Movies - Box Office postsThursday April 02, 2009
Slumdog Watch - II
I posted the first "Slumdog" watch on March 21, when, during the preceeding week, almost a month after the Oscars and more than four months after it premiered, the film fell off by less than 25 percent. "Amazing," I thought. "Maybe it actually has a chance to make another $20 million and reach the top 10 for 2008 —becoming the first best-pic nominee to do so since "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" in 2003."
And at that very point it died. The following week the film fell by over 40 percent and, with the release of the DVD on Tuesday, it's now off by over 50 percent.
It's currently $2 million behind 15th place and it'll struggle to make that.
Shame. So make it official. Five years in a row now.
Slumdog Watch - I
Earlier this week I postulated whether "Slumdog Millionaire" could enter the top 10 box-office hits of 2008. Here's a quick update:
Current position: 16th
B.O. total: $135.3 million
Last week's total: $6.9 million
Distance from 15th place ("Chronicles of Narnia"): $6.3 million
Distance from 10th place ("Horton Hears a Who"): $19.2 million
The good news is it's doing better than my model. Based on last weekend, I postulated a 26 percent dropoff but it did better on weekdays, comparatively, and, for the week, fell by only 24 percent.
The bad news is it lost another 500 theaters on Friday, and estimates have it dropping off 41 percent from the previous Friday.
Outlook? Not good.
Amazing. Since it was released in early November, there have only been five weeks when its weekly box office dropped. This is mostly the result of the way Fox Searchlight rolled it out: nonexistently (10 theaters), slowly (600+ around Christmas), wide after the Oscar noms (1,411), and nearly superwide after the best-picture victory (2,943). But even with this roll-out, the audience had to be there and it was.
This is a type of film we haven’t seen in a while. A word-of-mouth film. A film with legs.
Put it this way: Its opening weekend, according to box office mojo, was the 2,297th-best since 1980. It’s 10th weekend? Second-best. Only Titanic had a better 10th weekend. Only Titanic!
But the question, for me, remains: Does “Slumdog” have the legs to break into the top 10 for all 2008 releases?
As you know, if you read this blog (I’m rather obsessed with it), there have only been seven years in Oscar history in which not one of the best picture nominees cracked the annual top 10 box office: 1947, 1984... and the last five years in a row. But that’s assuming “Slumdog” won’t crack the top 10 for 2008 releases. But might it?
Let’s calculate. This weekend it fell off 26 percent from the previous. That ain’t bad, particularly since Fox Searchlight is slowly removing it from theaters. So let’s assume a 26-percent weekly dropoff for the rest of its run. What do we wind up with?
By June 11th, “Slumdog”’s weekly box office will be down to around 100K, while its total domestic box office will be up to around $153 million. This will place it 11th for the year, ahead of “Sex and the City” but $1.5 million behind “Horton Hears a Who” for 10th place.
So, give or take some percentage points, it could happen. If it did, it would be the first best picture nominee to crack the yearly top 10 since 2003. And even if it doesn’t? It simply confirms that word-of-mouth pictures, not to mention dramas set in foreign lands (and starring actual foreigners!), not to mention quality pictures, can still sell in America. If anyone in Hollywood is paying attention.
Why a Film's Budget is Irrelevant
Here’s the bigger question that Goldstein and that wise old Hollywood hand don’t address: Does anyone outside of L.A. care about a film’s profit potential?
Seriously. What’s the point of having box office numbers in most newspapers on Monday morning? Why does a CBS news anchor, giving a news brief during the Sunday night broadcast, always tell us the weekend’s box office champ and how much it “raked in”?
What does box office represent?
It represents popularity. The reason the figure is in most newspapers, the reason CBS news cares about it, is that box office gives us some indication of which movie, and thus what kind of story, our neighbors (near and far-flung) care most about. This weekend.
So does a film’s budget have anything to do with what box office represents? No.
In fact, if you were going to add other figures besides a film’s gross numbers to establish a film’s popularity, here’s what you would add before a film’s budget:
1. Its theater countThis last one is particularly relevant. In the old days, a film’s box office represented not only popularity but — because films didn’t advertise beyond trailers — some measure of its quality. Back then, pictures rose and fell on word-of-mouth. Now it’s marketing blitz, saturation, screens. Get into town, rake it in, vamoose before they know what hit them. Harold Hill stuff.
2. Its screen count
3. Its per-theater average
4. Its per-screen average
5. Its marketing budget
How much a picture cost isn’t relevant. But how much they spent to get our asses into the seats — versus how much it made — is. Hell, I’d love to see a ratio on this. Something like: box office minus marketing budget divided by screen count. But good luck getting the marketing budget from these guys.
I understand why Goldstein, and that old Hollywood hand, care about a film’s profitability. They’re industry people. The rest of us just want to know if the thing's any damn good.
Movie Attendance Up Thanks to...WTF?
In today’s Times, they have a front-page, below-the-fold piece on how the movie industry is doing well in tough times. And it is. So far this year, ticket sales — not just box office, which is inflationary and thus easy to mask — but tickets sales are up 17.5 percent. Then Cieply and Barnes give us other, interesting stats. Ticket sales also increased by double digits in 1982, a time of unemployment and inflation (and “E.T.”), and in 1989, a time —although they don’t mention it — of rising inflation (and Michael Keaton’s “Batman”).
I even like their insider quote for a change. Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment and society (who knew?), says, of this year’s attendance jump, “It’s not rocket science. People want to forget their troubles, and they want to be with other people.”
All well and good. Then more than halfway through the piece, Barnes and Cieply forget that it’s not rocket science. They give us this graf:
The film industry appears to have had a hand in its recent good luck. Over the last year or two, studios have released movies that are happier, scarier or just less depressing than what came before. After poor results for a spate of serious dramas built around the Middle East (“The Kingdom,” “Lions for Lambs,” “Rendition”), Hollywood got back to comedies like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” a review-proof lark about an overstuffed security guard.
What-the-effin’ eff, mother-effer!?!
OK, the big problems with this graf:
- Those serious dramas were released in the fall of 2007. “Paul Blart” was released in January 2009. Why compare these two items? Wouldn’t it make more sense to compare “Paul Blart” with what the studios released in January ’08 or ’07? Why go back to the fall of ’07 and those poor, over-commented-upon Middle East releases?
- The phrase “got back to.” Hollywood “got back to” comedies like “Paul Blart”? Sheeeeeeeyit. Hollywood never left comedies like “Paul Blart.” These things have always been around, particularly in the early months of the year. “Blart” is certainly doing better business than most ($123 million and counting) but I’d argue it doesn’t have much to do with “Paul Blart.” I’d argue it has to do with these tough economic times. In fact, isn't that what the whole article is about?
But of course the film industry wants to take credit, at least partial credit, for this uptake in attendance, and Cieply and Barnes are obliging them with this fatuous graf that compares apples and orangutans.
Dudes: Cover the industry. Don’t cover for the industry.
I’m also amused that we get the actual movie attendance numbers in a year when actual movie attendance is up. We don’t hear a whisper of it during years (i.e., most of the time) when it’s down. More good reporting.