Manhattan Weekend Box Office: The Return of Clark Gable (but Not Clark Gable-Like Receipts)

There’s a simple explanation for why George Clooney’s Leatherheads (no. 3) performed well below expectations this weekend: it just wasn’t that good of a movie. Were 21 (no. 1) or horror flick The Ruins (no. 2)—both outgrossed Leatherheads here in the city, with 21 managing to more than double Leatherheads’ receipts—that much better? No, at least not according to the critics, who panned each film in equal measure. But when a movie like Leatherheads caters directly to an older audience—one that has actually heard of Preston Sturges and one that presumably relies on reviews in choosing how to spend their anemic Social Security check—it’s much harder to counter what’s written in the papers or on Web sites. The truth, however, is that Leatherheads probably isn’t that bad of a movie; it’s just that its prospective patrons have higher standards.

And perhaps this is why George Clooney, as beloved as he is—and his costars Renée Zellweger and John Krasinski, as beloved as they are—couldn’t put butts into the seats, averaging a paltry $14,452 on nine screens. The problem is that George Clooney can’t be the Clark Gable of 2008, when he’s busy trying to be the Clark Gable of 1934 and It Happened One Night—at least not when his material is this subpar. (The same goes for Amy Adams in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, another in this screwball comedy trendlet. The Times‘ Stephen Holden compared Ms. Adams’ charisma to that of Jean Arthur. That’ll certainly make Ms. Adams feel good, but it won’t make Ms. Adams Jean Arthur-like money.) Ultimately, what’s fortunate for Mr. Clooney—and perhaps even a bit calculated—is that even his failures are endearing.

So, what will the studios take way from this? Stick to genre fare and play it safe. A lesson most of them have already digested and put into action (see 21 and The Ruins … but don’t actually see them).

Similarly, after scoring big with the family-friendly Horton Hears a Who! (no. 6), Fox has gone back to the kiddy well with Nim’s Island (no. 5), starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine). The movie did better than expectations, pulling in $13.3 million nationally (roughly the same as Leatherheads, but reportedly made for two-thirds of the Clooney budget). In Manhattan, however, it averaged a sickly $8,230 and was outgrossed by The Bank Job (no. 4), now in its fifth week of a very strong run.

In limited release, Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights (no. 9) beat out Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light, the Rolling Stones music documentary, both on three screens. It’s the battle of the bleh!

List of theaters: Paris, Zeigfeld, Oprheum, East 85th St., 86th St. East, 84th St., Lincoln Plaza, 62nd and Broadway, Lincoln Square, Magic Johnson, 72nd St East, Cinemas 1, 2 &3rd Ave, 64th and 2nd , Imaginasian, Manhattan Twin, First and 62nd St., Angelika Film Center, Quad, IFC Center, Film Forum, Village East, Village Seven, Cinema Village, Union Square, Essex, Battery Park 11, Sunshine, 34th Street, Empire, E-Walk, Chelsea, 19th Street East, and Kips Bay.

Manhattan Weekend Box Office: How moviegoers in the multiplexes of middle America choose to spend their ten-spot is probably a big deal in Hollywood. But here in Manhattan, the hottest movies aren’t always the ones making the big bucks nationwide. Using Nielsen numbers for Manhattan theaters alone and comparing them to the performance of the national weekend box office can tell you a lot about our Blue State sensibilities. Or nothing at all! Each Monday afternoon, we will bring you the results.

Manhattan Weekend Box Office: The Return of Clark Gable (but Not Clark Gable-Like Receipts)