It was a concern from the minute the arms race to bring out the two movies began: does an American filmgoing audience want to see two films about terrorists taking over the White House?
This past weekend, we learned the answer: not especially.
Despite an extensive marketing campaign, Roland Emmerich's "White House Down" took in just $24.9 million this weekend, according to the official figure released Monday afternoon -- a number that put the Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx picture in fourth place for the weekend and behind openings earlier in the year of far more modestly budgeted, less starry affairs such as “42” and “Mama.”
Perhaps the most important comparison: The opening figure was about 20% lower than the $30.4 million picked up in the first weekend by FilmDistrict's Gerard Butler-starring "Olympus Has Fallen," that other White House movie with a lower budget and less marketing support that came out almost exactly three months ago.
Even with strong word of mouth, the final tally for "White House" is not likely to exceed $75 million in the U.S. (international, where Emmerich is strong, could be a saving grace) and is all but guaranteed to fall short of the $98 million Antonie Fuqua's "Olympus" took in domestically. For a $125-million-plus picture, that's a disappointment.
The question is: How much did "Olympus" play a role in its fate?
Certainly it wasn't the only factor. The male-oriented "White House" experienced several challenges -- the dads who took their kids to "Monsters University," the men who went to see the action-tinged "The Heat." (About one-third of the filmgoers who bought tickets to the Bullock-McCarthy movie this weekend were male, according to studio Fox.) And Tatum — who during casting must have seemed like the perfect double threat because of his popularity with women -- has generally opened action movies only as part of ensembles (e.g, "G.I. Joe"), not as an anchor.
Still, one can't discount "Olympus" and its proximity to the "White House" release. The American moviegoing public forgets things quickly, but not that quickly. And despite Sony's best efforts to distinguish "White House" from “Olympus” by selling it as a buddy comedy, it's a tough camouflage. "White House" is an action-adventure about terrorists taking over the White House, and one man's crusade to protect it -- just like "Olympus."
Historically, coming out second in these similar-premise situations isn't necessarily a death sentence -- “Armageddon” fared nicely after “Deep Impact” — but more often than not, whether it's "Infamous" or "Alexander," the latter film sputters. Besides, all of those examples were a lifetime ago in entertainment years, in a time when consumers had a lot fewer choices outside the theater. (The overall size-of-the-pie issue is always intriguing too; it would be interesting to learn how many who bought tickets this weekend also went to see "Olympus.")
In retrospect, there are questions one can ask about the release strategy -- should Sony, for example, have left the film in November, where it was originally scheduled, instead of moving it up? The film might have had a little more cultural distance form "Olympus," at least. Still, the next time two action movies with the same premise come out in close succession, the second may be better off trying to come out first, or not at all.
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