance have certainly taken the director down a few notches this week.

Leo Dicaprio Edgar Hoover
STATES MAN Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar
| Credit: Keith Bernstein

Rounding out the top 5 was Warner Brothers’ $35 million biopic J. Edgar. The Clint Eastwood film, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as infamous FBI figurehead J. Edgar Hoover, earned $11.5 million out of 1,910 theaters, giving it a solid $6,005 venue average. The tepidly reviewed drama opened slightly below Eastwood’s last tepidly reviewed drama, Hereafter, which earned $12 million in its first opening weekend last year. J. Edgar may finish in the same range as Hereafter, which grossed $32.7 million total.

The film played much like Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2008 misfire Body of Lies, another film that paired him with a prestige director (Ridley Scott), but didn’t connect with audiences and opened with $12.8 million. For DiCaprio, J. Edgar is no Inception or Shutter Island, but the star has always modulated between mainstream crowd-pleasers and smaller, more serious fare, and his star is not in danger. Audiences issued J. Edgar an uninspiring “B” CinemaScore grade.

In limited release, two films stood out. After being available on-demand for a three weeks, Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia still debuted with a solid $265,000 out of 19 theaters, leading to a $13,947 per theater average. Meanwhile, Emilio Estevez’s directorial effort The Way has quietly hiked all the way to $2.6 million over six weeks ($334,000 from 171 locations this weekend), despite never playing in more than 283 theaters. The Martin Sheen drama is clearly experiencing good word-of-mouth on a small scale, so it will be interesting to see if The Way‘s distributor, Producer’s Distribution Agency, pushes the film any harder in an effort to garner awards attention.

In milestone news, Paranormal Activity 3 has now earned $100.8 million after five weekends thanks to its $3.6 million frame. It has grossed $189 million worldwide against a $5 million budget. Where’s the sequel announcement, Paramount?

1. Immortals – $32 million

2. Jack and Jill – $26 mil

3. Puss in Boots – $25.5 mil

4. Tower Heist – $13.2 mil

5. J. Edgar – $11.5 mil

What did you see this weekend? And are you prepared for the box office mayhem that the arrival of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 will bring next weekend?

For more box office musings throughout the week, follow me on Twitter.

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