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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'The Box': The movie audiences truly love to hate

November 10, 2009 |  5:37 pm
Thebox

It's no secret that "The Box" is a flop. The Cameron Diaz-starring horror thriller, released by Warner Bros. last weekend, barely eked out $7.5 million at the box office, which alone ensures that it only has one way to go (down) in terms of its box-office future.

But the real shocker is the grade it received from CinemaScore, the Las Vegas-based market research company that compiles Friday-night audience reaction to all of Hollywood's big new movie releases. The CinemaScore grade matters, since it's culled not from a bunch of snooty critics but from real paying moviegoers. Even more importantly, there's a very strong correlation between the grade a film gets and its future commercial prospects. An A signals a long happy life while even a C is pretty much of a death sentence.

Even though "The Box" got a not entirely embarrassing 48 from Rotten Tomatoes, the film has gone where few movies have ever gone before -- it earned a big fat F from CinemaScore. In fact, of the 33 demographic categories measured by the service, "The Box" got an F in 29 of the 33 -- and earned a D-minus in three of the four others. Males and females under 18 gave it an F as did 25-and-up males and 35-and-up females and virtually everyone in between. Its only demographic "sweet spot" was with 25-34 and 35-49 men, who gave it a D-minus.  

I called up Ed Mintz, who runs CinemaScore, to ask if he's ever seen a movie get such bad grades. "Not in a while," he says. "People really thought this was a stinker." The only three movies he could recall that scored as many Fs were all basically horror thrillers: "The Bug," a 2006 Ashley Judd horror film; "Wolf Creek," a 2005 backpackers-in-peril thriller; and "Darkness," a 2002 haunted house scarefest.

Since Mintz actually saw the film, I asked him why audiences hated it so much. Simple, he said. They hated the ending. It turns out that the film's ostensible storyline -- a married couple are given a box containing a button that, if pushed, will bring you a million dollars but simultaneously take a stranger's life -- was just the beginning when it came to the film's assortment of horrible moral choices. Since thousands of unhappy people have already Twittered about the movie's bizarre finale, I don't think I'm giving away any state secrets to say that Diaz -- who should begin a serious reappraisal of her career choices right now -- doesn't make it to the end of the film.

"It's like a horror movie version of 'Sophie's Choice,' " Mintz says. "I have to admit that I was sitting there, going 'That's the choice? They're going to kill off a movie star? Who'd want to pay $10 to see that?' I'd love to hear how they thought they were going to get good word-of-mouth from that ending. But that's the reason why the movie got an F. The public acted in vengeance. They got angry about where the story went and the grade definitely reflects that anger."

RELATED:

CinemaScore's box-office swami

Photo of James Marsden and Cameron Diaz in "The Box" by Dale Robinette / Warner Bros.

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