Prisoners Wins the Weekend, but It’s No ‘Grand Theft Auto V’

Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal win the weekend with a kidnap drama and leave Chris Brown's 'Battle of the Year' battered

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Wilson Webb / Wilson Web

Two highly anticipated melodramas, each packed with chases and a gruesome torture scene, made their debuts this week. Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman as a man searching for his kidnapped daughter and Jake Gyllenhaal as the cop on the case, won the weekend at North American theaters with $21.4 million, according to early studio estimates. Grand Theft Auto V, the latest in the popular video-game series, earned $800 million on its first day in stores.

Suck that in for a moment. In 24 hours, GTA V took in more money than any movie — Titanic or Avatar or The Avengers — has made in its entire run in North American theaters. And given the game’s $270 million budget, it may also have cost more than any movie.

(MORE: Matt Peckham Reviews Grand Theft Auto V)

And now, back to the nano-world of box-office grosses, where a film can be deemed a hit if it earned in three days what GTA V made in any 40-min. stretch of its opening day. Prisoners is important not for its first-weekend gross but for its launching of the autumn Oscar season. Late September and early October have seen the openings of Brad Pitt’s Moneyball and Ben Affleck’s The Town and Argo — all of which, like Prisoners, played at the Toronto Film Festival, and scored initial grosses in the $20 million range. For Prisoners, Oscar-winning supporting actresses Viola Davis and Melissa Leo lent pedigree to Jackman’s and Gyllenhaal’s marketable machismo.

(MORE: Corliss Reviews Prisoners)

That éclat, plus a sheaf of favorable reviews, landed the R-rated film a solid opening. The box-office take grew substantially from Friday ($7 million) to Saturday ($9 million), as did the audience’s CinemaScore, from B-plus to A-minus; later in the weekend, the people polled liked the movie more. Produced for about $40 million, and clocking in at over two hours and 30 minutes — about the same as Jackman’s Les Misérables, which had the excuse of the actors speaking more slowly because they were singing — Prisoners found a mature audience: 82% age 25 or older. The message got out to the seniors, and they may spread the favorable word over the coming weeks.

[UPDATE: According to “actual” weekend figures, issued Monday, Prisoners earned $20.8 million, or about 3% below its Sunday estimate. The other wide-release debut, Battle of the Year, finished at $4.6 million, 8% less than its predicted total. The only film in the Top 10 to exceed its guesstimate was — ding! dong! — the rerelease of The Wizard of Oz, up 2.4% to $3.1 million.] 

“Remarkably,” wrote critic Ed Gonzalez in Slant, “the highlight of Benson Lee’s Battle of the Year … isn’t the scene where Chris Brown gets punched in the face.” The movie, a fictionalized 3-D remake of Lee’s 2007 urban-dance doc Planet B-Boy, came late in the cycle of dance movies (Step Up, etc.), and Brown’s star notoriety couldn’t attract many customers. Made for $20 million, the PG-13 Battle opened to just $5 million, for a fifth-place finish. From either sympathy or pity, the few who showed up lavished the movie with an indulgent A-minus CinemaScore.

(MORE: Melissa Locker Reviews the Chris Brown Album Fortune)

The weekend’s top 10 included three holdover “family” comedies: the crime farce The Family, the drug caper We’re the Millers and the Spanish-language daddy-love Instructions Not Included. Disney’s Planes dropped to the 10th spot, ending an impressive six-month streak (since the debut of The Croods on March 22) of at least one animated feature in the weekend box office’s top seven. A new streak is sure to begin next week with the opening of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.

(MORE: The Modern Stone Age Family of The Croods)

In ninth place, just above Planes, was a familiar movie for kids — one that originally opened in 1939. The Wizard of Oz, dressed up in IMAX and 3-D to complement Judy Garland’s ruby slippers, earned $3 million in just 318 theaters, for the weekend’s highest per-screen average ($9,503) of any picture in medium to wide release. The lovingly restored movie will play for a week before going to video in a 3-D Blu-ray version.

(MORE: Corliss on Why We Still Follow the Yellow Brick Road)

As Prisoners is, in money earned, to GTA V — a fly on the rump of an elephant — so indie films are to mainstream movie fare. Yet even insects have buzz, and Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said did too. The critically praised rom-com, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini as two divorced people finding cherished common ground, earned an estimated $240,000 in just four theaters, for one of the year’s strongest limited openings.

(MORE: Mary Pols Reviews Enough Said)

Rush, director Ron Howard’s true-life Formula 1 buddy pic, also did nicely — $200,000 on five screens — before its wide release on Friday. Thanks for Sharing, starring the sextet of Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, Joely Richardson, Josh Gad and Alecia Moore (a.k.a. the singer Pink), earned a pallid $608,000 at 269 theaters. Apparently audiences didn’t want to go out to see a comedy about sex addiction. After all, they can play that game at home. Call it Grand Theft Eroto.

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

1. Prisoners, $21.4 million, first weekend
2. Insidious Chapter 2, $14.5 million; $60.9 million, second week
3. The Family, $7 million; $25.6 million, second week
4. Instructions Not Included, $5.7 million; $34.3 million, fourth week
5. Battle of the Year, $5 million, first weekend
6. We’re the Millers, $4.7 million; $138.2 million, seventh week
7. Lee Daniels’ The Butler, $4.3 million; $106.5 million, sixth week
8. Riddick, $3.7 million; $37.2 million, third week
9. The Wizard of Oz, $3 million, first weekend of rerelease
10. Planes, $2.9 million; $86.5 million, seventh week