Can we stop thinking about Russell Brand now? Britain's bad-boy comic, who scored a vocal hit last week as the teen bunny in Hop, looked to parlay his animated success by starring in a remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore comedy Arthur. But audiences decided they'd rather hear Brand than see him. The holdover Hop, which dropped 42% from last weekend's winning tally, won the battle of the Brands. Its $21.7 million earned it the top spot in North American theaters, according to early studio estimates, while Arthur grossed just $12.6 million, well below expectations, in its opening frame. Total theatrical revenue was down about 6% from the same weekend last year, with box-office earnings still running a parlous 30% below 2010's.
Hop and Arthur were supposed to be the one-two punch that would transform Brand known to American audiences for a supporting role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a co-star turn in Get Him to the Greek and his husbanding of Katy Perry into the next bankable comedy phenom. Here was the ideal match of new star and old property, with the ex-druggie Brand as the dipsomaniacal playboy whom Moore had made both famous and endearing. Instead of pruney John Gielgud as Arthur's veddy proper valet, Brand had Oscar- and Emmy-winner Helen Mirren; it was the two stars' first picture together since their (SARCASM ALERT) plangently poetic teaming last year in Julie Taymor's take on Shakespeare's The Tempest (total worldwide gross: $302,110). Arthur made no happier impression than did Mirren's hosting gig on last night's lackluster and lack-laugh episode of Saturday Night Live. Even British dames and dudes can get slapped with the wet sock of failure.
[MONDAY UPDATE: Arthur turned out to be a bigger dud than reported yesterday. According to the final report of weekend grosses released today, the film earned $12.2 million, demoting it to third place below the $12.4 million tallied by Hanna. For the top 10 films, most of the "actuals" the accurate numbers, as opposed to Sunday's estimates were lower. The final figures: 1. Hop, $21.3 million; 2. Hanna, $12.4 million; 3. Arthur, $12.2 million; 4. Soul Surfer, $10.6 million; 5. Insidious, $9.37 million; 6. Your Highness, $9.36 million; 7, Source Code, $8.65 million; 8. Limitless, $5.5 million; 9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, $4.8 million; 10. The Lincoln Lawyer, $4.3 million.]
In the category of comic actors whose live-action films got whupped by their cartoon movies that opened a week or so earlier, Brand follows Steve Carell (Dinner With Schmucks, Despicable Me) and Seth Rogen (Observe and Report, Monsters vs Aliens). All three stars had made their names in raunchy comedies produced by Judd Apatow. So did Danny McBride (Pineapple Express). In his new film, the R-rated medieval fantasy parody Your Highness, McBride stuck to the Apatovian formula of gross-out jokes, shock nudity and drug references. But in case no one has noticed, the young males whom this sort of film targets have stopped going to the movies. Shorn of its prime demographic, Your Highness earned less than $10 million and finished an abashed sixth at the weekend wickets.
"We took a shot at a fresh idea, and we had great talent that really wanted to break out," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said of Your Highness in an interview with the industry website The Wrap. "I don't know what went wrong." What went wrong was that the movie was dreadful; worse, it was the kind of dreadful no one wants to see. The presumed star power of Oscar-winner Natalie Portman and Oscar-night absentee co-host James Franco did nothing to bring in the crowds; and those who came wished they hadn't. The film pulled an egregious CinemaScore grade of C-plus about what deposed New York City Schools Chancellor Cathie Black earned from Mayor Bloomberg suggesting that Your Highness will quickly be evicted from the box-office castle.
With rude male comics underimpressing, tough girls took charge. Hanna, the teen-assassin drama starring Saoirse (pronounced Sorsha) Ronan, earned $11.3 million for third place, just below Arthur; and Soul Surfer, the true-life drama featuring AnnaSophia Robb as one-armed teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, landed a surprise fourth with $11.1 million. Hanna played especially well to Hispanic and African-American audiences among the least reliable movie demographics while Soul Surfer, which garnered a sensational A-plus CinemaScore rating, successfully wooed Christian groups and young girls; the movie's audience was 80% female. The acting debut of American Idol winner Carrie Underwood may also have helped Soul Surfer. As male-oriented pictures keep disappointing, and girl power vaults low-budget films into the troposphere, Hollywood will either have to readjust its priorities or find a way to lure guys back into theaters.
Down in indieland, Jane Eyre expanded to 247 theaters and a strong $1.2 million weekend ($5.2 million in five weeks), and Tom McCarthy's inspirational wrestling dramedy Win Win also earned $1.2 million ($3.5 million in four weeks). Elsewhere, the news was on the dire side. Kelly Reichart's critically acclaimed Western-pioneers saga Meek's Cutoff cadged a meager $22,334 on two screens. Suzanne Bier's In a Better World has pulled in less than $100,000 in 10 days slim pickings for this year's winner of the Oscar for best foreign-language film. And Miral, the pro-Palestinian diatribe from Oscar-nominated director Julian Schnable (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), continued its lame progression through the art houses, with $248,968 in 17 days.
The big news for indie films in wide release was the strong hold for Insidious, made for just $1 million and already up to $27.1 million in 10 days. Its second-week drop of only 27% is pretty astounding for a PG-13 horror film. But word-of-mouth was voluble and positive enough to land Insidious in fifth place, ahead of Your Highness. When would-be stars in medium-budget comedies take a back seat to a no-name film about demonic possession in an old dark house, you know there's something spooky going on at the box office.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Hop, $21.7 million; $68.1 million, second week
2. Arthur, $12.6 million, first weekend
3. Hanna, $12.3 million, first weekend
4. Soul Surfer, $11.1 million, first weekend
5. Insidious, $9.7 million; $27.1 million, second week
6. Your Highness, $9.5 million, first weekend
7. Source Code, $9.05 million; $28.6 million, second week
8. Limitless, $5.7 million; $64.4 million, fourth week
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, $4.9 million; $45.5 million, third week
10. The Lincoln Lawyer, $4.6 million; $46.5 million, fourth week