Old blood in new bottles sated the taste of thirsty moviegoers, as Evil Dead, a remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult gore item, won the weekend with $26 million at the North American box office, according to preliminary studio estimates. That figure, the best this year for an R-rated horror film, humbled the reissue in 3-D of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Jurassic Park, which took in $18.2 million to finish fourth. In the battle for second place, the sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation and the — glory be! — original cartoon feature The Croods both initially reported $21.1 million for the weekend. Final figures are posted Monday afternoon.
[UPDATE: According to Monday’s “actual” grosses, Evil Dead earned $25.8 million and Jurassic Park a stronger-than-estimated $18.6 million. G.I. Joe Retaliation registered $20.875 million to edge out The Croods ($20.652 million) for second place.]
The total revenue for the weekend should be higher than for the same frame in 2012, when the two big “new” attractions were, again, the extension of one franchise and the reissue of another. The American Pie sequel American Reunion earned $21.5 million; the 3-D upgrade of James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic, which opened on a Wednesday, sailed to $17.3 million on the weekend and $25.6 million for the first five days. Last year, instead of old blood, the enticements were old sperm and cold water. See how inventive Hollywood is in recycling favorite fluids?
The Evil Dead, which a 21-year-old Raimi produced for $375,000 (with Joel Coen serving as assistant editor), earned a modest $2.4 million at the early-’80s box office, before this underground demon wrapped its crafty tentacles around a few generations of teens. Home video made the movie an enduring icon that spawned two Raimi-directed sequels (Evil Dead II in 1987 and Army of Darkness in 1992), a one-minute Claymation tribute film and last year’s feature-length exegesis-parody The Cabin in the Woods. What was subversion in 1981 — the demons’ viral contagion possibly providing an early AIDS metaphor — is classic cinema today. So the resummoning of the tree spirits in an even more violent remake, exec-produced by Raimi and directed by Fede Alvarez, is just good conservative business sense. Or, as the original movie’s Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell, who pops up at the very end of this remake) would put it, “Groovy.”
Budgeted at a thrifty $17 million, the new Evil Dead finds sadistic ingenuity in female mutilation — a tongue sliced off with a box cutter, an arm severed with an electric knife, a woman’s head cratered by part of a basement sink — plus a dog killed with a hammer. The franchise éclat lured a sizable crowd, which was 56% male and 56% over the age of 25. But the plethora of greasy, grimy gyno-guts may have proved a tad excessive, since the verdict of first-night attendees, as surveyed by the CinemaScore polling firm, was a thumbs-down C-plus. And if the moguls at Sony, which distributed the picture, were hoping for big biz abroad, they must be disappointed, if not decapitated, by the early returns from 21 foreign markets: a pallid $4.5 million. Not to weep for Raimi, though: Oz the Great and Powerful, which he directed, has passed $450 million at the worldwide wickets.
Jurassic Park, like The Evil Dead, birthed two sequels (JP IV, directed by Safety Not Guaranteed’s Colin Trevorrow, is due out in the summer of 2014), but the box-office numbers were a little more impressive: $357.1 million in domestic theaters. One of the first movies to be released simultaneously in U.S. and foreign markets, the Spielberg thriller about dinosaurs running wild through an island theme park earned 61% of its theatrical revenue abroad ($557.6 million) for a worldwide total of $914.7 million. That would be about $1.73 billion today, or higher than any movie of this millennium except for Avatar.
As with the Evil Dead remake, this $10-million 3-D conversion attracted an audience that skewed slightly male (55%) and older (54% over 25). But even with $6 million, or nearly a third of its revenue, coming from IMAX showings, JP3D did not become the T. rex of rereleases. It finished below the opening weekend of last year’s Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace reissue ($22.5 million) and well under the first three days of Disney’s 2011 3-D conversion of The Lion King ($30.2 million). And though JP3D’s opening domestic numbers are not far from those of Titanic in 3-D, the Spielberg film has little hope of matching the global girth of the Cameron film’s rerelease. Opening in seven foreign countries, including Russia and Australia, the dino thriller earned just $3 million. The 3-D Titanic grossed a buoyant $285.7 million overseas — an astounding $145 million in China alone.
From macro to micro: Indieland got the infusion of two star-encrusted films from Oscar-winning directors. Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep, a political-chase movie about ex-Vietnam radicals in their 60s, in which Mr. Sundance is joined by Shia LaBeouf and veterans Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte, opened to an encouraging $146,000 in five theaters, for a per-screen average of $29,200. Danny Boyle’s sexy hypno-thriller, Trance, with James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel trying to find a priceless Goya painting before they kill one another, earned $136,000 at four venues, for an even loftier $34,000 per-screen average. The movies may not reach the critical or financial heights of their directors’ Academy-anointed dramas — Redford’s Ordinary People, Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire — but both new films hope to sustain their momentum when they go wider next week.
The big indie news was the $31,500 amassed at a single 210-seat Manhattan auditorium by the no-star, no-advertising, no-easy-answers Upstream Color, for which director Shane Carruth is serving as his own distributor. Set to open in most major cities by the end of the month, Upstream Color may not become the Evil Dead of this generation, but it certainly could spearhead a healthy trend of artists bypassing the middleman and seizing the means of distribution.
[UPDATE: All three of these indie breakouts finished below their Sunday estimates. The Company You Keep earned $131,718, Trance $131,145 and Upstream Color $28,649.]
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Evil Dead, $26 million, first weekend
2. G.I. Joe: Retaliation, $21.1 million; $86.7 million, second week
3. The Croods, $21.1 million; $125.8 million, third week
4. Jurassic Park, $18.2 million, first weekend of rerelease
5. Olympus Has Fallen, $10.04 million; $71.1 million, third week
6. Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, $10 million; $38.4 million, second week
7. Oz the Great and Powerful, $8.2 million; $212.8 million, fifth week
8. The Host, $5.2 million; $19.7 million, second week
9. The Call, $3.5 million; $45.5 million, fourth week
10. Admission, $2.1 million; $15.4 million, third week