Box Office Top 10 Film Film News

Box Office Decoded: The Butler & We’re The Millers Stay Strong, The World’s End Teaches Us the Importance of Per-Screen Average

To see older or more recent box office top 10 breakdowns please go here.

So, here’s what happened this weekend at the domestic box office: The Butler and We’re the Millers held strong at #1 and 2 while everything else failed to make more than $10 million.  Wow.  Is that bad? Well, for some of the films, most notably The Mortal Instruments, yes.  However, overall, when you add together the grosses for the top 12 movies and compare the total to the combined top 12 from the same weekend last year the box office was actually up 10% this year.  In other word, this is when the box office tends to start dipping, and this year it didn’t dip down quite as much as before.

Let’s break it down:

Top 10 Estimates for the 8/23-8/25 Weekend Box Office (Domestic)



1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler 
  • Weekend Gross=$17 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$52.2
  • Budget=$30 million

Foreign: Doesn’t open overseas until the first week of September.

Some had projected The Butler‘s maximum domestic box office potential as being $35 million, which it has now surpassed in just two weeks.  In its second weekend, it barely dipped 30%.  Compared to the two most recent and notable period dramas aimed at African American audiences, this drop-off is in the same ballpark as that experienced by The Help (23.1%) and 42 (35%) in their second weekends of release. The Butler has already domestically out-grossed director Lee Daniels’ Precious, which made $47.5 million in 2009.  Lacking a better explanation, let’s just say The Butler reminds us to never underestimate Oprah.

2. We’re the Millers

We're the Millers Haan Aniston

  • Weekend Gross=$13.5 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$91.7 million
  • Budget=$37 million

Foreign: After making its overseas debut last weekend, it added 6 more territories, most notably the UK, this weekend, and added $12.4 million for a new foreign gross total of $23 million and combined worldwide gross to date of $114.7 million.  

An R-rated comedy with a clear, easy-to-sell premise, cast with likable performers, and directed and written by people who had hits to their name (Dodgeball, The Wedding Crashers, Hot Tub Time Machine)?  Plus, being released after only The Heat and This is the End had emerged from the summer as R-rated comedy hits, meaning audiences were starved for comedy, and there was no direct competiton on the way?

Yep, everything about We’re the Millers screamed sleeper hit potential.  However, doing so well that it will end up the highest grossing film of August was a bit harder to see coming.  It has now finished #2 at the box office three weeks in a row, only dropping off 25% in its third weekend.  It will cross $100 million at the domestic box office by this time next weekend, but has already done so at the worldwide box office.  It is currently outpacing the last Jennifer Aniston-Jason Sudeikis R-rated comedy, Horrible Bosses, and has already outgrossed prior R-rated comedies released in August like 2008’s Pineapple Express ($87.3 million) and last year’s The Campaign ($86.9 million).  This appears to be a case of right movie, right time, and the right amount of positive word of mouth.

3. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (Opening Weekend)


  • Opening Weekend Gross=$9.3 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$14 million
  • Budget=$60 million

Foreign: The Mortal Instruments opened in 25 foreign markets, including big ones like Hong Kong, the UK, and Russia.  However, as of this writing there are no available estimates as to the film’s performance in these markets. This section will be updated when that information becomes available.

Here’s everything The Mortal Instruments had to overcome: its director had one hit (The Karate Kid) and one bomb (Pink Panther 2) as his most recent films, this was the first script for screenwriter Jessica Postigo and first Cassandra Clare novel to be adapted into a film, the star (Lily Collins) was most notable for playing Snow White in the Snow White film no one really liked (i.e., Mirror, Mirror).  But, wait, there’s more.  2013 was already shaping up as the year of the failed YA-novel adaptations, with both Beautiful Creatures ($60 million worldwide on a $60 million budget) and The Host ($48 million worldwide on a $40 million budget) likely ending up as financial failures, even after DVD sales down the road.

Sadly, that was all too much for The Mortal Instruments to overcome, with its weekend gross of $9.3 million falling in-between that of Beautiful Creatures ($7.3 million) and The Host ($10.6 million).  On the plus side, it opened early on Wednesday giving it a 5-day total of $14 million which is at least more than either Beautiful Creatures or The Host made in their first 5 days, though by no more than a couple million.  However, this ultimately puts it on pace to end up doing similar overall business to those two and thus ending as a financial failure, unless it overperforms overseas.  Sony’s decision to long ago put a sequel into pre-production for a planned 2014 release seems especially stupid now.

4. The World’s End (Opening Weekend)


  • Opening Weekend Gross=$8.9 million
  • Budget=$20 million

Foreign:  As a British film, it’s actually been out in the UK and 4 other foreign territories since 7/19, and has grossed $13 million in the UK and $3 million elsewhere for a combined foreign total of $16 million.  The US and Canada were the only new markets for the film this weekend, and with its $8.9 million domestic debut its worldwide gross to date is now up to $24.9 million.

What the deuce!  How did this only end up at #4?  I saw it opening night in a nearly sold-out screening with a positively engaged audience laughing all the way through, yet it only made $8.9 million?  Well, here’s the thing: The World’s End only opened on 1549 screens, the lowest such total for any film in the top 10 other than Blue Jasmine (everything else was playing on 2400 screens or higher).  As such, its potential for total gross was limited.  That being said, it had the highest per-screen average of any film in the top 17, earning $5773 per screen (with The Butler at $5472 per screen, We’re the Millers and Blue Jasmine in the $3000-$4000 range, and everyone else below $2000).  That type of per-screen-average would have landed it at #1 int the Top 10 if it had opened on as many screens as The Mortal Instruments (not that one can assume the average would have remained the same with a wider release).

As for historical comparisons, The World’s End is the third film from stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright, and its opening is higher than what Shaun of the Dead ($3.3 million) and Hot Fuzz ($5.8 million) pulled down their opening weekends (even when you adjust for ticket price inflation).  However, that’s not really a fair comparison: both opened on fewer screens by at least 700 screens, and Hot Fuzz had a higher per-screen average.  On the other side, the last Simon Pegg/Nick Frost film, Paul (not directed by Wright), had a higher opening in 2011 ($13 million) but played on 1300 more screens with a lower per-screen average by over $1000.  So, yeah, it’s always wise to check the number of screens and per-screen average for some additional context.

5. Planes


  • Weekend Gross=$8.5 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$59.5
  • Budget=$50 million

Foreign: $10.5 million in foreign gross this past week for a new foreign gross total of $17.8 million and combined worldwide gross total of $77.3 million.

Even with school starting and thus cutting into its school-aged children audience’s availability, Planes is holding relatively strong, dropping only 36% in its third weekend.  It’s not going to get to $100 million, but it will exceed the $65 million some had pegged as its maximum domestic box office potential.  

6. Elysium


  • Weekend Gross=$7.1 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$69 million
  • Budget=$115 million

Foreign: $20 million in foreign gross this weekend for a new foreign gross total of $70 million and combined worldwide gross total of $139 million.

If you haven’t seen Elysium yet and have maybe only ever seen a trailer or two, the following question might be at the heart of why the film is under-performing: what is Elysium even about?  As far as the film’s advertising seemed to care, the only thing that mattered to those looking to answer that question was that Elysium starred Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, was directed by the guy who did District 9, and took place in a dystopian, sci-fi future with cool action scenes.  However, that obviously simply was not enough, especially in a post-Oblivion movie season.  Elysium continues to decline in its subsequent weekends around on par with how Oblivion performed in April and May earlier this year but not quite as well as District 9 in 2009.  At this rate, it will likely fail to reach $100 million domestic after many had predicted that total being on the low end of its potential.  It does, however, continue to perform well overseas.

7. You’re Next (Opening Weekend)


  • Opening Weekend Gross=$7 million
  • Budget=N/A

Foreign: Primarily just opened in U.S. and Canada.  Will expand to U.K. and other foreign territories beginning next weekend.

What went wrong?  Why did You’re Next – a surprisingly well-reviewed (80% on RottenTomatoes), R-rated horror film – fail to replicate the success The Conjuring (also R-rated, well-reviewed) enjoyed last month?  Let’s compare the two: The Conjuring has two well-known stars, Patrick Wilson (known to genre fans for 2011’s Insiduous) and Oscar/Emmy-nominated Vera Farmiga (known to genre fans for Bates Motel).  You’re Next only has people mumblecore fans would know.  The Conjuring marketed itself as being based upon a true story, and used the ole night vision camera recording of people reacting to the film as they view it at advance screenings in advertising to drive home the type of experience the film would deliver.  You’re Next sold itself as a particularly nasty and brutal home invasion tale, far too similar to The Purge in concept (right down to the scary masks) with no hint of anything else (the reviews indicate the film has a surprising amount of comedy the trailers in no way reflect).  Plus, The Conjuring had no direct competition whereas You’re Next still had to compete with, well, The Conjuring, which made an additional $2 million this weekend to land at #16 in the top 20.

It’s hard to imagine the budget for You’re Next was very high, although they aren’t telling.  So, it’s hard to know how much they are either losing/making/or breaking even, but this low opening and B- CinemaScore grade indicate You’re Next will disappear from theaters with alarming haste.

8. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters


  • Weekend Gross=$5.2 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$48.3 million
  • Budget=$90 million

Foreign:  $18.2 million in foreign gross this past week for a new foreign gross total of $62.1 million and combined worldwide gross total of $110.4 million.

Here’s the good news for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters – it’s still doing pretty decent business overseas.  However, it’s already opened in most major foreign markets meaning there is no big China-Pacific Rim-type boost in its future.  Its saving grace was always going to be overseas, just as it was for Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief.  However, it is fading fast at the domestic box office, and even with its decent run overseas it seems unlikely to match the $137.7 million foreign haul of The Lightning Thief.

9. Blue Jasmine


  • Weekend Gross=$4.3 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$14.7 million
  • Budget=N/A

Foreign: Blue Jasmine is currently playing in markets such as Norway and Sweden, but as of yet information about foreign gross is not available.

After 4 weeks in limited release with fantastic high per-screen averages, Blue Jasmine expanded to play on 1283 screens this weekend, thus marking the widest release of any film in director/actor Woody Allen’s career.  Its per-screen average of $3,352 was fourth in the top 10, behind The World’s End, We’re the Millers, and The Butler.  What that means is that basically although Blue Jasmine is only #9 on this list it was played to more packed theaters than half of the other films in the top 10.  In actual dollars, Blue Jasmine is on path to becoming at least the 5th highest grossing Woody Allen film of all time, falling short of doing Midnight in Paris-style business ($56.8 million) from 2011 but easily surpassing last year’s To Rome With Love ($16 million) and eventually also Match Point ($23.1 million) and Vicky Christina Barcelona ($23.2 million).  Of course, that’s all fine and good, but after you adjust for ticket price inflation this still but a blip on the radar compared to Allen’s true heyday of Annie Hall and Manhattan, which would have made between $130 and $140 million at current ticket prices.

10. Kick-Ass 2


  • Weekend Gross=$4.2 million
  • Total Gross to Date=$22.4 million
  • Budget=$28 million

Foreign: $9.8 million in foreign gross this past week for a new foreign gross total of $16.1 million and combined total worldwide gross  of $38.5 million.

68%.  That’s how far Kick-Ass 2 dropped in its second weekend.  That’s Green Lantern (66%), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (69%), X-Men: The Last Stand (67%), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (66%) level drop-off, except each and every one of those had decent to huge openings.  By comparison, the first Kick-Ass only fell off 52% its second weekend.  Luckily, the film’s budget is relatively low at $28 million, but it will end up struggling to get to $40 million total domestic gross let alone equaling the $48 million domestic gross of the first Kick-Ass.  Screw it.  Let’s just blame it all on Jim Carrey.


What Left the Top 10?

2 Guns, Jobs, Smurfs 2, and The Wolverine all left the top 10 for the first time.  2 Guns upped its domestic total to $65 million, thus surpassing its production budget, while Jobs managed to at least equal it’s production budget, upping its domestic gross to $12 million thus matching its budget.  The Wolverine upped its domestic total to $125 million while Paranoia hilariously (laugh, otherwise it’s just sad) dipped even further from its #13 debut last week to #17 and at a domestic gross of $6.2 million seems likely to struggle to crack $10 million after having been made on a budget of $35 million.  Wow.  How far  Harrison Ford has fallen.

What’s Up Next?: 

British spy thriller Closed Circuit opens on 800 screens on Wednesday (8/28) and indies Instructions Not Included and The Grandmaster open in limited release on Friday (8/30).  The only films opening wide are the Ethan Hawke action film The Getaway and concert film One Directions: This is Us, both on Friday.

Oy, enough with the numbers already.

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