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Weekend box office: Prawns R Us

Posted by Ty Burr  August 17, 2009 10:19 AM

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What do you do if you're a studio and you have to sell a movie with no stars and a hard-to-grok concept? You think outside the box while going with what you've got. Sony successfully took its South Africa-set sci-fi action drama "District 9" to a $37 million opening weekend with a very smart marketing campaign that set the hook both online and in the real world, with bus-shelter posters implying a gritty aliens-among-us sense of mystery that downplayed even the title of the movie. But the studio also pushed the one name associated with the project -- producer Peter Jackson -- and pushed it where it counts, at the recent San Diego ComicCon. The opening weekend returns for "District 9" were on a par with "Cloverfield," another sci-fi no-star special that had a stealth campaign and a big behind-the-camera name -- but "District 9," being the better movie, will probably have better legs. The film had a healthy $12,000 per-theater-average, another sign that the marketing campaign clicked.

"G.I. Joe" came in second with $22 million, taking an expected 60% dive on its way to DVD -- not sure whether this will recoup its $175 million budget in theatrical. ("District 9," by the way, cost $30 million to make, so it's theoretically already in the black.) In third place was "The Time Traveler's Wife" with a cozy $19.2 million, star Rachel McAdams' biggest opening to date. (Co-star Eric Bana may have had something to do with that.) "Julie & Julia" was at No. 4, with only a 38% decline its second week -- word-of-mouth at work.

The weekend's box-office losers, sadly, included "Ponyo," the latest wonky masterwork from Japan's Hayao Miyazaki. Disney, which holds US distribution rights to Miyazaki's films, tried to bust this one out of the specialty/art-house ghetto, putting it in a comparatively broad 927 theaters and not bothering with a subtitled version for the grown-up anime crowd. Didn't work: "Ponyo" took in a soft $3.5 million, even with an English language voice cast that included tangential Cyruses and Jonases. Credit Disney with doing its best but its best obviously wasn't enough -- or, more precisely, the right approach for a tricky movie. "Ponyo" is aimed at the youngest audiences, and the toddlers who were at the screening I attended were in raptures of delight (as were their parents). Instead of marketing it to all family audiences, targeting the film to parents of very little ones might have worked better.

"Bandslam" also tanked -- $2.3 million at 2,000 theaters -- despite the presence of tweener stars Vanessa Hudgens and Aly Michalka. Hmm, maybe the day of the Disney/Nickelodeon kid superstar is coming to a close? One can hope. "Bandslam" is surprisingly above-average for the genre, though, so with luck it'll have a healthy DVD afterlife.

More box office numbers at Box Office Mojo and Movie City News.

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4 comments so far...
  1. An "Alien" movie as an allegory about discrimination? Hmm, where have we seen this before? Oh, I rember now ... "Planet of the Apes"!!!

    If it takes films like this and "Brokeback Mountain" to earn Hollywood film makers awards maybe it's time they get less concerned about copyrights violations and more concerned about churning out original, interesting, and innovative shows the movie going public is willing to pay the excruciatingly high prices cinemas are ransaking our wallets for rather than lacklustre remakes and sequels.

    Just my two cents ... which more than what viewing this poor piece of slock is worth.

    Posted by Chuck August 17, 09 03:41 PM
  1. Chuck, two cents for you're nonsense is a rip-off. You should offer a refund since you're comments make the average and even below average reader a little bit dumber. If you like sci-fi and Aliens you will enjoy D9.

    Posted by Gieger August 17, 09 06:45 PM
  1. Every now and then we should get a reminder on how people treat people and other potentially intelligent life.

    It's still not likely to save our behinds in the end. Humanity is more disgusting than prawns any day.

    Posted by Dennis Cica August 23, 09 10:40 AM
  1. I thought this was a brilliant Science Fiction movie. Yes, I am a big Science Fiction fan.
    Still, I think this is the type of original story that most anyone would appreciate. It is one of those Science Fiction movies that lets STORY, not a bunch of special FX (which were wonderfully done, in my opinion) tell the tale.
    I think most people will enjoy this film, and that it will be one of the best movies of the year.

    Posted by Jeff August 24, 09 04:11 PM

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

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