Universal’s ‘Bruno’ Starts Strong, Fades

“For R-rated stuff like this, it’s not unusual for Friday to be your biggest day.”

Last Updated: July 13, 2009 @ 5:01 PM

It didn’t have the $40-$50 million opening weekend some were anticipating when it got off to a hot $14.4 million start Friday, but Universal’s “Bruno” will meet pre-release tracking estimates, taking in $30.4 million for its opening weekend, according to studio figures.

The R-rated, genitalia-rich Sacha Baron Cohen film took in $8.8 million Saturday at 2,756 theaters, a 39% day-to-day drop studio officials say wasn’t unexpected.

“For R-rated stuff like this, it’s not unusual for Friday to be your biggest day,” said Universal Distribution President Nikki Rocco, noting that “Bruno” drew a first-weekend audience that was 56% male and 46% under-25. “It’s unbelievable how targeted we were with this.”

 

The opening also bested Cohen’s "Borat," which Fox opened to $26.5 million in Nov. 2006 on its way to to grossing $262 million worldwide.

 

In November 2006, Universal paid Media Rights Capital $42.5 million for the rights to distribute “Bruno” in North America as well as eight foreign territories, including the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and South America.

Over the weekend, “Bruno” — which costs $55 million to market globally, according to one executive close to the film — took in another estimated $25 million playing at 1,435 venues within those eight countries.

“This is going to be hugely profitable for the studio,” Rocco insisted. “That global number is just phenomenal.”

After rendering a phenomenal global number of its own last weekend, Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” finished second at the domestic box office in its second weekend with a three-day total of $28.5 million from 4,102 theaters, according to studio figures, representing a small 32% decline from its opening weekend.

In fact, on Saturday, with limited fresh options available in theaters for kids, the third “Ice Age,” Fox’s first 3-D effort, led the box office, taking in another $11 million. Overall, it’s grossed $120.6 million in North America since its July 1 release.

Meanwhile, in third place and continuing to roll right along after three weeks in release, Paramount’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” finished the weekend with $24.2 million, a 43% decline from week three, putting the Michael Bay robot movie’s overall domestic bounty at $339.2 million.

In fourth place, Universal’s “Public Enemies” took in $14.1 for the weekend, a 44% drop from the week prior, giving the John Dillinger-based movie a two-week cume of $66.5 million.

 

Rocco said the film, directed by Michael Mann and starring Johnny Depp, is still on pace to meet the key studio goal of grossing $100 million in North America.

In seventh place, behind Disney’s “The Proposal” ($10.5 million weekend gross) and Warner’s “The Hangover” ($9.9), Fox’s “I Love You Beth Cooper” took in $2.1 million Friday and $1.6 million Saturday to finish its first weekend with $5 million, which is what Fox officials said they expected from the niche comedy, budgeted at under $30 million and starring “Heroes’” Hayden Panettiere, going in.

In the department of long legs, “The Proposal” has now grossed $113.8 million after four weeks of North American release, dropping off 18% from week three. “The Hangover” now stands at $222.4 million domestically after six weeks, with only a 12% drop-off from week five.

After seven weeks, Disney/Pixar’s “Up” has grossed $273.7 million in North America, adding another $4.7 million to its coffers over the weekend to finish in seventh place.

 

On the indie side, Summit’s “The Hurt Locker” expanded its release to 60 theaters over the weekend and took in $623,000. Its domestic total after three weeks stands at $1.1 million.

 

Saturday second update, 11:30 pm:

 

Studio executives said "Bruno" took a steep drop in attendance on Saturday after its strong Friday opening, about 37 percent. 

 

The drop meant that insiders were revising their estimates of the film’s take for the weekend to a likely $30 million, lower than previousy hoped. 

 

"Ice Age" continued to perform well, and appeared to be just behind "Bruno" in the weekend race, and would take in an estimated $28.5 million for the weekend, according to early numbers.

 

Saturday update:

 

The outrageous “Bruno” opened strongly on Friday, taking in $14.2 million, according to its distributor, Universal.

With creator and star Sacha Baron Cohen playing a hypersexual, gay Austrian fame junkie, and creating a polarizing — and unnerving — pre-release buzz for the studio, “Bruno” is on pace for a $36 million first weekend playing in 2,757 venues, studio officials said.

 

That exceeds tracking estimates of around $30 million and makes it one of the top openings for an R-rated comedy ever. 

 

An opening this strong domestically means that the film’s strong buzz overrode the distaste some moviegoers – especially in middle America – had for the subject matter of in-your-face homosexuality.  

Universal paid Media Rights Capital $42.5 million for the domestic rights for “Bruno,” as well as distribution rights to eight English-speaking territories.  Universal paid $55 million to market the film worldwide, according to one executive close to the film. 

 

Released by Fox in November 2006, Cohen’s “Borat” took in $26.5 million for its opening weekend on the way to grossing $262 million worldwide.

Finishing in second place Friday, Fox’s first 3-D animated feature, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” added another $8.4 million to its coffers, its studio confirmed, a 51% decline from the week prior but putting it over $100 million domestically after nine days of release.

 

The film is on pace for a $28 million weekend that would give it a $120 million domestic total after two weeks in theaters.

In third place, Paramount’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” took in another $7.3 million, according to industry estimates, down 59% from the week prior, and on track for a $25 million weekend that would put its North American bounty at $340 million.

 

Universal’s “Public Enemies” finished fourth with $4.3 million, according to the studio, a 57% decline from the week prior and putting the film on track to have $67.2 million after two weeks.

 

Meanwhile, opening in seventh place behind Disney’s “The Proposal” ($3.3 million) and Warner Bros.’ “The Hangover ($2.9 million), Fox’s PG-13-rated comedy “I Love You Beth Cooper” garnered $2 million at 1,857 locations, Fox confirmed, in line with studio expectations for the niche comedy that will put it around $5.2 for its first weekend.

 

The top ten so far:

"Bruno" $14.2m
"Ice Age" $8.4m
"Transformers" $7.3m
"Public Enemies" $4.1m
"Proposal" $3.3m

"Hangover" $2.9m
"I Love You Beth Cooper" $2m 
"My Sisters Keeper" $1.5m
"Up" $1.3m

"Pelham 123" 475k

 

Earlier:

 

Universal’s divisive "Bruno" — Sacha Baron Cohen’s mockumentary about a provocatively gay fashion queen — started off strong at the box office, grossing $1.7 million from 695 midnight locations, the studio said.

 

Friday numbers look to be in the $12-14 million range, which would put the comedy on track for a $33-38 million weekend.

 

And around the world, good numbers are starting to roll in, too; earlier in the week, "Bruno" opened in Australia to $1.4 million in 213 theaters, the third-best comedy premiere ever Down Under.

 

The studio has always been nervous about how the film will perform domestically, with scenes involving gay sexuality that once garnered an NC-17 rating (now pared to an R) — making some moviegoers uncomfortable enough to tell market researchers that it’s a movie they definitely do NOT want to see. It opens at 2,756 locations.

 

At the same time, Universal had always believed that the movie could be a Stateside hit, and tracking showed the film would possibly take in as much as $30 million domestically. 

 

Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco doesn’t believe that concerns expressed earlier by some members of the gay community regarding the film’s subject matter will create the kind of bad buzz that could have sabotaged its release.

“I think people love (Cohen),” she said. “How could ‘Borat’ have done what it did otherwise?”

 

And while the film has already raised opposition, the movie’s proponents believe it will be a seminal moment in the widespread acceptance of homosexuality. 

 

"In 10 years there will be a demarcation line — there will be pre-Bruno, and post-Bruno" said Marc Shmuger, chairman of Universal Picures. "It will change the dialogue."

 

"Bruno" follows the $262 million global box-office performance in 2006 for Baron Cohen’s other alter ego, “Borat.” 

 

So for Universal, which in 2006 paid Media Rights Capital just $42.5 million to secure the domestic rights along with  most foreign territories to “Bruno,” prospects seem, in the words of a certain fictional Kazakhstani, very nice.

The $30 million first-weekend projection would be more than enough to render the movie successful. Universal officials declined to discuss the marketing budget for the film, but sources close to the studio say the domestic spend is less than the industry average, which is typically around $40 million.

“Opening at $20 million and above would put us in a very good position,” said Rocco, who insisted a lack of comparable releases make “Bruno” a difficult film to render projections for.

In fact, not even "Borat" – which opened to $26.5 million in 2006 — will suffice.

“‘Borat’ was released in November and it was such a sleeper,” she added. “Even if you did have tracking data on it, you wouldn’t use it. We just haven’t been able to find any relevant comps.”

Rocco also doesn’t believe “Bruno’s” R-rating – a distinction shared with “Borat” – will hinder its agenda.

Despite it’s R-rating, Warner Bros.’ “The Hangover” has grossed $272.4 million worldwide this summer, $61.6 million internationally.

In terms of competition this weekend, Fox will release its PG-rated comedy “I Love You Beth Cooper,” directed by Chris Columbus and starring Hayden Panettiere, in 1,857 locations.

With “Beth Cooper” targeting a more youthful audience and in smaller release, and “The Hangover” now in its second month of distribution, Rocco said “Bruno” should have the adult comedy market largely to itself until the studio releases its R-rated “Funny People” July 31.

“I think we have clear sailing until then,” she said.

Paramount’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” will enter its third week of release having surpassed the $300 million mark domestically, while Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” will go into week two after opening globally to $152 million and garnering the best foreign premiere for an animated film ever.

And starting next week, on Wednesday, Warner’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” premieres, the sixth installment of a franchise that has earned over half a billion dollars a picture.