'Funny People': What's the score with CinemaScore?
It's readily become apparent that the most reliable indicator of a movie's long-term box-office performance is its grade with CinemaScore. The market research firm provides a very sharply focused snapshot of a film's true buzz, thanks to its exit poll-style survey of how moviegoers reacted to the latest theatrical releases. (I can't offer you a link, because the firm provides its info on a subscription-only basis, so the best way to get its data is by calling a few studio marketing chiefs, who apparently still have enough loose cash lying around to subscribe to every market research company in town.)
CinemaScore's batting average is very good. "The Hangover" earned an A with every demographic group, from men to women to under and over 25-years-old. It only dropped 27% in its second weekend. "Bruno," which earned a C, including C-minuses from women and over-25 audiences, dropped nearly 73% in its second weekend.
Keeping that in mind, the outlook for Universal's new release, "Funny People," is not so bright. According to my colleague Ben Fritz, the Judd Apatow-directed film opened to a "mediocre" $23.4 million over the weekend, putting it at the low end of most expectations, especially since Apatow's last film, "Knocked Up," did $30.7 million in its opening weekend, even without the star power of "Funny People's" leading man, Adam Sandler. (Variety, always keen on putting the best possible face on any film's opening weekend, says the picture "launched respectably," which in Variety-ese means: "It wasn't a complete disaster.")
Fritz and other box-office pundits say "Funny People," which cost $75 million to make, needs strong word of mouth to hold its own in the coming weeks. But judging from its CinemaScore grades, that is something of a long shot. The film got a B-minus overall, with men giving it a B-plus, women giving a C-plus. But the older its audience got, the worse it scored. Moviegoers under 25, who made up 40% of its audience, gave it a B-plus. Moviegoers over 25, who made up 60% of its audience, gave it a B-minus. Moviegoers over 50, who thankfully only made up 10% of its audience, gave it (yikes!) an F.
This doesn't bode well for the film, since it may have already attracted most of its strongest constituency -- male moviegoers -- who will be moving on next weekend to see "G.I. Joe." According to some marketing execs, we should add a film's Rotten Tomatoes score into the mix to give an even better indicator of a film's eventual box-office performance. That creates even more of an uphill battle for "Funny People." "The Hangover," the summer's top comedy blockbuster, earned a 79 from Rotten Tomatoes. "Bruno," which has spiraled downward since its opening, scored a 68. "Funny People" earned a 66, a big drop-off from Apatow's two previous films as a director: "Knocked Up," which had a 90, and "40-Year-Old Virgin," which scored an 85.
Let's just say, to quote Bananarama, it's been a cruel, cruel summer at Universal, whose embattled top dogs must be hoping for autumn to arrive awfully fast.
Photo of Adam Sandler in "Funny People" by Tracy Bennett / Universal Studios