Charles Gant 

John Carter sparkles in the Sunday sun as Marigold wilts at the UK box office

Charles Gant: Andrew Stanton's sci-fi blockbuster takes advantage of the UK's weekend sunshine to edge past The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – but grey skies and the grey pound could soon bounce back
  
  

The winner

Despite suffering bad buzz over budget overruns, an epic production process and a name change, Disney was able to trumpet a UK No 1 opening for its sci-fi blockbuster John Carter, with a gross of just under £2m. That's probably not the number Disney envisioned 26 months ago when shooting started on this pricey Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation with Pixar's Andrew Stanton at the helm, but it could have been worse. John Carter lost the box-office war to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on Friday, and was still behind after Saturday, but was a convincing winner on Sunday. John Carter's opening number compares with £2.47m for Green Lantern last June – viewed as a flop that stopped a potential franchise in its tracks. Cowboys and Aliens, also considered a flop, debuted with £1.78m last August.

The sun factor

John Carter's victory over Marigold Hotel on Sunday is the factor that won it the weekend overall. Disney might argue that the revenue curve confirms that its film is proving a word-of-mouth hit with audiences, with Sunday takings holding up better than competitors. A different perspective would put the emphasis on Sunday's afternoon sunshine – which, it could also be argued, disproportionately impacted Marigold Hotel.

John Madden's film has traditionally performed well on Sunday and in matinees, thanks to its older skewing demographic. While families might have stuck with plans for a cinema visit to see John Carter on Sunday, Marigold's audience would have been more apt to delay – after all, it had already waited two weeks, so what's the hurry? Such a view is supported by figures showing that while Marigold's Friday takings were only 12% down on the same day the previous week, and Saturday 20% down on the previous Saturday, the Sunday-to-Sunday drop was 42%. Distributor 20th Century Fox will be looking for a bounce-back when grey skies return, and in any case Marigold has traditionally performed well midweek. John Carter, with its family skew, faces a tougher challenge on weekdays.

The Woman in Black also fell sharply on Sunday, but that couldn't stop the gothic horror rising to £19.49m in total, overtaking War Horse to become the biggest release of 2012. One film less affected by the Sunday sun was Project X, which suffered the lowest overall decline of any film in the top 10: 26%. Word of mouth among its target audience of older teens and twentysomethings has evidently proved kinder than the responses of many professional critics.

The losers

Even allowing for the weather, box office was pretty dismal for a pair of new releases at the weekend. Period, literary-themed serial-killer flick The Raven landed with a thud at number 8, with £299,000 from 300 sites. There isn't an abundance of apt comparisons, but From Hell debuted with £892,000 on fewer screens back in 2002. That film benefited from a bigger star, Johnny Depp, as opposed to The Raven's John Cusack, and it's hard to imagine Cusack was first choice. Backers Relativity would surely have fared better with Depp, Russell Crowe, Robert Downey Jr or Hugh Jackman.

Opening one place below The Raven is Bel Ami, with a similarly lacklustre £296,000 from 261 screens, including modest previews of £6,000. Based on a Guy de Maupassant novel, the 1890 Paris-set tale depended on star Robert Pattinson as its major selling point. Outside the Twilight franchise, Pattinson helped Remember Me score a £987,000 opening in April 2010, and Water for Elephants a £1.27m debut in May last year, including £309,000 in previews. But Bel Ami is the kind of upscale literary-based fare that also needed critical support to connect with audiences, which, on balance, was not forthcoming. Rotten Tomatoes rates the reviews as 45% Fresh (positive).

The British clearout

A cluster of British films of variable quality got shoved on to the market at the weekend, ranging from arthouse (Trishna) to action (Cleanskin), romcom (The Decoy Bride), gangster (Hard Boiled Sweets), crime (Payback Season) and documentary (A Man's Story). None exactly covered themselves with glory. Michael Winterbottom's Trishna was best of the lot, with £66,000 from 44 screens. Cleanskin, starring Sean Bean, was a wipeout, with £27,000 from 102 sites, although there may be an ancillary upside for backers Warners with a release at this breadth. Payback Season did a bit better, but the numbers suggest that Adam Deacon's fans, who voted for him recently to win the Rising Star award at the Baftas, and embraced comedy Anuvahood last year, were less keen to see him as a Premier League football star menaced by past associates. Both Decoy Bride and Hard Boiled Sweets were basically set-ups for swiftly following DVD release.

The future

Despite the weak openings and the spring sunshine, takings overall are only 4% down on the equivalent weekend from 2011, which likewise suffered from uninspiring new products: Hall Pass, Fair Game and Battle: Los Angeles. The coming weekend sees another balanced offering, with high-concept, low-budget horror The Devil Inside (a US box-office smash, on opening weekend at least), action comedy 21 Jump Street, heist thriller Contraband and family drama We Bought a Zoo.

Top 10 films

1. John Carter, £1,960,414 from 456 sites (New)

2. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, £1,787,352 from 499 sites. Total: £10,855,596

3. The Woman in Black, £1,131,402 from 435 sites. Total: £19,485,541

4. This Means War, £1,017,075 from 439 sites . Total: £3,591,896

5. Safe House, £774,745 from 382 sites. Total: £6,131,580

6. The Muppets, £667,231 from 485 sites. Total: £15,297,128

7. Project X, £412,883 from 286 sites. Total: £1,486,494

8. The Raven, £299,254 from 300 sites (New)

9. Bel Ami, £296,341 from 261 sites (New)

10. The Artist, £211,427 from 227 sites. Total: £9,028,092

Other openers

Kahaani, 32 sites, £69,210

Trishna, 44 sites, £63,229 (+ £2,666 previews)

Payback Season, 69 sites, £47,965 (+ £307 previews)

Cleanskin, 102 sites, £27,346

Stella Days, 22 sites £17,610 (+ £542 previews) (Ireland only)

7 Welcome to London, 17 sites, £11,140 (+ £302 previews)

Sen Kimsin, 2 sites, £7,977

A Man's Story, 3 sites, £4,826

Ordet, 2 sites, £4,816

The Decoy Bride, 4 sites, £4,107 (+ £1,186 previews)

Hard Boiled Sweets, 2 sites, £2,702