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Box Office Winners and Losers: Stringer Bell Knows the Secret to Success

At last, after weeks of the usual suspects loitering listlessly around the box office, Hollywood finally gave us something new to talk about.

At last, after weeks of the usual suspects loitering listlessly around the box office, Hollywood finally gave us something new to talk about. True, this weekend’s movies might not have been the freshest cuts of celluloid, but new is new, and at this point anything’s better than inspirational pseudo-Elvis twins. While we’re not exactly out of the ICU yet, the moribund multiplex at least showed some signs of life with the genre-loving No Good Deed, God-fearing Dolphin Tale 2, and The Drop, which featured James Gandolfini’s last performance. And given our rapidly warming globe, it wasn’t a bad weekend to spend in an air-conditioned theater with a Cherry Coke big enough to give ex-Mayor Bloomberg waking nightmares.

Not that many of us did. The overall domestic box office still stayed down a grisly 20 percent compared with last year, giving pundits further license to quip that TV killed the cinema star. That might not be totally true (yet), but the moviegoing malaise even threatened to creep into the all-important Toronto International Film Festival, with returning bloggers kvetching that no clear-cut Best Picture favorites emerged there in the Oscar race. (Of course, that’s good news for Boyhood fans who feared Richard Linklater’s indie opus would get drowned out by a flood of Weinstein-backed awards bait.) But before we get ahead of ourselves preaching those end-times sermons for the movie business as a whole, let us first consult the unpopped grains in our popcorn bucket to divine the film deities’ judgment on this weekend at the box office.

Winner: Idris Elba

Those smoldering eyes, that brooding jaw, the reassuring calm of his seductive baritone: Idris Elba is irresistible, and nothing can keep us away — not the harsh reviews of No Good Deed, not a repeatedly delayed release date, not even the studio canceling the preview screenings and inviting public scorn. Despite a plot twist that one critic likened to an episode of General Hospital, the charms of a competent Cape Fear riff coupled with Elba prevailed to reap a surprising $24.5 million at the domestic box office — meaning that Deed should make a tidy profit off its $13.5 million budget. It’s a big enough win that, hopefully, Hollywood will stop treating poor Oscar/Emmy-nominated Taraji Henson like she’s on the D-list. At the very least, she shouldn’t have to worry about restaurant reservations for a while. Frankly, Hollywood as a whole could take a lesson from Stringer Bell’s playbook. It’s about product.

Loser: Baby Dolphins

What does a faith-based dolphin movie have to do to get some respect around here? Dolphin Tale 2 had a playing field clear of any real, family-friendly competition; it got pretty decent reviews for an inspirational sea-life-based sequel; and it even earned an A CinemaScore from audiences. For God’s sake, they put a baby dolphin in the movie! Yes, you heard me right: a baby dolphin. Alas, Winter the Dolphin couldn’t quite live up to analysts’ high expectations. At $16.5 million this weekend, Dolphin Tale Deux didn’t hit the $20 million opening many hoped for, and it couldn’t match the $19.1 opening of the original. On a $36 million budget, it’s not a total belly flop in the tidal pool, but still. Baby dolphin. You bastards. Why don’t you go take a two-week vacation to Taiji while you’re at it.

Winner: Mythical Brooklyn

Hollywood even coughed up a prestige-y type “quality” movie this weekend — The Drop, from Michaël Roskam, Belgian director of the Oscar-nominated Bullhead. In other words, some of Europe’s finest actors (i.e., Matthias Schoenaerts, Noomi Rapace, and Tom Hardy) got to test-drive their grittiest New York accents against none other than the late, great James Gandolfini in full-on Soprano Mode. With a scarcity of microbreweries and skinny-jeaned vegans in the plot, the mean streets in Roskam’s film feel more like a hard-boiled fairy tale than an accurate reflection of contemporary Brooklyn, but screenwriter Dennis Lehane gets a pass because, well, he’s Dennis Lehane. You think you’re better than Dennis Lehane? You’re not better than Dennis Lehane. Despite a nonexistent marketing effort, The Drop pulled in $4.2 million on a little more than 800 screens. With a $10 million price tag, that means a likely bundle of ill-gotten gains for Fox Searchlight. How do you like them apples?

Loser: The Year 2014

Despite the success among the new kids, the weekend’s 20 percent drop means the box office drought ain’t over yet. In fact, as of this weekend the domestic box office is still off 5.7 percent from 2013 ($7.43 billion versus $7.89 billion). As nice as No Good Deed’s $24.5 million is, it pales next to Insidious 2’s $40 million opening a year ago. It’s getting to the point that Wall Street analysts doubt that mega-franchises The Hunger Games and The Hobbit can pull the box office out of its slump by year’s end. So now they’re flinging around doomsday phrases like “disaster” and, worse, “U.S. consumer habits are changing” — words that haven’t been uttered since the music industry blew off iPods as a fad.

Retiring Winner: Guardians of the Galaxy

At least Guardians crossed the $300 million domestic mark, as well as $600 million worldwide. But seriously, Star-Lord, we get it: You’re awesome. You’ve officially passed The Sixth Sense as the biggest August movie ever in the U.S. But we’ve run out of talking raccoon jokes, so it’s time to retire the jersey: No more winning for you, Guardians. You had your time; let the other kids play. Seriously, they need to play.

Winner: Serious Bill Hader

Ever met Bill Hader in person? Do you want to? Well, keep an eye out as The Skeleton Twins expands across the country over the next few weeks. He and Kristen Wiig have been popping up all over the place, trying to get people out to their Sundance-darling non-rom-com. And it’s working: The Skeleton Twins grossed about $411,000 in 15 theaters this weekend, giving it a not too shabby $27,383-per-theater average. Apparently, the indie drama about estranged siblings who manage to sync up their failed-suicide attempts is actually quite good, too. Guess we can’t make fun of Hader for all those T-Mobile ads anymore.

This Slightly Less Sad Weekend’s Top 5

  1. No Good Deed (Sony/Screem Gems), $24.5 million
  2. Dolphin Tale 2 (Warner Bros./Alcon), $16.6 million
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney/Marvel), $8 million; $305.9 million domestic total
  4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount), $4.8 million; $181 million domestic total
  5. Let’s Be Cops (20th Century Fox), $4.3 million; $73 million domestic total