Box Office: 'Real Steel' KOs competition, including George Clooney [Updated]
George Clooney took it on the chin from a hulking robot this weekend as "Real Steel" destroyed its competition at the box office.
The action flick starring Hugh Jackman and a bunch of futuristic robots easily claimed the No. 1 spot, raking in a decent $27.3 million worth of ticket sales domestically, according to an estimate from distributor Walt Disney Pictures. "The Ides of March," a political drama directed by and starring Clooney alongside Ryan Gosling, collected a lesser $10.4 million, but was far less expensive of a movie to produce.
It was the first weekend in nearly a month that films just opening in theaters were able to claim the top spots at the box office over holdovers. In recent weeks, family films including a 3-D version of 1994's "The Lion King" and the uplifting drama "Dolphin Tale" -- also in 3-D -- have proved most appealing to moviegoers.
Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience surveys had indicated that "Real Steel" would probably gross at least $30 million. However, DreamWorks SKG -- which produced the film -- and Disney predicted a softer opening of around $25 million. While the film's opening weekend may have just exceeded the studios' modest expectations, the picture still has a long way to go until it is considered a success because it cost DreamWorks about $110 million to make.
Fortunately for the picture's financial backers, audiences who saw the movie loved it, giving it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. If the movie benefits from strong word-of-mouth in the U.S. and resonates with crowds abroad, it will likely end up in decent shape. Overseas, the film opened this weekend in 19 foreign markets and grossed $22.1 million. The movie performed best in Russia, where it collected $6.9 million, and Jackman's native Australia, earning $5.4 million there.
The movie stars Jackman as a man who trains robots to box for a living and is also struggling to improve his relationship with his son. About 25% of the audience this weekend was made up of parents with their children, and the film appealed mostly to men, who comprised 66% of the crowd. Based on a 1956 short story called "Steel," which was later turned into an episode of the original "Twilight Zone" television series, "Real Steel" has earned only mediocre critical reviews.
"The Ides of March," meanwhile, has been far better received by critics. The film costars Ryan Gosling as an ambitious young man working on behalf of a liberal presidential candidate, played by Clooney. The movie, adapted from Beau Willimon's off-Broadway play "Farragut North," was produced by Clooney and his partner Grant Heslov's company, Smokehouse Pictures. The picture is being distributed in North America by Sony Pictures and is the first movie to be released through a two-year deal between Smokehouse and the studio. It was financed by Cross Creek Pictures for about $12.5 million.
A largely older crowd bought tickets to the movie this weekend with about 60% of the audience over 35. Those who saw the film gave it an average grade of B, but Sony said Sunday morning that it was confident the picture would hold well at the box office in coming weeks.
Rory Bruer, Sony's distribution president, said he was hopeful that the movie would follow in the footsteps of "Michael Clayton" and ultimately gross five times its opening weekend at the domestic box office. That 2007 drama, starring Clooney as a down-and-out attorney, opened to $10.4 million in wide release and ended up with $93 million worldwide.
Clooney may be considered an A-list star, but many of his films in recent years have not done blockbuster levels of business. That's largely because in the last decade the actor has opted to work on a number of modestly budgeted independent films often beloved by critics but not always embraced by broad audiences.
Some of his passion projects have included the 2010 drama "The American," which collected a decent $67.9 million worldwide, and 2009's "Men Who Stare at Goats," which ended up with a similar $69 million globally. He produced both of those movies, which were each made for under $30 million. 2008's "Leatherheads," on the other hand, did not fare as well. The comedy about a football team in the 1920s, which Clooney directed and starred in, cost around $58 million to produce but brought in only $41.2 million in ticket sales worldwide.
[Updated at 12:28 p.m. Oct. 9: When "Johnny English Reborn" debuted abroad last month, the film had the biggest opening weekend ever for a movie starring British star Rowan Atkinson. In the picture, the actor reprises his role as the inept secret agent he originated in 2003's "Johnny English." That film collected $132.5 million abroad, a sum distributor Universal Pictures feels the sequel will surpass. So far, the movie has performed best in Atkinson's native Britain, where it grossed $7.8 million this weekend. The movie has yet to open in 31 other markets, including the U.S. on Oct. 28.
Here are the top 10 current movies at the domestic box office, with international grosses when available, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:
1. "Real Steel" (Disney/DreamWorks): Opened to $27.3 million. $22.1 million overseas in 19 foreign markets.
2. "The Ides of March" (Sony/Cross Creek): Opened to $10.4 million.
3. "Dolphin Tale" (Warner Bros./Alcon): $9.2 million on its third weekend, down 34%. Domestic total: $49.1 million.
4. "Moneyball" (Sony): $7.5 million on its third weekend, down 38%. Domestic total: $49.3 million.
5. "50/50" (Summit/Mandate): $5.5 million on its second weekend, down 36%. Domestic total: $17.3 million.
6. "Courageous" (Sony): $4.6 million on its second weekend, down 49%. Domestic total: $15.9 million.
7. "The Lion King 3-D" (Disney): $4.6 million on its fourth weekend, down 57%. $7.3 million overseas in 28 foreign markets. Domestic total: $86 million. International total: $28.1 million.
8. "Dream House" (Universal/Morgan Creek): $4.5 million on its second weekend, down 46%. Domestic total: $14.5 million.
9. "What's Your Number?" (Fox/New Regency): $3.1 million on its second weekend, down 44%. $2.8 million overseas in 23 foreign markets. Domestic total: $10.3 million. International total: $6.3 million.
10. "Abduction" (Lionsgate): $2.9 million on its third weekend, down 48%. Domestic total: $23.4 million.]
-- Amy Kaufman
Photo: Hugh Jackman gives a robot boxing pointers in "Real Steel." Credit: DreamWorks SKG