Before “Super 8” debuted last week, it became clear that audiences weren’t quite as aware of the film as Paramount Pictures, the studio behind it, might have hoped. Pre-release tracking suggested that the J.J. Abrams monster movie/retro-coming-of ager would likely make $27 to $30 million in North America.
It turned out that “Super 8,” which topped the weekend box office, made $37 million over the weekend, and $38 million when revenue from those early, Twitter-promoted Thursday screenings were included. So is this, as a story in The Hollywood Reporter suggests, a case of defying the odds? Or is “Super 8’s” opening a disappointment?
From a splashy debut perspective, it’s definitely the latter. Still, executives at Paramount are clearly trying to spin things a little differently. Vice chair Rob Moore tells the Hollywood Reporter, “It was never positioned as a big blockbuster, but as a smaller movie.”
Really? A movie about an alien monster produced by Steven Spielberg, directed by J.J. Abrams, hyped last year at Comic-Con and advertised with much fanfare during the Super Bowl was always supposed to be considered an itty-bitty effort?
Brandon Gray at Box Office Mojo doesn’t think so. He writes: “The most important expectations for any movie are the ones that are set when a movie is greenlighted as well as the ones that guide a marketing campaign. A Spielberg-produced movie aiming to emulate his blockbusters of yore has high expectations attached to it, especially with the super-hyped Abrams at the helm.”
Indeed it does. So the fact that “Super 8” made almost as much over the weekend as another less extensively hyped, semi-recent extra-terrestrial summer effort, “District 9 ” (which debuted to the tune of $37.4 million), doesn’t seem like a huge win. Even within the context of J.J. Abrams movie openings, this is a low point revenue-wise: His previous two directorial efforts — “Mission: Impossible III” and “Star Trek”— as well as “Cloverfield,” which Abrams produced — all opened to bigger numbers.
However, to Moore’s point, “Super 8” was made for an estimated, modest $50 million. So relative to other major summer releases, it was less expensive and, therefore, should be able to more than make its money back relatively easily.
But the question remains: What went wrong? Some suggest that the J.J. Abrams secrecy factor may have been a problem. “Super 8” produced the most buzzed-about-online movie commercial during the aforementioned Super Bowl but didn’t reveal many plot details, playing its cards close to the vest until the release date drew closer.
That could have been an issue. The fact that the film combined genres — sci-fi, coming-of-age, horror, drama — also might have been confusing to those who had not followed the project closely.
The movie did seem to resonate with those who at least half-remember the late ’70s and early 80s and saw “Super 8” as an homage to the summer-movie magic of that era. As Box Office Mojo notes, 71 percent of the audience was over the age of 25.
Whatever it all means, let’s hope that the “Super 8” debut is not viewed as a referendum on non-franchise films. Whether you were satisfied or not with J.J. Abrams’s effort, he deserves credit for writing an origial screenplay and making a movie that was neither a sequel nor based on a comic book. We need more summer movies that do the same, not fewer.
Now, here’s the list of the weekend’s top 10 movies, followed by a poll that asks you to predict what will become the next box office winner, when eyes turn from the Spielbergian skies crafted by Abrams to Ryan Reynolds in “Green Lantern.”
The top 10 movies at the weekend box office, based on studio estimates:
1. “Super 8” — $37 million
2. “X-Men: First Class” — $25 million
3. “The Hangover Part II” — $18.5 million
4. “Kung Fu Panda 2” — $16.6 million
5. “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” — $10.8 million
6. “Bridesmaids” — $10.1 million
7. “Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer” — $6.2 million
8. “Midnight in Paris” — $6.1 million
9. “Thor” — $2.3 million
10. “Fast Five” — $1.7 million