Movies - Box Office postsMonday April 06, 2009
Betting Against Pixar
Do I have the energy on this Monday, when dozens are dead from an earthquake in Italy, to get worked up over the state of the movie world? Not even the movie world, really, but the business side of the movie world? Yeah, those guys.
First New York Times writer Brooks Barnes pats Universal Studios on the back for both “Fast & Furious,” which made $72 million over the weekend, and for reviving the “Hellboy” franchise last summer, which, Barnes writes, the studio turned “into a hit after Sony Pictures Entertainment passed on making a sequel.” Apparently Barnes forgot the role Guillermo del Toro played. At the same time, his use of the term “hit” may be a slight exaggeration. Yes, the film made $34 million its opening weekend. Then it dropped off 70 percent and struggled to make $75 million. Nothing to sneeze at, but, in Hollywood terms, is that a “hit”? For a superhero film?
Richard Greenfield wouldn’t think so. In the Business section of the paper, Barnes (back again) writes how Greenfield’s firm, Pali Research, recently downgraded Disney shares because of — get this — a poor outlook for the next Pixar movie.
Whoa. So is the Pixar movie, “Up,” screening poorly? No. It’s screening extremely well.
Pali has a problem with the lead, an old man voiced by Ed Asner: “‘We doubt younger boys will be that excited by the main character,’ Greenfield wrote, adding a complaint about the lack of a female lead.”
Others pile on. “'The worries keep coming despite Pixar’s track record, because each film it delivers seems to be less commercial than the last,' said Doug Creutz of Cowen and Company."
Barnes then looks at said commerciality of Pixar’s films and agrees. Compared with the $405 million “Finding Nemo” made in 2003, he writes:
Pixar’s last two films, “Wall-E” and “Ratatouille,” have been the studio’s two worst performers, delivering sales of $224 million and $216 million respectively, according to Box Office Mojo, a tracking service.
Well, yes and no. Actually, no and no.
According to box office mojo, a tracking service, “Nemo” made $339 million domestically. The $405 million figure? Apparently that’s in all of North America. So Barnes isn’t even comparing similar box office totals.
Still, if you look at unadjusted domestic box office, yes, it appears Pixar, while still doing great business, isn't doing as well as it used to:
|4.||Toy Story 2||$245M||1999|
|9.||A Bug's Life||$162M||1998|
The last two Pixar films are stuck there at sixth and seventh, and the only reason they’re not at the bottom is because we’re not adjusting for inflation.
But that’s domestically. Other countries see films, too, right? So what does the worldwide gross of Pixar films look like? Here:
|6.||Toy Story 2||$485M||1999|
|8.||A Bug's Life||$363M||1998|
Now Pixar’s two most recent entries rank third and fourth. Hardly "each less commercial than the last."
Forget for a moment that a financial services firm thinks it’s in a situation to basically pass notes to the most successful movie studio of the past 10 years. Even within the narrow parameters in which these guys are talking — the business side of things — they don’t know what they’re talking about. How awful is that?
On the plus side, these guys did make me excited to see "Up." Opening weekend.
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.