'Wall Street' beats 'Guardians' at the box office

Steven Zeitchik
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — For the second weekend in a row, it was experience over youth at the box office, as a film aimed at adults defeated one targeted toward kids.

"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," Oliver Stone's follow-up to his 1987 financial-world drama, was master of the box-office universe this weekend with what 20th Century Fox said was a $19 million haul. The movie beat the far younger-skewing 3-D animated film "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole," director Zack Snyder's interpretation of a children's fantasy series, which grossed $16.3 million despite higher ticket prices, according to studio estimates.

The "Wall Street" win continues a strong run for mature fare at the box office. After its surprising $23.8 million gross last weekend, the crime drama "The Town" dropped just 33 percent this weekend to gross $16 million and finish a close third behind "Guardians." "The Town," directed by and starring Ben Affleck, is the first breakout hit of the fall, taking in $49 million in 10 days of release.

The romantic comedy "You Again" came in last among the films that opened wide this weekend, with an $8.3 million take. That was good enough only for fifth place, as the Emma Stone high-school dramedy "Easy A" tallied $10.7 million in its second weekend.

What's impressive for "Wall Street" in its defeat of "Guardians," observers noted, is that roughly two-thirds of its ticket buyers were over the age of 30. Adults, who usually don't come out on opening weekend in the same numbers as teens and 20-somethings, rarely power wins

Some industry observers had been expecting an opening upward of $20 million for "Wall Street," but the $19 million figure was still strong, putting the drama on course to recoup on domestic receipts alone its post-production credit outlay of $50 million. The film has gotten off to a strong start internationally, taking in more than $9 million in just a handful of markets. And the movie's domestic performance marks the best ever opening weekend for Stone, edging out his $18.7 million for "World Trade Center" in 2006.

Stone's film brings back disgraced Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), newly sprung from prison, and introduces a host of new characters (played by Josh Brolin, Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan), all of whom suffer and scheme against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis. Filmgoers gave the multilayered story a CinemaScore of B-minus.

The film's prospects looked dim when Fox postponed it from last April to this weekend. But the studio wanted to put some distance between the financial crisis and the film's release, as well as open it in a season more hospitable to adult fare. The slow rollout began at the Cannes Film Festival in May and picked up again in recent weeks. "We wanted to make sure we were coming out in a time when people are conditioned to seeing quality movies," said Fox senior vice president Chris Aronson

The post-summer period typically is indeed more hospitable to adult-targeted films. But grown-ups historically don't start coming out to theaters in significant numbers until three or four weeks after Labor Day. "Usually you wait until October and then it starts," said Disney president of distribution Chuck Viane. "This year it's starting early."

On the comparable weekend last year, for instance, the children's animated picture "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" was the top earning film in its second weekend of release.

This weekend spelled disappointment for the "Guardians." Warner Bros. had hoped that its first animated film since 2006's smash "Happy Feet" would yield some of the same mojo as that movie, with "300" director Snyder bringing his trademark flash to the story of a battle between good and evil in the owl world. But the $16.3 million foretells a cumulative figure not close to the roughly $80 million the film is estimated to have cost after tax credits.

"You Again," meanwhile, proved that the romantic and comedic hi-jinks set amid a wedding — a formula that served Disney well with 2009 breakout "The Proposal" — was not a magic bullet for the studio this time around. Although "You Again" cost only about $20 million to make, the hope that a bevy of multigenerational stars — including an appearance from "Proposal" star Betty White — would turn it into a crossover hit proved empty. Disney executives are crossing their fingers that the picture, which earned a respectable B-plus CinemaScore, will play over the coming weeks.

Even more disappointing was Sony's unconventional rollout for the comedy "The Virginity Hit." The gambit of taking the movie to college campuses and other youth-heavy venues did not bear fruit. According to Sony, the low-budget film, which follows a group of teenagers as they attempt to lose their virginity, grossed $300,000 on its 700 screens for a scant average of barely more than $400 on each screen.

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