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The T4 Post-Mortem

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | May 26, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | May 26, 2009 |

There’s been a lot of talk on the interwebs over the Memorial Day weekend about the disappointing box-office performance McG’s fourth installment in the Terminator franchise. Some, like Warner Bros. domestic distribution president Dan Fellman, have suggested that it’s because Terminator Salvation had a narrowly defined targeted audience (it was 70 percent male). Others have suggested that Christian Bale’s blow-out on set may have hurt its performance. Devin Faraci, in an exclusive for CHUD, even wrote 3,000 words words on what went wrong. Mr. Faraci apparently owns the exclusive knowledge to T4’s disappointing performance. I hear it’s a brilliant piece, though I haven’t read it. I didn’t want it to cloud my opinion. Besides, I think I can sum it up in one sentence:

It was a bad movie, and McG is a bad director.

Over the long weekend, T4 racked up $53 million, compared to Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian’s $70 million pull. You can also add Wednesday’s midnight showings and Thursday’s totals to T4 and you’re still only going to get $68 million, which is nearly $20 million less than what Wolverine opened with in 3 days. And if you ask me, T4’s weekend performance was hurt by Warner Brothers’ decision to open the movie on Thursday. By Friday, bad word of mouth and even worse reviews had damaged its weekend prospects. T4 made only slightly more on Friday than it did on Thursday ($14.9 million and $13.3 million, respectively), and actually dipped on Saturday to $14.7 million. That’s not supposed to happen over Memorial Day weekend. Battle of the Smithsonian’s Saturday gross was, for instance, 30 percent better than its Friday gross.

Indeed, T4 fared even worse than did the Rise of the Machines opening weekend — it made $72 million over the 4th of July weekend in 2003. And it didn’t have Christian Bale; it had an aging action star prepping for his run as California’s governor. And I liked Rise of the Machines better. Hell, I liked Wolverine better — it was a mess, but at least it wasn’t a deadly serious mess. And I never expected anything better from Wolverine. T4, meanwhile, rockets into the top five of my most disappointing summer blockbusters list.

And much of that fault actually lies with Christian Bale. He was originally asked to play the much more interesting Marcus Wright part, which went to Sam Worthington. John Connor was supposed to be a relatively minor figure until Bale signed on as Connor and insisted the movie be rewritten (by an uncredited Jonathan Nolan) to make his character more central. But even if Connor did, at times, feel extraneous in Salvation, that was no excuse for the hamfisted dialogue, the laughable appearance of Schwarzenegger, or an ending that I walked out on.

It’s all meaningless now, and the best we (or at least I) can hope for is that word-of-mouth hurts T4 so much over the next few weeks that Warner Brothers will pull the plug on a planned fifth installment. At least for another decade, by which time a different director and a different set of actors can reboot the series and, perhaps, start over again after T2 and do the James Cameron films some justice.

Moving on: Being a bad movie didn’t hurt Night at the Museum II, nor would one expect it to. Kids don’t pay attention to critics, and parents just want to make their goddamn kids happy, which is the simple explanation for Smithsonian’s huge numbers, more than double the opening of the original film, which went on to make $250 million. Hopefully, Up will seriously cut into Ben Stiller’s film next weekend, though it seems unlikely that it could do so enough to prevent an almost inevitable third movie.

Meanwhile, Star Trek continued to plug along nicely, picking up another $29 million over the weekend. It’s up to $184 million so far, and looks to be the first movie of 2009 to break $200 million. Besides The Brothers Bloom, it’s also the best movie of the summer so far. Angels & Demons added another $27 million, good enough for fourth place. It’s amassed $81 million and will probably barely break $100 million domestically, but it’s a bigger movie outside of America, where it’s already added more $100 million. You can bet your ass the third Dan Brown movie will happen. And finally, Dance Flick, the latest film from the Wayanses, came it an number five with a tepid $13 million, further demonstrating audiences’ eroding interest in spoof movies. We’ll have our review up tomorrow.

In limited release, The Brothers Bloom continued to perform very well, averaging nearly $7500 per screen in 52 theaters. It’ll expand to most cities next weekend. The French film Summer Hours also performed well in limited release, putting up $7,400 per screen. We won’t be reviewing it because I couldn’t make it through it. Apologies. It’s not a bad film — let’s just say Ranylt Richildis or The Boozehound would probably love it. It was a little over my head. Also, excruciatingly slow. However, if you’re interested, the brilliantly cerebral Karina Longworth has a fine review up over on Spout. Easy Virtue, starring Jessica Biel, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Colin Firth, was the big winner among indies, however, amassing a solid $11,000 per screen average in 10 theaters. We will have a review of it later this week.

Here’s your top five for the full Memorial Day weekend:

1. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian ($70 million)

2. Terminator Salvation ($53 million; $68 million)

3. Star Trek ($29 million; $184 million)

4. Angels & Demons ($27 million; $81 million)

5. Dance Flick ($13 million)

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.