erik lundegaard

Movies - Box Office posts

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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Thursday May 14, 2009

Your 2008 Box Office Quiz—The Answers: Or how "Mamma Mia!" Beat "Dark Knight"

Let's get right to it...

1. According to Box Office Mojo, 605 movies were shown commercially in the U.S. in 2008. “The Dark Knight,” obviously, made the most money: $533 million. Which of the 605 made the least?
The correct answer is A: “Rome & Jewel.” It was distributed by Emerging Pictures, played in one theater for one week, and made $470. “The Rise and Fall of Miss Thang” was a few down the line; it made $581. “OSS 117,” by the way, is a very funny takeoff on the early James Bond films and worth renting. Netflix it. The sequel is already in French theaters.

2. Let’s talk about the films that studios assumed we’d see: the films that opened superwide—in more than 3,000 theaters. Last year there were 52 such films, and almost half of them (24) grossed over $100 million. The film that grossed the least pulled in only $11 million domestically. Name it.
The correct answer is C: “Meet Dave,” starring Eddie Murphy, and distributed by Fox. “Dave” opened the weekend of July 11th in 3,011 theaters and made just $5 million ($1,744 average), then went downhill from there. On the plus side, it brought in $38 million internationally.

3. Different studios had different kinds of luck with their superwide releases.  Paramount/Dreamworks, for example, opened four films superwide last year and every one made more than $100 million domestically: “Kung Fu Panda,” “Madagascar 2,” “Tropic Thunder” and “Eagle Eye.” So which studio/distributor had the worst ratio of superwide releases (3,000+ theaters) to box-office smashes ($100+ million)?
The correct answer is D: Fox. It opened 11 films superwide and only two (“Horton Hears a Who” and “Marley & Me”) made over $100 million. Here’s the rest of what they piled on our plates:

1. “What Happens in Vegas”: $80m
2. “Jumper”: $80m
3. “The Day the Earth Stood Still”: $79m
4. “27 Dresses”: $76m
5. “Nim’s Island”: $48m
6. “Max Payne”: $40m
7. “Babylon A.D.”: $22m
8. “The X-Files: I Want to Believe”: $20m
9. “Meet Dave”: $11m

Coincidentally or not, all nine films had “rotten” Rotten Tomatoes ratings. Which is not to imply that people necessarily read RT or movie critics. Just that word gets around.

Of the other major distributors, Warner Bros. went 2 for 7, Paramount 2 for 6, Universal 3 for 5, and both Sony and Buena Vista 4 for 6.

4. One last question on the superwide openers. Of those 52 films that the studios assumed we’d see, only 17 garnered “fresh” ratings from the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Seven of those 17 are among the top 10 box-office hits of the year (“Dark Knight,” “Iron Man,” etc.). But how many “fresh” films are among the 10 worst-performing superwide releases?  
The correct answer is D: 0. Here are the culprits:

43. “Speed Racer”—WB—$43m—30%
44. “Max Payne”—Fox—$40m—9%
45. “Righteous Kill”—Over.—$40m—12%
46. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”—WB—$35m—8%
47. “Semi-Pro”—NL—$33m—27%
48. “Drillbit Taylor”—Par.—$32m—25%
49. “The Love Guru”—Par.—$32m—6%
50. “Babylon A.D.”—Fox—$22m—0%
51. “The X-Files: I Want to Believe”—Fox—$20m—26%
52. “Meet Dave”—Fox—$11m—29%

Again, this is not to imply that people read RT or movie critics. Just that word gets around.

5. One 2008 release had, according to Box Office Mojo, the worst opening weekend ever for a wide release (500+ theaters). Name this film that no one went to see.
The correct answer is A: “Proud American,” a patriotic documentary/drama, written and directed by first-timer Fred Ashman, that was plopped into 750 theaters by Slowhand Cinema last September—just in time for Lehman Bros. On the Friday it opened it averaged $45 per theater, then went up to $60 on Saturday, then down to $23 on Sunday. That’s 23 bucks for the entire day. How many people is that—three? Five at the most? And not per showing. For the entire day. Think about this the next time Michael Medved starts yakkin’ about how Hollywood doesn’t make the kinds of patriotic films Americans want to see.

6. Box Office Mojo also tracks the box office of 57 countries/markets besides the U.S. In those 57 international markets, which film was the No. 1 movie in the most countries (11)?
The correct answer is: D: “Mamma Mia!” While “Indiana Jones” made the most money overseas ($469 million), followed closely by “The Dark Knight” ($468m), “Mamma Mia!” wasn’t far behind at no. 3: $458m. It was also the No. 1 movie in more countries (11) than any other 2008 film:

1. Austria ($7 million)
2. Greece ($7 million)
3. Hungary ($4.7 million)
4. Iceland ($1 million)
5. Netherlands ($9.8 million)
6. New Zealand ($5 million)
7. Norway ($16.7 million)
8. Portugal ($5 million)
9. Slovenia ($.8 million)
10. Sweden ($25 million)
11. United Kingdom ($132 million)

“Dark Knight” was the No. 1 movie in eight countries (Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Hong Kong, UAE, Egypt, Bolivia and Lebanon), “Madagascar 2” in five (Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Venezuela and Lithuania), “Quantum of Solace” in three (Finland, Nigeria and East Africa), and “Indiana Jones” in only two (Spain and Bulgaria),

7. In which of the following countries was “Sex and the City” the No. 1 movie of the year?
The answer is A: Croatia and Estonia. Insert your own joke here. I got nothing.

8. While we’re on international box office, which of the following films was not among the top five films in Egypt last year?
The correct answer is: B: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which finished in 10th place. Which means, yes, “Body of Lies,” the Leonardo DiCaprio/Russell Crowe thriller about CIA activities in the Middle East that died in the U.S. (winding up 72nd for the year), finished, in Egypt, in 5th place for the year.

9. “Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis,” a comedy about a small provincial town in northern France written, directed and starring Danny Boon, was the no. 1 film in France last year. The No. 2 movie, “Astérix aux jeux olympiques,” made US$60m. How much did “Bienvenue” make?
The answer is D: $193 million, obliteraring all comers, and becoming, I believe, the highest-grossing film in French history. But its humor hasn’t traveled well. In this way it’s similar to “Les Visiteurs” in 1993, also a top grosser, whose humor also didn’t travel much beyond Belgium.

10. Box Office Mojo lists 932 total films in its overseas total. Which film, ironically, wound up in 932nd place?
The correct answer is A: the ironically titled “Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot,” a documentary about high school basketball players, which made just 146 bucks overseas. “I.O.U.S.A,” a chilling, worthwhile doc about national debt (and produced and distributed even before Lehman Bros, bailouts, et al.), had the second-lowest total: only 299 bucks. Yes, also ironic.

Apologies, again, for the difficulty of the questions but some of this stuff I found fascinating, particularly the superwides, "Proud American," and the international reign of "Mamma Mia!"

Posted at 08:25 AM on May 14, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office
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Wednesday May 13, 2009

Your 2008 Box Office Quiz

I always wait a few months to take on the previous year’s box office because money’s still pouring in. By now, though, it’s dribs and drabs, and it’s safe to take a fairly accurate look. Apologies for the toughness of the questions. This is a quiz less about what we know than what we can learn. Or, at least, it’s about what I learned.

1. According to Box Office Mojo, 605 movies were shown commercially in the U.S. in 2008. “The Dark Knight,” obviously, made the most money: $533 million. Which of the 605 made the least?
A. “Rome & Jewel”: A modernization of Shakespeare’s tragic love story “Romeo and Juliet,” set in Los Angeles against a backdrop of inter-racial romance.
B. “The Rise and Fall of Miss Thang”: An irresponsible party girl begins a journey to rediscover her tap-dancing roots.
C. “OSS 117: Le Caire nid d’espions”: Secret agent OSS 117 foils Nazis, beds local beauties, and brings peace to the Middle East in this French comedy.
D. “Frost/Nixon”: A dramatic retelling of the post-Watergate television interviews between British talk-show host David Frost and former president Richard Nixon.

2. Let’s talk about the films that studios assumed we’d see: the films that opened superwide—in more than 3,000 theaters. Last year there were 52 such films, and almost half of them (24) grossed over $100 million. The film that grossed the least pulled in only $11 million domestically. Name it.
A. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”
B. “The Love Guru”
C. “Meet Dave”
D. “Frost/Nixon”

3. Different studios had different kinds of luck with their superwide releases. Paramount/Dreamworks, for example, opened four films superwide last year and every one made more than $100 million domestically: “Kung Fu Panda,” “Madagascar 2,” “Tropic Thunder” and “Eagle Eye.” So which studio/distributor had the worst ratio of superwide releases (3,000+ theaters) to box-office smashes ($100+ million)?
A. Warner Bros., which released “The Dark Knight.”
B. Universal, which released “The Incredible Hulk.”
C. Paramount, which released “Iron Man.”
D. Fox, which released “Marley & Me”

4. One last question on the superwide openers. Of those 52 films that the studios assumed we’d see, only 17 garnered “fresh” ratings from the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Seven of those 17 are among the top 10 box-office hits of the year (“Dark Knight,” “Iron Man,” etc.). But how many “fresh” films are among the 10 worst-performing superwide releases?  
A. 10
B. 7
C. 1
D. 0

5. One 2008 release had, according to Box Office Mojo, the worst opening weekend ever for a wide release (500+ theaters). Name this film that no one went to see.
A. “Proud American”
B. “Vicky Christina Barcelona”
C. “Witless Protection”
D. “Frost/Nixon”

6. Box Office Mojo also tracks the box office of 57 countries/markets besides the U.S. In those 57 international markets, which film was the No. 1 movie in the most countries (11)?
A. “The Dark Knight”
B. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
C. “Kung Fu Panda”
D. “Mamma Mia!”

7. In which of the following countries was “Sex and the City” the No. 1 movie of the year?
A. Croatia and Estonia
B. Argentina and Brazil
C. Thailand and Taiwan
D. Frost and Nixon

8. While we’re on international box office, which of the following films was not among the top five films in Egypt last year?
A. “The Dark Knight”
B. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
C. “Hancock”
D. “Body of Lies”

9. “Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis,” a comedy about a small provincial town in northern France written, directed and starring Danny Boon, was the no. 1 film in France last year. The No. 2 movie, “Astérix aux jeux olympiques,” made US$60m. How much did “Bienvenue” make?
A. $60.1m
B. $71m
C. $82m
D. $193m

10. Box Office Mojo lists 932 total films in its overseas total. Which film, ironically, wound up in 932nd place?
A. “Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot”
B. “I.O.U.S.A”
C. “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan”
D. “Frost/Nixon”

Feel free to post your guesses in the comment field. I’ll post answers later in the week.

ADDENDUM: ANSWERS

Posted at 08:30 AM on May 13, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office
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