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'Bruno' starts off strong on the box-office runway, then stumbles

July 12, 2009 | 11:49 am


When is success a disappointment?

The opening weekend of "Bruno" exemplified how one film can be both in Hollywood. Universal's outrageous R-rated comedy starring Sacha Baron Cohen opened to a studio-estimated $30.4 million in the U.S. and Canada and $25 million overseas ($5 million of which came from territories owned by other distributors).

Universal paid financier Media Rights Capital $42.5 million to distribute the movie domestically and in eight key foreign countries and negotiated a hefty distribution fee of 25% -- money it takes off the top for its services. The studio is thus well on its way to earning a healthy profit on the project. MRC is also in a good position, having sold rights to the movie for a bigger sum than it costs to produce, and will make even more from its cut of the revenue.

But those totals mask a worrisome trend for the picture: After a strong start on Friday, domestic ticket sales for "Bruno" declined 39% on Saturday. Such a huge drop is rare and almost always a harbinger of bad buzz and a short box office run for a film. The odds of "Bruno" earning a total of even $100 million, let alone the $128.5 million worth of tickets that "Borat" sold in the U.S. and Canada, are very low.

The reason is simple: Many people just didn't like "Bruno." The film's Cinema Score -- an average grade given by a sample of those who see the picture -- was C, very low given what easy graders moviegoers generally are. It's impossible to know for sure what audiences disliked, but the envelope-pushing amount of male nudity no doubt played a major role.

PublicDepp Results this weekend were mixed in a different way for Universal's "Public Enemies." Second weekend performance is key for R-rated adult dramas, since they usually don't have a huge opening. The Michael Mann-directed film starring Johnny Depp declined 44%, a figure that was slightly deflated since Saturday, July 4, was a dead day at the box office last week.

With decent -- but not great -- ticket sales of $14.1 million, the film now stands at $66.5 million and is heading toward a final domestic gross just north of $100 million. Foreign earnings in the 17 countries where it has opened are a similarly so-so $16.7 million after two weeks. Given the movie's production budget of a little over $100 million, that's hardly as bad as other adult dramas like "State of Play" and "Duplicity" have done this year, but not a big success either.

Fox's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" continued the trend of animated features holding on strong at the box office, declining only 32%. The third movie in the series from Blue Sky Studios earned $28.5 million this weekend. After a mixed start last week, however, it has grossed $120.6 million, about the same as the first 12 days of "Ice Age: The Meltdown" in 2006 despite ticket price inflation and surcharges at the over 1,600 theaters where it is playing in 3-D.

International markets continue to be phenomenal for "Dawn of the Dinosaurs," however. It earned $98 million overseas this weekend, bringing its foreign total to a hefty $327.1 million.

"Ice Age" will likely lose a lot of its box office momentum this Wednesday when Warner Bros. opens "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" worldwide.

Fox opened its low-budget romantic comedy "I Love You, Beth Cooper" and, as expected, earned a dismal $5 million.

In limited release, Magnolia opened Sundance Film Festival favorite "Humpday" at two theaters and earned a decent $29,000.

Summit Entertainment expanded "The Hurt Locker" from nine theaters to 59. Combined with a single theater in Canada controlled by a different distributor, the Iraq War drama earned a healthy $623,000, or $10,383 per location. Its total ticket sales are $1.1 million.

Samuel Goldwyn Films debuted "Blood: The Last Vampire," based on a popular Japanese anime feature, to a not-so-hot $103,000 at 20 theaters, giving it an average take of only $5,150.

Here are the top 10 films at the domestic box office, based on studio reported estimates and data from

1. "Bruno" (Universal/Media Right Capital): $30.4 million on its opening weekend.

2. "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (Fox): Declined only 32% on its second weekend to $28.5 million, bringing its total after 12 days to $120.6 million.

3. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (Paramount): $24.2 million, a 43% drop on its third weekend, bringing the Michael Bay-directed event picture to a domestic total of $339.2 million.

4. "Public Enemies" (Universal/Relativity): $14.1 million, a decent decline of 44% on its second weekend. Domestic total: $66.5 million.

5. "The Proposal" (Disney): Dropped only 18% on its fourth weekend to $10.5 million. Total ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada: $113.7 million.

6. "The Hangover" (Warner Bros./Legendary): A stunningly small drop of 12% on its sixth weekend, the R-rated comedy grossed $9.9 million. Domestic total is now $222.4 million.

7. "I Love You, Beth Cooper" (Fox): Opened to a weak $5 million, in line with expectations.

8. "Up" (Disney/Pixar): $4.7 million on its seventh weekend, a 29% drop. Total domestic gross: $273.8 million.

9. "My Sister's Keeper" (Warner Bros./New Line): $4.2 million, down 28% on its third weekend. Total in the U.S. and Canada is $35.8 million.

10. "The Taking of Pelham 123" (Sony/Relativity): $1.6 million, down 37% on its fifth weekend. Close to finishing its run with so-so domestic ticket sales of $61.5 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo (top): Sacha Baron Cohen at the Hollywood premiere of "Bruno." Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press

Photo (bottom): Johnny Depp in "Public Enemies." Credit: Peter Mountain / Universal Pictures