Hotel Transylvania and a solid start for trippy time travel movie Looper. Pitch Perfect also impressed in limited release, while Won't Back Down had one of the worst nationwide openings in years. The Top 12 earned an estimated $108.3 million, which is up 21 percent from the same frame last year.
Hotel Transylvania took first place with an estimated $43 million. That tops Sweet Home Alabama's $35.6 million to set a new record for a September opening. It's also the best debut ever for a Sony Pictures Animation movie ahead of The Smurfs ($35.6 million) and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ($30.3 million). Finally, and perhaps most remarkably, it's star Adam Sandler's second-highest debut ever behind 2005's The Longest Yard ($47.6 million).
There was a feeling that Sandler's brand was weakened following the underwhelming performance of Jack and Jill ($74.2 million) and the disastrous run of That's My Boy ($36.9 million), but that appears to have been overblown. The product, not Sandler, is to blame there: the obnoxious trailers for Jack and Jill never made the movie seem remotely worthwhile, while the R-rated That's My Boy wasn't made for Sandler's family audience. Even though it was animated, Hotel Transylvania's mix of slapstick humor, outlandish characters, mildly rude jokes and funny voices fit perfectly in to the Sandler brand, which is clearly alive and well.
Hotel Transylvania's audience was primarily made up of families (78 percent), and they awarded the movie an "A-" CinemaScore (that improved to a solid "A" among women and children). A 3D share is not currently available.
Hotel Transylvania is Sony's eighth movie to finish in first place this year, and this marked the ninth weekend that the company has held the top spot (more than any other studio). The combined strength of Hotel Transylvania and Looper pushed Sony's yearly domestic total past $1.3 billion, which makes it the first studio to reach that mark in 2012.
Looper, Sony's other movie this weekend, opened in second place with an estimated $21.2 million. That's noticeably up from Surrogates ($14.9 million) and Source Code ($14.8 million), among similar sci-fi movies. Still, it's nowhere close to Sony/TriStar's last major sci-fi hit, District 9 ($37.4 million), and it also sold fewer initial tickets than Bruce Willis's last foray in to time travel, 12 Monkeys.
Looper's good-not-great opening inforces the challenges inherent in selling an original, R-rated sci-fi movie. Previews were jam-packed with quality information: they clearly articulated the movie's unique premise, showed off a few high-profile cast members, and even threw in some action as well. Anyone on the fence after that should have been pushed over thanks to the outstanding reviews (93 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and insane buzz on social media. To only make it to $21.2 million (again, that's good, not great) with all of those positives illustrates just how difficult it is to get the key older male demographic excited about rushing out on opening weekend for something completely new.
As expected, the audience skewed male (59 percent) and older (70 percent were 25 years of age and up). They weren't quite as fond of the movie as critics were, as it only received a "B" CinemaScore ("B+" among men).
It's also worth briefly noting that Looper is projected to earn between $23 and $25 million this weekend in China, which would make it the first international movie to open higher in China than anywhere else in the world (with the exception of re-release Titanic 3D). More information will be available in the Around-the-World Roundup on Tuesday.
End of Watch eased 39 percent to an estimated $8 million this weekend. With a 10-day total of $26.2 million, the movie is now only a day away from passing the final gross of writer-director David Ayer's last cop drama Street Kings ($26.4 million).
Trouble with the Curve also held well, dipping 38 percent to an estimated $7.5 million this weekend. The Clint Eastwood baseball drama has now earned $23.7 million.
House at the End of The Street rounded out the Top Five with an estimated $7.15 million. That's off 42 percent from last weekend, which is a pretty good hold for a horror movie. It's now earned $22.2 million, and could end up with around $35 million by the end of its run.
In sixth place, Pitch Perfect scored $5.2 million from just 335 locations. That translates to an outstanding per-theater average of $15,522. The audience was 74 percent female, and they gave the movie a strong "A" CinemaScore. That score improved to "A+" among women under 25, suggesting the movie will be generating great word-of-mouth among that key demographic leading to its nationwide release on Friday. With cash in the bank already, strong buzz and nearly half of its media budget still remaining, Universal has got to be feeling pretty good about Pitch Perfect's long-term prospects right now.
Won't Back Down opened in nearly eight times as many theaters as Pitch Perfect, but could only muster a $2.7 million debut this weekend (good for 10th place). That's the second-worst opening ever for a movie in 2,500+ locations—The Rocker holds the record at $2.64 million. Distributor 20th Century Fox clearly realized they had a dud on their hands a while ago, and pushed it out without the backing of a substantial marketing effort. Don't worry too much about Fox, though: they'll be in fine shape after Taken 2 blows up the box office next weekend.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower expanded to 102 locations and moved up to 13th place with an estimated $1.14 million. With a solid $11,147 per-theater average, the movie will definitely be expanding in to many more venues in the coming days, and a nationwide expansion (600+ theaters) seems possible at this point.