‘Argo’ wins slow race to top weekend

'Cloud Atlas' disappoints with $9.4 mil domestic

The East Coast was already seeing the results of Hurricane Sandy on the Sunday box office, with theaters closing in advance of the storm’s arrival. The rest of the country was equally subdued, with Warner Bros.’ “Argo,” which grossed $12.4 million, scoring a rare third-frame win. Domestic totals were down 10% from the same weekend last year.

Meanwhile, the ambitious and pricey “Cloud Atlas,” clocking in at nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes, remained Earthbound with just $9.4 million, failing to connect with a broad audience.

Clear skies overseas allowed Sony-MGM’s early offshore bow of Bondpic “Skyfall” to dominate the international B.O., with an estimated $77.7 from 25 international markets, including $3.5 million from Imax locations. The pic’s Friday-to-Saturday gross in the U.K., at a whopping $32.4 million, became that market’s second-highest debut ever. Sony launches the pic Nov. 9 in North America.

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In the States, the $100 million-plus visual epic “Cloud Atlas,” which Warners is distributing domestically, marks this year’s third B.O. misfire for a wide release, after “John Carter” and “Battleship.”

“It played more like an art film,” admitted Warner domestic distribution prexy Dan Fellman, adding that “Cloud” struggled throughout the South and Midwest. “And yet with the negative cost involved, we had no choice but to hit the button.”

By comparison, “Argo” cost $45 million, and already has cumed north of $67 million worldwide (including $6.7 million overseas). The film, which Fellman predicted will gross north of $100 million domestically, nabbed its first domestic weekend victory since bowing wide Oct. 12. That’s the longest ascension to No. 1 for a traditional wide release since 1998, when “There’s Something About Mary” finally claimed the top spot after eight weeks.

During its first frames at the domestic box office, “Argo” lost to major openers “Taken 2” and “Paranormal Activity 4.” Since then, the Warner holdover has caught on with more than just adult filmgoers.

No other film this weekend beside “Argo” managed to hit double digits domestically.

The weekend’s four new entries all underperformed expectations, including Open Road’s 3D scarer “Silent Hill: Revelation,” which topped out at $8 million. Paramount’s “Fun Size” and Fox’s “Chasing Mavericks” each earned roughly half of what pre-weekend tracking suggested they would, with $4.1 million and $2.2 million, respectively — exacerbated by Sandy, though few know by how much.

Holdovers were a mixed bag this weekend: On the up side, “Argo” and Sony’s “Hotel Transylvania,” with $9.5 million, nabbed the B.O.’s top two spots, while Par’s “Paranormal 4” fell a steeper-than-expected 70%, for an estimated weekend take of $8.7 million.

“Hotel Transylvania” has cumed a stellar $130.4 million in five weeks; “Paranormal” reached $42.6 million in its second.

Sandy’s B.O. beatdown?

While most East Coasters spent the weekend bracing for Hurricane Sandy, it’s unclear how much that preparation cost the overall box office.

“Argo” grosses improved Friday-to-Saturday in several East Coast cities, including New York and Washington, D.C., where the pic grew 78% and 48%, respectively.

Paramount distribution and marketing head Megan Colligan said the imminent storm “definitely had some impact on the performances this weekend.” The New York subway began shutting down Sunday at 7 p.m., while grosses from Boston and cities in Virginia were impacted starting Friday.

“There’s no doubt that some people stayed home watching the Weather Channel,” Colligan said.

George Levitt, senior VP of film for National Amusements, said he thought the storm’s impact on the B.O. would be more severe Monday and Tuesday, but the Boston-based circuit set up contingency plans last week in the event of evacuations leading to theater closings.

AMC tweeted that some East Coast theaters closed Sunday afternoon through today.

Levitt acknowledged that East Coasters did spend time stockpiling for the event. “Flashlights are yesterday’s business,” Levitt said.

For a coastal-skewing pic like “Cloud Atlas,” the storm preparation likely had a greater impact than broader-playing films such as “Chasing Mavericks” and “Fun Size.” But Par reported that even “Fun Size” was down roughly 28% Friday to Saturday in Sandy-impacted areas such as D.C. and Norfolk, Va.

“Cloud Atlas,” which received a poor C+ CinemaScore rating among domestic auds, will see if it can make up for any lost ground overseas. Fellman said a promising sign is that the film played above-average in Canada. Still, profitability — or even the slightest glimpse of it — is a tall order for “Atlas,” given the film’s lengthy runtime and interweaving storylines.

The film was funded by international financiers including Media Asia Group and Germany’s Ascension Pictures. Warner collects a distribution fee for domestic.

Profitability for either “Fun Size” or “Chasing Mavericks” also looks unlikely. The Par pic carries a lower price tag, at $14 million, compared with Gerard Butler starrer “Chasing Mavericks,” which cost $20 million to produce, and received a B+ CinemaScore rating.

“Fun Size” garnered a B appraisal and earned the majority of its opening from families and teenage girls. The pic, from TV’s “Gossip Girl” co-creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, toplines Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice.

Silent Hill,” meanwhile, suffered from being the third horror film in as many weeks; “Sinister” and “Paranormal 4” still ranked in the domestic top 10 this weekend.

‘Sky’ fell early o’seas

Looking to get out in front of pics like “Twilight” and “The Hobbit,” Sony bowed the latest Bond pic “Skyfall” in such major markets as France, Russia, Brazil, South Korea and the U.K., launching this weekend via local distribs in 13 territories, and landing at No. 1 in every market. The pic beat the opening perfs for previous Daniel Craig-starring Bond pics in Russia, South Korea and Brazil. It similarly should overperform when it comes to the U.S. Nov. 9.

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