'Super 8': Box-Office Sleeper Of The Summer?

After earning $37 million and debuting at #1, J.J. Abrams' movie is looking like a success story so far.

As well as anyone, J.J. Abrams knew the challenges facing "Super 8" this summer. It's not a sequel or based on an existing property; it doesn't feature any major stars; its central conceit had to remain largely mysterious, and its release date plopped the flick in a crowded field of superheroes, robots and wizards.

"We're a complete anomaly in a summer of huge films," the director told the Los Angeles Times, "and we don't want to be so silent or coy that people don't care or don't hear about it."

As the film's June 10 release date neared, it seemed people might not have heard about "Super 8," nor cared to check it out if they had: Box-office tracking was said to be weak, with a possible opening weekend as low as $25 million. But as reviews continued to be strong, and Paramount staged over 300 Twitter-sponsored screenings at midnight on the Thursday before release, the tide seemed to be turning.

And it did. "Super 8" grossed $35.5 million domestically. That put the alien-invasion film roughly in line with one alien invasion film based on an original idea and starring lesser-known talent (2009's "District 9") but slightly below another (2008's "Cloverfield"). Yet what separates "Super 8" from these other movies is the talent behind the camera: Abrams in the director's chair and Steven Spielberg taking on a producer role for a film that is an undeniable homage to films like "E.T." With those names leading the charge, expectations were high as soon as the project was announced in May 2010. And now opinions among industry experts seem to be split. Is $37 million for "Super 8" a success or a disappointment — or somewhere in between?

" 'Super 8' arrived with neither a whimper nor a bang," explained Brandon Gray of Box Office Mojo. "[E]ven if 'Super 8' beat last-minute expectations, that doesn't necessarily make it a success. The most important expectations for any movie are the ones that are set when a movie is green-lighted as well as the ones that guide a marketing campaign."

Others, however, emphasize that making any sort of box-office declaration would be premature at this point. "For some films, the opening weekend is just the beginning of the story," said Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com. "This is one of them. It should hold up well in the weeks to come, and that will make up for the fact that its opening wasn't exactly earth shattering."

The fact is, even with marquee talent running the show, films often need A-list talent in front of the camera — and plopping down on Leno's couch — to goose box-office numbers. Contrino suspects that just one big name could have resulted in a $60 million opening for "Super 8." Yet it should be noted the film reportedly cost only $50 million — about one third the budget of a typical summer tentpole.

" 'Super 8' will turn a profit before most of the other films released this summer, and isn't that the epitome of success?" said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "Yet still it was the #1 film in a crowded marketplace. There is no other way to spin this: Every studio in town would love to have a 'Super 8' on their release calendar."

The question now is how the film will do heading into this weekend, when a new superhero flick, "Green Lantern," arrives. "Cloverfield," for instance, dropped a staggering 68 percent in its second weekend, despite opening in January. "District 9" held on for a more typical 51 percent drop in August. How will "Super 8" fair? Can it become the sleeper hit of the summer?

"It may have a difficult time going up against what looks like it will be the next 'Iron Man' in 'Green Lantern,'" Bock said. "But word of mouth should sustain 'Super 8' in the weeks to come, because in a world full of exploitation and in-your-face pop-up ads, audiences will no doubt be charmed by the fact that they're sitting in a darkened theater without knowing exactly what to expect."

Check out everything we've got on "Super 8."

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