Box Office Blahs: Hansel & Gretel Grab Some Candy on Skimpy Weekend

Jason Statham and a host of Hollywood stars can't lure picky audiences to their movies

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Paramount Pictures

For the first weekend in months, Americans had no big football game to distract them from going to the movies. But apparently, in that layover period between the NFL conference championships and next week’s Super Bowl, there were no movies to attract them.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters took the top slot with a disappointing $19 million at domestic theaters, according to very preliminary studio estimates. Two other R-rated debuts, the Jason Statham action film Parker and the raucous sketch comedy Movie 43, flopped in their openings, at $7 million and $5 million respectively. In fact, the three new movies together took in less money than last week’s champ, the domestic horror film Mama, earned in its MLK holiday weekend. The total revenue for this weekend looks to be about 15% off from the same frame last year, when Liam Neeson’s frostbite adventure The Grey (wolves instead of witches) finished No. 1. So why did moviegoers stay home this weekend? Surely they weren’t sitting tight for the Pro Bowl.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters)

Aside from the movies being less than terrific — pretty much a given for Jan. fare — the problem is the glut of R-rated films. So far this year, audiences could choose from among Texas Chainsaw 3D, Gangster Squad, A Haunted House, Broken City, The Last Stand, Hansel & Gretel, Parker and Movie 43. Add two late-2012 limited releases — Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook — that opened much wider this month, and you find theaters clogged with movies off-limits to kids. That left a huge potential audience for Mama, the only new PG-rated film, which for the moment is the new year’s top-grosser.

[UPDATE: In final weekend grosses released Monday, some of the top-1o films posted higher figures than originally estimated. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters earned $19.7 million, not $19 million. Mama took in $13.1 million, up from $12.9 million. Les Misérables, by earning $4.2 million, vaulted into ninth place over Broken City at $4 million. The Weinstein Company overestimated the Silver Linings Playbook take by more than a half-million dollars; the film’s actual revenue of $9.4 million dropped it to fourth place, behind Zero Dark Thirty’s $9.7 million. All in all, not a great weekend for the studio forecasters. If they were NFL handicappers, they’d be predicting the Eagles as Super Bowl winners.]

Mama earned $12.9 million this weekend, for the runner-up spot. In third place, with $10 million, was Silver Linings Playbook, which also benefitted from novelty in the marketplace. David O. Russell’s neuromantic comedy is the only movie in this weekend’s top 10 that doesn’t contain scenes of violent death, genital mutilation (in Movie 43) or very loud, angry singing (Les Misérables). For all its behavioral quirks, which make it a prime Academy contender, Silver Linings is also a feel-good movie, which makes it a hit. After 11 weeks, it has reached $69.4 million, just behind the $69.9 million for Zero Dark Thirty, the get-bin-Laden docudrama that finished fourth this weekend with $9.8 million. Both films have finessed their R ratings with strong reviews, Oscar nominations for Best Picture and must-see word of mouth.

(READ: Jessica Winter’s cover story on Zero Dark Thirty by subscribing to TIME)

Lacking these perks, Hansel & Gretel had to succeed on genre familiarity and a dab of star quality. Filmed in the spring of 2011, and originally slated for release last March, the movie might have benefitted from the interim exposure of Jeremy Renner (Hansel) in The Avengers and as Matt Damon’s replacement in The Bourne Legacy. Instead, this outfitting of a fairy tale with heavy weaponry may have arrived too late in the cycle of Grimm Brothers updates. Even with a 3-D boost in ticket prices, H&G won’t come close to the domestic gross of last year’s Snow White and the Huntsman ($155.3 million) or its odd sibling Mirror Mirror ($64.9 million); it may not even reach the $37.7 million of the Amanda Seyfried Red Riding.

Shot in Germany and budgeted at somewhere between $50 million and $85 million, H&G needs international help to become profitable, and may get it: the picture opened to a sturdy $8.6 million in Russia. Stateside audiences — 55% male and 57% over the age of 25 — gave the film a “B” grade in CinemaScore’s polling of early attendees.

(READ: Graeme McMillan’s so-bad-it’s-awful take on Hansel & Gretel)

Parker, an adaptation of the Donald E. Westlake crime novel, earned a more respectable B-plus from CinemaScore, but didn’t do much for Statham’s rep as the premier bullet-headed tough stud in his generation of action stars. The former diver (who once placed 12th at the world championships) has been busy churning out moderate-budget melodramas whose ad lines aptly describe their content. For Death Race: “Gentlemen, start your weapons.” For Killer Elite: “May the best man live.”

(READ: Corliss’s review of Death Race)

But Statham has yet to break through to the top tier. His top worldwide grossers are two episodes of his Transporter series (the second, at $85.2 million in 2005, and the third, at $109 million in 2008) and Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, which got to $83.6 million back in 2000, largely thanks to Brad Pitt in a costarring role. In North America, Statham’s last 10 films have averaged a modest $10.2 million their opening weekends, and Parker will come in well below that. If it’s consolation to Statham, the movie’s $7 million take beats the $6.3 million that Arnold Schwarzenegger earned in the first three days last weekend for his action-film comeback, The Last Stand.

(READ: Gilbert Cruz’s 2011 Q&A With Jason Statham

Even Arnold wasn’t as tainted by The Last Stand’s meager reception as were the dozens of stars — Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Common, Seth MacFarlae, High Jackman, Kate Winslet, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Anna Faris, Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Jack McBreyer, Aasif Mandvi, Jason Sueikis, Uma Thurman, Bobby Cannavale, Kristen Bell, John Hodgman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Gerard Butler, Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Halle Berry, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Terrence Howard, Elizabeth Banks and Josh Duhamel — who lent their marquee allure to Movie 43, a skitcom from 12 directors under the indulgent supervision of producer Peter Farrelly. With his younger brother Bobby, Peter directed the sweetly vulgar comedies Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene. But that was sooo last-millennium. Now Farrelly is the impresario for a comedy disaster.

(READ: Corliss’s review of the Farrellys’ Me, Myself & Irene)

The gross-out comedy earned plague warnings from the few reviewers who subjected themselves to the ordeal. “Factory discharge!” snorted Peter Howell of the Toronto Star. “Deadly dull, unfunny, offensive, and stultifyingly clumsy!” fumed Richard Brody of The New Yorker. For once, critics and real moviegoers were in accord. Movie 43 managed only $4.7 million worth of business, and the few visitors handed the film a derisive “D” on CinemaScore.

Can a movie do worse in this survey of moviegoers? Yes. Last year, the horror film The Devil Inside and the Pitt mob saga Killing Them Softly somehow managed to pull “F”s. But neither of these films can compete in contumely with the scorn heaped on Movie 43 by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Richard Roeper. He called it “the Citizen Kane of awful.”

(READ: Corliss on Citizen Kane’s dethroning as the greatest film of all time)

Here are preliminary estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as gauged by Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood and Todd Cunningham of The Wrap:

1. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, $19 million, first weekend
2. Mama, $12.9 million; $48.7 million, second week
3. Silver Linings Playbook, $10 million; $69.5 million, 11th week
4. Zero Dark Thirty, $9.8 million; $69.9 million, sixth week
5. Parker, $7 million, first weekend
6. Django Unchained, $5 million; $146.3 million, fifth week
7. Movie 43, $5 million, first weekend
8. Gangster Squad, $4.2 million; $39.7 million, third week
9. Broken City, $4 million; $15.3 million, second week
10. Les Misérables, $3.9 million; $137.2 million, fifth week