The box office for the first NFL weekend was nothing to cheer about, unless you put your money on Worst Weekend in a Decade.
Sam Raimi’s cheapo exorcism shocker The Possession was No. 1 at North American theaters with $9.5 million, according to early studio projections. The rest of the top 10 could reside in Dante’s nine circles of Hell. “If the numbers stand,” writes The Wrap’s Todd Cunningham, “it will be the first weekend since 2008 in which no film cracked the $10 million mark. With about $68 million in grosses, the weekend is the weakest since the Sept. 21-23 weekend in 2001, when the total was just under $59.7 million.” Trivia buffs note: On that second weekend after 9/11, the highest-grossing picture was Hard Ball, with Keanu Reeves as a Little League baseball coach; it earned $8.1 million. In real dollars, even that number would beat what The Possession grossed this weekend.
(READ: Corliss’s analysis of the 2012 Summer Box Office)
Post-Labor Day weekends are usually soft, but not nearly this flaccid. In the same frames in 2010 and 2011, Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself and Steven Soderebergh’s Contagion each earned a healthy $22.4 million. The current weekend wasn’t supposed to be like this — and, for once, exhibitors can blame the Aurora massacre.
You may recall that the first showings of The Dark Knight Rises, including at the Colorado theater where a masked gunman killed a dozen spectators, were preceded by a trailer for the crime drama Gangster Squad, which climax with a scene of gunmen mowing down the audience in a movie house. Bad taste; worse timing. Gangster Squad, which was to debut this weekend, was pulled for retakes, its opening pushed back to Jan. 2013. That removed the one A-level release for the weekend, too late for rival studios to fill the slot.
(READ: Corliss on The Dark Knight Rises and the Aurora Effect)
Bradley Cooper, headliner of the Hangover movies, might have come to the rescue with his drama The Words, but this vanity project, which Cooper co-directed from a script by two of his friends, earned only $5 million, suggesting he’d better get hustling on The Hangover Part III (due next summer). Another youngish stud actor who rarely bothers to shave — Henry Cavill, cast as Superman in next summer’s Man of Steel — did even worse. The Cold Light of Day, a spy drama costarring Bruce Willis, opened in 1,500 theaters with a frigid $1.8 million, to finish in 13th place. In fact, the only mainstream movie with a solid per-screen average ($6,461, best in the top 30) was the 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark, which got an IMAX showcase to promote its imminent Blu-ray release.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of The Words)
In indie action, the Bridesmaids wannabe Bachelorette could not translate its busty appeal on Video on Demand to movie-house success; it grossed just $191,000 at 47 theaters. The urban-decay doc Detropia pulled an encouraging gentrified $16,000 on one screen at Manhattan’s IFC Center. Among the holdovers, Sleepwalk With Me lost some steam as it expanded from 29 to 73 venues and earned $343,000; this week it should reach the $1 million mark in theaters, while also making money on VOD. Robot & Frank is already over $2 million in its fourth frame, and the summer-long art-house favorite Beasts of the Southern Wild broke $10 million in its 11th week.
Cashing in on the Republican and Democratic conventions, 2016 Obama’s America continued its favorable polling. In its ninth week, the anti-Barack doc has earned $26.1 million, passing Al Gore‘s An Inconvenient Truth and Michael Moore‘s Sicko and Bowling for Columbine to become the second-highest-grossing political doc, way behind the $119.2 million amassed by Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. The Dinesh D’Souza screed is also the first poli-doc since the 2007 Sicko to land in the box-office top 10 three weekends in a row.
(READ: Corliss’s review of 2016 Obama’s America)
Note that, in terms of tickets sold, Obama’s America still trails Inconvenient, Sicko and Columbine, and that it achieved its top-10 trifecta by playing in many more venues than is usual for even the most popular docs; this weekend 2016 was in 2,017 theaters. None of the other films got booked into as many as 1,200 houses. Still, D’Souza and his team have cadged a haul worth bragging about in a weekend worth forgetting.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. The Possession, $9.5 million; $33.3 million, second week
2. Lawless, $6 million; $23.5 million, second week
3. The Words, $5 million, first week
4. The Expendables 2, $4.75 million; $75.4 million, fourth week
5. The Bourne Legacy, $4 million; $103.7 million, fifth week
6. ParaNorman, $3.8 million; $45.1 million, fourth week
7. The Odd Life of Timothy Green, $3.65 million; $43 million, fourth week
8. The Campaign, $3.5 million; $79.5 million, fifth week
9. The Dark Knight Rises, $3.285 million; $437.8 million, eighth week
10. 2016 Obama’s America, $3.281 million; $26.1 million, ninth week