Cloud Atlas Sinks in a Storm, as Hollywood Prays for Skyfall

The only bright light in a soggy box-office weekend is the boffo business abroad for the new James Bond film

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Warner Bros. Pictures

Hurricane Sandy — or could it be Satan? — played havoc with late-weekend moviegoing on the East Coast, as governors in Atlantic coastal states assumed a fearful duck-and-cover posture and called for a shutdown of their mass transit systems on Sunday afternoon, a full day before the storm was expected to hit the region in all its fury. If residents of New York and New Jersey wanted to see, say, Cloud Atlas, they’d have to get to a theater by cab, car or foot. Big if — since precious few folks bought tickets for the movie on Friday or Saturday.

Co-directed by Andy and Lara (don’t call me Larry) Wachowski, who made The Matrix, and Germany’s Run, Lola, Run auteur Tom Tykwer, Cloud Atlas managed a drizzly $9.4 million in its first three days at North American theaters, according to preliminary studio estimates that included a $2.3 million forecast for the curtailed Sunday evening shows. That meant a disappointing third-place spot for the film, and even more dismal returns for three other newbies: Silent Hill: Revelation, Fun Size and the Gerard Butler surfing safari Chasing Mavericks., which nabbed the weekend’s best CinemaScore (B-plus) but finished out of the top 10, with an all-too-placid $2.2 million in 2,000 theaters.

(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Chasing Mavericks)

Pre-Halloween weekends are supposed to be soft, but last year at this time the DreamWorks cartoon Puss in Boots opened to $34 million and the science-fiction drama In Time took in $12 million. In fact, in the last 14 years of Halloween or pre-Halloween weekends — except for 2003, when no film opened in wide release — some new movie has earned at least $10 million. If Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno could reach that modest debut number in 2008, a Wachowski movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry should be able to do at least as well this year. It didn’t.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Cloud Atlas)

The failures of Cloud Atlas and Silent Hill 2 allowed Ben Affleck’s true-life rescue thriller Argo to ascend to the No. 1 spot in its third week of release, with $12.4 million, while Hotel Transylvania, lured $9.5 million worth of trick-or-treaters. Now in its fifth week, the Adam Sandler cartoon comedy has earned $130.4 million — the top domestic gross for any movie since The Dark Knight Rises, which opened more than three months ago.

(READ: the reviews of Argo and Hotel Transylvania)

Hollywood almost has to look back to feel happy. Except for Transylvania, the action sequel Taken 2, with $315.2 million worldwide, and Argo, which has earned $60.8 million so far and cemented its status as the early front runner for the Best Picture Oscar, the fall pickin’s have been slim to none. Indeed, the only bright light on this soggy box-office weekend was the boffo business abroad for the new James Bond film. Skyfall, which marks the golden anniversary of the 007 series, opened to $77 million in 25 foreign markets. Those aren’t Avengers numbers — the Marvel movie, third among all-time worldwide winners, amassed $178 million in 39 territories the week before its U.S. debut last spring — but they give the moguls hope for a big blast when Skyfall opens here Nov. 9.

(SEE: James Bond Declassified — 50 Things You Didn’t Know About 007)

The United Kingdom accounted for $32 million of the Skyfall haul, for Britain’s second strongest weekend ever (after the Harry Potter finale last year). Russia chipped in $8.6 million, Brazil $6.5 million, Korea $6.2 million and France a très Bond $9.1 million. In other words, a country of 65 million people spent nearly as much money to see Skyfall this weekend as 350 million North Americans did on Cloud Atlas.

(READ: Corliss on 50 Years of James Bond movies)

Based on David Mitchell’s “unfilmable” novel, the Wachowski epic propels Hanks, Berry and other notables through a half-dozen stories spanning 500 years. But it couldn’t lure many paying customers into theaters; the weekend take was just half that of the Wachowskis’ 2008 Speed Racer, and about the same as Tykwer’s drab spy film The International. Most of the elderly folks who attended (77% over the age of 25) wished they hadn’t: it pulled a poor C-plus CinemaScore rating.

(READ: Lev Grossman on the making of “unfilmable” novels)

 Saddled with a $100-million budget and a 2hr.52min. running time, the movie also has a star who is no longer an audience magnet. Hanks’s last two films were flops: Larry Crowne earned $35.6 million, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close just $31.8 million. Though he lent his voice to two animated hits — The Polar Express ($182.7) and Toy Story 3 ($415 million) — only two Hanks live-action films have grossed more than $100 million domestic since Catch Me If You Can a decade ago, and those were the presold adaptations of the Dan Brown novels The Da Vinci Code and Angela & Demons. Hanks energetically flacked for his new movie on Saturday Night Live and The Colbert Report, but that didn’t help much.

(SEE: Tom Hanks in an SNL debate sketch)

At least Cloud Atlas tried something different: a symphony of time-traveling narratives. Other movies failed lower. Fun Size, with Nickelodeon dream teen Victoria Justice (Victorious) in a Halloween-themed frolic, finished in 10th place — a rough landing for vaunted director Josh Schwartz, creator of the TV hit Gossip Girl, and screenwriter Max Werner, who used to work for Colbert. The young (73% under 25), girlish (67% female) audience gave Fun Size a passable B rating on CinemaScore, and the movie cost only about $20 million to produce, so no one connected with it is likely to be killed or maimed by their sponsors.

(READ: James Poniewozik’s reviews of Gossip Girl)

But some of the malevolent spirits in the October horror movies may be in a nasty mood. Silent Hill: Revelation, sequel to the 2006 movie version of a Japanese video game about a haunted American town, earned a meek $8 million in its opening weekend to finish just behind the $8.7 million for Paranormal Activity 4 in its second frame. Latest in the quartet of found-footage scare-athons, PA4 has earned less in 10 days than PA2 did in four days and PA3 did in two. A thee and technique that seemed so innovative three years ago may be nearing franchise exhaustion (though any movie that costs $5 million and earns more than $50 million is going to have the accountants in its corner). As for Silent Hill, the revelation may be that, with or without a violent storm on the East Coast, this series about a killer village is under the weather and presumed dead.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Paranormal Activity 4)

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Argo, $12.4 million; $60.8 million, third week

2. Hotel Transylvania, $9.5 million; $130.4 million, week

3. Cloud Atlas, $9.4 million, first weekend

4. Paranormal Activity 4, $8.7 million; $42.6 million, second week

5. Silent Hill: Revelation, $8 million, first weekend

6. Taken 2, $8 million; $117.4 million, fourth week

7. Here Comes the Boom, $5.5 million; $30.6 million, third week

8. Sinister, $5.1 million; $39.5 million, third week

9. Alex Cross, $5.05 million; $19.4 million, second week

10. Fun Size, $4.1 million, first weekend