Apr 20 2014, 10:52am CDT | by Forbes
Heaven Is For Real is to The Grudge as God’s Not Dead is to The Ring. As the first major Christian-centric film to drop after the surprisingly successful God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is For Real got to capitalize on being the next portion of a newly popular dish. The Asian horror remake fad frankly began and ended with The Ring and The Grudge, with none of the would-be cash-ins outside of those two franchises, not even the painfully underrated Dark Water remake) topping $28 million domestic. In terms of Asian remakes of all genres, the Sandra Bullock/Keanu Reeves romantic drama The Lake House basically doubled nearly every Asian horror remake with $52m domestic in 2006 (it’s also a painfully underrated meditation on adult loneliness). But the only Asian remake that soared is the one that followed the one that kick started the trend.
All of this explains how a Greg Kinnear-led drama earned $28.5 million over its five-day debut. If God’s Not Dead possibly made the Christian drama into a somewhat more popular sub-genre, then Heaven Is For Real is the first one to capitalize accordingly. Releasing a religious-themed film, especially a family-friendly one somewhat dealing with resurrection (it’s about young boy who claims to have seen heaven following a near-death experience), over the Easter holiday, has its advantages. Many businesses and most schools were closed on Friday, which meant bigger business offerings such as this. The Sony production opened on Wednesday with $3.7 million, earning another $3.3m on Thursday and now scored $21.5 million over the Fri-Sun weekend.
That’s a 2.73x weekend multiplier, which is actually pretty good for Easter weekend. Easter weekend is legendary for some horrible multipliers, as The Hanna Montana Movie (2009) and African Cats (2011) are the third and fourth most front loaded weekends of all-time. The film earned nearly as much on Friday as previous sub-genre’s record holder God’s Not Dead earned on its Fri-Sun opening weekend ($9.2m), even with the $7m worth of Wed-Thurs tickets already accounted for. Considering the film’s $12m budget and strong word-0f-mouth among the targeted demographic, this one is already a big hit. Chalk it up to the obvious buzz around God’s Not Dead (which ended the weekend just under $49m by the way) and the usual church-centric advertising that helps sell films like this, along with the presence of honest-to-goodness known actors like the always terrific Greg Kinnear and Thomas Hayden Church.
Heaven Is For Real played 62% female and 49% under 35 years old. Yes, it got an A+ from Cinemascore from under-35 demos for what that’s worth. As I’ve always said, there is real money to be made from demographics that aren’t explicitly targeted as a matter of habit. This one may well have legs, and it’s hard to imagine that it won’t at least come close to topping the $59m gross of 20th Century Fox’s Son of God and end up being the biggest ‘explicitly sold to Christians’ religious film ever released. I imagine the DVD will sell like hotcakes when the time comes. Four God-centric films in under two months: Son of God, God’s Not Dead, Noah, and now Heaven Is For Real. I hate trend pieces, but this looks like a trend.
What was supposed to be the big opener of the weekend qualifies as an out-and-out bomb. I generally try to avoid screaming “FLOP!” whenever possible, but there is absolutely no good news for Transcendence. Transcendence boasted terrible reviews, almost no buzz, a generic trailer, and a director who is notable among film nerds like myself (Wally Pfister was the DP on the last several Chris Nolan films). That it opened with a miserable $11.15 million weekend is mostly attributable to face-on-the-poster star Johnny Depp and audiences wanting something resembling a big film while they wait for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in two weeks.
Truth be told, there is a portion of moviegoers who will see whatever the “big” movie of a given weekend happens to be, but you need far more than those consistent regulars to show up. The Warner Bros. (a division of Time Warner) release cost $100 million, but as usual the money came from elsewhere. Alcon Entertainment co-financed the film with China’s DMG Entertainment (it opened yesterday in China as well). Summit International sold overseas rights to various independent distributors, which actually covered much of the budget.
The film played 54% male, 21% under 18, 44% under 25, and 56% over 25, earning a C+ from Cinemascore overall. Anyway, this one is a big miss, both because it’s not very good and because it’s an unfortunate case of an original star vehicle tanking. Oh well. Let’s hope Jupiter Ascending delivers this July in the realm of big-budget original sci-fi vehicles. This is simply a very bad film that couldn’t make the sell over opening weekend and now has no reason to have anything resembling legs. Sometimes, even with “big” films, the reviews matter. In defense of all parties involved, especially Depp, I’m sure Transcendence (an original science-fiction morality drama from the DP who shot Inception) seemed great in theory.
The next opener was A Haunted House 2 from Open Road Films. The $3 million sequel to last year’s A Haunted House opened with $9.1m. That’s way down from the $18m opening weekend of A Haunted House last January. I suppose that’s unfortunate, but again, the Marlon Wayans comedy cost just $3m to produce, so I don’t think anyone will be too busted up about the not terribly surprising comedown. It won’t touch the first film’s $40m domestic gross, but at that budget, it really doesn’t have to.
If the film does well in after-theatrical, we may see another one next year anyway. My wife for some reason loves White Chicks so there is a good chance I’ll have to watch this on DVD. Pray for me. But then I owe her for making her sit through the original Godzilla with me last night. Black & White, full-frame, foreign with subtitles, it’s like a checklist of things my wife hates. Yes I’m aware of the irony. Hopefully at least one of my children will pick up the slack.
Also opening this weekend was Walt Disney's Bears, which is about zebras. The harmless if somewhat patronizing animal documentary (I’m reasonably sure those bears aren’t thinking what John C. Reilly told me they were thinking) earned a mediocre $4.7 million over the weekend. That’s the lowest debut thus far for a Disneynature documentary, as Earth opened with $8m in 2009, Oceans and African Cats opened with $6m in 2010 and 2011, and Chimpanzees opened with $12m in 2012. Business is usually pretty brief for these documentaries, so don’t expect Bears to get much past $12m total.
In all honesty, these are glorified charity works from the Mouse House, offering stunning nature footage in a kid-friendly narrative that arguably works as a gateway drug into more realistic nature documentaries and/or a general interest in the natural world. Bears will probably end its run with around $12m and we’ll get another one, Monkey Kingdom, this time next year. My kids had a good time on Friday, and my daughter learned the lesson meant to be imparted by all nature documentaries: Being a wild animal stinks.
Opening in limited release was John Turtorro’s Fading Gigolo, which is also the rare film that features Woody Allen but isn’t directed by Allen. The film, which Tuturro directed, wrote, and starred in, opened on five theaters courtesy of Millenium Entertainment. They earned $198,399, with a $39,680 per-screen average, for their troubles. In holdover news, the weekend was again dominated by Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Rio 2. The Walt Disney/Marvel sequel earned another $26 million for the weekend, down just 36% thanks to the holiday. The Chris Evans/Scarlett Johansson adventure has earned $201.5m domestic, passing the $176m total for Captain America and $181m total for Thor. It’s also now Robert Redford’s highest-grossing film ever, not adjusting for inflation of course. The real story is overseas, where the sequel has earned $385m for a worldwide cume of $586.6m.
20th Century Fox’s Rio 2 held okay, earning $22.5m on its second weekend (-43%) despite the holiday cushion. The $103m animated sequel has earned $75m domestic, already behind the $80m ten-day total of Rio. Worldwide, it was at $177m going into the weekend, so it’s just a question of how high over $200m it gets by tomorrow. They also earned $5.9m for Draft Day (-39%), giving the Kevin Costner football film $19.54m by the end of the today. Lionsgate earned another $5.75m from Divergent, a solid 21% drop, bringing the franchise-starter’s cume to $133.9m. Oculus earned $5.2 million on its second weekend, an expected 57% drop for the Relativity horror film. The film has earned $21.19m thus far. Paramount’s Noah earned $5m for a $93.2m cume. Finally, Universal’s Non-Stop crossed $90m this weekend.
That’s it for today. Join us next weekend for the calm before the summer storm. 20th Century Fox debuts the Cameron Diaz/Leslie Mann/Kate Upton comedy The Other Woman, Lionsgate drops The Quiet Ones, and Relativity debuts Brick Mansions, a Paul Walker/RZA remake of District B19.
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