‘Kick-Ass’: What Happened At The Box Office?

A closer look at the numbers reveals the atypical comic book flick has 'cult' potential, industry experts say.

Up, up and … yeah, not so much.

“Kick-Ass,” this year’s first superhero movie , had been attracting considerable pre-release buzz and was expected to rake in as much as $30 million over its opening weekend. But it failed to take off, plunging to a less-than-$20 million bow.

So what happened? Was it a case of fanboy hype failing to translate to hefty box-office bucks? Did Lionsgate stumble in its marketing campaign? Was the flick just too darn violent? Or, taking into account factors such as its rating and relatively unfamiliar source material, was the performance of “Kick-Ass” not all that bad?

“What happened to ‘Kick-Ass’ is exactly what happened to ‘Snakes on a Plane,’ ” said David Poland of Movie City News.

That 2006 thriller, starring Samuel L. Jackson, was famously hyped on the Web — and just as famously stalled during its first weekend, falling well short of box-office expectations with a $13.8 million opening. “The distributor bought into the idea that the passion of the core market for the film would spread as the hype rose in the media,” Poland added. “So they kept selling what that core market was drooling over — and forgot that getting past a $12 million opening or so requires them to sell [to] other people outside of the geek crowd.”

But there’s one big difference between “Snakes” and “Kick-Ass,” as industry experts have pointed out in conversations with MTV News: “Kick-Ass” is a good movie and “Snakes on a Plane” simply is not. “Snakes” succeeded as an Internet meme and not much else, crashing and burning in its second weekend. “Kick-Ass,” conversely, has drawn critical buzz (77 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), audience approval (an A- user rating at Yahoo!) and according to Harry Medved of the ticketing service Fandango, the film is expected to do “great second-week business.”

” ‘Kick-Ass’ actually did as well as we expected,” Medved explained. “The advance ticket sales were decent, not spectacular. Obviously, the R rating played into it. Considering the film didn’t cost that much — I’ve heard $35 million to $50 million, probably more in the $35 million range — I think the film will do fine. I think it will have a cult following. And the DVD will be a collector’s item.”

Perhaps, then, “Kick-Ass” is a victim of its own tracking numbers. That $25 million to $30 million projection is based on consumer awareness, which does not always translate to folks forking money over at the theater. Its $19.8 million weekend haul puts it right in the range of confirmed past hits like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and far above this year’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” (which had a budget comparable to “Kick-Ass”). When you consider that “Kick-Ass” isn’t based on a long-established property, doesn’t have an A-lister in a starring role and was rated R, the movie begins to seem less like a box-office disappointment. After all, in revised box-office numbers , the film did in fact beat out “How to Train Your Dragon” for the weekend’s top spot.

“Considering the content, this opening is not bad at all,” Poland said, defending the returns. “The hype made it look bad.”

The fact is that “Kick-Ass” isn’t your typical comic book movie. It doesn’t have the built-in audience of an “Iron Man” or “Batman” movie, nor does it have a boldfaced name in the lead role or as its director. Rather, the movie is a “subversive, ultra-violent comedy masquerading as a superhero movie,” as Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, put it.

“Even Quentin Tarantino had to build an audience, as ‘Reservoir Dogs’ was certainly not embraced upon release, grossing just $5 million, although it received high critical praise and had a rabid following,” Bock said. “Yet, it was the start of a mini-revolution in film, one that had found a new auteur. It takes time to build a new genre of film, but now that Tarantino has a ‘brand,’ his ultra-violent films (‘Pulp Fiction,’ ‘Kill Bill’) are considered socially acceptable entertainment.”

In this way, “Kick-Ass” could be a slow-building success. As positive word-of-mouth spreads, the film will look to maintain strong sales during its sophomore week and beyond. And talk of a flawed marketing campaign — one that focused more on the fanboy than the mainstream audience — may fall by the wayside. “This film has cult classic written all over it, but it’s too good to be a typical cult film, and eventually it will expand its audience,” Bock said. “It just might have to wait for DVD to do so.”

Did you see “Kick-Ass”? Do you think positive reviews will get more people to the box office in future weeks? Let us know in the comments!

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