Hollywood’s star system has shriveled in the past decade, with few new talents emerging to reanimate the ranks and stand alongside Leo and Julia and Johnny and George and Brad. Some of those stars have dimmed as the years tick by, but Washington’s still shines brightly.
“He’s one of the last great action heroes,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “He’s so believable in those roles and he has a ferocity that works cinematically.”
Indeed, Washington hasn’t had a film open to less than $20 million since 2007’s “The Great Debaters,” a remarkable display of consistency. He’ll be back on screens at the end of the year in “Fences,” an adaptation of August Wilson’s play, that he directs and stars in alongside Viola Davis. It is expected to be an Oscar contender.
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“The Magnificent Seven” easily snagged the crown from “Sully,” the retelling of the “Miracle on the Hudson” landing that topped the box office for two weeks. The drama slid to third place with $13.8 million, bringing its stateside total to a healthy $92.4 million. Like “The Magnificent Seven,” it is benefiting from the popularity of a veteran movie star. In this case, Tom Hanks, who plays the hero pilot.
“Storks,” an animated comedy from Warner Bros., came in second with $21.8 million. It’s a disappointing result given that the picture had been tracking to open to $30 million or higher. The film centers on a group of storks who have transitioned from baby delivering to hauling packages for an e-commerce behemoth. Andy Samberg, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Keegan-Michael Key, and Jordan Peele are among the recognizable voices providing some of the film’s aural texture. “Storks” cost $70 million to produce and is part of Warner Bros.’ effort to reinvigorate its animation division after the studio scored a hit with 2014’s “The Lego Movie.” It had more or less abandoned the genre to the likes of Disney and DreamWorks Animation, before undergoing a course correction.
Warner Bros. executives said they were proud of “Storks” and suggested that its box office results were softer than expected because the film was pegged to younger audiences and had less appeal to older crowds. That limited the size of its audience.
“The tracking misled us,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president. “When the numbers were coming in, we weren’t necessarily buying them…This movie didn’t have a franchise behind it, and it was a brand new concept.”
“The Magnificent Seven’s” success is welcome news for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which was body checked this summer after “Ben-Hur,” its $100 million-plus Biblical epic, collapsed at the box office, resulting in at least $70 million in losses for the studio and its production co-financiers. Earlier this month, MGM reduced its annual profit projections by roughly $50 million because of “Ben-Hur’s” failure.
But “The Magnificent Seven” counts as a win for the company. It also proves the viability of remaking older films, provided there is some novel spin to apply. In this case, Washington and director Antoine Fuqua were able to stage balletic shootouts that rivaled those in John Sturges’ original 1960 film. They also played up the diversity of their cast, rounding out the band of mercenaries with South Korean actor Byung-hun Lee, Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Native American actor Martin Sensmeier. That multi-cultural aspect seemed to resonate in a post-#OscarsSoWhite era, and at a time when Hollywood blockbusters are faulted for offering few roles to people of color.
Sony Pictures distributed “The Magnificent Seven” and teamed with MGM, LStar Capital, and Village Roadshow to finance the $90 million production. “It’s a fun film that’s going to be around for awhile,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution chief. “Antoine Fuqua delivered an action-packed visceral ride with a great ensemble cast.”
The Western genre has been hit-or-miss at the box office. For every success like “Unforgiven” or “Django Unchained,” there are duds like “Jane Got a Gun” or “The Lone Ranger,” which fail to hit the target. Although “The Magnificent Seven” is doing well domestically, some analysts questioned the film’s price tag, noting that it will have to resonate overseas in order to turn a profit.
“I question why you would spend $90 million on a Western” said Bock. “When you spend that, you expect to get a franchise. This is one and done.”
“Bridget Jones’s Baby” took fourth place with $4.5 million, pushing the romantic comedy’s domestic total to a lackluster $16.5 million after two weeks of release. “Blair Witch” rounded out the top five, earning just under $4 million and bringing its total to roughly $16 million.
In limited release, “The Dressmaker,” an Australian comedy with Kate Winslet, opened to $180,522 in 38 locations. Broad Green is distributing the film on behalf of Amazon Studios. Disney’s “Queen of Katwe,” an inspirational drama about a chess prodigy from Uganda, debuted in 55 theaters to $305,000. It will expand next weekend to roughly 1,500 locations.
Overall box office results were down more than 20%. It was a difficult match-up, as “The Magnificent Seven” and “Storks” were unable to match the windfall enjoyed by the debuts of “The Intern” and “Hotel Transylvania 2” over the same weekend a year ago.
Next weekend brings the release of the Tim Burton fantasy “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and “Deepwater Horizon,” an adventure story about one of the worst oil spills in history.