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Box office: 'Expendables' blows up, 'Scott Pilgrim' out of tune, 'Eat Pray Love' has decent first bite [Updated]

August 15, 2010 |  9:59 am

Expendables Old-fashioned action proved much more potent at the box office this weekend than modern fanboy fantasy and female self-discovery.

Over-the-top shoot-'em-up "The Expendables," directed by and starring Sylvester Stallone with a crew of aging action stars, opened to a very strong $35 million in the United States and Canada, according to studio estimates. But comic book adaptation "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" proved unable to break out of the young male fanboy crowd and opened to an anemic $10.5 million. "Eat Pray Love," based on the bestselling book, started off with a solid $23.7 million from a primarily female audience.

The strong start for "Expendables" proved that there's still plenty of goodwill for '80s A-lister Stallone, whose co-stars included Jason Statham, Jet Li, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren. The movie's focus on explosions and stunts done primarily with physical effects, rather than digital ones, seemed to be well-positioned at the end of a summer when bigger-budget pictures relying on computer-generated imagery, such as "The A-Team" and "Iron Man 2," have dominated the landscape.

Though the majority of moviegoers were men, Lionsgate was surprised to find that 40% were women, giving "Expendables" somewhat broader appeal than expected. The movie garnered a strong average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore, demonstrating that the film was a crowd-pleaser even if critics didn't take to it.

"The Expendables" cost $82 million to produce, of which a little more than $50 million was covered by foreign pre-sales through financier Avi Lerner's Millennium Films, about $10 million from his NuImage Films, and about $20 million from Lionsgate, which bought distribution rights in the United States, Canada and Great Britain.

Independent studio Lionsgate also spent nearly $40 million on domestic marketing as pre-release surveys and screenings indicated the film had big box office potential, a bet that appears to have paid off. Though male-oriented action films tend to disappear from theaters quickly, "Expendables" should end up grossing at least $80 million and generate some much-needed profits for the studio's theatrical business as management fights a takeover bid by investor Carl Icahn.

EatPray "Eat Pray Love," which stars Julia Roberts, opened right in line with expectations, as distributor Sony Pictures hopes the movie is poised for a long box office run. Seventy-two percent of those who went to see it were women, but the studio managed to draw a slightly younger crowd than the book's theme of middle-aged self-discovery would suggest, with 44% under 35 according to exit polls.

If "Eat Pray Love" holds as well as last year's female-oriented "Julie & Julia," it will be a solid hit for Sony, which opened that book adaptation last August to $20 million and saw it end up with $94.1 million. However, there were signs that audiences may not have loved the new movie as much. While "Julie & Julia" got an average grade of A from CinemaScore and saw ticket sales rise 16% from Friday to Saturday, a sign of good buzz, "Eat Pray Love" was rated B and its grosses dropped 4% on its second day in theaters.

Sony spent about $60 million to make "Eat Pray Love," compared to $40 million for "Julie & Julia," so stakes for the new movies are a little higher. However, "Eat Pray Love" could make up any domestic shortfall overseas, where it's considered to have strong box office potential as it mostly takes place in Italy, India and Indonesia. The movie starts rolling out in foreign countries next month.

ScottPilgrim "Scott Pilgrim" provided yet another example, after April's "Kick Ass," that loyal adaptations of cult favorite comics can't always reach the broad audience needed on the big screen. Those who came loved the picture starring Michael Cera and directed by "Shaun of the Dead's" Edgar Wright, giving it an average grade of A-. But distributor Universal Pictures wasn't able to draw many women or adults older than 25 to the picture, which features frequent video game references, and appears to have been beaten among its core audience of young men by "Expendables."

Universal spent about $85 million to make the picture, along with a small investment by Relativity Media, though a studio spokeswoman said the final cost after tax rebates was $60 million. Regardless, especially when marketing costs are included, the film appears poised to be a major financial disappointment.

"Scott Pilgrim" came in No. 5 on the box office chart, as the Will Ferrell comedy "The Other Guys" declined 49% on its second weekend to $18 million. On its fifth weekend, mega-hit "Inception" was down 39% at $11.4 million.

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics opened the Australian crime drama "Animal Kingdom" to a solid $52,500 at four theaters in the United States.

[Updated at 12:43 p.m.: Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com, along with international ticket sales when available

1. "The Expendables" (Lionsgate/Millenium/NuImage): Opened to $35 million.

2. "Eat Pray Love" (Sony): Opened to $23.7 million.

3. "The Other Guys" (Sony): $18 million on its second weekend, down 49%. Domestic total: $70.5 million.

4. "Inception" (Warner Bros./Legendary): $11.4 million on its fifth weekend, down 39%. $34.6 million overseas in 59 foreign markets. Domestic total: $248.6 million. International total: $314 million.

5. "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" (Universal): Opened to $10.5 million.

6. "Despicable Me" (Universal): $6.8 million on its sixth weekend, down 27%. $7.5 million overseas in 25 foreign markets. Domestic total: $222 million. International total: $56.2 million.

7. "Step Up 3-D" (Disney): $6.6 million on its second weekend, down 58%. Domestic total: $29.6 million.

8. "Salt" (Sony/Relativity): $6.4 million on its fourth weekend, down 42%. $9.5 million overseas in 48 foreign markets. Domestic total: $103.6 million. International total: $83.2 million.

9. "Dinner for Schmucks" (Paramount/DreamWorks/Spyglass): $6.3 million on its third weekend, down 39%. Domestic total: $58.8 million.

10. "Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" (Warner Bros./Village Roadshow): $4.1 million on its third weekend, down 41%. $7.8 million overseas in 29 foreign markets. Domestic total: $35.1 million. International total: $22.3 million.]

-- Ben Fritz

Photos: (from top) Eric Roberts and Steve Austin in "The Expendables." Credit: Karen Ballard / Lionsgate

Javier Bardem and Julia Roberts in "Eat Pray Love." Credit: Francois Duhamel / Sony Pictures

Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber and Michael Cera in "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World." Credit: Universal Pictures

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