By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — Brad Pitt’s “Killing Them Softly” barely had a pulse at the box office this past weekend.
Not only did the crime flick debut with a weak $7 million, according to an estimate from the distributor, the Weinstein Co., but audiences hated it. Those who saw the film assigned it a rare average grade of F, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The last movie to earn that grade was January’s horror film “The Devil Inside.”
Pitt’s movie got slaughtered by a handful of films that have been available to moviegoers for weeks.
Young women have yet to tire of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2,” which was No. 1 for the third consecutive weekend. The final installment in the vampire franchise grossed an additional $17.4 million over the weekend, raising its domestic total to $254.6 million. That’s about $8 million ahead of where “Breaking Dawn — Part 1” was at the same point in its release last year.
“Skyfall,” now the highest-grossing James Bond film by far, took the runner-up position with $17 million. The film starring Daniel Craig has now sold $246 million worth of tickets in the United States and Canada.
Meanwhile, “Lincoln” has proved that a period drama can appeal to more than a niche audience. The film made $13.5 million this weekend and is well on its way to crossing the $100 million mark, with a total gross of $83.7 million so far.
Another adult drama, Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” passed that milestone this weekend. After 52 days in theaters, the Iranian-hostage film is a word-of-mouth success story with its $101 million gross.
The weekend after Thanksgiving is never a huge one at the box office. In fact, no film has debuted with more than $10 million since 2005’s “Aeon Flux.” Still, ticket sales were up 42 percent compared with the same weekend last year, according to Hollywood.com.
As for “Killing Them Softly,” on Sunday, not even the Weinstein Co. was trying to pretend there was an upside to the film’s poor opening.
“We’re disappointed, and there’s no getting around that,” said Erik Lomis, the independent studio’s president of theatrical distribution and home entertainment. “We thought it was deserving of a wide release because it was Brad Pitt in a gangster movie.”
Typically, a CinemaScore F indicates that moviegoers were expecting something far different from what they ended up getting. In advertisements for the film, aimed largely at males watching sports, the Weinstein Co. played up the film’s recognizable ensemble cast, led by Pitt but also featuring James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta.
Asked if he thought the marketing campaign was off base, Lomis replied that he thought “people just didn’t like the movie.”
“I think if you looked at the reviews, a lot of them were good for Brad, but they weren’t all great for the movie,” he said. “The headlines looked good, but maybe they weren’t as great as they appeared to be.”
Indeed, the film notched a strong 79 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie, in which Pitt portrays a hit man looking into a mob-protected poker game, marks the second collaboration for the actor with Australian director Andrew Dominik. Unfortunately, it seems “Killing Them Softly” will follow the same trajectory as their first partnership, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” That 2007 film earned strong reviews but collected only $3.9 million.
“Killing Them Softly” marks the lowest wide-release opening for Pitt in nearly two decades. He hasn’t had a live-action film perform this badly in its first weekend since the beginning of his career, when his 1994 romantic comedy “The Favor” launched with $1.5 million.
The Weinstein Co. co-financed the actor’s latest film with Megan Ellison’s production company Annapurna Pictures for $15 million.
The only other new film to open this weekend was the horror sequel “The Collection,” and it tanked. The movie couldn’t even beat the $3.6 million that the original film, “The Collector,” made in 2009, grossing only $3.4 million in its opening weekend. The movie from horror veterans Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton is about a young woman trying to escape a maze set up by a killer named “The Collector.”