What constitutes a hit at the box office these days is open to debate.  Media perceptions of what is actually profitable and what is not are often way off base.  Therefore, it's not surprising that many will be labeling "The Runaways," the highly-hyped rock biopic starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, as a dud after it's limited debut.  While the jury is technically still out on this one, the media may be right this time around.

Distributor Apparition made a calculated decision to open the Sundance Film Festival selection in only 244 theaters this past weekend and the rock biopic grossed a fair $803,000 for a per screen average of $3,291.  That's below a number of high profile expansions or openings around the same theater count over the past few months. The problem is that it's incredibly rare for a film's per screen to increase as it expands.  Case in point, the recent release of "The Ghost Writer." 

Roman Polanski's acclaimed theater opened in very limited release in February and by it's fourth weekend was up to a similar 224 theaters for a per screen of $5,469.  With a jump of 595 theaters to a wider 819 count "Writer" had it's biggest weekend gross to date -- $2.1 million -- but it's per screen dropped (as expected) to $2,564.  The lower your per screen, the lower your life expectancy in theaters as you can only expand to so many screens (1,500 is considered nationwide).  Movies such as "The Blind Side," "Paranormal Activity" and "Avatar" are the extremely rare exceptions of word of mouth driving box office to flat drops or even increases weekend to weekend.  "Runaways" would have to be a sensation for that to occur and that seems doubtful at this point.

"Runaways" also has the disadvantage of being an R-rated girl-power flick.  Not a good fit with Stewart's core fanbase, a chunk of whom are under 18 and have difficulty getting buying a ticket from their local multiplex..  The budget for the rock saga may have only been $10 million, but based on this opening it will be lucky to hit that figure or a bit more when all is said and done.  Based on commercial potential, many in the industry would have seen "Runaways" as a stronger player, especially based on the strong reviews for the Stewart and Fanning's performances.  Instead, it's another picture featuring "Twilight" "superstars" Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner or Stewart that has come up limp with audiences. 

Just last week, Robert Pattinson's "Remember Me," disappointed with only $8 million on over 2,000 screens.  After two weekends, "Remember" is now at $13 million dropping 60% from its first to second frame (typical drops are 45-50%).  Summit Entertainment will remind the press and "Twilight" fans the movie only cost $16 million, but the studio spent well past that in marketing the drama.  If it breaks even in DVD it will be of sweet relief to the studio. 

Taking into account the lackluster limited openings of Pattinson's "Little Ashes" and Stewart's "Yellow Handkerchief," it's clear a pattern is developing here.  The "Twilight" trio may sell magazine covers and boost award show ratings, but outside of their vampire franchise they don't sell tickets.  At least, not yet.  Now, for someone as artistically inclined as Stewart that might not matter much, but any of the executives at Universal and Hasbro who signed the $7.5 million paycheck for Taylor Lautner to star in "Stretch Armstrong" will be sweating bullets unless the potential toy franchise becomes a hit.

As for "The Runaways," Apparition plans on going nationwide in April.  The question is whether enough moviegoers will still want to see it by then.