erik lundegaard

Movies - Box Office posts

Tuesday June 16, 2009

Imagine Better

Here’s a question from last month’s box office quiz: Which film, among all 52 films that opened superwide (in 3,000 or more theaters) in 2008, grossed the least? The answer? Eddie Murphy’s (and Fox's) “Meet Dave,” which made only $11 million domestically.

This past weekend, Paramount distributed Murphy’s next film, “Imagine That,” into 3,000+ theaters again, with similar results. It finished sixth for the week, making $5.5 million, or $1,830 per theater. That’s pretty awful. Box office mojo uses the term “super-saturated” rather than “superwide,” and “Imagine That” has the fourth-worst opening weekend ever among super-saturated films—behind only “Hoot” (New Line), “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising” (Fox) and “Meet Dave” (Fox).

Murphy’s pattern feels familiar. The comedian who confronts the absurdities of society in blisteringly stand-up in his early days becomes, in his latter days, the actor who comforts and condones those same absurdities in limp, family-friendly comedies. That’s why I’m not interested in his films. But why is Hollywood still interested? Particularly if he keeps opening movies this way?

I guess they’re hoping for a “Norbit.” Let me repeat that. I guess they’re hoping for a “Norbit.” A film that didn’t cost much and made nearly $100 million.

Maybe they’re hoping for a “Doctor Dolittle,” which grossed nearly $300 million worldwide in 1998. They’re surely not holding out for a “Beverly Hills Cop,” which grossed $234 million domestically way back in 1984—the highest-grossing film of that year. Although maybe they are. “Beverly Hills Cop IV” is supposedly in development. As is “Fantasy Island.” As is “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” Both with Murphy attached.

Here’s a thought for the studios. Murphy might not be for summer anymore. Or he might not be for a superwide opening anymore. Or he might not be for movies anymore.

To funnier times.
Posted at 09:15 AM on Jun 16, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office
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Tuesday June 09, 2009

A Monday Hangover

Of the blogs reporting on Hollywood, the one I tend to go to first is Patrick Goldstein’s “Big Picture” blog. Many of the others are slightly myopic—tomorrow is today, and yesterday doesn’t exist—and a little frantic; Goldstein is measured in comparison. Sometimes too measured. His recent explication of the “Drag Me to Hell” poster made even me seem worldly. Could they be using...SEX...to sell this film? My goodness. Such a thought.

But he had a very good recent post on “The Hangover” killing and “Land of the Lost” dying:
We'll have more to say about this later, but one thing once again seems obvious: If you have a really good movie with a strong concept and no movie stars going up against a really bad movie with a weak concept and a big movie star -- the good movie wins every time. The public can no longer be hypnotized into seeing a bad movie just by the presence of a A-list star.
Hell, I’d take out the star stuff, it only confuses. If you have a good movie with a good concept vs. a bad movie with a weak concept, the good movie wins.

As for the specifics last weekend? You have Will Ferrell starring in a non-Will Ferrell movie that’s supposed to be bad vs. a bunch of dudes starring in a Will Ferrell-like movie that’s supposed to be really good. Which do you go see?

Goldstein also has this interesting graf about the marketing chief for Warner Bros. (and thus "Hangover"), Sue Kroll:
Kroll knew she hit pay dirt when she went to the hair salon on Saturday. She listened with delight as a pair of women relived the uproarious time they'd had seeing the film with friends the night before. "One of them said, 'I loved that guy who was missing a tooth -- he reminded me of my ex-boyfriend.' " Kroll recalled. "And then she said, 'Everyone loves that movie. My mother's going to see it now too.' "

That is what is called major league buzz -- when even grandmothers are going to see a movie whose target audience is 19-year-old boys.

It seems to be panning out. On Monday, “Hangover”’s box office fell off by only 41.9%. Most films, from Sunday to Monday, drop off in the 60s. In fact, so far this year, for a non-holiday weekend, "Hangover"'s is the second-smallest Monday dropoff for any weekend box office champion—after “Taken”’s 39% at the end of January.

Some may attribute this to school getting out and kids running amuck (and to the theater) but that 41.9% trumps the Monday fall-off for any weekend box office champ in June 2008, too.

Posted at 06:07 PM on Jun 09, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office
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Monday June 01, 2009

What's Brooks Barnes Got Against Pixar?

I imagine this isn’t a great morning to be Richard Greenfield. He’s the market analyst at Pali Research who earlier this year downgraded Disney stock because he felt Pixar’s latest movie, “Up,” had a poor outlook. Brooks Barnes quoted him in the New York Times last April:

“We doubt younger boys will be that excited by the main character,” he wrote, adding a complaint about the lack of a female lead.

I wrote about this back then—slamming not only Greenfield but Barnes and the Times for getting their facts wrong by ignoring international markets—but after two months Greenfield’s quote looks even daffier.

It contains two complaints.

The first is about Carl, the lead character in “Up,” an old man in a medium designed for kids. He’s a legitimate market concern. That’s Greenfield’s territory.

The second complaint is about the lack of a female lead, which is a PC rather than a market concern. In fact, it’s the opposite of a market concern. Most movies don’t have female leads because most market analysts feel there’s no audience to support them.

Worse, “Up” has a prominent female character: Ellie, who’s the engine for the entire story. It’s such an odd comment from a market analyst. Maybe that’s why Barnes presented it without quotes.

Greenfield, I’m sure, is waiting to see how “Up” does in its second weekend, as well as internationally, before he issues his mea culpa—if in fact market analysts issue mea culpas. I doubt they do. Otherwise we’d be drowning in them. But for the record, in its opening weekend, “Up” made over $68 million, which is the second-best opening for a Pixar film, after “The Incredibles.”

Barnes’ mea culpa, such as it is, comes in his usual post-weekend box-office article in today’s Times, in which he uses the word “marketing” six times, including in the first graf:

Rapturous reviews and a colossal marketing campaign sent “Up” into the box office stratosphere over the weekend.

And then this in the fifth graf:

Strong opening weekends can be bought with big marketing campaigns, of course, so the coming weeks for “Up” and its performance overseas — where recent Pixar titles have made the bulk of their revenue — will be important in the evaluation of the film’s financial success.

Both of his statements are true—particularly the fact that strong opening weekends can be bought—but why mention all of this, and so stridently (six times), in connection with “Up”?

Was “Up”’s campaign particularly intensive? We don’t know. Barnes has no figures, just the say-so of other studios, along with some anecdotal information.

So is this the usual m.o. for Barnes? Does he often talk up the marketing campaigns of successful weekend films? Yes and no. Mostly no. In his post-“Star Trek” article, he attributed its success, in part, to a “megawatt marketing campaign”— but only once, and in the second graf. Meanwhile, he makes no mention of marketing for the opening-weekend success of such films as “Hannah Montana”, “Fast and Furious” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” earlier this year.

Does this mean those films didn’t rely on marketing to succeed? Or the relied less on marketing than "Up"? No one knows. Because no one has the figures.

Barnes’ “Up” piece, in other words, feels a little like ass-covering. He focuses on marketing to explain why a film he thought wouldn’t do well did.

Me, I would love it if every Monday Barnes gave us the marketing budgets for, say, the top five films. To compare and contrast. That would be fascinating reading. But they're not available and so all he has is adjectives (“megawatt”; “colossal”) and a seemingly scattershot approach to writing about marketing.

Here’s something, for example, Barnes doesn’t mention as a reason for the success of “Up,” but which, if I were writing that piece, might be my lead: It’s a Pixar movie. And Pixar means something to millions of moviegoers around the world. It means quality.

Posted at 09:56 AM on Jun 01, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office, Pixar
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Wednesday May 20, 2009

-42.8%

Another indication that quality matters a little—even in Hollywood.

“Wolverine” opened in over 4,000 theaters (and who knows how many screens) and made $85 million its opening weekend. But the movie was bad. I know: “bad.” Subjective. How about “a mess”? How about only 37% of the fanboys at Rotten Tomatoes gave it a thumbs up, while only 15% of the top critics did the same? In a way, even 15% seems too much. Shame on you Kenneth Turan, who wrote the following nothing graf as part of his review:

As directed by Gavin Hood from a script by David Benioff and Skip Woods, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" answers all those questions and brings everyone up to speed with a brisk thoroughness. It's a solid, efficient comic book movie that is content to provide comic book satisfactions of the action and violence variety. If it doesn't rise to the heights of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" films, it doesn't stray into "Daredevil" territory either.

Yet despite being “solid” and “efficient” (and it’s neither), the following weekend “Wolverine”’s business fell off by 69%, which, as I’ve written, in unprecedented for a film that opened in more than 4,000 theaters. As of Monday, its b.o. total (domestic) was $152.4 million.

   vs. 

“Star Trek” opened a weekend later in fewer theaters, 3.849, and made less opening weekend, $75 million. But the movie was good. I know: “good.” Actually it deserves those quotes, since I don’t think the movie is all that. The best thing about it is the casting. Otherwise, the story and pacing are derivative of “Star Wars” and none of it really sticks. It’s too busy going to leave anything memorable. But the fanboys at Rotten Tomatoes drooled (95%), and critics did, too (91%), and word-of-mouth is mostly good, and so, its second weekend, it fell off by only 42.8%. As of Monday, its b.o. total (domestic) stood at $151.1 million. Once Tuesday’s numbers are in, it’ll pass the mutant for sure. “Star Trek” is still drawing over $4 million on weekdays, while “Wolverine” is down to around $1 million per day.

In other words, despite the advantage that “Wolverine” had over “Star Trek” in terms of time and theater total, “Star Trek” is already warping past it and will surely be the year’s first $200 million movie. On the strength, I would argue, of its quality.

A question for Trekkies/ers is whether this film, which is already the highest-grossing “Star Trek” film ever, can surpass the original, 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” in adjusted gross. To do so, it’ll have to make over $235 million. I’m not Spock, but I’d calculate the odds of that happening as pretty good.

Posted at 09:57 AM on May 20, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office
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Tuesday May 19, 2009

Why DVD Sales are Down 18%

On his “Big Picture” blog, Patrick Goldstein takes a look at DVD sales, which are currently down by 18 percent. It’s a post worth reading—particularly since he enlightens an area that the studios like to keep dark. One bit of news I found heartening: The sales of better DVDs (as judged by exit polls and critics, and exemplified, here, by “Iron Man”) do better than the sales of lamer DVDs (“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”). I.e., Quality matters. What I’ve been saying. What I’ll continue to say. Stay tuned.

As for why the sales of DVDs are down? Goldstein doesn’t know and he says the industry doesn’t know, either:

No one has any real answers about the DVD downturn either. Obviously the country's economic woes have played a role. The DVD business has long ago lost its novelty, so many consumers don't feel the need to stock up on as many new releases. Many consumers have turned to downloading and rentals, with Netflix in particular enjoying a burst of popularity -- a good thing for filmmakers, but not such a good thing for studios, who make a lower profit margin on rentals than sales.

You could also argue that we now live in a cultural moment where people don't want to own things as much as they want to experience them...
Here’s my guess.

A new format—the Blu-Ray DVD—has arrived, but it requires a lot of expensive extras: a Blu-Ray DVD player and, more importantly, an HDTV.

All of these new formats became available, or affordable, just before the fiscal crisis, and most people have yet to buy them. But they will buy them. They’re just putting them on hold.

That means they’re also putting DVD purchases on hold. Why buy the DVD when in a year you’ll buy the better Blu-Ray version?

That’s my guess. The old is dying and the new has yet to be born, and the fiscal crisis has simply lengthened this interregnum.

Another possibility: the Blu-Ray DVD is the final stab at the hearts of some collectivists. After compiling libraries of films on VHS, and then DVD, they’ve grown tired, know that Blu-Ray is only the latest format for their favorite films, which will soon by usurped by something else, and they figure, “What’s the point?”

They’ve just dumped their CD collection (who knows what they’ve done with all of the tapes and LPs), and figure the future of movies is in an MP3-like file stored on computers. So, again, why buy the rapidly outdated DVD?

All of which is to say: the movie industry is lucky DVD sales are down by only 18 percent.

Again, that's my guess. Feel free to pile on.

Posted at 09:00 AM on May 19, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office
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