Movies - Box Office postsSunday May 19, 2013
Reboot of 45-Year-Old TV Series Underperforms with $70 Million Opening Weekend
“Iron Man 3” fell off by more than 50% in its third weekend but still grossed half of what “Star Trek Into Darkness” grossed in its opening weekend ($35.1 million to $70.5 million) . Or do we count Wednesday and Thursday for “Trek”? Apparently there were shows then. For some people anyway. The movie grossed $2 million and $11.5 million on those days, meaning it kind of opened at $84 million rather than $70, but the official tally will still be $70m.
Not sure why you open a movie this way. Bit by bit, I mean. Doesn’t it lessen the impact of the opening weekend numbers? Instead of a headline like “‘Star Trek’ Warps to $84 million finish,” you get “‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ Can't Hit Warp Speed at Box Office.” $70 million. Chump change in Hollywood. Four years ago, the first J.J. Abrams-led “Trek,” opened at $75 million, and you never want to open lower than your predecessor.
Not that they’re not trying to spin it. Here’s what Paramount’s head of distribution Don Harris told The Wrap today:
The good news is, when you have a really good movie like this one, the word of mouth is going to bring the audience in over time. Expectations aside, big-picture we’re in a very good place, particularly when you consider how well it’s doing overseas.
How well is it doing overseas? $80 million thus far. That’s not bad, considering previous international numbers for “Trek” ($128 million for the first Abrams reboot), but chump change compared with, say, “Iron Man 3,” which, after this weekend, is at $736 million internationally, for a grand total of $1.07 billion worldwide. That’s ninth all-time. Another $50 million and it’ll be fifth. Another $250 million and it’ll be fourth. “The Avengers” is at $1.5 billion. After that it’s Cameron Country (> $2 billion), where even Iron Man can’t fly. Sorry, dude.
Meanwhile, “The Great Gatsby” fell off 53% for third place with $23.4 million. Everything else grossed less than $3.5 million. We’re putting more eggs into fewer baskets. Or fewer eggs into fewer baskets.
In the end, “Star Trek” didn't do poorly for a TV show canceled in 1969.
Marvel Team-Up: Iron Man and Great Gatsby Blast Box Office!
“The Great Gatsby” had the third-highest opening weekend for a non-#1 movie with a $51.5 million take*, while “Iron Man 3” had the fourth-highest second weekend of all time with a $72.4 million take** and won the weekend. Everything else was in single digits. “Pain and Gain” finished third with $5 million, followed by the opening of “Peeples,” at $4.8. In its fifth week, “42” nearly equalled that total with $4.6 mil. The Jackie Robinson biopic has now grossed $84 million, making it the second-highest-grossing baseball film of all time (unadjusted), after “A League of Their Own.” (Adjust and it drops to 9th in the batting order.)
The “Gatsby” numbers are impressive for a romance/drama with middling-to-bad reviews. It is director Baz Luhrmann's best opening by far (previous: $14.8m for “Australia”) and nearly equals, already, his highest-grossing film: “Moulin Rouge” at $58 million.
But the “Iron Man 3” numbers are superheroic. In only its second weekend in the U.S. and third weekend internationally, the film is at $949 million worldwide, which is 21st best ever, with only three superhero movies ahead of it: “The Dark Knight” at $1 billion, “The Dark Knight Rises” at $1.08 billion, and “The Avengers” at $1.5 billion. Ahead of that, it's Cameron country.
Here is the top 10 via Box Office Mojo:
|Movie||Wknd||% Drop||Thtrs||Total Gross||Week #
|1||Iron Man 3||$72,472,000||-58.40%||4,253||$284,893,000||2|
|2||The Great Gatsby (2013)||$51,115,000||-||3,535||$51,115,000||1|
|3||Pain and Gain||$5,000,000||-33.40%||3,303||$41,608,000||3|
|4||Tyler Perry Presents Peeples||$4,850,000||-||2,041||$4,850,000||1|
|8||The Big Wedding||$2,500,000||-35.60%||2,298||$18,288,000||3|
|10||Oz The Great and Powerful||$802,000||-62.00%||774||$229,985,000||10|
“Nice weekend, old Shellhead, old sport.”
'Iron Man 3' Opens at No. 2 ... All Time
I've often argued that what matters in terms of opening-weekend box office, at least for a sequel, is less the sequel (whether it's good; its buzz; its Rotten Tomatoes score) than the previous film in the cycle. Positive feelings will lead to bigger box office, negative or “meh” feelings lesser box office.
But I knew “Iron Man 3” would open well and it did: It grossed an estimated $175 million in the U.S., the second-highest opening weekend ever after “The Avengers” $207 million gross last May 4.
And I knew it would because, for most folks, the previous film in the cycle wasn't “Iron Man 2” but “The Avengers,” which also starred Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man. And that movie is beloved. And that got them pumped for this one.
Or it could simply be that it's the first weekend in May and people want to ride that roller coaster again. It could be that we're all well-trained and Pavlovian. First weekend in May? Superhero? Pant pant.
The U.S.'s salivary glands are hardly unique, by the way. Worldwide, “Iron Man 3” has already grossed $680 million, which is already the biggest international hit of the year. (Any guesses at No. 2? Answer in the comments field.) It's also the highest international gross of any “Iron Man” movie. That's right. “Iron Man” grossed $585m in 2008, and “2” grossed $624m in 2010. The majority of that money, for both movies, came from the U.S., but now the rest of the world is going to “Iron Man,” too. Now the rest of the world is as well-trained as we are.
In other non-news, “Pain and Gain” was No. 2 at the box office with $7.6 mil, and “42” was No. 3 with $6.2 mil. “Oblivion,” at No. 4, fell off 67% and appears to be living up to its name. It'll be outgrossed (at least in the U.S.) by “42,” a baseball movie, which I doubt many foresaw.
No other movie besides “Iron Man 3” opened wide this weekend. Studios aren't stupid.
America got off the couch this weekend.
'Iron Man 3' Soars with $195 Million Opening Weekend ... In 42 Other Countries
“Iron Man 3” rocked like a hurricane this weekend with a $195 million opening weekend. Just not here. Forty-two other countries got to see it first.
From The Hollywood Reporter:
It saw its biggest gross in the U.K. ($21.5 million), followed by Korea ($19.2 million), Australia ($18.4 million), Mexico ($16.1 million), France ($14.7 million), Brazil ($12.3 million), Italy ($11.2 million), Taiwan ($8.4 million), Philippines ($7.4 million), Japan ($5.4 million), India ($5.2 million), Spain ($5 million), Hong Kong ($4.9 million), Malaysia ($4.6 million) and Indonesia ($4.5 million), among other markets.
The U.S.? Where it originated? Both in comic-book and movie form? We get to see it next weekend. Sloppy seconds.
Get used to it, America. Message from the studios: “That's how The Avengers did it. That's how Hollywood does it. And it's worked out pretty well so far.”
Here's the question from me. Will the three “Iron Man” movies be the best superhero trilogy ever?
What's the competition? “Superman: The Movie” was brilliant, but “II” was super uneven and “III” became a vehicle for Richard Pryor's lame bits. The Tim Burton “Batman” movies? OK, to worse, to worser. “X-Men”? Good, great, who gave Brett Ratner the reins? “Spider-Man”? Good, great, What the Fucking Fuck? There are, I'm sure, your “Dark Knight” fanboys out there, but I'm not one of them. But I'm hoping for “Iron Man.” I've got confidence in Robert Downey, Jr. if no one else.
By the way, that $195 million? Bested “The Avengers” foreign open last year by $10 mil. Hmmm...
Meanwhile, in the states, we nibbled at sloppy firsts. “Pain and Gain,” Michael Bay's attempt to undo his testosterone-laden barf-fests, or something, won the weekend with a $20 mil haul. “The Big Wedding,” that thing with everybody (DeNiro, Sarandon, Keaton, Heigl, Seyfried, Robin Williams and Topher Grace), was a bridesmaid with $7.5 million and 4th place. Tom Cruise's “Oblivion” dropped off 52.9% for second place, “42” dropped off 39.5% for third place. Will either make $100 million? Doubtful. They're both in the 60s. “Mud,” the well-received drama from Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”), which I hope to see this week, grossed $2.2 mil in 360 theaters.
A tepid weekend. The calm before the Iron Man.
Winter Box Office: Hasta la Vista, Arnie
The year is nearly a third over so time for a little perspective on domestic box office 2013.
What surprised me, looking at the numbers, wasn't how well “Oz, the Great and Powerful” did. I kinda knew that. It was how poorly the '80s action stars performed. Our pumped-up heroes basically stood there, arms akimbo, faces sagging, and wheezed.
“The Last Stand,” Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to the big screen after mixed-reviews playing governor of California, opened Jan. 18th to weak reviews (59%/41% on Rotten Tomatoes) and a weaker opening weekend ($6 million). Its finally tally? $12 million. How bad is that? Since the “Conan” movies, even unadjusted—even, in other words, when the hyper-inflated 2013 dollars are battling puny 1987 dollars—that's Arnold's worst box-office showing. Ever. Put it this way: “Red Heat,” that flick he made with Jim Belushi that nobody cared about, still grossed $35 million. In 1988. I guess “The Last Stand” was a prescient title.
Two weeks later, Sylvester Stallone's “Bullet to the Head” opened to worse reviews (48%/41% on RT) and worser box office ($4 million). It wound up grossing $9 million. More prescience.
In comparison, their one-time rival Bruce Willis rode a franchise pic, “A Good Day to Die Hard” to a $67-million haul: 8th-best for the year. But in the “Die Hard” franchise, $67 mil is dying. The previous lowest-grossing “Die Hard,” adjusted, is “Live Free or Die Hard,” at $157 million. This thing always make money. Until this year. It took a couple of decades but it finally fucking died.
Another pleasant surprise? No one went to see the crappy comedies. “Admission” with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd worked a 42%/29% on RT and just $16 mil at the box office. “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” with Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey, did 37%/22% on RT and only $22 million.
But it was a bad winter. How bad? A decent flick will generally make three times its opening-weekend gross, but of the 32 movies that opened in more than 2,000 theaters from January to March, only seven managed that. The movie with the longest legs? “Identify Thief.” The movies with the shortest legs? 1) Texas Chainsaw 3D (horror, of course); 2) Movie 43 (abyssmal); and 3) The Last Stand.
Here are our 32 movies ranked by legs. Some of the March releases will climb slightly, such as “Olympus Has Hallen,” which was released March 22nd, and which last week made another $10 million.
Others wil not. Hasta la vista, Arnie.
|Rank||Movie||Total Gross / Theaters||Opening / Theaters||Legs
|2||Escape From Planet Earth||$54,682,621||3,353||$15,891,055||3,288||3.44|
|3||Side Effects (2013)||$31,490,921||2,605||$9,303,145||2,605||3.38|
|8||21 and Over||$25,439,878||2,771||$8,754,168||2,771||2.91|
|10||Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters||$55,604,178||3,375||$19,690,956||3,372||2.82|
|11||Oz The Great and Powerful||$220,090,740||3,912||$79,110,453||3,912||2.78|
|13||Olympus Has Fallen||$83,147,707||3,106||$30,373,794||3,098||2.74|
|14||A Good Day to Die Hard||$67,032,705||3,555||$24,834,845||3,553||2.70|
|16||G.I. Joe: Retaliation||$104,112,433||3,734||$40,501,814||3,719||2.57|
|17||Beautiful Creatures (2013)||$19,452,138||2,950||$7,582,595||2,950||2.57|
|21||Jack the Giant Slayer||$63,009,150||3,525||$27,202,226||3,525||2.32|
|22||The Host (2013)||$23,820,419||3,202||$10,600,112||3,202||2.25|
|23||A Haunted House||$40,041,683||2,160||$18,101,682||2,160||2.21|
|24||The Incredible Burt Wonderstone||$22,157,931||3,160||$10,177,257||3,160||2.18|
|25||Tyler Perry's Temptation||$46,114,300||2,047||$21,641,679||2,047||2.13|
|27||Bullet to the Head||$9,489,829||2,404||$4,548,201||2,404||2.09|
|28||Dead Man Down||$10,888,069||2,188||$5,345,250||2,188||2.04|
|29||The Last Exorcism Part II||$15,179,302||2,700||$7,728,354||2,700||1.96|
|30||The Last Stand||$12,050,299||2,913||$6,281,433||2,913||1.92|
|32||Texas Chainsaw 3D||$34,341,945||2,659||$21,744,470||2,654||1.58|
Hollywood B.O.: '42' is More Than '5'
“42,” the Jackie Robinson biopic written and directed by Brian Helgeland, grossed more than $27 million at the weekend box office for the top spot. It's the biggest opening weekend for a baseball movie ever, beating out (believe it or not) “Benchwarmers,” the Rob Schneider comedy, which opened at $19.6m in 2006 (on its way to $59.8m), and “Moneyball,” which opened at $19.5 in 2011 (on its way to $75.6m). Even if you adjust for inflation “42” is still the biggest baseball opener. “A League of Their Own,” now No. 2, opened at an adjusted $26.6m in 1992.
Though I had my problems with “42,” word-of-mouth is pretty good, so it might have a shot of breaking the all-time box-office record for a baseball movie: “A League of Their Own” at $107m. (“Moneyball” is No. 2). Adjusted, it has no shot. It's “League” with $208m.
The other movie opening wide was “Scary Movie V.” Here's the top 10 for the weekend:
||% Change||Thtrs||Average||Total Gross||Week
|2||Scary Movie 5||$15,153,000||-||3,402||$4,454||$15,153,000||1|
|4||G.I. Joe: Retaliation||$10,800,000||-48%||3,535||$3,055||$102,426,000||3|
|6||Jurassic Park 3D||$8,820,000||-53%||2,778||$3,175||$31,929,000||2|
|7||Olympus Has Fallen||$7,283,000||-28%||2,935||$2,481||$81,890,000||4|
|8||Oz The Great and Powerful||$4,923,000||-39%||2,504||$1,966||$219,444,000||6|
|9||Tyler Perry's Temptation
|10||The Place Beyond the Pines||$4,080,000||480%||514||$7,938||$5,455,000||3|
Source: Box Office Mojo
Quick poll. What's the scariest thing about the above list?
- “Scary Movie V” still grossed $15 million despite a 5% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a 0% Top-Critics RT rating, with sentiments from critics such as these:
- If I ever have to watch another Scary Movie film, I'll give up on writing, cinema, and society forever. --Matt Donato
- I have been to funerals a LOT less sad than this laughless 85 minutes. --Teddy Durgin
- This is the sort of movie where you feel bad for Sheen and Lohan, because they hadn't actually hit rock bottom until they agreed to appear in it. --Alonso Duralde
- “GI Joe: Retaliation” has now grossed more than $100 million at the box office.
- There's not one movie in the top 10 you want to see.
I am happy for “42,” Jackie, and baseball movies in general. Will more be greenlit? Or one? May I put in a vote for a screen adaptation of Jane Leavy's Mickey Mantle bio?
Pick your baseball metaphor: “42” hits homerun, scores, beats competition, gets patted on the ass by American moviegoers.
The Top 10 Box Office Hits According to Variety as of March 19, 1958
I wrote the following for The Believer magazine for their April 2008 issue.
One of the most virulent opinions about movies I’ve encountered as a critic—particularly online, where everyone’s a critic—is that popularity is somehow indicative of quality. People argue this whether you slam the latest blockbuster (“Friends I know who have seen Spider-Man 3 enjoyed it,” one reader wrote), or an art-house flick they think is a blockbuster (“We are the movie goers and I hope we win with Crash,” said another). Consider it the last refuge of the inarticulate: I like what everyone likes no matter what you like. Or: 50 million Pirates of the Caribbean fans can’t be wrong.
My knee-jerk response to this is often the second-to-last refuge of the inarticulate: Well, let’s see how long it lasts. Both of us are actually gauging quality through quantity: they in ticketbuyers, me in years. I assume that Spider-Man 3, silly and effects-laden, is a diversion for our time and no other, while Crash, somber and obvious, is an admonishing finger for our time and no other, and in 50 years, if we’re still watching movies, no one is going to be watching either of these things. I also assume it’s always been thus. Take that Monday morning mantra, the weekend box office, and its counterpart 50 years ago will be filled with the relics of a by-gone era: once-popular diversions that have long since sunk from view.
So I went looking.
- The Bridge on the River Kwai
- The Brothers Karamazov
- Witness for the Prosecution
- Around the World in 80 Days
- Search for Paradise
- Raintree County
- A Farewell to Arms
- Paths of Glory
- ...And God Created Woman
Whoops. Of the 10 films, I knew eight; I’d seen four; I loved two. These were films admired in their day (30 Academy Award nominations,12 wins, including two for best picture) and admired in ours (three rank on IMDb.com’s top 250 list).
Some of that familiarity is misleading. We mostly know A Farewell to Arms and The Brothers Karamazov because of Hemingway and Dostoevsky. I couldn’t have told you who starred in the former (Rock Hudson), and I only knew the latter because it includes the screen debut of William Shatner and I was once a big “Star Trek” fan.
Eight of the 10, in fact, are based on novels and plays. The most popular story-telling medium of its time (movies) was fending off attacks from its eventual usurper (TV) by relying on the very forms it usurped (novels and plays). Nice.
That fight against TV is all over this list. Everything here is what TV couldn’t be: big and colorful and exotic. Cinemascope and Technicolor abound. There’s almost a competition to see how long they can keep us in our seats and away from our sets: Karamazov is 145 minutes long, Arms 152, Kwai 161, and Raintree 168. Around the World in 80 Days, including overture and exit music, lasts 181 minutes.
Here come the epics
But is there anything worse than an epic that isn’t? A Farewell to Arms (#7) was producer David O. Selznick’s last film, and while he strove for another Gone with the Wind—it takes 30 seconds for the title to scroll imperiously across the screen—he wound up with a sticky melodrama that inverses Bogart’s Casablanca equation: the problems of two people are all that matters, while the crazy, mixed-up world, including, you know, World War I, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Selznick’s wife, Jennifer Jones, 38 years old and looking older, is miscast as the 21-year-old British nurse, while the presence of Rock Hudson, our most famously closeted movie star, adds unintentional irony. “Shut up about dames,” he says early in the picture. Later, when his dying wife gives him permission to see other women, he stutters, “I – I don’t want them.” The clues were there.
Raintree County (#6) was another epic love story set against the backdrop of war (U.S. Civil), and it, too, starred a famously closeted actor (Montgomery Clift), and while it’s not a good film it’s saved from insufferability by Clift. The story involves that Hollywood staple, the love triangle: virginal Eva Marie Saint loves Clift who loves Elizabeth Taylor, who’s southern and mad in the creepy way of Southern Gothic: think racial confusion and burning homes. Give credit, though. Three years after the Montgomery busy boycott, and a year after Little Rock, and it’s the only film in the top 10 raising any kind of racial issues.
We get another love triangle in The Brothers Karamazov (#2): virginal Claire Bloom loves Yul Bryner who loves Maria Schell, Maximillian’s sister, who packs a sexual wallop with one smile. Oddly, in that virginal decade, both virgins lose their men. We wanted what we weren’t. The existence of God is overtalked—as is the golden raintree in Raintree, and love love love in Arms—and eventually His existence is proven through the devil in Albert Salmi. Because if the devil exists...
Search for Paradise (#5), unavailable on home video, is essentially a travelogue, and so is Around the World in 80 Days (#4), surely one of the most boring Oscar winners for best picture. The Bridge over the River Kwai (#1), which remained atop the box office for weeks after it won its Oscar for best picture in March 1958, holds up much better. Its theme is the madness of war. Who’s more mad? Col. Saito for not following the rules of the Geneva Convention or Col Nicholson for adhering to the rules too much? The story is like aikido. Nicholson defeats Saito not by opposing his demand to build a bridge but by building it better and stronger than Saito imagined. He unmans him by making him irrelevant. Eventually, yes, Nicholson loses sight of the proper goal but you see the logic in his madness.
Col. Nicholson, before the lessons in akido.
The shorter, better films
Excepting Kwai, these epics, so indicative of their time, pale next to the smaller films on the list. Cowboy (#9) is a solid Delmer Daves western about a Chicago hotel clerk (Jack Lemmon) who joins a tough cattleman (Glenn Ford) on the trail. During the ride each becomes more like the other. “I have to laugh,” Ford’s right-hand man tells him. “You made this fellow tough. Now you don’t like what you made.”
...And God Created Woman (#10) is the infamous 1956 French film, dubbed for American audiences, in which Brigette Bardot appears briefly, glancingly nude. It was condemned by the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency, which guaranteed a stampede to the box office, but by modern standards it’s rather tame. The bigger shock is that it’s not an exploitation film; it’s almost cinema verite. Bardot plays Juliete, an impulsive, selfish free spirit straining against the confines of what her community allows (and her dress). She’s in love with the wrong guy, she marries a different wrong guy, etc. “That girl is made to destroy men,” says one older (and undestroyed) man. According to the April 2, 1958 Variety, Dallas police shut down a showing of the film at The Forest, “a colored house,” even though it had played in white theaters in the city. Their unofficial explanation? “It’s too exciting for colored folk.” The fact that Ms. Bardot danced with members of a black band near the end of the film probably didn’t help.
Witness for the Prosecution (#3) is the first of two films I love on this list. It has great acting (Charles Laughton), a good story and witty dialogue (from Agatha Christie) and good direction (Billy Wilder). It’s the only courtroom thriller on the list, but in the 10 films we are shown four trials, and, interestingly, the only defendant who’s found innocent, Tyrone Power in Prosecution, is guilty. The defendants in the other movies, all innocent, are condemned to death.
Finally, there’s Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (#8), brilliant in a brisk 87 minutes. It’s our fourth war picture here, and while these pictures all view war tragically (men die, go mad, lovers are torn asunder), Glory is the only one whose critique is systemic. The movie starts with a bad idea: capturing the Ant Hill from the Germans. Everyone knows it’s a bad idea but via the carrot of promotion (for Gen. Mireau) and the stick of exclusion (for Col. Dax), it’s put into play. Despite the efforts of the soldiers, many of whom die, it fails. So who to blame for this failure? Three soldiers, chosen at random, are put on trial and executed. Even when the unsympathetic Gen. Mireau gets his comeuppance, it’s not satisfying, for we know he’s a pawn, too. The bad idea came from elsewhere. From Gen. Boulard? No. It just appeared, this bad idea. Like all bad ideas.
Put different commanders in the place of Saito and Nicholson in Kwai and the ending is different, because the ending is dictated by the faults in the characters. Put different commanders in the place of Gen. Mireau and Col. Dax in Glory and you get the same result, because the ending is dictated by the faults within the system. No wonder it resonates. Bad ideas are still handed down from who knows where; they’re still put into play; soldiers still die.
Col. Dax, the hero, and another pawn in the game.
What the survey says
If the purpose of this article was to create an Ozymandias-like warning to moviemakers and moviegoers—your current glories will be lone and level sands stretching far away—I failed. In fact, I demonstrated the opposite. Even in a random week in an unremarkable year, some works stand taller 50 years later.
I also didn’t fail. Compare the 1958 films with our most recent mid-March weekend box office list (March 16-18, 2007):
- Wild Hogs
- Dead Silence
- I Think I Love My Wife
- Bridge to Terabithia
- Ghost Rider
- Music and Lyrics
It reads like a McDonald’s menu. Is anything healthy here? Well, Zodiac, David Fincher’s realistic take on the real-life serial killer in late 1960s San Francisco, and Bridge to Terabithia, a good kids' story about love and death and imagination. But that’s it. Everything else is disposable, infantile, loutish. The one “war movie,” 300, revels in its violence. We don’t debate the existence of God and the Devil; we give them bad lines. (Peter Fonda in Ghost Rider.) Comic books rather than novels and plays are the adaptation of choice. Love triangles still abound, as in Norbit and I Think I Love My Wife, but now, in our whoreish decade, it’s the dull virginal ones who win. We want what we aren’t.
Hollywood in 1958 tried to show us how big the world was but these recent movies feel stunted. Watch Bridge on the River Kwai and you get the feeling that beyond the Sri Lankan forest the world keeps going. Watch 300 and you get the feeling that beyond these players the world doesn’t exist at all. As it doesn’t. It’s all green screen.
There were tons of forgettable films in 1958, by the way, they just tended not to make top 10 lists. Movies rolled out differently then, playing city to city, and Variety lets us know how they’re doing around the country: “‘Cattle Empire,’ nice in Chi, is sluggish in Omaha and mild in Minneapolis. ... ‘Sing Boy Sing’ is okay in St. Louis...” These were niche pictures that stayed in niche markets. National pictures, adult pictures, movies that tried to say something about what we were as a country or who we were as a people, wound up playing nationally. We do the opposite today. The niche pictures—horror, comic book, urban comedy—get spread all over the country, while the national pictures, adult pictures, rarely play beyond the niche market of art houses.
How did we get here? The lead story in the March 5, 1958 Variety, reassuring filmmakers that film had a future and it was called the baby boom, begins this way:
If it’s true what the surveys say, that it’s primarily the young people who make up the motion picture audience today, then Hollywood has cause for optimism.
If it’s true what the surveys say... That qualification is almost heartbreaking. Today, that thought about young people is gospel. Beyond it, it’s as if the world doesn’t exist at all.
The stylized violence of “300.”
Oz, 32-Percent Great, 40th-Most Powerful
A quick note on the opening-weekend box office of “Oz, the Great and Powerful”:
- It grossed $79 million in the U.S.
- That's the 40th-biggest opening weekend ever, unadjusted.
- It's the biggest opening weekend since “The Hobbit” ($84 million in December) and “Skyfall” ($88 million in November).
- Only two movies that opened in March had bigger openings: “The Hunger Games” last year ($152m) and “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010 ($116 million).
- Critics were ho-hum on it. It squeaked into fresh territory with a 61% Rotten Tomatoes rating. But among top critics? Just 32%.
- You could easily make a triple feature in hell from some of the 39 movies that opened bigger than “Oz.” Say, “Spider-Man 3” ($151m in 2007), “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” ($142m in 2009), and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” ($100m in 2008). And I still have in reserve all of the “Pirates of the Carribean” sequels.
Now does this mean I have to go see it? Vinny?
Moviegoers Warm to 'Warm Bodies,' Give 'Bullet to the Head' a Bullet to the Head
“Warm Bodies,” the zombie romance and “Twilight” takeoff from Jonathan Levine (“50/50”), opened in 3,009 theaters and grossed more than $19 million. It was the No. 1 movie at the box office this weekend. By far. By more than twice its gross.
“Bullet to the Head,” the new Sylvester Stallone shoot-em-up directed by Walter Hill (“48 Hours”), opened in 2,404 theaters and grossed $4.5 million. It finished in sixth place, behind the second weekend of “Hansel and Gretel” ($9 million), the 12th weekend of “Silver Linings Playbook” ($8.1 million), the third weekend of “Mama” ($6.7m) and the seventh weekend of “Zero Dark Thirty” ($5.3 million).
Elsewhere, “Parker,” the Jason Stratham vehicle with J-Lo, continued to die quickly, grossing $3.2 mil for 7th place. In two weekends it's earned $12.4 million. What's a tough guy to do? Study? Be nice to girls?
Meanwhile, Zeitgeist Films blew a shot at some money, opening “Koch” in two theaters the weekend Ed Koch actually died. What you get for thinking small: $40K.
The overall box-office numbers for the best picture nominees, by the way, are fairly impressive:
|MOVIE||DOMESTIC BOX OFFICE|
|Life of Pi||$106,059,000|
|Silver Linings Playbook||$80,378,000|
|Zero Dark Thirty||$77,798,000|
|Beasts of the Southern Wild||$11,756,048|
Five movies over $100 million? With shots for SLP and ZDT to make that mark, too? So 7 of 9. Wasn't that the name of the busty Borg on that latter-day “Star Trek” show? Yes, it was.
But none of these Oscar nominees are going to be top 10 for the year. Recontinuing the tradition.
Revenge may never get old but action stars do. Just ask Arnold.
Hollywood B.O.: 'Zero Dark Thirty' Grosses More This Weekend than 'Hurt Locker' In Its Entire Run
Sorry about the word “gross.”
“Zero Dark Thirty,” the controversial film from Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, about the search for and the killing of Osama bin Laden, which opened in five theaters in NY and LA in December, went to 60 last weekend (inculding one here in Seattle), and went superwide (2,937 theaters) this weekend, was No. 1 at the box office with a $24 milion haul. That's $7 million more than “The Hurt Locker,” Bigelow and Boal's previous film, made in its entire 2009 run.
Two 2013 films, meanwhile, “A Haunted House” (10% on Rotten Tomatoes) and “Gangster Squad” (34%), finished second and third, respectively, with $18 and $16 million.
The good news is that more than half the Oscar nominees for best picture continue to do well at the box office. Here are their total grosses:
|Life of Pi||$94,781,000|
|Silver Linings Playbook||$41,306,000|
|Zero Dark Thirty||$29,481,000|
|Beasts of the Southern Wild||$11,249,128|
How does this compare with previous years? Last year, only one best picture nominee grossed more than $100 million: “The Help” at $169 million. 2010 had five, including good box office from movies that focused on self-destructive ballet dancers, drunk cowboys and stuttering kings, while the movie about the asshole techie topped out at $97 mil. 2009 also had five, including the biggee, “Avatar,” which grossed $749 million domestic, a record for any film.
What 2012 does not have is a best picture nominee in the top 10. “Lincoln” is currently at No. 16 for the year. To get in the top 10 it has to gross another $65 million. 2011 didn't have a top 10 film, either: “The Help” topped at No. 13.
So basically we we're back to where we were before the Academy rewrote its rules in 2009 and nominated more than five pictures. We're back to a time when we don't really see best picture nominees. At least at the theater.
The first two years with the rewritten rules, yes, we got popular fare nominated: top 10 pics like “Avatar,” “Up,” “The Blind Side,” “Toy Story 3” and “Inception.” But then the rules were rewritten again. I forget how they changed. Instead of the top 10 nominees you had to garner at least 5 percent of the vote. Something like that. With a limit of 10.
We've gotten nine films each with the new rules, including critically lauded and little-seen films such as “The Tree of Life” and “Amour.” But not top 10 stuff. The divergence continues.
Here are the weekend numbers.
Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty”: the only thing worse than being talked about...
Hollywood B.O.: Hobbit Takes Expected Journey
Peter Jackson's “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” opened at $84.7 million this weekend. That's the 37th-best opening weekend ever, the sixth-best this year, but the best December opening ever.
That surprised me. Really? No $100 million openings in December? Nope. Only the following months have seen $100-movie openings: March, May, June, July and November. And that leads us to our first trivia question:
1. Which of the following months has seen the most movies open at > $100 million?
- A: May
- B: June
- C: July
- D: November
“Rise of the Guardians” stayed strong, dropping only 28.7% for second place and $7.4 million, but “Lincoln” stayed even stronger, dropping a mere 18% for $7.2 million and third place. It's now grossed $107.8 million in six weeks. That's the highest-grossing film of Daniel Day-Lewis' career, but not, of course, of Steven Spielberg's career. It is, however, Spielberg's 15th film to gross more than $100 million. Trivia question No. 2:
2. Other than his pre-“Jaws” movies, what is the lowest-grossing film (unadjusted) of Steven Spielberg's career?
- A: 1941
- B: The Color Purple
- C: Empire of the Sun
- D: War Horse
Both “Skyfall” and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” dropped three places, from first and third, respectively, to fourth and sixth, respectively, and are virtually neck-and-neck (no pun) in domestic gross ($272m and $276m, respectively). They diverge greatly in terms of worldwide box office, however.
3. For 2012 movies, “The Avengers” grossed the most worldwide, at $1.4 billion (third-best ever), followed by “The Dark Knight Rises” at $1.08 billion (seventh-best ever). After these, which four films grossed the most worldwide in 2012?
- A: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, Brave, The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman
- B: Brave, The Hunger Games, Skyfall, MIB: 3
- C: MIB: 3, John Carter, Battleship, 2012
- D: Skyfall, Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, The Amazing Spider-Man
4. Among Oscar contenders, “Life of Pi” came in fifth for the weekend with $5.4 million, “Silver Linings Playbook” finished 10th, “Flight” 11th, “Argo” 12th, “Hitchcock” 13th and “Anna Karenina” 15th. Which of the following films has grossed the least so far domestically?
- Life of Pi
- Silver Linings Playbook
- Anna Karenina
Answers in the Comments field below. The precious weekend box-office totals here.
Yep. Lots of precious.
Hollywood B.O.: Threeway Threepeat for First Time in Three Years
For the third weekend in a row, the top three movies were the same three movies:
- “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2”
One, two, three. All three weeks. Boom.
When was the last time that happened? When three movies finished 1-2-3 at the box office three weeks in a row?
A long time. Hell, it's rare these days when one movie finishes No. 1 three weekends in a row, let alone the next two not changing slots with any other movie.
Here. These are movies that in recent years topped the charts for at least three weeks. (Longer reigns are in parentheses.):
- “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2”
- “The Dark Knight Rises”
- “The Avengers”
- “The Hunger Games” (4)
- “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1”
- “The Help”
- “Shrek Forever After”
- “Avatar” (7, into 2010)
You need a specific set of circumstances to make it work. The three movies have to have legs, and the new releases in weeks 2 and 3 have to be lame enough, or uninteresting enough, or nonexistent enough, not to unseat any of the three.
Last weekend, for example, these movies opened: “Rise of the Guardians,” Life of Pi,“ and ”Red Dawn.“ The first two came close to clipping ”Lincoln“ but not close enough. This weekend ”Killing Them Softly“ opened. Softly. It finished 7th. That's how ”Twilight,“ ”Skyfall“ and ”Lincoln“ have managed this.
And the last time this kind of three-way/threepeat happened? At the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, when ”Avatar“ reigned on top. For the last weekend of 2009, the Christmas weekend, both ”Sherlock Holmes“ and ”Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakel“ opened and finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively. The following weekend, the first of year, nothing new opened wide, as often happens with the first weekend of the year, and the top 3 stayed 1, 2, 3. The next weekend, ”Daybreakers,“ ”Leap Year,“ and ”Youth in Revolt“ opened wide, but finished 4th, 6th and 9th, respectively. The top three remained the same. That's three weekends.
It wasn't until the MLK Weekend when ”Book of Eli“ opened and ”Lovely Bones“ went wider that they displaced No.s 2 and 3. But ”Avatar“ remained on top for another four weekends—with shifting seconds and thirds below it.
So it's been almost three years since this has happened.
The weekend's box-office numbers here.
I can tell you one thing: ”BDP2“ ain't grossing $700 million worldwide because of that poster.
UPDATE: I knew I should've waited until the actuals came in. At the 11:30th hour, ”Rise of the Guardians“ eclipsed ”Lincoln“ for third place. ”Lincoln" fell to fourth. Meaning the last time three movies were 1, 2, 3 at the domestic box office for three weeks in a row was still three years ago.
Hollywood B.O.: 'Twilight' Stumbles, 'Lincoln' Surges
The headlines are all about how “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” and “Skyfall” led the way during this record-setting Thanksgiving weekend. The previous overall record was $175.2 million, set three years ago, and the new record is $206.7 million, which, yes, is about what “The Avengers” grossed opening weekend in May.
Here are the headlines:
- Box Office Mojo: Weekend Report: 'Twilight,' Bond Dominate Fruitful Thanksgiving
- BoxOffice.com: 'Breaking Dawn - Part 2' Leads During Record-Setting 5-Day Frame
- IMDb: Box Office Shatters Thanksgiving Record Behind 'Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2' and 'Skyfall'
And here's the top 10:
|Movie||Weekend||Thtrs /Change||Average||Total Gross|
|1||The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2||$43,070,000||4,070||-||$10,582||$226,951,000|
|4||Rise of the Guardians||$24,025,000||3,653||-||$6,577||$32,607,000|
|5||Life of Pi||$22,000,000||2,902||-||$7,581||$30,150,000|
|7||Red Dawn (2012)||$14,600,000||2,724||-||$5,360||$22,004,000|
|9||Silver Linings Playbook||$4,623,000||367||351||$12,597||$6,451,000|
So the headlines are technically accurate.
The amazing thing is that during a record-breaking weekend, in which it was the No. 1 movie, the “Twilight” movie still fell off by nearly 70%:
|1||The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2||$43,070,000||-69.50%||$10,582||$226,951,000|
|4||Rise of the Guardians||$24,025,000||-||$6,577||$32,607,000|
|5||Life of Pi||$22,000,000||-||$7,581||$30,150,000|
|7||Red Dawn (2012)||$14,600,000||-||$5,360||$22,004,000|
|9||Silver Linings Playbook||$4,623,000||943.60%||$12,597||$6,451,000|
Look at the other films. “Silver Linings Playbook” went wider than its original dozen or so theaters and increased exponentially. “Lincoln” added 243 theaters in its third weekend and increased by nearly 20%. That indicates very good word-of-mouth. The others—“Argo,” “Flight,” “Wreck-It Ralph”—dropped single percentages. Again: impressive.
And “Twilight”? Or “TTS:BDP2”? It had the 12th-biggest second-weekend drop for any film opening in more than 3,000 theaters:
|Movie||1st Wknd||$ Drop||2nd Wknd||Thtrs|
|1||Friday the 13th (2009)||$40,570,365||-80.40%||$7,942,472||3,105|
|3||A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)||$32,902,299||-72.30%||$9,119,389||3,332|
|4||Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2||$169,189,427||-72.00%||$47,422,212||4,375|
|5||Paranormal Activity 4||$29,003,866||-70.70%||$8,510,186||3,412|
|6||Hellboy II: The Golden Army||$34,539,115||-70.70%||$10,117,815||3,212|
|8||The Twilight Saga: New Moon||$142,839,137||-70.00%||$42,870,031||4,042|
|10||The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1||$138,122,261||-69.80%||$41,683,574||4,066|
|12||The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2||$141,067,634||-69.50%||$43,070,000||4,070|
Among movies opening in more than 4,000 theaters? Fourth-biggest: the last “Harry Potter” and then two previous “Twilight” movies. So in a certain sense, it improved, right? A bit? At the same time, when seemingly everyone was going to the movies, “TTS:DBP2” still fell off nearly 70%.
In other good news, “Red Dawn” was finally released to a big yawn. It finished in 7th place. I guess American moviegoers have better things to do than indulge in the right-wing fantasy of North Korea, a tiny country that can barely feed itself, successfully attacking what is after all the strongest country in the history of the world. The Duchy of Grand Fenwick would have a better shot.
The numbers here.
Go see “Lincoln.” My nephew Jordy wants you to.
Lincoln: first in war, first in peace, and third at the box office.
Hollywood B.O.: Vampires Rule; Bond Holds: Lincoln Doesn't Die
Richard Brody, who writes about movies for The New Yorker, and whose work I genuinely admire—give or take a “Marnie” fixation—tweeted the following this morning in reaction to a NY Times Op-Ed on the preponderence and pointlessness of irony:
Touché. But I didn't think “Lincoln,” belonged on his list. So I tweeted back talking up the, well, irony of a movie season in which Abraham Lincoln has a twinkle in his eye and James Bond doesn't. Brody was kind enough to respond. “Abe Lincoln always had a sublime twinkle in his eye, chez Griffith and chez Ford,” he wrote.
Me being me, I tweeted back a few more times, and Brody being Brody (that is: busy), he didn't respond; but the biggest argument against “Lincoln”'s inclusion in his original tweet is in the verb.
“Cleaning up” certainly applies to “The Dark Knight Rises” ($447 million domestic, $1.08 billion worldwide) and “Skyfall” ($161 domestic, $667 worldwide, both climbing fast). “Lincoln,” in contrast, opened in nine theaters Nov. 9, then roared up to 1,775 this weekend, where it finished in third place, behind the first weekend of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” ($141 million) and the second weekend of “Skyfall” ($41.5, down 53%). “Lincoln” grossed $21 million, which is a plesant surprise, since it's a serious film about passing a law, the 13th amendment, playing in half the theaters wide-releases do. But it's only cleaning up in the sense that a custodian following two circus elephants is cleaning up.
No.s 4-6 for the weekend are all good films hanging in there: “Wreck-It Ralph,” which grossed $18 million for a dometic total of $121 million; “Flight,” which grossed $8.6 for a total of $61; and “Argo,” which grossed $4 for a total of $92. Would be nice if this last made $100. And even then I wouldn't say it was cleaning up. I would say it was pushing itself toward box-office relevance.
The clean numbers.
As I've said elsewhere: No one will ever do a better Abe Lincoln.
Hollywood B.O.: 'Skyfall" Will Shatter Worldwide Record for James Bond Movies
“Skyfall,” the 23rd James Bond film, already opened abroad and it's raking 'em in. Here's Box Office Mojo's list of the top 10 worldwide James Bond releases (unadjusted):
|Rank||Title (click to view)||Studio||Worldwide||Domestic / %||Overseas / %||Year|
|2||Quantum of Solace||Sony||$586.1||$168.4||28.7%||$417.7||71.3%||2008|
|3||Die Another Day||MGM||$432.0||$160.9||37.3%||$271.0||62.7%||2002|
|4||The World Is Not Enough||MGM||$361.8||$126.9||35.1%||$234.9||64.9%||1999|
|6||Tomorrow Never Dies||MGM||$333.0||$125.3||37.6%||$207.7||62.4%||1997|
|9||License to Kill||UA||$156.2||$34.7||22.2%||$121.5||77.8%||1989|
“Skyfall” is already in 7th place. And it doesn't open in the U.S. until Friday.
Again, that's unadjusted. Adjust, and you assume the winner has to be “Thunderball,” which grossed $63 million in the U.S. in 1965, which is nearly $600 million today. That's 28th all-time, domestic. It would've been the No. 1 box-office hit of 1965 but that was also the year of “The Sound of Music.”
In the U.S. this weekend, “Wreck-It Ralph,” which Uncle Vinny recommends, finished first with $49 million, “The Flight,” with Denzel Washington, finished a strong second with $25 million, and “Argo,” dropping only 15 percent, finished third in its fourth weekend with $10 million. The word-of-mouth on Affleck's flick is great. Glad people are going. My review.
I saw nothing this weekend. GOTV. #Obama2012
Here's my history of James Bond from 2006. See you Friday, 007.
Skyfall's the limit.
Hollywood B.O.: Crappy New Releases, Fall Break, Make 'Argo' Winner
The big box-office success story this weekend isn't that “Paranormal Activity 4,” the franchise's third sequel in three years, finished first at the box office with a $30 million take. That's actually a poor showing for that series. The first sequel, in 2010, opened at $40.5 million (with an overall $84 million gross), while the second sequel, last year, opened at $52 million (for a $104 million overall gross). So in comparison, “4,” on track for $60 million, is a failure.
No, the big success story is that “Argo,” Ben Affleck's grown-up thriller about rescuing hostages in Iran in 1980, finished in second place with $16.6 million. Why is that a success story? Because in its second weekend it dropped only 14.6%. Among superwide releases (3,000 or more theaters), that's the 26th-lowest drop ever.
It's actually even better than that. Because most of the 25 movies ahead of it benefitted less from word-of-mouth than suffered from release date: They were released the week before Christmas, when they did so-so business because everyone was superbusy, then held or did better the week after Christmas, when everyone wanted to be with their relatives without actually talking to them.
So if you eliminate the week-before-Xmas movies? The second weekend of “Argo” is now 11th.
But some of these 10 movies are week-before-Thanksgiving movies. Same deal. So if you eliminate mid-to-late November films? “Argo” is now 6th.
The remainder are kids' movies—“Shrek,” “Puss in Boots,” “Brother Bear,” “Flushed Away,” and “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause”—which have longer shelf lives than other genres.
It's fairly unprecedented, in other words, for “Argo” to be doing what it's doing.
On the other hand, a lot of movies this weekend had low drop-offs: “Hotel Transylvania” (-21.7%), “Pitch Perfect” (-24.4%), and “Here Comes the Boom” (-28.1%). What's going on?
In many school districts around the country, this is “fall break” weekend, something we didn't have when I was growing up, in which students take Thursday and Friday off. So it was a type of holiday weekend. Just not one most of us notice. And I guess it made a slight dent at the box office. Slightly.
More, the new wide-release movies this weekend, “Paranormal” and “Alex Cross,” Tyler Perry's stab at action stardom, stunk, garnering ratings of 8% and 0%, respectively, from the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
So if you were parents who celebrated “fall break” by getting away from your kids for a night, and you're smart, the choice was pretty clear. Alex What? Paranormal Blah-blah? Hey, I heard the Ben Affleck movie is good. Let's go.
Ben Affleck in Iran in “Argo.”
Hollywood B.O.: Took
“Taken 2,” the movie whose very name is both absurd (“Hey, how come we keep getting taken?”) and indicative of how movie studios see moviegoers (thus the rejected title, “Taken Again”), earned $50 million at the box office this weekend. That's the biggest opening weekend since “The Dark Knight Rises” in July and the third-biggest opening weekend in October ever, behind only “Paranormal Activity 3” from 2011 and “Jackass 3D” from 2010.
It did all this despite a 19% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Among the comments:
- “An attempt to see how stupid and insulting a motion picture can be and still be a big hit.” — Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com
- “So lazily put together that it relies on flashbacks from its predecessor for the majority of its character development.” --Dana Stevens, Slate
Then there's this prescient blurb:
- “It'll have a great opening weekend, but it still seems a shame to have diluted the action-flick purity of the first 'Taken' with this cash grab.” — Mike Russell, Oregonian
In other news, Tim Burton's “Frankenweenie” grossed only $11.5 million in more than 3,000 theaters and finished in fifth place: behind “Taken 2” and the second weekends of “Hotel Transylvania,” “Looper” and something called “Pitch Perfect.”
The TCB numbers here.
It's “Taken 2”: Everybody close your eyes!
Hollywood B.O.: The Growing Link Between Box Office and Rotten Tomato Scores
Last night on RottenTomatoes.com, while checking out a slideshow ranking 2012 summer movies by RT score, I noticed how much the rankings correlated with box office. In 2008, on Slate, I argued just that. I.e., quality (as seen by RT rating) tends to equal quantity (in box office $$), particularly when you attempt to sort out variables such as viewing opportunities.
Here's the list of the summer movies of 2012, with Rotten Tomatoes ratings and rankings, but ranked by summer box office. (A red RT rating means it's fresh: 60% or more critics liked it):
|RT rating||RT rank||BO Rank||Movie||Box Office||Thtrs||Open||Close|
|92%||2||1||Marvel's The Avengers||$617,814,000||4,349||4-May||-|
|87%||3||2||The Dark Knight Rises||$422,188,000||4,404||20-Jul||-|
|73%||10||3||The Amazing Spider-Man||$258,364,000||4,318||3-Jul||-|
|75%||9||6||Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted||$213,689,000||4,263||8-Jun||-|
|48%||25||8||Snow White and the Huntsman||$154,920,000||3,777||1-Jun||-|
|39%||30||9||Ice Age: Continental Drift||$153,409,000||3,886||13-Jul||-|
|55%||20||12||The Bourne Legacy||$85,500,000||3,753||10-Aug||-|
|21%||38||15||Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection||$65,044,500||2,161||29-Jun||-|
|31%||34||18||Total Recall (2012)||$55,263,000||3,601||3-Aug||-|
|66%||16||19||The Expendables 2||$52,314,000||3,355||17-Aug||-|
|48%||24||23||Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days||$42,863,000||3,401||3-Aug||-|
|23%||35||24||What to Expect When You're Expecting||$41,152,203||3,021||18-May||2-Aug|
|41%||28||25||Rock of Ages||$38,518,613||3,470||15-Jun||16-Aug|
|35%||32||26||Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter||$37,344,398||3,109||22-Jun||-|
|22%||36||27||That's My Boy||$36,931,089||3,030||15-Jun||22-Jul|
|43%||27||28||Step Up Revolution||$33,709,000||2,606||27-Jul||-|
|38%||31||31||The Odd Life of Timothy Green||$27,080,000||2,598||15-Aug||-|
|77%||7||32||Katy Perry: Part of Me||$25,311,000||2,732||5-Jul||-|
|57%||19||35||People Like Us||$12,422,529||2,055||29-Jun||-|
|52%||23||36||Seeking a Friend for the End of the World||$7,078,738||1,625||22-Jun||5-Jul|
|44%||26||38||Hit and Run||$5,868,000||2,870||22-Aug||-|
|16%||40||39||For Greater Glory||$5,672,846||757||1-Jun||16-Aug|
|7%||42||40||Nitro Circus the Movie 3D||$3,300,000||800||8-Aug||-|
Of the 43 summer movies listed, 17 were rated fresh. These include the seven highest-grossing films of the summer, and nine of the top 11. The highest-grossing film, “The Avengers,” had the second-highest RT score. The second highest-grossing film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” had the third-highest RT score.
Of the fresh films, the anomalies were the August releases (“Premium Rush,” “ParaNorman,” “Hope Springs,” “The Expendables 2”), which perhaps haven't had their box-office due yet; the auteur films (“Moonrise Kingdom,” “Cosmopolis”), which were distributed accordingly (i.e., parsimoniously); and “Katy Perry: Part of Me,” which, apparently, moviegoers just didn't care to see.
Of the rotten films, the true overperformers were “Snow White and the Huntsman,” which finished 8th for the summer; and “Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection,” which, as a Tyler Perry movie, is virtually critic-proof.
The other rotten films? Underperformers. “Ice Age” grossed the least of the “Ice Age” franchise, “The Bourne Legacy” grossed the least of the “Bourne” franchise, and potential tentpole films like “Battleship” and “Total Recall” folded up opening weekend.
Basically, if a movie was deemed good on RottenTomatoes, and was readily available, moviegoers went to see it. Exactly as I stated in 2008.
In fact, it's truer today than it was then. My article focused on 2007, a year in which box office was dominated by lame and generally rotten sequels such as “Spider-Man 3,” “Shrek the Third,” and the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. Now box office is dominated by films RT has deemed fresh.
I don't know if this is part of a trend. I don't know if moviegoers are using sites such as RT, or social media, in order to figure out—possibly at the theater—which movies to go see. Would be cool if it were true.
Or could RT critics be tailoring their reviews for summer blockbusters? “These are the popular movies and so I must judge them accordingly?” Would be a drag if that were true.
But how else to explain 69% for “MIB 3,” 66% for “The Campaign” and, back in 2007, 62% for effin' “Spider-Man 3,” one of the worst superhero movies ever made? Could it be that, just as there's carryover in box office from a good film to a bad sequel, so there's carryover in RT numbers? Critics say, “Not as good as ... but you'll have a good time ...”? That would certainly explain the 87% rating for “Dark Knight Rises,” the third highest-ranked film of the summer, which had its share of problems. As even fanboys have admitted. (HISHE: Still waiting on “How 'Ted' Should Have Ended.”)
Bottom line: If you saw “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Avengers” this summer, you won.
And the children shall lead. The top three summer 2012 movies as ranked by Rotten Tomatoes: an adult's view of kids, and kids' views of adults.
Hollywood B.O.: Conservatives Turn Out for D'Souza Horror Film
The big news at the box office this weekend isn't that “Expendables 2” won its second weekend with a tepid $13 mil, followed by tepid turns from Bourne and Norman and The Campaign and Dark Knight and Timmy Green; nor that the highest-grossing new movie, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt's “Premium Rush,” grossed only $6.3 mil for seventh place. It's the movie that wound up in eighth place.
I hadn't heard of “2016: Obama's America” until it wound up in eighth place. It was written and directed by John Sullivan (“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” which is Ben Stein's doc on how great Intelligent Design is), and co-directed right-wing ideologue Dinesh D'Souza, who stars, and whose books include the following:
- 1995: The End of Racism
- 1997: Ronald Reagan: How An Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader
- 2000: The Virtue of Prosperity
- 2007: The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11
- 2010: The Roots of Obama's Rage
- 2012: Obama's America: Unmaking the American Dream
The documentary, such as it is, is based on the second-to-last book.
Meanwhile, the movie was released by Rocky Mountain Pictures, which tends to distribute little-seen movies with right-wing and/or Christian themes.
The doc, which examines the question “If Barack Obama wins a second term, where will we be in 2016?,” opened in Houston in July, and has gone wider each week. It began August in 10 theaters, then 61, then 169, now 1,091.
What's the movie about? Obama bad. He's been bad from the get go. As per his father's dream, he's the anti-colonialist returned to inflict punishment on the colonizers. (Psst. That's us.) Yes, it hasn't happened yet, yes, Obama's first term has been remarkable for its centricity; but there's no arguing with the paranoid. There's too much of a thrill there. According to the Washington Post review, here's how D'Souza foresees a second Obama term:
...if the president is reelected, the world four years from now will be darkened by the clouds of economic collapse, World War III (thanks to the wholesale renunciation of our nuclear superiority) and a terrifyingly ascendant new “United States of Islam” in the Middle East. These assertions are accompanied by footage of actual dark clouds and horror-movie music.
I find the paranoia of the far right both amusing and sad. It's amusing because it's so preposterous and it's sad because it never goes away. They were paranoid in the early '60s, they were paranoid in the mid-80s, and they're paranoid now. It's as sure as the turning of the earth. The right-wing folks who want to be scared plunked down $6.2 million this weekend and got their scare.
I might have to get into that racket. Seems like easy money.
Among other claims, D'Souza asserted that the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was due to the “sexual immodesty of liberal America” and that Abu Ghraib reflected “the values of a debauched liberalism run amok.”
Hollywood B.O.: Summer of Underperforming Sequels
In one of the last weekends of the movie summer, “The Expendables 2,” starring Stallone, et al., grossed $28 million at the domestic box office to lead the pack. That's indicative of the summer movie season. Not because stupid movies rule (although...) but because sequels and reboots have been underperforming against previous incarnations. Two year ago, the first “Expendables” opened with $34 million.
Other underpeforming sequels and reboots?
- “The Dark Knight Rises,” which will probably gross $100 million less than its predecessor, “The Dark Knight,” which topped out at $533 million in 2008.
- “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which will be the first cinematic Spidey movie to gross less than $300 million domestically. It's currently at $257 million and didn't make $1 million this weekend. The first Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” grossed $403 million in 2002, which, adjusted, would be $557 million today.
- “MIB 3,” which, unadjusted, is still the lowest-grossing of the “Men in Black” series. The first grossed $250 million back in the summer of '97. That's $438 million today.
- “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” the fourth in the series, and the fourth in terms of unadjusted domestic gross at $150 million. If you adjust for inflation, each incarnation has lost audience: $243, $239, $211, $150.
- “Total Recall,” which, at $51 million and fading, won't even gross what the original grossed ($119 million) in 1990.
- “The Bourne Legacy” The original kept growing in terms of B.O.: $121, $176, $227. This one will be lucky to gross $100 million.
The one sequel this summer that outpeformed its predecessors? “Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted.” The first made $193 in '05, the second $180 in '08. This $212 in '12. But if you adjust, the third is still $30+ million shy of the first.
The numbers are stronger worldwide, but still down:
|The Amazing Spider-Man||$692||$890||-$198|
|The Dark Knight Rises||$897||$1,001||-$104|
|Ice Age: Continental Drift||$794||$886||-$92|
|Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted||$565||$603||-$38|
Meanwhile, “Battleship” sank ($65), “The Campaign” flopped ($51), “Rock of Ages” whined ($38), “That's My Boy” miscarried ($37), and “The Watch” went unwatched ($33).
So what were the big winners of the summer box office besides “The Avengers” ($617/$1.4 billion)? A few overperformers:
- “Ted,” the Mark Wahlberg/teddy bear comedy, which has grossed $213 million and counting. That's the summer's fifth-best.
- “Snow White and the Huntsman”: $155 million.
- “Magic Mike”: $112 million.
Then there's Wes Anderson's “Moonrise Kingdom,” whose widest release was 924 theaters, but which still grossed $43 million. The following is a list of movies with wider releases that grossed less:
|What to Expect When You're Expecting||$41,152,203||3,021|
|Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days||$38,762,000||3,401|
|Rock of Ages||$38,518,613||3,470|
|Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter||$37,233,819||3,109|
|That's My Boy||$36,931,089||3,030|
|Step Up Revolution||$32,853,000||2,606|
|Katy Perry: Part of Me||$25,239,000||2,732|
|People Like Us||$12,395,078||2,055|
|Seeking a Friend for the End of the World||$7,078,738||1,620|
So is this sequel fade an aberration? Or are we finally getting tired of seeing the same old story sped up and dumbed down? Who knows? But expect “Ted 2” in summer 2014.
TED talks: Only “Avengers,” “Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man” and “Brave” grossed more this summer.
Why They're Making 'Grown-Ups 2'
This is how Adam Sandler's recent movies have done at the box office (sans the serious-ish films, such as “Funny People” and “Reign Over Me”):
|Release||Movie||Dist.||U.S. Box Office|
|5/27/05||The Longest Yard||Par.||$158,119,460|
|7/20/07||I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry||Uni.||$120,059,556|
|6/6/08||You Don't Mess with the Zohan||Sony||$100,018,837|
|2/11/11||Just Go With It||Sony||$103,028,109|
|11/11/11||Jack and Jill||Sony||$74,158,157|
|6/15/12||That's My Boy||Sony||$36,931,089|
The high point was “Grown Ups” in 2010. The low point is wherever “That's My Boy” winds up, which won't be much different than the above. It's been out since mid-June. Last weekend, it played in 84 theaters and grossed $74K.
The poor showing of “That's My Boy” is one of the many delights of the summer movie season. More delightful? “Moonrise Kingdom,” whose widest relief was fewer than 1,000 theaters, actually grossed more than Sandler's gross-out comedy. It's at $42 million. Last weekend it earned another half million. It's Wes Anderson's biggest hit since “Royal Tenenbaums” ($52 million in 2001).
That's our boy.
2012 Box Office Trivia Question
The highest-grossing movies of the year thus far, domestic, are no surprise—although I think we thought Spidey would do better. And the full ramifications of the Aurora shootings aren't in yet for “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Here are the top 5, as of Sunday morning:
- THE AVENGERS: $615 million
- THE HUNGER GAMES: $405 million
- THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: $235 million
- THE DARK KNIGHT RISES: $225 million
- THE LORAX: $214 million
By the end of the weekend, “Dark Knight” will surpass Spidey, and No. 6, Pixar's “Brave,” will surpass “The Lorax.” But that's not the question. Here's the question:
What is the highest-grossing live-action comedy of the year thus far?
Answer in the comments field.
The Most Stunning Moment at 'Amazing Spider-Man'
I've been on vacation for a week, visiting family in Minneapolis, which is why the week-long silence. But before we get into everything else, I did want to share one incident.
Patrica and I were taking my nephews, Jordy, 11, and Ryan, 9, to see “The Amazing Spider-Man.” It was playing in about five different venues in Minneapolis, including the Mall of America, but I opted for the Southdale Theater since I have a tendency to get lost and disoriented at the MOA. Plus Southdale was playing an IMAX-3D version of the movie. Of course it turned out to be faux IMAX—a big flat screen rather than a huge, curved screen—but the movie was enjoyable enough. I'll have a more in-depth take later this week.
The most stunning thing about the movie, though, happened before it even started. It happened when I bought the tickets. My conversation with the ticket agent went something like this:
Me: Four, please.
He: That'll be $64.00
Hollywood B.O.: Brave New World for Pixar
Last Friday, Box Office Mojo's headline trumpeted Pixar's long-standing reign atop the domestic box office:
Pixar Aims for 13th-Straight First Place Debut with 'Brave.'
That is indeed impressive, and “Brave” performed impressively, grossing $66.7 million in 4,164 theaters, far outpacing the other big debut film, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which grossed just $16.5 million in 3,108 theaters. “Madagascar 3” fell off by 40% but still finished in second place with $20 million.
“Brave” is, of course, the first “girl-centered” Pixar product. So how does that $66 mil stack up against other Pixar films?
|1||Toy Story 3||$110,307,189||4,028||$415,004,880||6/18/10|
|10||Toy Story 2||$57,388,839||3,236||$245,852,179||11/24/99|
|12||A Bug's Life||$33,258,052||2,686||$162,798,565||11/27/98|
Interestingly, with the exception of “Ratatouille” on the low side and “Toy Story 3” on the high, every Pixar movie this century has opened in the $60-$70 million range, and, of course, $66 mil is right in the middle of that.
But if you adjust for inflation you get a slightly different story:
|1||Toy Story 3||$110,867,100||4,028||6/18/10|
|4||Toy Story 2||$89,472,400||3,236||11/24/99|
|11||A Bug's Life||$56,162,900||2,686||11/27/98|
It's not just “Brave.” With the exception of “Toy Story 3,” Pixar's big openings came with the four movies released between 1999 and 2004. Since then it's been kinda same-old, same-old. Their movies are in more theaters and grossing less.
Is it the movies themselves? The association with Disney? Are parents waiting for the DVD to shut the kids up?
“Brave” needs good word-of-mouth to keep going. “Up” and “Cars 2” opened similarly, but “Cars 2,” which was forgettable and poorly reviewed (38% on RT), finished with $100 million less than “Up,” which was unforgettable and spectacularly reviewed (98%).
“Brave”'s RT numbers are middling-positive: 74%. Should we guess a final domestic tally of $240 million?
In other B.O. news, “Prometheus” (4th) passed the $100 million mark, “Madagascar 3” (2nd) passed the $150 million mark, and “The Avengers” (8th) grossed another $7 mil to come within spitting distance, or $1.7 million, of $600 million. It will be the first non-James Cameron movie to reach that mark.
The boyish-yes-but-I-like-it-too numbers here.
Girls with bows don't need bows.
Hollywood B.O. Is Adam Sandler's 15-Year Reign of Terror Over?
Second weekends of “Madagascar 3” and “Prometheus,” hardly the summer's big blockbusters, beat out first weekends of the latest Tom Cruise movie, “Rock of Ages,” and the latest Adam Sandler comedy, “That's My Boy,” which finished third and fifth, respectively.
The failure of the Sandler movie feels like bigger news to me, since the Cruise flick is hardly his flick. He's barely mentioned in the ads. Plus he plays out of character: '80s hairband rock star rather than 21st-century, short-haired action star.
But Sandler? He's going with his usual schtick, playing obnoxious Wazaaaap party dad to an uptight son played by Andy Samberg. Is Sandler's audience growing up? Having kids of its own? Can't get out of the house even on Father's Day weekend? Because they're not there. In 2010, Sandler's “Grown Ups” opened at $40 mil. In 2011, “Just Go With It” (in February) and “Jack and Jill” (in November) opened at $30 and $25 mil, respectively. This one? $13 mil. The only Sandler movies to open lower were '90s movies before he broke big, and his more recent attempts at serious films: “Reign over Me” at $7 mil in 2007 and “Punch Drunk Love,” in 2003, which, seen as a Paul Thomas Anderson movie rather than an A. Sandler movie, opened with $367K.
Both new movies were poorly reviewed, 23% for “Boy” and 42% for “Rock,” while the two returning movies were better-reviewed, 75% for “M3” and 73% for “Prometheus.” But bad reviews never stopped Sandler's fans before. One wonders what's doing it now.
Meanwhile, “Snow White and the Huntsman” grossed another $13.8 m for a total of $122. That's almost twice as much as “Battleship,” in 11th place with $1.2 mil for a total of $62. Anyone see that coming three months ago?
“MIB 3,” in sixth place with $10, is now at $152, while “The Avengers” added another $8.8, and are $13.3 from being the first non-James Cameron film to cross the $600 million domestic barrier.
The fall of Adam Sandler: from $40m in 2010 to $25m in 2011 to $13m in 2011.
Hollywood B.O.: Madagaswhatever Wins Weekend
Which one is “Madagascar” again? Right, the one with Ben Stiller. Apologies. It's animals and famous voices in multiple sequels and I get it confused with “Ice Age” or “Kung Fu Panda” or whatever. One of those.
So it won the weekend. Hey! Congrats. Its third iteration. It grossed $60 mil. The first one in 2005 opened to $47m on its way to $193, the second opened to $63m on its way to $180. But each grossed over half a billion worldwide so here's the third. Grossed $60m on its way to... $170? Judged by all critics, it's fresh (76%). Judged by top critics, it's rotten (58%). The important thing is that moviegoers in Brazil and Slovakia like it.
“Prometheus,” the “Alien” prequel, grossed $50 mil. Maybe I'll see it. Not much of a fan of prequels. Who is? They're stories for when your characters have died off, or, like Richard Gere in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” have nowhere else to go.
Every other movie dropped fast: “Snow White,” 59%; “MIB 3,” 51%; even “The Avengers,” after their thus-far $571m run domestic (third all time), and $1.39 billion run worldwide (third all time), is a bit tuckered, and dropped 47%. Our boys, and va-va-voom girl, wouldn't mind a little shawarma about now.
The movie I saw, Wes Anderson's “Moonrise Kingdom” (review up tomorrow), finished 10th, with $1.% mil, but it only played in 96 theaters. Thanks for shit, Focus Features.
Question: Which Wes Anderson movie is his biggest box office hit? Answers in the comments field.
The animated weekly numbers here.
Scout Master Ward and his khaki scouts looking up at the 4,000+ theaters in which “Madagascar 3” played. It played in 96. Distribution does not love Wes Anderson.
All-Time Box Office for Musicals
This morning's post about “Les Miserables” got me thinking about the history of musicals at the box office. The following is a chart, in reverse chronlogical order, of all the major (and not so major) musicals released in the states since 1974:
|High School Musical 3: Senior Year||$90,559,416||3,626||10/24/08|
|Across the Universe||$24,343,673||964||9/14/07|
|The Phantom of the Opera||$51,268,815||1,515||12/22/04|
|Beyond the Sea||$6,318,709||383||12/17/04|
|Hedwig and the Angry Inch||$3,067,312||101||7/20/01|
|Dancer in the Dark||$4,184,036||126||9/22/00|
|Blues Brothers 2000||$14,051,384||2,516||2/6/98|
|Everyone Says I Love You||$9,759,200||276||12/6/96|
|Earth Girls Are Easy||$3,916,303||317||5/12/89|
|Little Shop of Horrors||$38,748,395||1,183||12/19/86|
|A Chorus Line||$14,202,899||680||12/13/85|
|The Pirate Movie||$7,983,086||757||8/6/82|
|The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas||$69,701,637||1,435||7/23/82|
|Pennies From Heaven||$9,171,289||-||12/11/81|
|The Blues Brothers||$57,229,890||-||6/20/80|
|All That Jazz||$37,823,676||-||12/20/79|
|Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band||$20,378,470||-||7/21/78|
|New York, New York||$16,400,000||-||6/22/77|
|That's Entertainment! II||$4,979,380||-||5/16/76|
|The Rocky Horror Picture Show||$112,892,319||-||9/26/75|
|At Long Last Love||$1,500,000||-||3/6/75|
You'll notice that no musical in the last 40 years has grossed as much as “Grease” did ... in 1978. Pretty astonishing. Adjusted for inflation, “Grease” is actually the 26th highest-grossing domestic film of all time. But it's not close to the highest-grossing musical. You need a little Julie Andrews for that.
Here are the top eight musicals, adjusted for inflation:
|1||The Sound of Music||$1,127,929,800||1965|
|4||The Bells of St. Mary's||$496,941,200||1945|
|5||My Fair Lady||$475,200,000||1964|
|6||West Side Story||$443,284,700||1961|
|7||The Rocky Horror Picture Show||$436,149,800||1975|
|8||A Star Is Born
The hills were alive.
Travolta in “Grease” (1978), which was the No. 1 box-office hit of 1978. “Superman” was No. 2. No musical has done as well, even unadjusted, since.
Hollywood B.O.: First Weekend of 'MIB III' Outgrosses Fourth Weekend of 'The Avengers'
For the first time this month, a movie other than “The Avengers” won the weekend. Three-day estimates have “MIB III,” or the third installment of the “Men in Black” series, which began when Clinton was president, in first place with $55 million. “The Avengers,” dropping just 33%, is in second place with $36.9 million. In third place, one-time tentpole “Battleship” fell nearly 60% to $10 million. Its overall 10-day gross is just $44 million. Sunk. Won't have to worry about those damned sequels.
“MIB”'s numbers aren't sunk but they're not great, either. Its opening weekend numbers have grown somewhat since its first release:
- Men in Black (1997): $51 million on its way to $250 million
- Men in Black II (2002): $52 million on its way to $190 million
- MIB III (2012): $55 million on its way to...?
That's unadjusted, of course. Adjust for inflation and you have this:
- Men in Black (1997): $88 million on its way to $432 million
- Men in Black II (2002): $71 million on its way to $259 million
- MIB III (2012): $55 million on its way to...?
I'm guessing less than $200 million. Ten years is a long time between second and third sequels, “Back in Time” tagline notwithstanding. Four years is a long time for a movie star to disappear—even one as popular as Will Smith. Redford did it once and stopped being Redford.
On the plus side, the reviews were OK: 68% on Rotten Tomatoes vs. 39% for “Men in Black II.”
When “Men in Black” premiered in 1997, Smith was in his late 20s; he went on to become the world's biggest movie star. He's in his 40s now, with two teenaged kids, yet he seems to be playing the same guy: the mouthy upstart. Is there another role we want to see him in? Soon? Fifty ain't far off. Unfortunately, according to IMDb, these are the movies on his plate: “I, Robot II,” “Hancock II,” “Bad Boys III.” No new ideas for W. Smith.
“The Avengers,” a semi-new idea, continues to amaze at the box office. Its domestic total is now at $513 million, so it should pass “The Dark Knight” ($533m) by Wednesday or Thursday for third place on the all-time domestic chart. Another $33 million and it'll pass the last “Harry Potter” for third place on the all-time worldwide chart, too. Then on both charts it'll just have James Cameron in front of it. But that's rarefied air. Movies tend to slow down there and begin to choke. We'll see how Marvel's superheroes do.
The flashy-thing numbers here.
Adjusted for inflation, these movies grossed the following on opening weekend: $88 million, $71 million, $55 million. A trend.
Hollywood B.O.: Universal Studio to U.S. Audiences: 'You Sunk My Battleship!'
Sometimes American audiences make you glow with pride. Or at least not shake your head with disgust.
Take this weekend. Universal's “Battleship,” brought to you by the toy company that brought you “Transformers,” opened to negative reviews (29% among top critics) and weak box office ($25.3 million). That was good enough for second place but it's less than half the $55 million grossed by the third weekend of “The Avengers,” which has now grossed $457 million domestically and $723 million abroad.
“The Avengers,” by the way, got an 86% rating from top critics. My review here.
How bad is a $25 million opening for a purported summer blockbuster? Let's limit our discussion to movies that opened in May. Unadjusted, “Battleship”'s $25 mil is only the 63rd-biggest opening weekend in May. It's $4 million less than “Dark Shadows” grossed the weekend before, $2 million less than the opening of Eddie Murphy's “Daddy Day Care” in May 2003, and around $50 K less than “Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom” grossed on its opening weekend ... in May 1984. Remember “Dinosaur”? Neither do I. But it grossed $38 million during its opening weekend in May 2000.
Oh well. Rihana has something to fall back on, doesn't she?
As for “The Avengers”? Unadjusted for inflation, it's currently ranked sixth all-time domestically (behind “Star Wars,” “Star Wars Episode I,” “The Dark Knight,” “Titanic” and “Avatar”) and fourth all-time worldwide (behind the last “Harry Potter,” “Titanic” and “Avatar”). It will probably wind up second and third, respectively.
Adjust for infation, and it's currently ranked 61st, domestically, having just passed, “The Sixth Sense,” “Superman,” “Tootsie” and “Smokey and the Bandit.”
The J-10 numbers here. The 1960s commercial I must've seen 100 times below:
The Avengers on Cloud Five/Nine
A few weeks ago my friend Tim, longtime illustrator, and ErikLundegaard.com webmaster (thwip!), started a new comic strip. “Cloud Five” is for all those folks who can't reach Cloud Nine, which is most of us. Probably 99% of us. Check it out.
The latest storyline is, well, timely (yes, that's a pun): Ted and friends checking out “The Avengers” premiere. Here's the first of that series:
Click on the strip, or here, for a bigger version of same.
I laughed out loud when I read that but Benny's malapropism, like the best malapropisms, turned out to be true: “The Avengers” have done nothing but accumulate the dough since being released overseas 11 days ago and in the U.S. four days ago. Somewhere, Disney and Marvel execs are on cloud nine.
From 'Empire Strikes Back' to 'The Avengers': A Short History of the Biggest Opening Weekends in Recent Movie History
Here's a list of whichever movie has held the opening-weekend box-office record since 1980:
|Release||Movie||Opening||% of Total||Theaters||Total Gross|
|6/20/1980||The Empire Strikes Back||$10,840,307||5%||823||$209,398,025|
|6/4/1982||Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan||$14,347,221||18%||1,621||$78,912,963|
|5/25/1983||Return of the Jedi||$23,019,618||9%||1,002||$252,583,617|
|5/23/1984||Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom||$25,337,110||14%||1,687||$179,870,271|
|5/20/1987||Beverly Hills Cop II||$26,348,555||17%||2,326||$153,665,036|
|5/24/1989||Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade||$29,355,021||15%||2,327||$197,171,806|
|5/23/1997||The Lost World: Jurassic Park||$72,132,785||32%||3,281||$229,086,679|
|11/16/2001||Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone||$90,294,621||28%||3,672||$317,575,550|
|7/7/2006||Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest||$135,634,554||32%||4,133||$423,315,812|
|7/18/2008||The Dark Knight||$158,411,483||30%||4,366||$533,345,358|
|7/15/2011||Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2||$169,189,427||44%||4,375||$381,011,219|
source: Box Office Mojo
A lot of lame sequels here: “Superman II,” “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Ghostbusters II,” “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest,” and “Spider-Man 3.” They're sugary and contain no nutritional value. Think of them as the jujubes of movies.
The title for biggest opener flipped nine times in the 1980s, including three times within a month (May/June 1989) before “Batman” finally shredded the competition. Interesting seeing a few comedies in the mix. It's not just the Indiana Joneses and Luke Skywalkers battling it out; Murphy and Murray get in their punches, too.
Only two record-holders in the 1990s: Batman (three versions) and dinosaurs (two versions). The aughts began with Harry, swung over to Spidey, who got stumbled over by Capt. Jack Sparrow, who got thwipped by Spidey again, who got coldcocked by the Dark Knight. Then it was the boy wizard until Earth's Mightiest Heroes stormed onto the scene this past weekend.
That's a helluva jump, by the way: $169 million to $200 million. If it holds, it'll be the biggest jump for any new record-holder over the previous record-holder, besting Spidey's $24 million jump over Harry in 2001. That 18% advantage, though, while remarkable, isn't close to the best percentage leap, since “Jedi” bested “Khan” by 60% back in 1983. No one's going to do that anymore. Not even James Cameron.
Speaking of: the list is most interesting for what's not on it, namely “E.T.,” “Titanic” and “Avatar.” Our most popular movies.
OK, so they weren't all winners...
UPDATE: According to weekend actuals, “The Avengers” actually did better than projected: $207,438,708. Meaning it beat the last “Harry,” the previous record holder, by $38 million. Percentage-wise, that's a 22% jump, which is the biggest jump since “Spider-Man” bested “Jurassic Park II” by 27%. Since then, the record has been broken in the following incremental fashion: 18%, 11%, 4%, 6%. “Earth's Mightiest Heroes,” indeed.
Hollywood B.O.: 'The Avengers' SMASH Opening-Weekend Record with $200 Million
After seeing “The Avengers” on Friday, after seeing the long lines outside the Cinerama last night in downtown Seattle, I was wondering if “The Avengers” might do it. Not break the opening weekend box office record, set last July (with a $169-million three-day gross) by the last “Harry Potter” film. That seemed foregone. No, I was wondering if “The Avengers” might shoot past $200 million domestically. If it might break that barrier.
It seems it has. Early estimates indicate it has.
Over the weekend, I kept going back-and-forth in my mind on why it might do this:
- PRO: It has Iron Man and Captain America and Hulk and Thor. So it'll get all of these fans together at once.
- CON: All of these fans are the same. Thor fans are just a smaller subset of, say, Iron Man fans.
- PRO: People have been anticipating this movie for four years, since the teaser at the end of the first “Iron Man” movie in May 2008.
- CON: Isn't it the same people?
- PRO: The most recent trailers look amazing.
- CON: Will moviegoers assume the trailer contains all the film's good bits and not go?
- PRO: The reviews are positive: 93% on Rotten Tomatoes!
- CON: As a reviewer, I know: Few people read reviews. (Just in case: My review of “The Avengers” here.)
But the biggest PRO in this back-and-forth was the conversation I had waiting in line at the Pacific Center's IMAX theater on Friday. I talked to a couple standing behind me. They were in their late 50s or 60s. I think they asked a question about “The Avengers” and I guess I look like the kind of guy who might have the answer. (Read: NERD!!!)
Then we had the following conversation:
Me: What brings you out here?
Husband: It just seemed like the type of movie you see in a theater.
Wife: We rarely go to the movies.
Me: Rarely as in ... a couple of times a year?
Husband: Not even that.
Wife [backdating]: The last movie we went to see in a theater was ... the last “Star Wars” movie.
Me: In 2005?
Wife: Whenever it was.
Me: And that killed you from seeing movies in the theater.
Husband and wife: [Polite laughter]
Me: Do you know the story? The Avengers?
Husband: We've seen them on DVD.
Me: But this one...
Wife: It was big enough to bring us out.
It was apparently big enough to bring out a lot of folks.
Lesson to Hollywood: If you can bring out the people who haven't seen a movie in the theater in seven years, you're going to set some records.
$200 million? Or are the early estimates off?
Hollywood B.O.: Avengers Assembled! ... Overseas
Over the weekend I 'liked' Box Office Mojo's Facebook page and one of the first status updates I saw was its query, “What did you see this weekend?” It was a rather drab weekend at the box office—“Think Like a Man” won for the second weekend in a row with $17.6 million, yawn—but “Think Like a Man” wasn't the most popular answer from FB users. Neither were any of the debut movies: “The Five-Year Engagement” ($10.6 million), “Safe” ($7.8 million) and “The Raven” ($7.2 million).
No, the most popular answer, by far, was a movie that grossed $178 million over the weekend.
Wait. $178 million? I thought you said “Think Like a Man” won with $17.6 mil?!?
I did. And it did. In the U.S.
But overseas, “The Avengers,” that All-American group (well, Black Widow, Thor), debuted in 39 countries, and rocked 'em and socked 'em. It set opening weekend records in Mexico, Brazil, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. It killed in Australia and the UK and France. Its $178 million overseas gross is the ninth-best ever. And that's what all those international FB users were talking about. They were raving about “The Avengers.” Because they'd all seen it. Elsewhere.
In the U.S.? Sloppy seconds.
Among the FB comments:
- Wow, it actually got some pretty good reviews too here in Finland. The reviewer for the national broadcasting company YLE gave it 4/5 stars. This is pretty impressive for a comic book-movie.
- Really good movie, I saw it two times already in Dominican Republic! Really good 3D!!
- So glad Whedon is finally getting his due with the mainstream.
- How do people in Iran get to see Avengers before U.S.?
- Jealous much, americans?! :P
We assemble Friday. 'Nuff said.
That's right, Cap: You can be seen in the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan and the UK ... but not in America. Yet.
'Battleship' Opens Abroad Five Weeks Before U.S. Debut: Has Already Grossed $141 Million
I'm used to good foreign films showing in my city, Seattle, weeks or months after the big boys in NY and LA get it.
I'm still not used to U.S. films showing in most foreign countries weeks or months before the U.S. gets it.
That could become more common, though. According to The Hollywood Reporter, both “Thor” and “Fast Five” opened abroad a week earlier last spring. This spring? Universal’s “Battleship” is opening abroad five weeks before its U.S. debut.
Here's a list of the countries where the Hasbro-inspired flick is already playing:
|COUNTRY||RELEASE||OPENING||TOTAL BO||AS OF..|
|Serbia & Montenegro||4/19/12||$10,387||$14,515||4/22/12|
|United Arab Emirates||4/19/12||$929,818||$929,818||4/22/12|
It opens in the U.S. on May 18.
Rihanna fights aliens trying to sink her battleship.
Hollywood B.O.: ‘Think Like a Man’ Claims Box-Office Throne Despite Kenyan Rumors
According to Box Office Mojo, a liberal news media website, “Think Like a Man,” a relationship comedy that employs, according to the MPAA, “crude humor and drug use,” and which garnered a 49% rating on RottenTomatoes.com, has dethroned “The Hunger Games,” the hugely popular, spring blockbuster, which had sat atop the domestic box office charts for the past four weekends. The liberal website claims that “Man” grossed $33 million while “Hunger Games” made only $14.5 million, finishing third.
Yet here are some facts signaling that Box Office Mojo, the mainstream media, and those closely related to both know that “Think Like a Man” is ineligible to be the box-office champion for the weekend of April 20-22:
- IMDb.com, the movie website, did not certify that “Think Like a Man” was qualified to open as a movie in the U.S., but only that “Think Like a Man” was a completed film.
- The news media previously and numerously referred to “Think Like a Man” as a “Kenyan production” before it opened. After it opened, “Kenyan production” was dropped.
- Its production company, Rainforest Films, has previously released only films ineligible to be U.S. box office champ, including “The Brotherhood of MLK,” “Three Can Play that Game” and “No Good Deed,” which isn’t even a previously released film but is scheduled to be released in 2013.
- “No Good Deed” is set to star Taraji P. Henson, who is not related to Muppets creator Jim Hensen, and Idris Elba, who has long played U.S. citizens even though he was born and raised in Canning Town, London, which is, according to Google maps, close to Kenya.
- Rainforest Films has spent millions of dollars promoting “Think Like a Man” as an American film, ignoring all of the accusations that it is a Kenyan film.
It is not only “average Joes” who believe “Think Like a Man” is illegitimate, but state governments are expressing the same notion. The state of Arizona has recently passed a law that declares that “Think Like a Man” and other movies must prove their U.S. citizenship before being permitted to be screened in U.S. theaters. Many states are expected to follow Arizona's lead of resistance to unlawful Hollywood actions.
Consider what is really implied about “Think Like a Man”’s ineligibility and the cover-up by those in Hollywood and the liberal media. The cut-to-the-chase conclusion underlying this whole ordeal is that Hollywood is completely and utterly illegitimate and reeks of bad faith and intent. Any other conclusion is very difficult to believe, using logic and reason.
The illegitimate numbers here.
Hollywood B.O.: How Hunger Games Ranks with Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight and Avatar
“The Hunger Games” has now done something only three films since 2001 have done: ranked No. 1 at the box office for four or more consecutive weeks. The other 21st-century movies to manage this feat are: “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” which lasted four weeks in 2003-04; “The Dark Knight,” four weeks in the summer of 2008; and “Avatar,” seven weeks in 2009-10.
Here are Box Office Mojo's early estimates for the April 13-15 weekend:
|Rank||Movie||Wknd BO||Thtrs||Avg||Total BO|
|1||The Hunger Games||$21,500,000||3,916||$5,490||$337,070,000|
|2||The Three Stooges||$17,100,000||3,477||$4,918||$17,100,000|
|3||The Cabin in the Woods||$14,850,000||2,811||$5,283||$14,850,000|
|7||Wrath of the Titans||$6,905,000||3,102||$2,226||$71,251,000|
|8||21 Jump Street||$6,800,000||2,735||$2,486||$120,565,000|
|10||Dr. Seuss' The Lorax||$3,020,000||2,112||$1,430||$204,483,000|
Remaining No. 1 at the domestic box office for four weeks used to be fairly commonplace. How commonplace? Here are some of the less-than-stellr movies that managed it in the 1980s and '90s: “Never Say Never Again,” “Police Academy II: Their First Assignment,” “Uncle Buck,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Hot Shots,” “Hook,” “Basic Instinct,” “Under Siege,” and “Indecent Proposal.” Another multiplex in hell.
It was a yearly phenomenon, and generally a several-times-a-year phenomenon, until 2001. Then the game changed. Movies began opening wide, wider, widest. No more lines around the block. You went when you wanted, and most moviegoers wanted opening weekend. Movies became a “wham bam, thank-you, ma'am” phenomenon. They roared for a week, two if they were lucky, before dropping to a whisper, and then just dropping. I wrote about all of this back in 2006 for MSNBC.
Now it takes a truly stellar film, a repeat-viewing film, to remain on top more than two weeks.
So is “Hunger Games” in the same class as “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Avatar”? Or is something else going on here?
The movie has certainly had help from its March release date. The others were released in July and December, prime movie months, and went up against huge blockbusters. Katniss and company have had to fend off relatively weak competition: “Wrath of the Titans,” “American Reunion,” and “The Three Stooges.”
Even so, “THG” is already at $337 million. Its opening weekend was in “Spider-Man 3” territory ($152m vs. $151m for Spidey), and its second weekend fell off by a similar percentage (61.6% vs. 61.5% for Spidey), but since then it's held stronger. “Spidey 3” deservedly plummeted: down +50% in its third and fourth weekends, while Katniss has fallen only 43% and 35%. Its descent keeps slowing. It's got a golden parachute. Maybe from a sponsor.
Can it make $400 million? Do you want to bet against Katniss?
Katniss, taking aim at titans and stooges.
Odds Ever in 'Hunger Games's Favor: Grosses $155 Million Opening Weekend
“The Hunger Games,” which most analysts thought would do well this weekend, actually did better: It grossed more than $155 million for the third-highest-grossing opening weekend of all time—after only the last “Harry Potter” movie ($169m) and “The Dark Knight” ($158m).
Even adjusted for inflation, “THG” is in fifth place. It opened in 4,136 theaters.
“Hunger” also shattered the mark for an opening weekend in March and the opening weekend for a non-sequel, both of which had been held by Tim Burton's “Alice in the Wonderland,” which grossed $116 million in March 2010.
Its studio, “Lionsgate,” best known for Tyler Perry and “Saw” movies, as well as for foisting “Crash” on us all, has never had such a hit. Not even close. Its biggest hit prior to this was Michael Moore's “Fahrenheit 911,” which grossed $119 million during the summer of 2004.
“Hunger Games” killed the competition as well. Every returning movie showing in more than 1,000 theaters dropped more than 40% from the previous weekend. Disney's “John Carter” suffered the most, dropping 63.1%. Its three-weekend total is now at $62 million and doesn't look to get much higher.
Meanwhile, “21 Jump Street” dropped 41% to take in another $21 million. Its total gross is $71 million.
My reviews of “The Hunger Games” and “John Carter” up later this week.
The mocking totals here.
Katniss killing the competition.
Hungry for 'Hunger Games'
Holy crap! “The Hunger Games” grossed $68 million yesterday. That's the fifth-highest single-day gross ever, after the final “Harry Potter” and the three “Twilight” sequels. “The Dark Knight” is sixth. Apparently boys don't go to movies the way girls do.
I actually tried to go last night. “THG” is playing at Paul Allen's Cinerama, which would be a good theater to see it in, but I was running late. Its early show was too early and its late show was too late, so I decided to choose the lesser, closer theater, Meridian 16 in downtown Seattle, where it was playing every half hour. I was thinking 7:40. But when I arrived at 7:30 that one was sold out. 8:00 wasn't. One, please.
I looked at the ticket, Theater 9, went up two flights, past a long line for the 7:40 show on the second level, and stood in a small line on the third level for the 8:00 show. I hung there for a bit. My mind wandered. Occasionally I'd look down at the second level, see the line stretching there, look at the clock. “They're behind,” I thought. “Twenty minutes or so. That movie should've started already.” It was only near 8:00 that the second-level line moved and disappeared, and our line, the 8:00 line, began to fill up.
Around 8:15 I caught a snippet of a conversation in front of me. “Yes, this is the 8:30 line.” I was about to object when I rechecked my ticket. Theater 9? No, Theater 6, dummy! You were looking at it upside-down. You should've been in the line a floor below. The one that disappeared 15 minutes ago.
So I retreated to the first floor and tried buying a ticket for the show I'd been standing in line for. Nope. All sold out untl 9:30, which was too late for this bag of bones. I headed home in defeat. But I'll try to see it sometime this weekend.
God, the things girls make me do.
Between “Hunger Games” and Pixar's “Brave,” will this be our summer of girls with bows?
It's 2012: Have You Seen Any Good Movies Lately?
We just updated the Movie Reviews page and I was feeling a little guilty for not reviewing more 2012 movies: it's nearly mid-March and I've just done one, “Chronicle,” which I didn't particularly like. But then I checked out boxofficemojo.com on this weekend of “John Carter”'s weak opening (a reported $30 million for a movie that cost $250 million to make), and was reminded, for the millionth time, oh right, nothing good comes out in the first two months of the year:
|Rank||Movie Title||Studio||Total Gross||Thtrs||RT%|
|1||Dr. Seuss' The Lorax||Uni.||$121,950,000||3,746||57%|
|4||Journey 2: The Mysterious Island||WB||$90,716,000||3,500||42%|
|8||Act of Valor||Rela.||$56,100,597||3,053||29%|
|9||The Devil Inside||Par.||$53,203,521||2,551||7%|
|10||The Woman in Black||CBS||$53,015,000||2,856||65%|
|13||Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance||Sony||$48,065,000||3,174||15%|
|14||This Means War||Fox||$46,889,000||3,189||26%|
|18||Tyler Perry's Good Deeds||LGF||$30,542,000||2,132||31%|
|19||One For the Money||LGF||$26,121,500||2,737||2%|
|22||Man on a Ledge||Sum.||$18,620,000||2,998||32%|
|26||A Thousand Words||P/DW||$6,350,000||1,890||0%|
|27||Friends with Kids||RAtt.||$2,169,000||374||60%|
Only four movies with a plus-70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes: The aforementioned “Chronicle,” at 84%; “Haywire,” that martial-arts action chick movie; “The Grey” with Liam Neeson in the cold; and “Big Miracle,” also in the cold, with Drew Barrymore and Jim from “The Office” freeing whales trapped by ice and bureaucracy.
The best we've got thus far. Wake me when it's April.
“The Vow” supposedly sucked HUGE but still garnered a 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes: better than seven 2012 movies: “This Means War” and “Project X” (26%), “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vegeance” (15%), “Gone” (11%), “The Devil Inside” (7%), Katherine Heigl in “One for the Money” (2%), and Eddie Murphy in “A Thousand Words” (0%).
Hollywood B.O.: Second 'Ghost Rider'? Road Kill
How bad must a $100-million-grossing movie be before studios nix a sequel? Is there a limit? Some kind of badness ratio that indicates dropping interest? A point where caveat emptor (buyer beware) becomes caveat vendito (seller beware)?
The first “Ghost Rider,” starring Nicholas Cage, was released Presidents' Day weekend 2007 and grossed $45 million in three days and $52 million in four. It was No. 1 at the box office by a long shot. The next weekend it dropped more than 55 percent—bad, but hardly the worst second-weekend drop ever—and by the end of its run, its overall domestic gross was $115 million: barely twice what it grossed in its first four days. So there were a few warning signs. Plus its Rotten Tomatoes rating of 27% was only that high because of so-called positive reviews like this one from Dave White at MSN.com:
By any real-world standard, this is a stupid piece of junk. But it's very good at being a stupid piece of junk.
Five years later, Presidents' Day weekend 2012, the sequel no one asked for, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vegeance,” was distributed by Sony, who dumped it into more than 3,000 theaters despite a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 17%. Even so, the movie was expected to do ... OK. It might not draw as many moviegoers (“Fool me once,” etc.), and Cage has gone from star to punchline during that time, but prices were higher, and 3-D prices were even higher than that, and both would cover some of the ground lost.
Instead “Spirit of Vegeance” finished third for the weekend, grossing $22 million in three days. It got beat by the second weekends of “Safe House” and “The Vow.” GR lost his roar.
Could Sony have prevented all of this? Were there clues that the franchise, such as it was, had run its course, such as it was? Some measurement beyond RT ratings and second-weekend drops and opening-weekend-to-domestic-totals ratios?
I'm serious. I come not to mock Sony but to help them. And us.
What's not to like?
Hollywood B.O.: The Devil Whimpers
I haven't posted much on box office lately. Got bored with it, I guess. Began to do other things with my Sundays. More power to me.
So I missed the near-historic performance of “The Devil Inside” in the first week of January. Opening weekend, it was No. 1 at the box office with $33 million, even though moviegoers had a slew of great, end-of-the-year releases to choose from. (Fuckers.) But “Devil” was the only new film opening, it was horror, and the horror fans came out for it. (Fuckers.)
Then they didn't. That's the thing with horror. Opening weekend: BANG! Second weekend: whimper. For “Devil,” it was a near-historic second weekend of whimper:
||2nd Wknd Drop
||2nd Wknd BO
|Friday the 13th (2009)||$40m
|Star Trek: Nemesis||$18.5m
|The Devil Inside||$33.7m
It tied for the third-largest, second-weekend drop of any film opening in more than 2,000 theaters. The movies ahead of it? The Bennifer-related disaster that was “Gigli”; and the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th. “Devil” tied with the umpteenth version of a “Star Trek” sequel. It dropped 76.2 percent. That's like bungee jumping. Gnarly.
“The Devil Inside”'s second weekend wasn't helped by a 5% critics rating and a 23% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Its current IMDb rating? Where 7.0 is generally considered “good”? 3.6.
Hollywood B.O.: Crunching Numbers for HUGO
Paramount's decision to open Hugo on 1277 screens last Wednesday indicated (to me at least) that they were hedging their bets and hoping that critical raves and a word-of-mouth groundswell might materialize. As of last night Hugo had pulled in $8,545,000 after three days (having opened on 11.23) in 1277 theatres. That works out to a $6691 per-screen average...not bad, could be better. But it was fifth-placed after Breaking Dawn, The Muppets, Happy Feet 2 and Arthur Xmas (none of which I give a damn about).
The estimated numbers for the weekend are now in and it doesn't look much better:
|1||The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn||Sum.||$42,000,000||4,066||$10,330||2|
|3||Happy Feet Two||WB||$13,400,000||3,606||$3,716||2|
True, every other film in the top five played in more than 3,000 theaters, versus “Hugo”'s measley 1,277; but “Hugo”'s per-theater-average is still second best to “Twilight.”
But Box Office Mojo now offers more options to break down the numbers: not just theaters, but screens; and not just screens but showings. In this regard “Hugo” goes from a three-to-one disadvantage with “The Muppets” and a four-to-one disadvantage with “Twilight” to a six-to-one and 10-to-one disadvantage:
|1||The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn||Sum.||$42,000,000||7,200||104,500||$402||2|
|2||Happy Feet Two||WB||$13,400,000||6,500||71,000||$189||2|
|5||Jack and Jill||Sony||$10,300,000||3,100||43,100||$239||3|
|6||Puss in Boots||P/DW||$7,450,000||4,100||40,100||$186||5|
And if you sort these nine movies by average-per-show, you get a prettier picture:
|3||The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn||Sum.||$42,000,000||7,200||104,500||$402||2|
|4||Jack and Jill||Sony||$10,300,000||3,100||43,100||$239||3|
|8||Happy Feet Two||WB||$13,400,000||6,500||71,000||$189||2|
|9||Puss in Boots||P/DW||$7,450,000||4,100||40,100||$186||5|
Folks are obviously seeing it—at a two-to-one advantage over “The Muppets” and “Twilight.” The other movies don't even come into play. “Arthur Christmas,” another opener, is abyssmal in comparison.
Some of “Hugo”'s advantage is obviously 3-D money rather than kids in the seats. But one wonders, as always, how well it might have done if Paramount had just had the confidence to play it in more theaters, and on more screens, for more showings.
Still, I'm hoping for positive word-of-mouth. I love the movie, most people I know love the movie—our friend Laura kept thinking the word “enchanting” as she watched—and it's a movie that SHOULD BE SEEN IN THE THEATER. In 3-D. So go already. Please.
Meanwhile, last week, I said “Twilight” would drop like a rock. Did it? A bit: 69.6%, or about the same as Ang Lee's “Hulk,” “Jonah Hex” and “Eragon,” but not as bad as “New Moon” (70%). For movies opening in more than 3,000 theaters, it's the 12th-worst drop ever.
Find the enchanting numbers here. And go see “Hugo.”
Hollywood B.O.: Breaking Dawn Breaking Records
So “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1” grossed as much Friday ($72 million) as “Moneyball” has in a month and a half ($72.24 million). Sad. It's the third-highest single-day total ever, after the final “Harry Potter” earlier this summer ($91 million) and “Twilight: New Moon” two years ago November ($72.7 million).
Watch it drop like a rock. Friends are already posting their Facebook reviews and they're not pretty (the reviews; the friends are fine):
Go see Breaking Dawn if you want to die of boredom, cringe at the abysmal acting and horrendous dialogue, and laugh at all the wrong places.
I can't say I didn't deserve or expect it, BUT. Worst movie ever!!
Meanwhile, IMDb begins its commentary on the knock-out opening thus:
The Twilight phenomenon showed no signs of fading on Friday...
Isn't this the second-to-last one? So isn't that fading? Please say it is.
Meanwhile, waiting for “Hugo.”
Hollywood B.O.: “Paranormal Activity 3”? Really?
Yesterday, “Paranormal Activity 3” set the box office record for the biggest opening weekend in October with a $54 million haul. Did anyone see this coming? Here's Ray Stubers at Box Office Mojo last Friday:
[“Paranormal Activity 2”] wasn't as well received as the first installment, and horror movies generally haven't been performing over the last few months, so a slight decline for the third chapter in the series can be expected. At the same time, there was a slight uptick from “Saw II” to “Saw III,” so there is a chance “Paranormal Activity 3” exceeds its predecessor. Paramount is expecting a mid-$30 million opening followed by a better hold than “Paranormal Activity 2” ...
Of course, if you want to set a monthly box office record, October's not a bad month to do it in. Only January (“Cloverfield” at $40 million) and September (“Sweet Home Alabama” at $35 million) have lower opening-weekend records to break than October (previous: “Jackass 3-D” at $50 million).
Plus there's the company:
|Rank||Title||Opening||% of Total||Total Gross||Date|
|1||Paranormal Activity 3||$54,020,000||100%||$54,020,000||10/21/11|
|3||Scary Movie 3||$48,113,770||44%||$110,003,217||10/24/03|
|5||High School Musical 3||$42,030,184||46%||$90,559,416||10/24/08|
|6||Paranormal Activity 2||$40,678,424||48%||$84,752,907||10/22/10|
|11||Where the Wild Things Are||$32,695,407||42%||$77,233,467||10/16/09|
|15||Beverly Hills Chihuahua||$29,300,465||31%||$94,514,402||10/3/08|
“Where the Wild Things Are,” sure. “Red Dragon,” maybe. “Shark Tale,” meh. The rest is garbage. It's a film festival in hell. Do we all turn dumb in October or something?
“PA3”'s competition was also slight this weekend. “The Three Musketeers,” with its 0% top-critic rating (sample review: “Seriously: what the hell?” — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune), pulled in just $8.8 mil in more than 3,000 theaters, while “Johnny English Reborn,” with a 40% top-critic rating, eked out less than half that ($3.8 mil) in fewer than half the theaters. These two finished 4th and 8th, respectively.
Something called “The Mighty Macs,” a 2009 girls basketball movie starring Carla Gugino, and only now released, bombed, grossing about $1 million in almost 1,000 theaters. To give you an idea how bad that is: The movie I saw, “Margin Call” (89% top-critic rating, and recommended), played in 1/20 the theaters (56) but grossed 1/2 the money ($586,000).
Should “Margin Call” have been more widely distributed? I would argue yes, but most assume the masses aren't interested in its subject matter. The movie's about the beginning of the Global Financial Meltdown and people want to see scary stuff.
Hollywood B.O.: “Real Steel” or “Reel Steal”?
The number one movie in America for the second weekend in a row is a futuristic boxing tale in which an underdog boxer, and an underdog robot, spurred on by the underdog boxer's underdog kid, fight for the championship against all underdog odds. “Real Steel” looked awful in the trailer. It probably is. It only garnered a 61% Rotten Tomatoes rating because of reviews like these:
“This year's biggest, dumbest blockbuster. Like a hamburger dripping in grease, there's no nutritional value, but it goes down easily.” — David Edwards, Daily Mirror
“Thanks to an admittedly corny script, some amazing fight scenes, and a terrific cast, ”Real Steel's“ actually a winner by split decision.” — Richard Roeper, RichardRoeper.com
“This is a ridiculous movie. And yet, I enjoyed the hell out it.” --MaryAnn Johanson, Flick Filosopher
There it is: No. 1 for two weeks in a row. We should rename it “Reel Steal.”
Two new movies that are remakes of two old movies, which didn't need or deserve remaking, finished second and third: “Footloose” (53%) and “The Thing” (32%).
At no. 4 is the movie Patricia and I saw Friday night, “The Ides of March,” which is a smart, adult, political thriller. Review up tomorrow.
“Moneyball,” another smart, adult movie, is at no. 6.
None of these movies are making big bucks, of course. The most recent movie to gross more than $100 million is “The Help,” which was released on August 10, and is currently at $164 million. After that, it's the re-relase of “The Lion King” in 3-D ($90 million), followed by “Contagion” ($72 million), which is supposed to be good, but which I'm too germaphobic to see.
Clint: A man's gotta know his limitations.
Moviegoers in this country are revealing theirs.
The underdog totals.
“Sure, mate, go see the movie. Just don't use this up here.”
Quote of the Day
“I do think there is a tendency to underestimate audiences, I do think there is an appetite to be stretched. I do think people want to hear language at its best on the screen. I'm optimistic about it having an enormous audience.”
--Colin Firth on “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” specifically, and the film industry in general, at the Venice Film Festival.
I go back and forth on this issue, bitching about audiences one minute, insisting that audiences are smarter than we realize the next. I think studios pay too much attention to market research and test screenings, and don't promote and distribute better movies the way they should, and that, if they did, these movies would make money. At the same time, there are a lot of Big Jim McBobs and Billy Sol Hureks out there.
How Hollywood Is Outsourcing U.S. Movie Audiences
Let's talk about the billion-dollar movies for a second. As of today, September 10, 2011, there are 10.
“Titanic” was the first to gross over $1 billion worldwide, back in 1997, and it shattered the mark, pushing all the way to $1.8 billion.
The second film to break $1 billion was “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” which grossed $1.1 billion in 2003. Then “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest,” with $1.06 billion in 2006. “Dark Knight” did it in 2008 ($1.001 billion) and “Avatar” in 2009 ($2.7 billion).
That's five movies. It was a relatively rare event.
In the last two years—a year and a half, really—we've doubled that total: “Toy Story 3” ($1.06 billion) and “Alice in Wonderland” ($1.02) last year; and the final “Harry Potter” ($1.3), “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” ($1.1), and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” with ($1.03) this year.
From a U.S. perspective, the most recent “Pirates” movie, the fourth in the series, is the biggest head scratcher of the bunch. It bombed, relatively speaking, in the states, grossing a mere $240 million, the lowest total by far of the series, and nearly $200 million off the second “Pirates” movie, “Dead Man's Chest,” which grossed $423 million domestically in 2006. Yet POTC 4's worldwide gross is on par with, and may surpass, POTC 2. How is it making up that $183 million deficit?
More money is being made from the countries to which the film has traditionally been distributed. Yes, some countries, following the U.S. example, and despite inflationary ticket prices, are way down from the 2006 gross. In the U.K., POTC 4 fell off of POTC 2's total by $44 million. It grossed $9 million less in Spain (despite Penelope Cruz) and $3 million less in Denmark. That downward trend is also apparent in Belgium, New Zealand, Sweden, South Korea, Greece, Italy, Austria and Iceland. Altogether, in these 11 countries, the most recent “Pirates” dipped $64 million versus its 2006 incarnation.
Chart 1: Comparing the international grosses of two “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies: “Dead Man's Chest” (2006) and “On Stranger Tides” (2011)*
* All box office grosses are from boxofficemojo.com. “Stranger Tides”'s Indonesian and Swiss box-office totals are unavailable.
But the new “Pirates” more than made up for it in other countries, led by Russia-CIS, where it was up $36 million, and followed by Japan (+$24m), Brazil (+$19m) and Mexico (+$10m). Altogether, in these 28 countries, POTC 4 grossed $135 million more than POTC 2, for a net gain, from the traditional markets, of $71 million.
That's the first way it's made up the deficit.
The second way is that “Stranger Tides” has simply opened in more countries—32 more countries to be precise—including Vietnam, Qatar, Kuwait, India (surprisingly), and the big daddy of them all, China, where it's grossed $70 million this summer. Altogether, these 32 countries, 13 of which have yet to disclose box office grosses, added more than $100 million to the till.
Chart 2: Box office totals for “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (2011) in internatinal markets where “Dead Man's Chest” (2006) did not play*
* All box office grosses are from boxofficemojo.com.
Taken with the higher gross from the traditional markets, that makes up for the U.S. deficit.
This, I assume, will be the new norm for big international films. Inflation and aggressive distribution, and more leisure time in countries like China, will lead to more billion-dollar movies, even if the U.S. goes “meh” to the film.
Hollywood, like any industry, and Disney, like any corporation, is expanding its reach, and in doing so protects itself against a crappy product, as I believe POTC 4 to be. Business for this film was down in the U.S. because it was a poor film, with poor word-of-mouth, and it followed a crappy sequel, “Pirates 3,” which followed an overblown sequel, “Pirates 2,” which followed a not-bad movie, “Pirates,” way back in 2003. You can't keep doing that and not suffer financially. Yet, for a time anyway, Disney, with its aggressive expansion, has managed not to suffer financially for its poor product.
It almost feels as if moviegoers in the United States are being bypassed. It's as if we're being outsourced. First companies outsourced U.S. production; now they're doing it with U.S. consumption.
Expect a “Pirates 5.”
“Dead Man's Chest” (2006) made 39.7% of its total box office in the U.S.; “Stranger Tides” (2011), 23.2%. Yet they've grossed virtually the same at the worldwide box office.
Hollywood B.O.: Dog Days of August, More than Hurricane Irene, Keep Theaters Empty
The line from Variety and Box Office Mojo is that Hurricane Irene kept folks home and that's why the box office this weekend was so lousy. I find more to blame with recent August releases.
Here, for example, are the no. 1 movies for the current weekend, the 34th weekend, from 2005 to 2010:
- 2005: The 40-Year-Old Virgin *
- 2006: Invincible
- 2007: Superbad *
- 2008: Tropic Thunder *
- 2009: Inglourious Basterds
- 2010: The Expendables *
* second weekend of release
With the exception of last year's aptly titled “Expendables,” these are all good movies that I could see again right now.
This year? The no. 1 movie for the 34th weekend is the third weekend of “The Help,” the controversial, starry-eyed, 50-year-old view of racism that women can't seem to get enough of. But it only grossed $14 mil. It was no. 1 because this is what's been wide-released in the last two weeks:
- Spy Kids: All the Time in the World
- Conan the Barbarian
- Fright Night
- One Day
- Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
- Our Idiot Brother
“Fright Night” has good critical numbers (88% among top critics), as does “Our Idiot Brother (67%). The others are all certified rotten. Some extremely so: ”Conan“'s 23%; ”One Day“'s 27%. ”Spy Kids"'s 27%.
Here are the helpless totals.
Hollywood B.O.: No Love for Terrence Malick
My favorite box office site, Box Office Mojo, includes not only individual movie pages but indvidual pages for actors and directors so it's easy to see how their films have done over the years. Sean Penn gets one, for example. Did you know no Sean Penn movie has grossed over $100 domestically? None. “Mystic River” came closest back in 2003: $90 mil. You can sort by opening weekend, adjust for inflation, etc. It's fun for box office geeks like me.
Apparently it's not difficult to get a page, since the site includes pages for Rupert Wyatt, director of “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (and one other film), Tate Taylor, director of “The Help” (and one other kinda film), and Steven Quale, director of “Final Destination 5” (and one other IMAX film).
Guess who doesn't have a page? Terrence Malick, the greatest director of the last 20 years. Did he not provide information they needed? Is it somehow his slight (of them) or their slight (of him)? Anyway it forced me to look at the box office for his films individually rather than collectively. I didn't know, for example, that “The Thin Red Line” had done so well at the box office: $36 million for an art film. “New World” grossed $12 mil. Now “The Tree of Life” is also around $12 mil. But of course you have to factor in the extra bucks from 3D for that one.
So no love for Terrence on BOM but here's some movie-theater love, if not necessarily movie-audience love. Not my pic. From Connecticut, I believe:
Review of “Tree of Life” up tomorrow. (I didn't ask for my money back.)
Hollywood B.O.: Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield
Turns out “Captain America” wasn't the big opening-weekend box-office superhero this summer.
Initial estimates placed the domestic gross of “Cap” just above “Thor”'s $65.7 million but the actuals have it coming up just short: $65.0 million. Still not bad. Unadjusted, it's worse than the “Spider-Man”s and “X-Men”s and “Iron Man”s of the world but better than the “Fantastic Four”s and “Hulk”s.
It's also better than what was predicted. From boxoffice.com last Friday:
In the actuals, besides the $10 million jump for “Cap,” these estimates were over by $5 million for both “Harry Potter” and “Friends with Benefits.” “Transformers” actually came ahead of “Horrible Bosses,” while Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris” grossed another $.3 million, falling off only 3.8%, and might have a shot at $50 million domestic. It's already the highest-grossing domestic Woody Allen film at $44 million. Unadjusted. Adjust, and it's $90 million behind “Annie Hall”s $134 million.
What does all this mean? Not much. The numbers crunchers don't quite have our number yet, but nearly. The fate of “Cap” will depend on word of mouth: Good legs like “Thor” or bad legs like “F.F.”? And “Harry Potter,” record setter the previous weekend, fell like Icarus from the sky. Its 72% plummet is the biggest of the year, the biggest among 4,000-theater films, and the fourth-worst even among 3,000-theater films—after such crap as “Friday the 13th” (2009), “Doom,” and “A Nightmare of Elm Street” (2010).
And guess what? It doesn't matter. The film's been out a week and a half and its worldwide gross is nearing $1 billion. Talk about Wingardium Leviosa.
The Dark Knight is Dead; Long Live Prince Harry
So what movie did you see this weekend?
I finally got around to “Midnight in Paris” (fun!) and “Buck” (good!) but everyone else in America apparently went to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” which set a one-day record Friday by grossing $92 million (breaking “New Moon”'s 2009 record of $72 million), then, bien sur, broke the opening weekend mark of $158 million set by “The Dark Knight” in 2008 by pulling in $168 million. It also grossed $157 million overseas. Pretty soon, as the saying goes, we'll be talking real money.
This is the eighth Harry Potter film in 10 years, and, worldwide, the movies have grossed from $795 million (“Azkaban” in 2004) to $974 million (“Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone” in 2001), for a total of more than $6.6 billion. One assumes “Hallows 2,” after its jumpstart, will be the one over the $1 billion mark but that depends upon repeat customers and word-of-mouth.
(BTW: I'm sure this has been ridiculed for 10 years now, but how sad is it that in this country we can't bear a title with the word “philosopher” in it?)
Question of the day: How will Warner Bros. revive this lucrative franchise? By rebooting the sucker in three or four years with all-new cast members? Or by wrestling enough copyright away from J.K. Rowling to create its own Harry Potter adventures—a la Ian Fleming and James Bond? That's assuming Harry lives at the end of “Hallows 2.” I don't even know. I haven't read the books and I stopped with the movies about five years ago. Even the ones I've seen run together. There's our threesome, who often go up against the bad guys, including the blonde kid, Malfoy, the Nellie Olsen of wizards. You get to the school magically, where you play a game on broomsticks. Most of the teachers are old-school stoic. Some help, some hurt. Harry, the orphan, is the chosen one. Just because. There's a really really bad guy he's supposed to go up against. That's about it. But the world is taken.
Elsewhere, “Transformers 3” fell off 55% but still finished second, after two weekends at first, with $21 million. It's now passed the $300 million mark.
It was followed by the second weekend of “Horrible Bosses” ($17m), the second weekend of “Zookeepper” ($12m), the fourth weekend of “Cars 2” ($8.3 million) and the first weekend of the reboot of another British import, “Winnie the Pooh” ($8 million).
The magic totals here.
The Harry Potter posters: from “Let the Magic Begin” to “It All Ends.”
Hollywood B.O.: What Will Be the Highest-Grossing Comic Book Adaptation of 2011? Not Green Lantern ...
A Box Office Mojo poll (now closed) from earlier in the year:
|What will be the highest-grossing comic book adaptation of 2011?|
|39.2%||Captain America: The First Avenger|
|18.3%||X-Men: First Class|
|10.7%||Cowboys & Aliens|
“Priest” is already done. It didn't even gross $30 million. “X-Men: First Class” is already done. It's at $132 million but it's not going to catch “Thor” at $177 million.
“Green Lantern” is also done. It didn't do super business opening weekend, $53 million, then dropped 65.5% during its second weekend, which is the 28th-worst drop, first-to-second weekend, for a super-wide release (3,000+ theaters). It's the same drop that “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” had back in 2007, but “FF2” opened a little better, at $58 million, had $97 million by the end of its second weekend, and still only wound up grossing $132 million. “GL”? Opened, as I said, at $53 million, and reportedly has $89 million by the end of its second weekend. So it won't even do $132 million? How about $120? Some tentpoles just can't hold nothing up. Sorry, Mark Strong: Looks like no “Green Lantern 2.” When is Hollywood going to realize that you can't necessarily follow the “Batman Begins/Dark Knight” track by holding back the franchise's main villain for the second film. It only works if the first film is any good.
As for the superhero clash, we'll have to wait until July to see if “Captain America” or “Cowboys and Aliens” can unseat “Thor.” Like most Box Office Mojo users, I bet on Steve Rogers. And the trailers look increasingly good.
Meanwhile, “Cars 2” did well, opening at $68 million and first place, “Bad Teachers” did surprisingly well, opening at $32 million and second place, and “Bridesmaids” continued to drop least despite shedding theaters. It lost only 24% of its business, grossed another $5 million, and now has a domestic total of $147 million. That's the sixth-highest gross of the year.
The weekend totals here.
Would that it were true...
Hollywood B.O.: Green Lantern Lacks Green
“Green Lantern” grossed $52 million over the weekend, the sixth-best opening weekend of the year, but the lowest of the summer superhero films. “Thor” opened at $65 million in early May and “X-Men: First Class” opened at $55 million in early June.
More worrisome for Warner Bros. is the dropoff from Friday to Saturday: -22%, compared to -8% for “Thor” and -7% for “XMFC.” It's the worst Friday-to-Saturday dropoff of the year (for wide-release films), and the 27th-worst of all time (or at least on box office mojo's charts). True, this kind of Friday-to-Saturday dropoff can occur with big-buzz movies (“The Dark Knight”: -29%), or with films that appeal to an intense but narrow demographic, such as horror (three of the “Saw” films are on this list), or the “Twilight” franchise (two of the “Twilight”s are near the top of the list). But it can also indicate bad word-of-mouth. Another film that dropped -22%? “Sex and the City 2.”
“Mr. Popper's Penguins” opened less well, at $18 million.
Among the returning wide releases, “Bridesmaids” again fell off at a fraction of the rate of the others: -25%. It's now grossed $136 million.
The shocker, for me anyway, is seeing how well Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris” is doing. Its widest release is just over 1,000 theaters yet after another $5 million weekend its domestic total stands at $21.8 million. That's already sixth-best among unadjusted Woody Allen films, and less than $2 million away from passing both “Match Point” ($23.1) and “Vicki Cristina Barcelona” ($23.2) in the battle of Woody's Western European locales. The 3,2, 1 slots for the Woodman, for those intereested, are “Annie Hall” ($38m), “Manhattan” ($39m) and “Hannah and Her Sisters” ($40m). Adjust for inflation, and it's “Annie Hall” by a nose over “Manhattan”: $134m to $125m.
Hollywood B.O.: Bridesmaids Always a Bridesmaid But Manhandling Competition
“Bridesmaids” has always been a bridesmaid; it has never hit no. 1 on the weekend box office charts. But it is in the process of manhandling a bunch of the He-Men of Summer.
In its first weekend, May 13-15, the only other big opener was the apocalypse/vampire flick “Priest,” which finished with about half of “Bridesmaid”'s gross—$14 million to $26 million—while “Bridesmaids” finished second to the second weekend of “Thor”:
The next weekend, “Thor” fell 55%, “Bridesmaids” only 20%, so Wiig and copmany were now ahead of the God of Thunder; but their movie still finished second, way second, to the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie: $20 million to $90 million. (Keep that $70 million difference in your back pocket for a moment.) “Priest” fell a whopping 68% for fifth place. It was soon out of the picture.
|1.||Pirates of the Caribbean 4||$90m||NEW|
Memorial weekend? That was the “Hangover II” weekend, with a relatively weak open for “Kung Fu Panda 2” and a huge drop for “Pirates 4.” “Bridesmaids” dropped marginally: another 20%.
|2.||Kung Fu Panda 2
|3.||Pirates of the Caribbean 4||$39m||-55%|
First weekend in June? “X-Men: First Class” opened with $55 million and pushed “Bridesmaids” to fifth place. This was the biggest drop, percentage-wise, for the film, 27%, but it was still dropping at only half the rate of the men around it. Oh, and that $70 million “Pirates” advantage you kept in your back pocket? Take it out now. It's down to $5 million:
|1.||X-Men: First Class||$55m||NEW|
|2.||The Hangover II||$31m||-63%|
|3.||Kung Fu Panda 2||$23m||-50%|
|4.||Pirates of the Caribbean 4||$17m||-55%|
Which brings us to this past weekend. “Bridesmaids” and “Pirates 4” are now neck-in-neck.
|2.||X-Men: First Class||$25m||-54%|
|4.||Kung Fu Panda 2||$16m||-30%|
|5.||Pirates of the Caribbean 4||$10.7m||-39%|
“Bridesmaids”'s opening weekend was the 15th best opening of the year but the movie's domestic gross, $123 million, is now 7th best for the year. That's legs. That's word-of-mouth. The movie keeps on keeping on.
Hollywood B.O.: X-Men: First Class Suffers Not for Lack of Wolverine But Presence of Wolverine
Just a few words on Hollywood box office during the week I was on vacation.
“X-Men: First Class” opened poorly, or poorly for an “X-Men” movie, grossing $55 million in 3,641 theaters, down from “Wolverine”“s $85 million, which was down from ”X-Men: Last Stand“'s $102 million, which was better than ”X2“'s $85 million, which was again better than ”X-Men“'s $54 million in 2000. So 11 years later, the last has tied the first. That's unadjusted, of course. Adjust for inflation and the original ”X-Men“ earned $79 million, blowing away the recent prequel.
Industry blah-blahers attribute this lack of interest to the lack of Wolverine, the most popular of Charles Xavier's mutants, but I attribute it to the presence of ”Wolverine,“ the prequel that preceded this prequel, which sucked (a 17% top critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
Industry analysts still don't get it. With sequels, opening weekends are all about the previous film, not the current one. ”X2“ opened well because ”X-Men“ was good. ”X-Men: The Last Stand“ opened gangbusters because ”X2“ rocked. ”Wolverine“ opened less well because ”X-Men: The Last Stand“ reeked. The opening weekend box office of ”First Class“ is thus a reflection on ”Wolverine“ and ”Last Stand,“ as well as Fox's superhero films in general. Don't real foxes suck eggs? So does this Fox. Again and again.
In better box office news, I'm overjoyed by the continued success of ”Bridesmaids," which, since it opened May 13th, has dropped, weekend to weekend, only marginally: -20.4%, -20.7%, and -27.3%. Each drop is the lowest of the weekend for wide-release films. It's called word of mouth, people. The movie has now grossed $113 million. My girls got legs.
Hollywood B.O.: Americans Remember War Dead with Second Hangover
I hope everyone who ignored the 22% Rotten-Tomatoes rating (top critics) for “The Hangover Part II” is feeling a bit hungover this Memorial Day weekend, after wasting their time and money, and our cultural capital, on such a worthless sequel. And before anyone gets all “What do critics know anyway” on me, the first “Hangover,” two years ago, garnered a 77% RT/TC rating. Critics liked it. This one? Not so much. Yet the unwashed flocked. Because they remembered the first one.
One still born every minute, apparently. “Hangover II”'s Thursday opening, $31 million, was the third-best Thursday ever—after “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” and “Matrix Reloaded”—and it still had enough in the tank to deliver the second-best three-day opening this year, $86 million, second only to “Pirates of the Caribbean 3”'s $90 million. Summer's officially here. We're flocking to crap.
The other big opener, “Kung Fu Panda 2,” grossed a mere $48 million. Despite good reviews.
“Pirates of the Caribbean” fell 56.4% to $39 million and third place. I doubt it'll gross even as much as the first one grossed in the summer of 2003 ($305 million) but doubt Disney cares. $152 million in the U.S. so far but more than $623 million already worldwide. Pirates.
But let's highlight two other comedies in the top 10.
“Bridesmaids,” in its third weekend, continued to have legs despite the comedic competition. It fell only 21% for $16.3 millon and fourth place. That drop, by the way, is by far the lowest drop among wide releases. “Fast Five,” at 37%, is second. “Bridesmaids” has now grossed $85 million domestic and seems a sure thing for $100 million.
Meanwhile, Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris,” recent of the Cannes Film Festival, grossed $1.9 million for 7th place. Why talk about a $1.9 million movie when others are making more than half a billion? Because “Midnight” played in only 58 theaters yet made more money than “Something Borrowed, which played in 1,440 theaters, ”Rio,“ which played in 1,672 theaters, and ”Priest," which played in 1,918 theaters. Mazel tov.
Nothing says remembering your war dead like hijinks in Bangkok.
Hollywood B.O.: Pirates' Booty Shrinking But Bridesmaids Got Back
The fourth “Pirates,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” won the weekend with the best opening weekend of the year, but its openings have definitely fallen over the years:
- POTC: Dead Man's Chest (2006): $135 million
- POTC: At World's End (2007): $114 million
- POTC: On Stranger Tides (2011): $90 million
That's unadjusted. Here's what the numbers look like when you adjust for inflation:
- POTC: Dead Man's Chest (2006): $162 million
- POTC: At World's End (2007): $131 million
- POTC: On Stranger Tides (2011): $90 million
Plus with all those 3-D prices, I wouldn't be surprised if “Pirates” has lost more than half the audience it had in 2006. How does a franchise do that in five years? Here are its Rotten Tomatoes (top critic) numbers:
- POTC: Dead Man's Chest (2006): 41%
- POTC: At World's End (2007): 35%
- POTC: On Stranger Tides (2011): 32%
And I think those numbers are kind. Forty-one percent for “Dead Man's Chest”? I had to see it for this article on Johnny Depp and was too kind myself:
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is Depp’s first sequel, and, like most sequels, it’s bigger, louder and longer than the first. The set pieces are overwhelming. Everything is broader, including the comedy. That might not be a good thing.
The point is, you keep building crap and only the moviegoers with drool coming out of the sides of their mouths will keep showing up.
Meanwhile, “Bridesmaids” added 19 theaters and barely dropped at all, only 19 percent, good enough for $21 million and second place. I feel like I'm personally responsible for 100 of those people, I've talked it up so much. The movie's now at $59 million and could eventually make the $100 million mark.
“Thor” fell to earth like Thor falling to earth, slipping 55% to $15.5 million and third place. It now looks like it won't make that $200 million mark I talked up last week. “Fast Five” will, though. It added another $10 million for A domestic total of $186 million.
Hollywood B.O.: Thor Strong, Bridesmaids Bridesmaids (But Strong, Too)
Last weekend I wondered if “Thor,” grossing only $66 million opening weekend ($65.7, it turned out), could become a $200 million movie. This weekend is a good step in that direction. On early estimates, the movie only dropped 47.5 percent from its opening, raking in $34 million to finish in first place.
Why is that good? In a chart of superhero movies similar to “Thor” (that is: non-sequels or reboots), “Thor” has the sixth-lowest second-weekend drop:
And, really, the first two movies on this chart don't even count, being released in 1978 and 1989, respectively, which are different eras in movie distribution. So “Thor” is really fourth. And of those four, only one, “Spider-Man,” grossed more opening weekend.
More importantly, look at the movies behind it: “Iron Man” and “Dark Knight,” both of which had great word-of-mouth.
I'm assuming “Thor”'s word-of-mouth isn't as good, since the movie isn't as good. But the movie isn't “Fantastic Four” bad so the drop-off isn't “Fantastic Four” bad. Which is good news for Paramount and Marvel and the God of Thunder.
Meanwhile, my favorite comedy of the year, “Bridesmaids,” opened well, with an estimated $24.4 million in 2,918 theaters. Have you seen it yet? Do you need a laugh? Go. Spread the word.
“Fast Five” added 131 theaters and fell off only 39.8 percent from its second weeked to finish third. At $168 million, it looks poised to become the year's first $200 million movie.
“Priest,” opening in 2,800+ theaters to bad reviews, finished fourth, with $14.5 million.
Box Office Mojo's totals here.
Wiig salutes the happy couple: Thor and Jane Foster.
Hollywood B.O.: Thor Opens Better than Hulk, Fantastic Four and Daredevil; Worse than Wolverine, Iron Man and Spider-Man
When is a $66 million opening weekend a meh opening weekend? When it's a tentpole superhero movie (“Thor”), released into nearly 4,000 theaters (3,995), during the first weekend of May (prime movie real estate).
Here are the big grossers for the first weekend of May during the last few years:
- 2010: “Iron Man 2” ($128m)
- 2009: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” ($85m)
- 2008: “Iron Man” ($98.6m)
- 2007: “Spider-Man 3” ($151.1m)
You'd have to go all the way back to 2006, and Tom Cruise's “Mission Impossible III” to find a lower opening gross, $47.7m, than the $66 million “Thor” pulled in.
I'm sure Paramount and Marvel Entertainment were hoping for an “Iron Man,” or even a “Wolverine.” Instead “Thor”'s open is closer to “Hulk” ($62m in 2003) and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” ($58m in 2007). It's the 55th biggest opening weekend ever, which ain't bad, but adjust for inflation and it falls to 101st, behind such tentpole flicks as “The Waterboy” and “Scooby Doo.” And “Hulk” and “Fantastic Four.”
So we know “Thor” won't be a $300 million movie. But can it be a $200 million movie? To do so, it would have to triple its opening weekend total, i.e., make opening weekend 33 percent of its overall gross. That's doable, but would require some strong legs. “Iron Man” did it in 2008. Its opening weekend was 31 percent of its overall gross. But “Iron Man” had great word-of-mouth and cast-iron legs.
On the plus side, “Thor” has already grossed $176 milliion overseas. Asgard's box office: n/a.
In other news, “Fast Five” dropped fast. It finished second for the weekend but dropped 62.3 percent from the previous weekend.
The thunderous totals here.
Strong arms, yes, but you lift with your legs.
Hollywood B.O.: “Fast Five” Zooms Out of the Gate; Will It Fade?
This weekend “Fast Five” had the 27th best opening in movie history, unadjusted, grossing $83 million, and has already surpassed the total domestic gross of the third film in the franchise, “Tokyo Drift.”
It's actually worthwhile comparing these “Fast and Furious” movies, which began, in its current Vin Diesel-fueled incarnation, in the summer of 2001. First, let's remove “Tokyo Drift,” the red-headed stepchild of the franchise, from the equation, since it didn't include any of the original stars. Without it, a clear pattern emerges that is at one with the industry: bigger and bigger opening weekends, shorter and shorter legs:
- “The Fast and the Furious” (2001) grossed $40 million during its opening but $144 million overall. Opening as percentage of total? 28%
- “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003), the Diesel-less sequel, grossed $50 million opening and $127 overall: 40%.
- “Fast and Furious” (2009)? $70 million opening, $155 overall: 46%
Each movie makes a bigger splash but with smaller ripples. And if you adjust for inflation, well, nothing's surpassed the original in popularity and dough.
It'll be interesting to see if “Fast Five” is running on sprinter's legs, like the others, or if it has a bit of the long-distance runner in it. Because for the first time since the first movie, a “Fast and Furious” did well with critics:
- “The Fast and the Furious”: 64%
- “2 Fast 2 Furious”: 39%
- “Tokyo Drift”:43%
- “Fast and Furious”: 21%
- “Fast Five”: 81%
Will these higher numbers translate into a wider audience, and longer legs, or is the audience for these kinds of movies irrevocably narrow, the film's legs inevitably short and stubby?
Elsewhere, both “Prom” and “Hoodwinked Too!” bombed, grossing $5m and $4.1m in 2,700 and 2,500 theaters, respectively. “Dylan Dog,” with former (and underrated) Superman Brandon Routh in the lead, did even worse. It opened in 875 theaters and grossed less than $1 million, which is only a triumph on Bizarro world.
The quick totals.
Sure, “Fast Five” has arms; but does it have legs? (The above photo could also make a good caption contest, if anyone's willing.)
Hollywood B.O.: Easter Weekend Helps Resurrect Five Films
There are many reasons why the box office for a movie, in its second, third and fourth weekends, goes against the norm and doesn't drop off more than 30 percent.
It might have opened poorly and doesn't have much to drop off from. It might have opened opposite a blockbuster, “The Dark Knight,” say, so it takes a while for the audience to go, “Oh yeah, that one.” The distributor might have added hundreds of theaters. It could be the weekend after the Oscar noms, or the Oscars themselves, and that generates buzz. There's also positive word-of-mouth. Better movies, one assumes, have longer legs.
But it's rarity when this happens. How rare? Let's start with wide releases, 2,000+ theaters, where, weekend to weekend, no more than 300 theaters were added. That gives us 107 results for this year.
Of those 107, only 23 dropped off less than 30 percent from one weekend to the next. Here they are, sorted chronologically:
A lot of Oscar contenders here (“True Grit,” “Black Swan,” “King's Speech”), where word of mouth was presumably good. A lot of second-rate animated features (“Yogi Bear,” “Gnomeo and Juliet,” “Mars Needs Moms”), which didn't open well and made up for it in subsequent weekends.
But no weekend has more than three such results. This month it's been even rarer: Just three results for the entire month. And two are the same movie (“Insidious”).
But this weekend it happened five times. Five wide-release films dropped off less than 30 percent from the previous weekend.
It wasn't the number one movie, “Rio,” which dropped off 31 percent.
Numbers two and three were new releases: Tyler Perry's latest, which grossed $25.7, and “Water for Elephants,” which grossed $17.5
Number four? Yes. “Hop,” in its fourth weekend, Easter weekend, added 16.8 percent in revenue over last weekend. Easy to see why.
Number five, “Scream 4,” got killed in its second weekend—like most horror movies. It dropped 61.7 percent.
Is it the Easter weekend? Maybe. Last Easter weekend, though (April 4), every returning movie dropped more than 30 percent, and the year before, in 2009 (April 11), only two movies (“Knowing” and “I Love You, Man”) dropped less than 30 percent.
Is it word of mouth? Possibly. With the exception of “Hop” and “Soul Surfer,” all the movies have fresh Rotten Tomatoes ratings.
Crappy openings? Sure. With the exception of “Hop,” none of these movies opened with more than $15 million.
In the end, I'd say it's a combination of the Easter weekend, which gets people out, some postive word-of-mouth, which gets people remembering, and the fact that nothing exciting opened. A year ago, when every returning movie dropped more than 30 percent, “Clash of Titans” opened with more than $60 million. A year ago, I imagine families flocking to “Titans” without thought. This weekend, I imagine families looking up at the options, crinkling their noses, and going, “Well ... I heard 'Source Code' is supposed to be pretty good...”
The numbers resurrected at Box Office Mojo here.
Hollywood B.O.: America Shrugs for Atlas
What would Ayn Rand make of the opening weekend of “Atlas Shrugged”? What would John Galt? It grossed $1.6 million for 14th place. Sure, it played in a mere 300 theaters so the game was kind of rigged; but the marketplace is always rigged, and whining about it seems somehow unGaltian. Even if you sort by per-theater-average, “Atlas” only rises to 7th place, behind not only the opening weekends of “Scream 4,” “Rio” and the Italian thriller “Double Hour” (playing in only two theaters), but the second weekend of “Meek's Cutoff.” That last title seems particularly appropriate.
So “Rio” won the weekend: $40 million, first place. That's actually the best opening weekend for the year. Eesh. By this time last year we'd already seen opening weekends of $116 million (“Alice in Wonderland”), $61 million (“Clash of the Titans”), $56 million (“Valentine's Day”), $43 million (“How to Train Your Dragon”) and $41 million (“Shutter Island”). We'll shatter that $40 million in two weeks but it demonstrates just how slow 2011 has been out of the gate.
“Scream 4” came in second with $19 million. “Hop” keeps bouncing, finishing with $11.1 million and third, while “Soul Surfer,” the God-has-a-plan-because-a-shark-bit-off-my-arm movie, dropped only 30%, for $7.4 and fourth. “Hanna,” the movie I saw, and recommend, dropped 40% for $7.1 and fifth.
The other new film, Robert Redford's “The Conspirator,” grossed $3.9 in 707 theaters. Ninth.
“Rio” was also the no. 1 movie in 27 other countries. Here are a few of the countries that didn't succumb to Hollywood this weekend (links lead to trailers):
- France: Titeuf, le film
- Japan: OOO, Den-O, All Riders: Let's Go Kamen Riders
- Netherlands: Gooische vrouwen
- Thailand: King Naresuan: Part Three
My initial intention with the trailers was to show what else was out there, and I assumed, in a grass-is-greener way, that they would be good; but each of these trailers looks horrendous. Which of the four would you sit through? The Thai film looks most Hollywoody, the Japanese flick most Saturday-morning cartoony, so I might go with whatever the hell that Dutch film is. Just to embrace the difference.
OOO, Den-O, All Riders: Let's Go Kamen Riders
Hollywood B.O.: Lame “Hop” still outjumps “Arthur,” “Hanna,” “Your Highness” and the “Soul Surfer”
Eesh. Not a good weekend for new movies. Four opened, but none came within half of the second weekend of “Hop,” which still dropped 42.2%.
Here's how the top six fared by gross, via boxofficemojo.com, with the four new films in yellow:
||Studio||Weekend Gross||% Change||Theater Count / Change||Average||Total Gross|
Among the newbies, “Arthur” prevailed, barely, but it was also the movie playing in the most theaters. Take theater average and it's ladies first: “Soul Surfer,” then “Hanna,” then “Arthur,” and—last no matter how you slice it—“Your Highness.”
RT numbers are bad on all of these, although “Hannah” almost makes the cut. IMDb numbers are bad on all of these but “Hannah” and ... “Your Highness”? Really?
||RT% (top critics)
Does this mean “Your Highness” delivers for its core audience, which is small and stoned? It'll be interesting to see how the films fall off next weekend. Or by how much “Your Highness”'s IMDb numbers fall off.
On the plus side, “Sucker Punch” shed half its theaters and is already out of the top 10.
Hollywood B.O.: “Hop” Hops, “Sucker Punch” Drops
The three movies that opened in more than 2,000 theaters this weekend finished (big surprise) first, second and third. “Hop,” from Universal, a mix of animation and live-action that didn't do well with the critics (25% on RT) nor, it seems, with audiences (5.5 on IMDb.com), came in first, way first, with $38.1 million. “Source Code,” from Summit Entertainment, garnered good reviews (85%) and $15 million, while “Insidious” got mixed reviews (56%) and $13.4 mil.
I doubt I'll see any of these movies.
But because I'm interested in the upcoming movie, “Superman: Man of Steel,” directed by Zack Snyder, and due out in ... 2013?, I went to see Snyder's “Sucker Punch,” wondering if it was as bad as it seemed. It was. And people know. The movie grossed $19.1 million last weekend (2nd place) but only an estimated $6 million this weekend (7th place), which is a 68.1% drop. How bad is that? For super-saturated movies (3,000+ theaters), it's the 15th worst drop in movie history. And guess what's in 16th place? “Watchmen,” also by Zack Snyder. So we have something of a trend.
Poor Superman. That's worse than being in the hands of Lex Luthor.
Here's the list, from Box Office Mojo, of horrible films that “Sucker Punch” is most deservedly joining. My review up soon:
|Rank||Title (click to view)||Opening
|% Change||2nd Weekend||Theaters*||Total Gross^||Release
|507||Friday the 13th (2009)||$40,570,365||-80.4%||$7,942,472||3,105||$65,002,019||2/13/09|
|505||A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)||$32,902,299||-72.3%||$9,119,389||3,332||$63,075,011||4/30/10|
|504||Hellboy II: The Golden Army||$34,539,115||-70.7%||$10,117,815||3,212||$75,986,503||7/11/08|
|502||The Twilight Saga: New Moon||$142,839,137||-70.0%||$42,870,031||4,042||$296,623,634||11/20/09|
|497||X-Men Origins: Wolverine||$85,058,003||-69.0%||$26,408,288||4,102||$179,883,157||5/01/09|
Hollywood B.O.: “Now batting for the movie industry, hitting .083 ...”
This is the weekend, the last weekend in March, when not one movie but two movies finally huffed over the $100 million mark. Congratulations, “Rango,” now at $105 million. You, too, “Just Go With It,” now at $100 million. Nice try, “Green Hornet,” stuck at $97 million. On the plus side, you have the largest worldwide gross of any 2011 movie: $227 million.
These three movies, by the way, are also the three movies that opened in the most theaters this year.
Let's look at that, shall we? Thus far in 2011, we have 12 movies that have opened in more than 3,000 theaters. Here they are: sorted by domestic gross, and including top critics/Rotten Tomatoes score. Think of them as the movies Hollywood thinks we want to watch :
Basically one decent movie out of 12. In baseball, that's an .083 batting average, which is the kind of average that gets you canned. But in baseball, you're still judged more on the quality of play than the number of asses in the seats.
It's nice to see that the one “hit” is also the one hit. The best-reviewed, “Rango,” is the most-watched. Meanwhile, crap movies for boys can do well (“Green Hornet,” “Just Go With It”) but crap movies for girls tend to die quickly (“Red Riding Hood”). Why Hollywood focuses on the boys.
The sad totals.
Triple Feature in Hell
We're nearly at the vernal equinox and no 2011 movie has grossed more than $100 million. “Just Go With It” (that Adam Sandler thing) is at $98 m, “The Green Hornet” is at $97m, “Gnomeo and Juliet” $93.6m. The quality of the top three raises the question of whether any 2011 movie deserves to be over $100 million; but then I hear Clint Eastwood's voice of wisdom in my head, reminding me, “Deserves got nothin' to do with it, kid.”
Even so, I was semi-intrigued: When was the last time no film had reached $100m by the vernal equinox? Last year at this time, after all, three movies were already past that mark, and one, “Alice in Wonderland,” was on its way to $300 million. The year before we had (or you had) “Paul Blart,” and the year before that ... OK, that was the last time we didn't have a $100 million grosser by this point: 2008. Just “Cloverfield,” “Jumper,” “27 Dresses,” all in the $70m range.
As I kept checking back in time, though, confirming this and that, I began to pay less attention to the grosses and more attention to the movies themselves. The first three months of the year are traditional dumping grounds for studios, and the top three films by the first day of spring often read like a triple feature in hell. Pick your poison:
- “Just Go With It”
- “The Green Hornet”
- “Gnomeo and Juliet”
- “Alice in Wonderland”
- “Shutter Island”
- “Valentine's Day”
- “Paul Blart, Mall Cop”
- “27 Dresses”
- “Ghost Rider”
- “Wild Hogs”
- “The Pink Panther”
- “Eight Below”
- “Big Momma's House 2”
- “Are We There Yet?”
- “The Pacifier”
- “The Passion of the Christ”
- “50 First Dates”
- “Along Came Polly”
- “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”
- “Bringing Down the House”
- “Snow Dogs”
- “John Q”
- “Ice Age”
- “Save the Last Dance”
- “The Wedding Planner”
Which is the worst? To me, it's gotta be 2007. Machismo repeating itself, first as tragedy (“300”), then as farce (“Wild Hogs”). Not even a frilly, stupid, rom-com as a somewhat icky palate cleanser. Instead just raw meat. How frightened and cowardly does a country have to be to keep indulging in this kind of crap?
If you go far back enough, of course, you reach a time before everything became solidified and commodified, and good movies might reign even in late winter:
- “The Breakfast Club”
- “The Falcon and the Snowman”
Give or take, that's a triple feature worth seeing.
Oscar B.O.: It's the Distribution, Stupid
So “Unknown,” with 58-year-old Liam Neeson in the lead, took the top weekend spot from a bunch of kids in “I Am Number Four.” Final estimates: $21.7m vs. $19.5m. Through Sunday.
The bigger news is that two Oscar contenders, “Black Swan” and “The King's Speech,” each passed the $100 million dollar mark, while “True Grit,” despite losing 607 theaters, grossed enough to pass “Grown Ups” and “Clash of the Titans” for 13th place on the 2010 box office chart. Its current gross: $164 million. Wow.
I wrote about the surprising box-office success of best-picture nominees a few weeks ago (“Are Best Picture Nominees Making a Comeback?”), and Patrick Goldstein finally got off the schnied to write about it last week (“The Oscar box office mystery: What brought adult moviegoers back to the theaters?”); but even with his L.A. Times access, he's not asking the right questions; or maybe he's just not getting the right answers.
Why is this happening? Here's an easy answer: It's the distribution, Stupid.
For most of the 2000s, certainly in the second half of the 2000s, Oscar pictures barely got seen because they barely got distributed.
In 2005, one only of the best picture nominees, “Brokeback Mountain,” was distributed into more than 2,000 theaters, and that high point lasted exactly one week.
Things have gotten better since.
In 2006, one picture, “The Departed,” was distributed into more than 2,000 theaters, for a total of six weeks.
In 2007, three pictures, “Juno,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Michael Clayton,” were thus distributed, for a total of 10 weeks.
In 2008, two pictures, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Benjamin Button,” for a total of 11 weeks.
In 2009, among the best director nominees—the best correlation to five best picture nominees we now have—three pics (“Avatar,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “Up in the Air”) were in 2,000+ theaters for a total of 19 weeks, but that was mostly “Avatar.”
2010? All five nominees have been distributed into more than 2,000 theaters for a total of 27 weeks. And counting. (“The King's Speech” is currently at 2,086, but I wouldn't be surprised if it dipped below 2,000 next week.)
Some may say, “Well, sure. Movies in general get wider distribution now.” Yes and no. In 2005, 109 of the movies released during the year were distributed into more than 2,000 theaters. By 2008, it was 123 movies. In 2010? Only 121 movies.
No, these best picture/best director movies are getting wider distribution, and sooner in their runs, less from historical trends than because each is perceived to have box office potential.
But this only raises the deeper question: Studios, movies or audience? Are the studios reawakening to the box office potential of Oscar films and getting them out there? Or are these particular movies somehow more distributable/more appealing than the nominees five years ago? Or is the audience for such pictures simply there in a way they weren't five years ago?
And that's just the start.
Why is “The King's Speech” more than doubling “The Queen”'s box office take from four years ago?
How did “Black Swan” get to $100 million? A claustrophobic, paranoiac, Darren Aranofsky film about ballet? Is it that Fox Searchlight can distribute and market anything? Or is “Black Swan” less about ballet than about the cattiness and competition of girls, and thus has that B-movie “Single White Female” appeal?
Oddly, the one of the five movies that seemed to have the best shot at boffo box office, “The Fighter,” an uplifting underdog story starring a pumped-up leading man and a slimmed-down superhero, is doing the least well of the five. Find me somebody who predicted that in November.
No. of weeks best picture nominees were distributed
into more than 1,000 or 2,000 theaters: 2005-2010
Can Boxoffice.com Predict Our Moviegoing Ways?
I don't know if I was late to Box Office Magazine's Web site, boxoffice.com, or if Box Office Magazine, in print since the 1920s, was late to the Web, but I discovered the site last November and have visited it occasionally since. Along with the usual suspects (weekend estimates/actuals), it displays more modern indicators of moviegoer interest: Facebook (“Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon” already has 3.8 million fans), Twitter (don't mess with Justin Bieber) and Most-Viewed Trailers (the last installment of “Harry Potter”: by far).
What intrigued me the most, though, was a section called Long Term Projections. Here's a screenshot I took last November, which includes projections of films all the way to “No Strings Attached”:
Table 1: Boxoffice.com's Long-Term Projectons: Nov-Jan
I was curious to see how predictable we are.
And ... we're getting there. But not yet.
Here's a chart of boxoffice.com's opening weekend predictions versus the actual opening-weekend grosses, sorted by how well a movie did against the prediction:
Table 2: Opening Weekend Projections vs. Actuals (in millions)
So boxoffice.com got one exactly right (“The Fighter”). It was within 10 percent for four of the 20 movies, within 25 percent for nine of the 20. It was off by more than 50 percent for four of the films, and off by more than 100 percent for one film.
“True Grit” has certainly lived up to its name. It was supposed to fold out of the gate but started strong. Plus it's not fading. (More on that later.) That same wekeend in December, “Little Fockers” opened slightly bigger, with $30 million, but against a predicted $45 million. Plus it's kind of sputtered. (More on that later.)
The bigger bombs, against the long-term projections, are “The Dilemma,” “Gulliver's Travels,” “How Do You Know” and “The Tourist.” What do these films have in common? With the exception of “Gulliver's,” they're all vaguely funny/vaguely serious films aimed at grown-ups. Plus they all received bad reviews. (More on that later.)
As for how well boxoffice.com predicted each film's total grosses? Obviously it's a little early for some of these, but let's take a look:
Table 3: Total Gross: Projections vs. Actuals (in millions)
Only one film, “Harry Potter,” is within 10% of the prediction. That one will creep closer to 100% but not close enough. It's already running out of steam. “Tron” won't make the prediction, either, but it could crawl to within 10%. Of the other 11 films below “Tron,” only “No Strings Attached,” which just opened, has a chance to come close to the prediction. The others are floundering, listing, or have already sunk. (I had to look up “The Next Three Days” to even remember what it was.)
Again, boxoffice.com completely underestimated “True Grit,” which, despite grossing almost twice as much as the site predicted, is still going strong. This past weekend it finished in fifth place with another $8 million, down only 27%. Next weekend it'll probably catch “Little Fockers.” Did anyone see that coming in November? A film by the Coen Bros., who have never had a film gross more than $75 million, outperforming “Fockers,” whose previous film grossed $279 million in 2004 dollars? That sound you hear, by the way, is the sound of me smiling.
Before signing off, let me add two more tables. They're the same two tables as above but with one additional column: the Rotten Tomatoes top critics rating for each film (“fresh” films in red):
Table 4: Opening Weekend Projections vs. Actuals (with RT scores)
Table 3: Total Gross: Projections vs. Actuals (with RT scores)
It's a small sample size but quality seems to matter—as I've argued here and here and here. And everywhere. Making a quality film and releasing it wide may not guarantee big bucks; but you're almost guaranteed that the film will do better than you, or boxoffice.com, thinks.
An Empire of His Own: How Neal Gabler Invented a Powerful Critical Elite
This year I’ve been reading and immensely enjoying Neal Gabler’s 1989 book “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood” (more on this in later posts), so it’s a supreme bummer to come across Gabler’s recent article, “The end of cultural elitism,” in The Boston Globe.
Except his thought isn’t that original. Did you know elitists have been telling the people, which is you and I, what to see and like since the republic began? But now, with the help of that great, democratizing medium, the Web, with its aggregate and social networking sites, the people, which is you and I, are fighting back? And the year that just passed is the year we finally won?
Evidence? He gives three examples of products pushed on the public that the public pushed back, unopened:
- “The Social Network": Critics loved it but, according to Gabler, “something startling happened. Audiences didn’t bow. They yawned.”
- Jonathan Franzen’s novel, “Freedom,” which “soared to the top of the bestseller lists but didn’t linger long.”
- HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”: “Once again, the tastemakers proved far more enthusiastic than audiences. Though HBO, as a subscription service, is not ratings addicted, the show’s ratings have plummeted, and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ has hardly made the kind of impression that ‘The Sopranos’ did.
“The Social Network” was the no. 1 movie in America during its first two weekends, and has thus far grossed $94 million, which makes it (again: thus far) the 31st highest-grossing movie of the year. Not bad for a drama in which words employ the same function as guns in most Hollywood films. (Vocabulary is to Aaron Sorkin as gunpowder is to Michael Bay.)
It's also the current favorite to win the best picture Oscar. Last year’s best picture winner, “The Hurt Locker,” grossed only $17 million, which was only good enough for 116th place for the year, which is some kind of low point for best picture winners. So why doesn't Gabler make 2009 his year that people stopped listening to the cultural elites? Because then Gabler couldn’t sell his article? Because he didn’t notice what he thinks is a pattern until 2010?
I confess: I’m not seeing his pattern. I’m seeing the opposite of his pattern. Critically acclaimed movies that I thought would be released like “The Hurt Locker” (that is: parsimoniously) and gross like “The Hurt Locker” (that is: painstakingly), are actually filling theaters. It’s not just “The Social Network.”
“True Grit,” a western from the Coen brothers, whose previous highest grosser stopped at $74 million, is currently riding the high country at $126 million and shows no signs of slowing down.
More amazingly, “The Black Swan,” a film about ballet, of all subjects, directed by indie and critical darling Darren Aronofsky, of all directors, whose previous four films have grossed a combined $43 million, has currently grossed $74 million, and is set to pass such would-be tentpole flicks as “The A-Team.” That’s something to be celebrated.
Add in “Inception,” “Shutter Island” and “The Town,” and 2010 was a pretty good year for audiences turning out to watch sometimes difficult, critically acclaimed films. As I've written before, critics and moviegoers have more in common than critics and moviegoers realize.
If Gabler is saying that moviegoers are showing up for the good films (“True Grit”), and ignoring the bad ones (“How Do You Know”), because of word-of-mouth engendered by social networking sites like Facebook, and aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes, and that these sites are cutting into the traditional cultural authority of critics, well, then Gabler is saying this poorly, with horrible examples, and with a demonization and sense of conspiracy from an Other (“cultural elitists” and “commissars”) that stinks of the cheap shots and half-truths of a Michael Medved.
I would add the following. It relates to something A.O. Scott writes in his sharp rebuttal:
There is a cultural elite, in America, which tries its utmost to manipulate the habits and tastes of consumers. It consists of the corporations who sell nearly everything with the possible exception of classical music and conceptual arts, and while its methods include some of the publicity-driven hype that finds its way into newspapers, magazines and other traditional media, its main tool is not criticism but marketing.
If social networking sites like Facebook, and aggregated sites like Rotten Tomatoes, are cutting into any authority, it’s not the critics', who are aggregated, after all, on Rotten Tomatoes, and who, as A.O. Scott reminds us, have rarely been listened to anyway. The authority that’s being cut into is the corporations', the marketers', the PR people, who have spent decades pushing crap on us and calling it ice cream.
Gabler (left) feels the cultural elites have finally been defeated; Scott (right) feels they were never in power.
Hollywood B.O.: Aslan is Dead
Last week Brandon Gray over at boxofficemojo.com pointed out that November's box office was down by 10% compared with last year, while actual attendance hit a 15-year low.
The second weekend in December isn't helping matters.
Just last month, a rival site, boxoffice.com, predicted the third in the “Chronicles of Narnia” series would open at $36 million, while the Johnny Depp/Angelina Jolie thriller, “The Tourist,” would come in second at $32 million. It got one thing right: Both films finished 1 and 2. The numbers were slightly off, though: $24.5m and $17m.
Not good. When the first “Chronicles” opened in '05, it grossed $65 million on its way to $290 million domestic. The second in '08? Opened with $55 million on its way to $141 million domestic. Now $24 million. On its way to $70 million? That tentpole ain't holding up much tent. Fickle Christians.
“The Tourist”'s numbers are also surprising. The last time a Johnny Depp film opened in more than 2,000 theaters and made less money opening weekend was in October 2001, pre-Capt. Jack Black, when “From Hell” grossed $11 million a month after 9/11. Even “Secret Window” in '04 grossed more opening weekend.
Neither “Narnia” nor “Tourist” was well-reviewed, by the way. Top critics gave “Narnia” 48% and “The Tourist” just 7%. Word gets around, times are tough, presents need to be bought. Better movies are coming.
They've killed their God. Or at least their God's franchise.
Hollywood B.O.: Who Has the Best Legs?
Weekend reports are in, and with no movies opening superwide, this weekend's top 5 is a slightly rejiggered version of last weekend's top 5. Instead of 1) Harry Potter, 2) Tangled, 3) Megamind, 4) Burlesque, 5) Unstoppable, it's 1) Tangled, 2) Harry Potter, 3) Burlesque, 4) Unstoppable, 5) Love and Other Drugs. (“Megamind” dropped 238 theaters in the interim.)
So it's a good weekend to talk about legs. As in movies with legs. As in movies that last. We're in the 12th month of the year: Which movies lasted?
My methodology is simple. I take the total box-office take of a film and divide it by its opening weekend. The movies with the best legs tend to make four to five times their opening-weekend haul; the worst can't even duplicate their opening weekend.
I've discounted films that open on Wednesdays (“Twilight: Eclipse”), since their opening weekend is weaker, making their legs look better, as well as movies that opened in limited release and then went wide (“Hereafter”). A film's opening release should be within spitting range of its widest release.
I eliminated “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” for example. In terms of legs, it's got 'em, grossing more than eight times its opening-weekend box office of $904,000. But its widest release (185 theaters) is almost twice its opening release (108 theaters) and that's not spitting range. (Discussion for another time: only 185 theaters? Isn't Music Box Films being cautious with a movie based on one of the most talked-about books of the 21st century? Or is it not their choice?)
So, given those parameters, here are the movies with the best legs of 2010:
Kind of what we expected. You've got your kids movies (“Dragon,” “Despicable”), movies for older folks who don't rush to movies (“Secretariat,” “Red”), movies for girls (“The Runaways,” “Letters to Juliet”), and the critically acclaimed (“Inception,” “The Social Network”). What you don't have, what you can't have, are sequels. Sequels draw opening weekend. The audience is already there, it doesn't have to be encouraged to get there. (In case you're wondering, the 2010 sequel with the longest legs is, “Toy Story 3,” which opened with $110 million and still grossed 3.76 times that number. It's why it's the no. 1 movie of the year.)
As for the worst legs? I've eliminated November releases since they haven't had a chance to outdistance their opening-weekend take yet. (But I'm watching you, “Skyline.”) Here they are:
Again, kind of expected. Horror movies (“Elm Street,” “Wolfman,” “Daybreakers,” “Exorcism,” “Saw 3D”) tend to decompose quickly. They basically appeal to one demographic and no one else. “Jonah Hex” was a famous bust (and a semi-horror film, now that I think about it), so that's no surprise, either. I almost took “Valentine's Day” and “The Wolfman” off the list because they opened on a four-day weekend, a kind of holiday weekend, but the above numbers are only through its opening Sunday. So they stayed.
But look at that. Five of these movies couldn't even double their opening weekend take. The horror, the horror.
In the end, this is all about word-of-mouth, or attempting to calculate word-of-mouth. The films in the first table just tend to be better than the films in the second table. As measured by the top critics of Rotten Tomatoes, Table A films averaged a 63.5% rating (from “The Social Network” at 100% to “Grown Ups” at 10%), while Table B films averaged a 28.9% rating (from “The Last Exorcism” at 71% to “Jonah Hex” at 7%).
Most of the films I've recommended this year, when asked, tend to be those films that opened in NY and LA and then went limited (“Un Prophete”; “Restrepo”), but I have recommended two from Table A: “Inception” and “Social Network.”
What about you? Which movies have you recommended? Which movies have been recommended to you?
Hollywood B.O.: Potter Flies, Skyline Drops
The seventh “Harry Potter” movie had the sixth-best opening weekend in U.S. box office history, grossing an estimated $125 million in three days, which is the best opening ever for Harry, Ron and Hermione. Unless you adjust for inflation. Then it's the third-best, after “Goblet of Fire” in '05 ($127 million) and “Sorcerer's Stone” in '01 ($126 million).
(You could argue that “Sorcerer's” did so well because it was the first, while “Goblet” did well because it followed “Prisoner of Azkaban,” which, according to my nephew, Jordy, is the best of the lot.)
Keep in mind, though: the last two, “Half Blood Prince” and “Order of the Phoenix” opened on Wednesdays, so you don't have that true boffo box-office weekend. Regardless, there's obvious interest in “Harry Potter 7.”
How much interest? All of the returning wide-release movies fell off by at least 40%, which doesn't happen often, while the only other new, wide-release movie, Russell Crowe's “The Next Three Days” (awful title), grossed only $6.7 million, for fifth place.
BTW: all of those returning films that fell off by 40-50%? “Skyline” wishes it was one of them. Universal added three theaters but “Skyline” still dropped more than 70% to gross $3.4 million. Good enough for 7th place this weekend but bad enough for the 12th-worst second-weekend drop among wide-release films ever:
The magical totals here.
Hollywood B.O.: Denzel, Trains and Tony Scott: Who Are the Megaminds Who Came Up With That One?
How odd to be Tony Scott. You've directed 16 movies and the most popular is your second, “Top Gun” ($176 million in 1986), and your second-most popular is your third, “Beverly Hills Cop II” ($153 million in 1987), and since then only one of your movies, “Enemy of the State” ($111 million in 1998), has topped $100 million.
That's unadjusted, by the way. So your current movies, with all that inflation, don't come close to your 1986 movie and its puny 1986 dollars. Ouch.
But at least you keep making movies. And at least you keep making movies with Denzel—despite diminishing returns: “Crimson Tide” in '95 ($91 million), “Man on Fire” in '04 ($77 million), “Deja Vu” in '06 ($64 million) and “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” in '09 ($65 million). That last movie was considered a box-office disappointment but you've got balls. So does Denzel. A Tony Scott-directed movie about trains starring Denzel did so-so business, so you're back with... a Tony Scott-directed movie about trains starring Denzel. It does similarly. “Pelham” opened at $23.3m, “Unstoppable” at $23.5m. “Unstoppable” wound up second for the weekend to “Megamind,” which, in 10 days, has already grossed more than “The Social Network” has in 45 days ($89m vs. $87m). Inventing Facebook? We prefer our megaminds to be cartoons, thank you.
The two other big openers didn't open well. The low-budget but high-tech “Skyline” grossed $11m in 2800 theaters, while the adult drama, “Morning Glory,” about the dumbing down of morning talk shows, grossed $9m in 2500 theaters. They finished 4th and 5th, respectively. “Due Date,” or “Planes, Trains and Automobiles Redux,” came in third.
In other, better news, the “Saw” franchise appears to be dead. It peaked in '05 with “Saw II” ($86m) and it's been downhilll ever since. “Saw VI” only made $27m but I guess LionsGate wanted to see what sadism looked like in 3D. Opening weekend worked: $22 million. But now they're pulling out fast, dumping 800+ theaters, and last weekend it only grossed $2.7m for a 17-day total of not even twice as much as its three-day opener: $43m. Please play taps already.
Clint Eastwood's “Hereafter” (or, in self-help mood: “Hereafter: How Your Dead Loved Ones Can Help You Live a Better Life”), is also dead. Warner Bros. pulled it from 674 theaters and it responded with $1.3m and 13th place, for a total gross of $31 million. With the exception of “Letters from Iwo Jima” (which was in Japanese and did lousy business) and “Gran Torino” (in which Clint killed bad guys and which did boffo business), Eastwood's last six films have all settled in the $30 million range:
“Hereafter”: $31.4 (*still playing)
“Flags of Our Fathers”: $33.6
Many of these did better abroad—particularly in France. “Changeling” made $77m in the foreign market, “Invictus” $84m. “Hereafter” hasn't been released globally yet but one imagines it will since it's got an international cast and inernational settings. Clint Eastwood, the All-American tough guy, has become, in box-office terms, Woody Allen: more appreciated abroad than at home.
Hollywood B.O.: Paranormal Jackass Saw Red
I went to the movies twice last week, Tuesday and Friday, both times at the Uptown Cinemas in lower Queen Anne. For the Tuesday night show, “A Film Unfinished,” a documentary analyzing a Nazi propaganda film about the Warsaw ghetto (review up tomorrow), there was only one other person in the audience. For the Friday evening show, the Chinese film “Aftershock,” a melodrama about a family torn apart by the Tangshan earthquake of 1976, the theater wasn't so crowded. It was just me. Seriously.
This is what everyone else was going to see this weekend:
- An estimated 2,830,200 moviegoers saw the sixth installment of a horror franchise in which a maniac makes victims saw off parts of their own bodies to survive.
- Two million people saw the second installment of a horror franchise involving security cameras and the supernatural.
- More than 1.3 million people went for an action-comedy about four elderly CIA agents who come out of retirement to kill the vice-president of the United States.
- More than a million people went for a TV comedy/documentary in which amateurs do crazy stunts and hurt themselves.
- Around 795K tried a drama in which the dead help the living get on with their lives.
- 637K saw a family film about a 1970s racehorse touched by God.
- Half a million went for a drama about the founding of Facebook.
- Half a million saw a romantic comedy about a man and a woman who don't like each other but who have to raise an orphaned girl together.
- A quarter million went for a drama about the romance between a bank robber and a bank manager.
- Finally, a little over 200,000 moviegoers saw a based-on-a-true-story drama about a woman who puts herself through law school to help her imprisoned brother.
And all this time I thought I was at odds with my country politically.
The sad totals here.
Of the above movies that I haven't seen, I'm only interested in “The Town” (no. 8), and maybe “Conviction” (no. 10).
The movies I recommend? “The Social Network” and “A Film Unfinished.”
What about you? See anything this weekend? Any recommendations?
Hollywood B.O.: America Loves “Jackass”
Yes, “Jackass 3-D” was no. 1 at the box office this weekend. Yes, it set a record for September/October by opening with an estimated $50 million. Yes, that's the best opening weekend since “Inception”'s in mid-July. Yes yes yes.
I'm more interested in this number: 38. That's the percentage difference between the number of Rotten Tomato's top critics who liked “Jackass 3D” (29%) and the overall critics who liked “Jackass 3D” (67%).
That's a huge discrepancy.
How huge? The difference for “Red,” which opened in second place with $22 million, is 10% (70% for all critics, 60% for top critics).
The difference for “The Social Network,” which fell only 28.8% for another $11 million and third place, is 3% (97% for all critics, 100% for top critics).
In fact, among the top 10 films, the largest discrepancy for a film other than “Jackass”'s 38% is “Easy A”'s 11% (86% from all critics, 97% from top critics).
“Jackass”'s huge discrepancy may be due partly to the small sample size. There are usually 100-200 reviews for a film opening wide. As of this morning, there are only 45 for “Jackass.” Paramount didn't screen it for critics because it didn't have to. Critics just get in the way of these kinds of things.
Besides, if you're a critic, what do you say about a movie like this? That it's stupid and disgusting? That it loves groin shots and midget bar fights? And poop geysers? (Best line I've read comes from Kurt Loder, who, according to RT's system, gave it a thumbs up: “Most of us think of a penis as having two purposes. But as we learn in Jackass 3D, this is a narrow view.”)
Either way, “Jackass” seems the 38th parallel of movies: forever dividing top critics, who want story, and online critics, who want.
I'm also intrigued, in an offhand kind of way, with which of these two groups goes higher for which film. The expectation is for top critics to be more discrminating than all critics, but, among the top 10, that's not nearly true. Top Critics gave lower numbers to only four of the 10 (“Jackass,” “Red,” “The Town,” and “My Soul to Take”), but gave higher numbers to the other six (“The Social Network,” “Secretariat,” “Life As We Know It,” “Ga'Hoole,” “Easy A” and “Wall Street”).
Mostly, though, I know the $50 million open means we'll not only get another “Jackass” sequel in a year or four, but copycat “Jackass”es from other studios.
The sad totals here.
Hollywood B.O.: The Few, the Proud
I'm glad "The Social Network" won the weekend again. It's a good movie, possibly a great movie, that deserves a wide audience.
I'm also glad the new wide releases, "Life As We Know It," "Secretariat," and "My Soul to Take" all tanked. Both the first and the third look like crap movies (28% and 6% on Rotten Tomatoes), while the second is a crap movie, a pile of non-horse crap (since we don't see much of the horse), which somehow garnered a...WTF? 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes? And 75% from TOP critics? Is the world insane? One critic, Jenna Busch of Huffington Post, while applauding the film, counsels caution: "...but I'm not sure the Oscar buzz is appropriate here." That's like telling baseball fans that MVP buzz for Willie Bloomquist isn't quite appropriate. You only have to make such a statement in a world where B.S. and P.R. rule.
Here's my cautionary statement: Last weekend was still the second-weakest weekend of the year: $92 million overall.
And comparing this weekend, the 41st weekend, to the same weekend in other years? Not good. Every 41st weekend since 2001, except for 2005 (remake of "The Fog"), grossed better numbers. That's undadjusted for inflation.
Adjust, and you have to go back to 1995, with the top draw another David Fincher film, "Seven," for lower numbers.
But so what, right? I'd rather have fewer people show up in the theaters for "The Social Network" or "Seven," than 10 percent more show up for the likes of "Beverly Hills Chihuaua" (2008) or "Couples Retreat" (2009).
The happy totals here.
Marion aime "The Social Network," a film with legs.
Moses Speaks; Goldstein Scribbles
Patrick Goldstein needs to work on his follow-ups.
In this post, he begins well. He notices that Ron Howard's film, "The Dilemma," with Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Queen Latifah, opens in January—the traditional dumping ground for crap movies. He wonders: Has a Ron Howard film ever opened in January? He answers his question: Nope.
So he goes to Universal Pictures, Howard's longtime studio, and asks why they're dumping "The Dilemma" in January.
Michael Moses, Universal's co-president of marketing, tells him: "We really believe that there are 52 good opportunities a year for the right movie. It's gotten to the point where you can have success in virtually any month of the year, if you position the film correctly." Then he points to the success Universal had in 2009 with "Fast and Furious" (April) and "Couples Retreat" (October) as examples.
Quick quiz: What's the follow-up question? Here a a few off the top of my head:
- "Even so: Why 'The Dilemma'? Why not another Universal pic?"
- "Yeah, but 'Fast and Furious' wasn't a star-powered film and 'Couples Retreat' wasn't funny. Both are B- or C-grade films, and it makes sense to push a B- or C-grade films into weaker months. Is that what's going on with 'The Dilemma'? Is it just not very good? Is it tracking badly?
- "Would you ever open a tentpole film in January?"
Instead Goldstein asks...nothing. He has no follow-up. In the post, he accepts what Moses says as gospel; as if it came from the other Moses.
Well, he does have a few follow-ups. Unfortunately, they're asked of his readership:
So what will become the new dump month? With the Oscars moving up, could it be February? With global warming increasing each year, could it be August? If anyone wants to nominate a deserving new month, I'm all ears.
All ears. I remember when writers were more than that.
Some of the great, great films that were positioned correctly last January.
Hollywood B.O.: Waiting for Zuckerberg
I've been a bit lax with this column for reasons of travel, sickness, and September box-office blues, along with some aspect of hosting Sunday-night get-togethers to watch HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" (are we the only ones doing this?), but thought I'd post tardily on "The Social Network" weekend anyway.
First, kudos to Sony/Columbia for opening the film in more than 2,000 theaters. The first weekend in October is the weekend Warner Bros., in 2007, opened "Michael Clayton"—another well-reviewed film with Oscar potential—but in only 15 theaters. A week later, they opened it wider but it finished fourth, and floundered from there, never finding its audience until DVD when it didn't matter. No doubt the subject matter of "The Social Network" (internets!), and the average age of its stars (young!), helped Sony push it wider. Is that where we're going now? We can only get smart dramas in theaters if they star kids?
Thankfully "TSN" and its 97% Rotten Tomatoes rating won the weekend, grossing more than twice as much ($22m to $10m) as runner-up "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole," in its second weekend, and far ahead of new releases "Case 39" and "Let Me In," which finished 7th and 8th respectively.
All good. Except last weekend's overall take, $94 million, was the second-worst of the year, behind only the $81 million from weekend no. 37 (the "Resident Evil" weekend). Every other weekend this year has grossed between $100 million and $220 million.
One might blame the time of year. It's all apple-picking and football-watching now. Except the first weekend in October in 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005 and 2004 all did better—even unadjusted for inflation. Only 2007, the weekend both "The Heartbreak Kid" and "The Seeker: The Dark is Rising" opened and bombed, saw worse numbers.
On the plus side, "The Social Network" seems to be getting good word-of-mouth. Its Sunday and Monday percentage drops were less than every other film in the top 10.
My concern, though, is that many moviegoers are like my friend Vinny, who saw the trailer and thought, "That looks like a rental." They'll wait until it comes out in DVD. When it won't matter.
"If you guys wanted to see 'The Social Network,'
you'd have seen 'The Social Network.'"
Hollywood B.O.: On Sept. 11th Weekend, Americans Abandon “American,” Choose “Evil”
Well, that sucked.
We knew it would. The big opener, the only wide opener, was the fourth “Resident: Evil” movie, and none of these movies (the first, “Apocalypse,” “Exctinction” and now “Afterlife”) has ever garnered higher than a 17% rating among top critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and none has grossed more than $55 million at the U.S. box office.
“Afterlife” opened better than the rest, $27.7m, unless you adjust for inflation, in which case it's still second-best. Expect a big drop next weekend, though. Every one of these things, even the first, dropped between 62% and 67% during the second weekend. There's a small but loyal audience for this crap so every three years ScreenGems trots out something during a weak weekend in September.
How weak was this weekend? The weakest of the year: $77 million, shattering the previous low of $100 million set back during April when “The Back-Up Plan” and “The Losers” opened. Par for the course. The second weekend in September is often among the lowest earners of the year. It was second-worst in 2009, 2007, 2005, 2003, and worst in 2006. Fifteen weekends left this year. Place your bets.
“Takers,” a forgettable movie in its third week, finished second, with $6.1m. Last weekend's champ, “The American,” fell off 55 percent for $5.8 million and third place.
The sad totals here.
In other news: Two weekends ago, I wrote that “Twilight” is only $2 million from $300 million but down to 400+ theaters so it probably wouldn't make that milestone. Well, this weekend, at this late stage, Summit Entertainment added 791 theaters, so apparently they're gunning for it. The movie took in another $745K, which puts it less than $400K away.
“Inception” pulled in another $3 million for $282 million for the year. Worldwide it's at $701 million. That's 41st best ever. 18th best ever among non-sequels. Unadjusted.
Have you seen “Restrepo”? Do! It's playing in 37 theaters around the U.S., has grossed $1.2 million, and is one of the best movies of the year.
Me, I took advantage of the crap weekend to see “Winter's Bone,” which has been out since June, but never in more than 141 theaters. It's now grossed $5.6 million. Not sure where it landed this weekend, since it isn't among the estimates, but to its $5.6 mil add my $9 times the six people in the Uptown Theater Friday evening. Review up tomorrow.
Alice keeps living here anymore.
Why Can't the Times Write about Box Office?
It's been a while since I've ranted about Michael Cieply or Brooks Barnes over at The New York Times, but Barnes' latest, “Even Hits Like 'Kick-Ass' Can Seem Misses at Debut,” pissed me off all over again.
It's not the sentiment behind it: Too much attention is paid to opening weekends. I agree with that. I'd like more attention paid to movies with legs, too.
It's the numbers. They keep fudging the numbers.
Here's the lede:
LOS ANGELES — In early April, as Lionsgate prepared to release “Kick-Ass,” the movie capital buzzed that the film looked to be a smash hit. Lionsgate had acquired it for just $15 million, and surveys that track audience interest projected a $30 million opening weekend.
The movie, directed by Matthew Vaughn, instead opened with $19.8 million, and the chatter, fueled by the blogosphere, abruptly turned negative. Misfire! Bomb! Flop!
As it turns out, “Kick-Ass” is living up to its title. The picture, about a teenager who tries to become a superhero, went on to generate about $97 million in ticket sales and is on track to sell over two million copies on DVD and digital download services.
Nice Hollywood ending for “Kick-Ass.” But like most Hollywood endings, it's false. Or fudged.
The movie opened with $19.8 million domestically. It closed with $97 million worldwide. Its domestic close was $48 million—not even three times its opening weekend. It may be profitable, but that's hardly a movie with legs.
Barnes keeps doing this, too. Here's a graf later in the article:
There are other recent examples of movies that were quickly deemed misses but turned into hits. “Date Night,” the 20th Century Fox comedy starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey, was branded a disappointment when it opened to $25 million. Yet it finally captured over $152 million. “The Last Song” had a $16 million opening in March — lower than expected — but went on to sell $89 million at the global box office for Walt Disney Studios.
“Date Night” opened at $25 million domestically but grossed $152 million worldwide ($98 million domestically). “The Last Song” opened at $16 million domestically and grossed $89 million worldwide ($62.9 million domestically).
It's not just that Barnes isn't comparing the same things. He's not telling his readers that he's not comparing the same things.
And if you're going to do a piece like this, on the long legs of some modern movies, why not focus on the film that has the longest legs this year? “How to Train Your Dragon” opened at $43 million domestically and grossed $217 million domestically, or five times its opening, but that film only gets a graf midway through Barnes' article. Most of the article is about LionsGate's “Kick-Ass,” which didn't even gross three times its opening. Why?
Here are some past arguments I've had with Barnes/Cieply:
- What's Brooks Barnes Got Against Pixar? (June 1, 2009)
- Two Face (July 28, 2008)
- Why is The New York Times Encouraging Hollywood's Myopia? (May 16, 2008)
I guess the theme snaking through these arguments is that Barnes/Cieply cover the industry for the industry and not for moviegoers. Not sure why you would do that.
Hollywood BO: The Labors of Labor Day
Why does Hollywood treat Labor Day as the red-headed stepchild of four-day weekends? It’s stuck there at the end of summer, the kids are going back to school, but can’t a brother get a last gasp? Instead of looking back to fun and sun, Hollywood uses the holiday to look ahead to the horrors of October and the semi-seriousness of autumn—but not with their best stuff. Usually with lousy stuff. Moviegoers respond accordingly by not showing up.
Here are the biggest box-office openers for each four-day weekend:
- Memorial Day: "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End": $139,802,190
- Presidents Day: "Valentine's Day": $63,135,312
- MLK Day: "Cloverfield" $46,146,546
- Labor Day: "Halloween (2007)": $30,591,759
Not even close. Plus the films the studios trot out over Labor Day read like a marquee in hell: “Jeepers Creepers” (1 and 2), “Balls of Fury,” “All About Steve,” “The Wicker Man,” “Babylon A.D.” And those are the popular ones.
So consider ourselves lucky that we got “The American” this weekend and some of us (including Patricia and I—review up soon) actually went to see it. It topped the three-day weekend with $13 million and the four-day weekend with $16 million—just ahead of “Machete”’s $11 million and $14 million, and far ahead of “Going the Distance”’s $6.9 million and $8.6 million. The Justin Long-Drew Barrymore rom-com finished in fifth place. Barrymore has been with us forever but she’s still only 35, so, despite the soft open, expect more of these. Someone, by the way, should do a look at the history of the Barrymore rom-com: from Adam Sandler (9 years older) through Hugh Grant (15 years older) to Justin Long (3 years younger).
Last weeks’s 1 and 2, “Takers” and “The Last Exorcism,” finished 3 and 4, falling off, respectively, 46.9% and 63.6%. Normal falls for such films, but, given the holiday weekend, fairly steep falls.
“The Expendables,” in comparison, dropped only 30% and has now grossed $94 million; the $100 million mark is only a matter of time. “The Other Guys,” fell off only 15% to bring its cumulative take to $108 million and put “Robin Hood” ($105m) in its rearview mirror. In its headlights? “Valentine’s Day” ($110m).
In 8th place? “Eat, Pray, Love,” which fell off only 29% and has steadily climbed to a $70 million gross. No. 9, “Inception,” dropped just 7% and stands at $278m (and $696m worldwide). Somewhere in the last week, “Despicable Me” passed “Shrek Forever After.”
Finally a request. Box Office Mojo? Your abs ads are beginning to creep me out. More reptile than man. Turn it down a notch, will ya?
Summer Box Office: Are We Predictable?
Researching predictions about how 2010 summer box office would turn out, I came across this April piece from Gregory Ellwood on Hitflix.com. I'm not a fan of prognostication but he does pretty well. Here's his numbers against the actual rankings:
He predicts three of the 10 exactly right. He also predicts which five movies will be in the top five. Flip a couple ("TS3" and "IM2") and he has seven of the 10. Add "The Other Guys," which has a chance to finish the summer ranked 10th and he has 8 of the 10. That's pretty stunning. Someone call Nate Silver.
The only two he gets wrong are "Sex and the City 2," which bombed because it stunk, and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," about which, in the "pro" section of that film, he writes, "If 'Persia' is a disappointment, Jerry Bruckheimer can't be wrong about two potential summer tentpoles can he?" Answer: Yes, he can. So "Sorcerer's" is really only there because he figured "Persia" wouldn't live up to the hype. Which it didn't.
To give you an idea what he was predicting against, here are some readers' comments at the end:
- Seeing as how the 10th movie in this list is expected to gross $110 million, I find it kinda hard to understand why Prince of Persia wasn't included. Do you think it won't even cross 100mil Greg? (It didn't: it topped out at $90.6 million domestically.)
- Not enough attn. paid to Prince of Persia here imo. (Shows what your o is worth, kid.)
- Prince of Persia will also make close to $200 million just on the fact that it's similar to POTC. ("Prince of the City"? Oh, "Pirates of the Caribbean." Really? It is? Even the backdrop seems diametrically opposed: sand vs. water.)
- Where's 'The A-Team' and 'Knight & Day'?? (Finishing 16th and 17th for the summer, respectively.)
On the other hand, there's this from a guy named Yun Xia. He actually gets the top 5 in the right order... but then screws up with "Sex and the City" and "Prince of Persia" and "The A-Team." Interestingly, he gets "Robin Hood"'s b.o. totals exactly right, $105 million, just not its place in the pantheon. It's higher up: 10th not 15th. Thus far. Even so: hen hao.
So did anyone screw up? Well, the folks at "Get the Big Picture" did think both "Iron Man" and "Shrek" would both beat "Toy Story," and they include both Bruckheimer films in the top 10. The also predict big for "Robin Hood." Bigger, I should say.
But, overall, most of the April 2010 predictors predicted the top 5 correctly. It's numbers 6-10 where people stumbled.
Glad to see we're not completely predictable. Yet.
Marion will haunt your dreams for thinking so highly of Bruckheimer.
Hollywood B.O.: Summer Ends with a Whimper
“The Last Exorcism” won the weekend with $21.3 million but big deal. It made $9.4 million on Friday then kept dropping as the first-night horror crowd went elsewhere and no word-of-mouth bucked it up. Finishing second, or possibly first if these estimates are off, is “Takers,” a third-rate heist film with a sixth-rate title, currently at $21 milliion. Both movies will be gone and forgotten in two weeks. They are the dregs of summer—the last gasp before the studios begin to get semi-serious in September.
This weekend's overall take, $113 million, was also the lowest of the summer. Only the last two weekends in April did worse business for the year.
Of the other new films, none are new films. “Avatar: Special Edition,” playing in 812 theaters, grossed another $4 million, while the movie I saw this weekend, “Mesrine: L'instinct de mort,” a 2008 French film starring Vincent Cassel, grossed $150K in 28 theaters. Review up tomorrow.
Of the returning films still in wide release (2,000+ theaters), the one that held up best was, again, “Inception,” losing 331 theaters and dropping only 34.9%. The biggest drop among wide releases? “Piranha 3D,” 57.4%, followed closely by “Vampires Suck” at 56.6%.
Milestones? “Toy Story 3” became the seventh film, and the first animated film, to gross more than $1 billion worldwide—although it's still no. 2 for the year, $12 million behind “Alice in Wonderland,” which topped out at $1.024 billion this spring. Both are Buena Vista.
As summer dies, “Inception” keeps firing away.
UPDATE: RE: The estimates being off? Yes.
Hollywood B.O.: How Can 6.2 Million Movie Fans Be Wrong? This Way
This was a good weekend to catch up on better movies that opened earlier in the summer—Patricia and I did this with Will Ferrell's "The Other Guys," which is pretty damned funny (review up tomorrow)—and while it can be argued that most of us did do this, since the five new releases finished second, fourth, and six through eight, still, this weekend, nearly $50 million was spent on them, with the best-reviewed of the lot, "Nanny McPhee Returns," doing worst, and the worst-reviewed of the lot, "Vampires Suck," a parody of the "Twilight" movies, doing best: $12.2 million, good enough for second place. Sad. That $50 million works out to about 6.2 million people who couldn't figure out better ways to spend their money and time. BTW: There's always an uproar when some critic doesn't like a popular movie and ruins its 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating (see: Armond White and "Toy Story 3"), but what about when a critic likes a crap movie and ruins its 0% rating? Michael Ordona, I'm looking at you and "Vampires Suck."
Everyone will say that "The Expendables" rocked this weekend (or "muscled out the competition," or "pumped itself up to no. 1"), but its numbers still fell off by 52.6%, which is the biggest fall-off of any movie that didn't lose theaters this weekend. "Scott Pilgrim," meanwhile, gained two theaters but still fell off 52.6%. Girly man.
The wide-release movie that fell off the least? "Inception," which dropped 719 screens yet dropped only 32%. It has now grossed $261m domestic, $315m abroad.
Complete weekend box office estimates here.
There are still good movies to see, people. "Restrepo" is still playing in 44 theaters, and two new docs, "The Tillman Story" and "A Film Unfinished," just opened in NY and LA. One hopes they go wider.
Meanwhile, spurred by Uncle Vinny's post, I went to see "Two in the Wave" ("Deux de la vague"), a French doc about Truffaut and Godard, which is playing at Northwest Film Forum on Capitol Hill in Seattle. It doesn't go as deeply into their films as I would like, but it does go into their history: their initial friendship and rivalry, and what broke them up in 1973: Of all things, Truffaut's "Day for Night," which I love and Godard couldn't stand. But then I can't stomach Godard after '65. Seattlities, it's playing all week. Go see it some American night.
Hollywood B.O.: Worst Movie Year Ever?
I was wondering whether "Toy Story 3" might reach $400 million domestic (it's at $389 right now, and last week fell off by only 27% for another $14 million, so if it falls off by something similar this week, hey, that's about $10 million right there, nearly the $11 million it needs, BUT its weekend numbers are already off by 43%, SO...) when I saw its worldwide take stood at $826 million. Immediately the more interesting question became whether the movie might crack the $1 billion mark. Only six movies have ever done that. (TRIVIA: Can you name them? They'll be in the comments field at the end of this post.)
It could happen. Pixar movies tend to do better abroad than in the states, generating between 58-60% of their total from foreign sales. Right now "Toy Story 3"'s foreign component is at 52.8%. Is it lagging? Probably not. It only recently opened in France (Bastille Day, actually), Hong Kong (July 15) Spain (July 22) and the U.K. (July 23), and it doesn't open in Germany until August 5th, so the foreign money's still flowing in rather than trickling in. Put it this way: If it doesn't break a billion it'll be close.
For the weekend, yes, "Inception" fell off by only 35% and came out ahead of newcomer "Dinner with Schmucks": $27m to $23m. It's the first movie since "Alice in Wonderland" to be no. 1 at the box office three weekends in a row. Keep in mind, too: "Alice" did it in March, an easier month to stay on top, since the competition is so weak.
On the other hand, "Inception"'s competition has hardly been strong. None of the new films managed even a "fresh" rating from top critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Paramount's "Schmucks" came closest at 47%, and made $23 million in 2,922 theaters. Warner Bros.'s "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," which I'd barely heard of (thanks niche marketing), got a 35% rating of shrugs and managed only $12 million in 3,700 theaters. That's bad. Finally, Universal's Zac Effron vehicle, "Charlie St. Cloud" (19%), grossed $12 million in 2,700 theaters. The three newbies finished second, fifth and sixth, respectively.
The totals here.
Has this been a bad summer? Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Joe Queenan had a blistering, funny, open letter to Hollywood, which included this advice:
Stop making movies like "Grown Ups," "Sex and the City 2," "Prince of Persia" and anything that positions Jennifer Aniston or John C. Reilly at the top of the marquee. Stop trying to pass off Shia LaBeouf—who looks a bit like the young George W. Bush—as the second coming of Tom Cruise. Stop casting Gerard Butler in roles where he is called upon to emote. And if "Legion" and "Edge of Darkness" and "The Back-up Plan" and "Hot Tub Time Machine" are the best you can do, stop making movies, period. Humanity will thank you for it.
I agree with almost everything he says in the piece—the Vin Diesel riff had me laughing out loud—except for the way it was marketed by WSJ: WORST YEAR EVER?
No. Not even close. At least not to me. It hurts me more when Hollywood serves us crap and we eat it all up with a smile. Remember last summer? "Transformers 2"? How's that taste now? Or the summer of 2007? "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third," and all the other crappy 3s? Or the summer of 2006 when the second "Pirates of the Caribbean" ruled the seas? These were each summer's most popular movies. This summer, our most popular movie is a good movie, "Toy Story 3," while a new film, which is creative and dark and forces even adults to tax their minds as they're watching it, is now no. 1 for three weekends in a row. It'll probably wind up in the top 10 for the year. That's not a bad summer to me.
But then, I wasn't forced to watch "Grown Ups."
Hollywood B.O.: Inception Fans Ne Regrette Rien
"Inception" was the no. 1 movie for the second week in a row, grossing an estimated $43.5 million. The initial interest in Christopher Nolan's dream thriller is apparently carrying over into either repeat viewings (to doublecheck one's own theories, or the theories of others) or new viewers (because they heard).
Its second weekend drop is, in fact, the lowest drop of the year for any no. 1 movie not named "Avatar":
Either way, it's a triumph for originality and creativity in the heat of summer. Now watch studio execs attempt to duplicate that originality.
Overall, movies may have been down from the previous week, but a lot of the returning movies still did well. "Despicable Me," at no. 3, fell off only 26%, and made another $24 million to raise its gross to $161 million. "Toy Story 3" lost 411 theaters but fell off only 24% for another $9 million. It's at $379 million and has a real shot to become the 11th film to break the $400 million barrier. "Grown Ups" fell off only 23%; it's at $142 million.
My favorite stat: No. 10, "Predators," in 1,846 theaters, barely beat no. 11, "The Kids Are All Right," in 201 theaters: $2.8 million to $2.6 million.
Of the new films, Angelina Jolie's "Salt" finished close to "Inception" with $36 million, while Fox's "Ramona and Beezus," which I've barely heard about, finished no. 6: $8 million in 2,719 theaters. Not good.
Hollywood B.O.: Parasites and Predators
The big news is that Christopher Nolan's "Inception," despite requiring work from moviegoers, did well at the box office: $60 million. Not sure what the word-of-mouth is from others but the word from my mouth is: "Go."
Meanwhile, "Sorcerer's Apprentice," the Disney/Bruckheimer thing starring Nicholas Cage, fared poorly with only $17 million. Yes, it opened on a Wednesday, but its total domestic take is still just $24 mil. Another faulty tentpole. Its 31% rating from the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes isn't horrible, but it only got there because reviews such as this one from Owen Gleiberman were labeled positive: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice is too long, and it's ersatz magic, but at least it casts an ersatz spell." The most important review, meanwhile, isn't even on RT. It comes from my 9-year-old, movie-reviewing nephew, Jordy, who told me over the weekend that "SA" sucked. The words from his mouth: Don't go.
So quality wins out again. One wonders when the studios will get it.
The biggest drops? "The A-Team" shed 808 theaters, down to 428, and lost 73.2% of its business. "Predators" shed no theaters, staying at 2,669, and lost 72.5% of its business. Not good for either film but particularly the latter. In fact it's the biggest second-week drop of the year. Both films, by the way, are from Fox. No surprise.
The full weekend chart can be read here.
It'll be interesting to see how "Inception" does during its second weekend. Anecdotally, I've heard from adults wanting to go back for a second viewing and teenage girls at slumber parties dissecting the intracacies of its plot. Good signs. Also bad signs. Ideas may be the most resilient parasites, as Cobb (Leo) tells us in "Inception," but Hollywood is full of its own brand of resilient parasites, who love to latch onto original ideas and turn them into crap. Expect dull, derivative movies about dreams in the near future. Fox is already probably working on one.
UPDATE: The actuals are in and "Predators" only dropped 71.7%, so its was only the second-worst second-weekend drop this year. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (2010)—you are still champ!
Meanwhile, "Inception" grossed $62 million, not $60 million. A good word-of-mouth sign.
Hollywood B.O.: Kids' Movies and Grown Ups
“Despicable Me” opened at $60 million!
What does this mean? Not much, really. It's a better opening than some thought, but it's only the sixth best opening this year, behind the obvious (“Iron Man 2”; “Toy Story 3”), and the not-so-obvious (“Clash of the Titans”). Unadjusted, it's the 69th best opening weekend ever, behind such films as “Planet of the Apes” (the 2001 version), “Hulk” (the 2003 version), and “2012” (the 2009 version).
Of those 68 movies that opened better, however, 52 opened in more theaters than “Despicable”'s 3,476. So of the 3,500-and-under crowd, its opening is 18th best. Remove sequels and it's 10th best.
But, again, that's unadjusted. Adjust, and it goes from 69th to 133th, behind such long-lasting films as “Van Helsing,” “Big Daddy,” “The Village,” and “101 Dalmatians” (the 1996 live-action version).
Robert Rodriguez's “Predators,” from Fox, the fifth in the off-again, on-again series, grossed $25 million, good enough for third place. Didn't boom, didn't bomb. Nothing to write a blog post home about.
The big news came from returning films.
The worst percentage change for any wide release was, big surprise, M. Night Shyamalan's “The Last Airbender,” dropping 57% despite adding 34 theaters. Given its lousy reviews, though (7% from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes), and lousier word-of-mouth, one assumed, one hoped, it would drop more. It wound up in fifth place with $17 million. The percentage drop would've been worse, of course, but the film opened on a Thursday, its biggest day, and so had that much less to fall off from.
Meanwhile, “Toy Story 3” (99%), despite direct competition from a popular new kids' movie, fell off by only 27%, pulling in $22 million. That's fourth place. It's now the highest-grossing film of the year domestically.
Before we celebrate the long legs of quality films like “Toy Story,” however, this news: the smallest percentage drop came from the Adam Sandler comedy, “Grown Ups,” which didn't exactly kill with the critics (13%), but which, in its third week, still fell off by only 13%. It's now grossed $111 million domestically. That's 10th for the year and our most successful comedy. Grown ups, indeed.
Hollywood B.O.: The Short, Sad Life of Jonah Hex
Once again, two movies opened wide this weekend, and once again they were no.s 1 and 2 at the box office—even though no. 1, "Twilight: Eclipse," actually opened on Wednesday (but to the best reviews of the series, 63% from top critics at RT, although indicative was Joe Morgenstern's thumbs up: "It didn't leave me cold"), while no. 2, "The Last Airbender," opened on Thursday (to horrible reviews and 7% from top critics on RT).
The other five films in 2,000+ theaters fell off in typical fashion: between 47.9% ("Karate Kid") and 52.8% ("Grown Ups").
Of the seven films playing wide this weekend, the only one out of place was "Toy Story 3." It's now in its third week but it remained ahead of the two second-week films. Like so:
A few questions from looking at the final column above. Since most major releases get a partner with whom they dance during subsequent weekends, which film partnered with "Toy Story 3" three weekends ago? And who was "Get Him to the Greek"'s partner? And what two films opened six weekends ago but has since fallen off the charts?
Answers in reverse order.
Six weekends ago, "Prince of Perisa" and "Sex and the City 2" opened together. "PP" is now 12th, in 600 theaters, and probably won't gross $90 million domestically. "SATC" is now chartless, although still playing in several local Seattle theaters, and is stuck at $93 million.
"Get Him to the Greek" opened with "Killers," that Ashton Kutcher thing, which is still playing in 700+ theaters and made about a half mil. Total gross: $45 million ($56m worldwide).
And "Toy Story 3"'s partner? That would be "Jonah Hex," which has all but vamoosed. It's still playing in a handful of theaters but for whatever reason they're not counting its numbers. It hasn't topped $10 million domestically. It's already been tossed and forgotten.
Remember the difficulty Andy had in throwing away his toys in "Toy Story 3"? That's not Hollywood with its toys. But then they make a shittier product. And they know new ones arrive every week.
Hollywood B.O.: How's "Prince of Persia" Doing in Egypt?
No real surprises this weekend. Of the newcomers: "Knight and Day," which looked kinda fun to me, did a blah $20 million, while "Grown Ups," which looked atrocious, grossed $41 million on the strength of urine, masturbation and Rob-Schneider-kissing-an-old-lady jokes. Yay, America! Apparently we still have money to waste.
BTW: Is Schneider's "old lady" an in-joke among the players? Writer Adam Sandler giving himself Salma Hayek as a wife and his pal Schneider an actress in her late 70s? If so, even the in-jokes in this thing suck.
The two returning b.o. champs with high Rotten Tomatoes scores continued to fare well. "Toy Story 3" and "Karate Kid" fell off by only 46 and 48 percent, respectively, and finished first and fourth respectively. After three weeks, "Karate Kid" has now grossed more than twice as much as "The A-Team" ($135m to $62m), while "Toy Story 3," after two weeks, has grossed almost as much as "Shrek Forever After" has after six weeks: $226m to $229m. "3" will pass "Shrek" today.
Among the crap films: Fox pulled "Marmaduke" from 1,385 theaters and its take dropped 60%; Lions Gate pulled "Killers" from more than 350 theaters and its take dropped 60%. But the biggest drop was for "Jonah Hex," which fell more than 70%, even though Warner Bros. didn't pull it from any of its 2,825 theaters, and even though there wasn't much to fall off 70% from. It's currently at $9.1m. Where will it end up? Double digits, probably, but I don't know if I'd bet on $12m.
Full weekend chart here.
Finally, which 2010 movies feel like bombs but aren't necessarily? Some possibilities:
- "Prince of Persia," which has grossed $86m in the U.S., but $220m overseas, for a total of $312m.
- "Robin Hood," which has grossed $103m in the U.S., but $198m overseas, for a total of $302m.
- And "Sex and the City 2," which has grossed $93m in the U.S., but $172m abroad, for a total of $265 m.
At the same time, the first "Sex and the City" grossed $262m overseas (wow!). It'll be interesting to see if "2" picks up this slack. It's currently the no. 1 movie in Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden and the U.K. Inexplicably, it hasn't hit Australia yet, where it made $25m in 2008. Not so inexplicably, it hasn't hit several other countries that Box Office Mojo tracks, including Bahrain, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which are watching, respectively, "The Back-Up Plan," "Nour 3iney," "Shrek Forever After" and, believe it or not, "Prince of Persia." So at least they don't have a problem with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead.
Hollywood B.O.: Toys Find Homes; "Hex" Hexed
The original "Toy Story" was in many ways about that moment in our history when the astronaut or spaceman (Buzz Lightyear) eclipsed the cowboy or sheriff (Woody) as the hero in the imaginations of boys everywhere. Pin it somewhere in the early 1960s—about the time Tom Hanks was Andy's age.
It could also be about that cultural moment when science-fiction eclipsed the western as our pre-eminent genre. Even as boys imagined themselves as astronauts, for example, Gene Roddenberry still had to pitch the original "Star Trek" as a western: "'Wagon Train' to the stars," he called it. Now it'd be the opposite. And it wouldn't sell. "It's like 'Star Trek'...but on the dusty plains!" Yeah, have fun with that.
Well, sci-fi still soars and the western has still seen better days. Sheriff Woody rides off into the sunset as perhaps our last, great, popular western hero in "Toy Story 3," while the film's main competition this past weekend, "Jonah Hex," a western, got bucked. "Toy Story 3" won the weekend with an estimated $109 million take, while "Jonah Hex" finished eighth—eighth!—with $5 million. Not even a battle. It helped that "3" was a beloved sequel, universally acclaimed (98% RT rating) and in more than 4,000 theaters, while Jonah Hex was an original, universally panned (14% RT rating), and in 2,845 theaters.
But eighth? Behind the fourth weekend of "Prince of Persia" and the third weekend of "Killers"? Yeesh.
"Hex"'s per-theater-average ($1,800) was the second worst of the summer—behind only "MacGruber," which grossed "$4 million in 2,551 theaters for $1,585 per in May. Everything went wrong for "Hex," including its title, which now seems like bad foreshadowing. What's next? "Joe Box Office Bomb"?
In other news, and despite the competition from "3," "Karate Kid" did surprisingly well, falling off only 47% and taking second place with $29 million. It's already grossed more than $100 million. "The A-Team" fell off even less, 46%, but it had less to fall off from; it grossed $13 million. "Get Him to the Greek" lost over 100 theaters but dropped only 38%, while "Shrek" couldn't handle "3" and fell by 65%.
Here's a puzzler: With "Toy Story 3" opening, and with "Shrek" as nose-holding backup, people still plunked down $2.6 million of hard-earned, global-financial-meltdown money for "Marmaduke"? But that thing's almost gone, finishing 10th, and its total domestic gross ($27 million) is about 2/3 of what "Toy Story 3" grossed on Friday alone.
"Toy Story 3," by the way, was the best opening for a Pixar movie ever—beating out "Finding Nemo," which made $70 million in May 2003. This is true even when adjusted for inflation. ("Nemo" winds up with $92 million adjusted.)
Full chart here.
And don't forget to vote for your favorite "Toy Story" movie here.
Hollywood B.O.: The B-Team
In the battle of the 1980s remakes, "The Karate Kid" kicked the butt of "The A-Team" at the U.S. box office last weekend: $56 million to $26 million. This is gratifying on several levels:
- "Kid"'s Rotten Tomatoes rating is almost 20 points higher than "A-Team"'s, 70% to 53%, or among top critics 66% to 48%, and I've been a longtime proponent of the notion that quality matters.
- Jackie Chan. I've been a fan since the days when the U.S. feared Japanese economic might rather than Chinese economic might, and I'm always happy when he does well at the U.S. box office.
- "Kid" is a formulaic underdog story. "A-Team" is a formulaic overdog story. If you're going formula, I'll take the underdog.
- "The A-Team" cost $110 million, stars three white guys and an angry black guy, and was futzed over by 11 screenwriters hired and fired by Fox, a studio which is infamous for dumbing down its product. "The Karate Kid" cost $40 million, stars a black kid and a Chinese guy, lists only one screenwriter, and its studio, Sony, was able to keep itself out of the conversation.
As for why it did well? I don't think any of the above really had much to do with it. I think it opened well for the following reasons:
- It stars a kid who looks like a kid. Kids identify.
- It's rated PG (rather than the more covetted PG-13) so kids can actually see it.
- One line from the trailer: "I get it. You're Yoda and I'm like a Jedi."
What kid wouldn't want to go after hearing that line? It's a real-life Yoda-Luke thing!
As for the rest of the top 15? A steady if unremarkable decline for the crap May/June releases. It looks like "Sex and the City 2," currently at $84.7 million, will peter out (sorry) before $100 million. It looks like "Robin Hood," at $99.6 million, won't.
But the worst performer seems to be "Marmaduke." After 10 days, in over 3,200 theaters, its domestic box office stands at a mere $22 million. Not good for a family comedy with a budget of $50 million. But this should be expected: its RT rating is only 11%. And its studio? Fox.
"I get it: You're Yoda and I'm like a Jedi." The irony is that the old master, "Star Wars," is a Fox film, but from its wiser, 20th Century days.
Hollywood B.O.: “Shrek” Holds off “Marmaduke” with One Hand
Dreamworks should send a thank-you note to Fox. This weekend, Fox's “Marmaduke” opened to bad reviews (12% among RT's top critics) and weak box office ($11 million in 3,200+ theaters, or sixth place), allowing Dreamworks' tired, overweight “Shrek” to huff atop the weekend charts for the third time.
Of course if Dreamworks begins its “thank you”s there, where do they stop? Thanks, Lions Gate, for putting so much money and effort into another Ashton Kutcher movie. Thanks, New Line, for trotting out Carrie and the girls (on camels!) one time too many. Thanks, Disney, for attempting to build a franchise around a video game even though only one video-game adaptation, “Lara Croft,” ever grossed over $100 million, while the streets are strewn with pieces of the rest: “Max Payne,” “Doom,” “BloodRayne,” “Street Fighter.” Thanks, everyone.
Here's the weekend top 10. Reverse some positions and the top-10 grossing movies are also the top-10 movies in terms of availability. We're seeing what's out there. Which is why we're not seeing much:
* top critics only
A year ago “The Hangover” opened with an RT rating of 78% and grossed $44.9 million in its first three days. Pixar's “Up,” in its second week, with an RT rating of 95%, finished second with $44.1 million. “Land of the Lost” and “My Life in Ruins” both received scathing reviews and died out of the gate. They keep sending us movies to die out of the gate.
Here's the good news if you just want Shrek to go away: “Toy Story 3” arrives in two weeks.
Me, I've only been seeing SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival) movies the past two weeks. Thus far? “Restrepo.” Repeat: “Restrepo.”
Hollywood B.O.: Ladies Second
Two years ago "Sex and the City" made $59 million during its three-day opening weekend: $26M+ and $17M+ and $12M+. This year, "Sex and the City 2" is estimated to make $46 million over its four-day opening weekend (Thurs.-Sun.): $14M, $13M, $10M., $9M. Adjust for inflation and it's even worse: $63M for three days vs. $46M for four. Take out Thursday's total for "2" and its opening weekend is about half of what "1"'s was.
Now it could be that the fashionistas are waiting until Monday to celebrate Memorial Day with the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse. But I doubt it. So why the comedown?
Last week I argued the latest "Shrek" faltered because the previous "Shrek" stank. There's carryover.
I'd argue that the previous "SATC" wasn't that good, either. In fact, I did argue it. But I think "SATC 2" mostly suffered because, well, it just looked awful.
I saw a clip a few weeks ago on "The Daily Show." The four women are out in the desert riding camels. Samantha complains of hot flashes, to which Carrie states the obvious: You're in the desert; you're supposed to have hot flashes. That's a joke. Then Charlotte gets a call on her cell but she's having trouble with the connection and does the "Can you hear me now?" bit. She keeps leaning and leaning. And then she falls off the camel. That's a joke, too. And that was the clip.
And I thought: "If that's the clip, what's the rest of the movie like?"
I'm probably not the only one to have this thought.
Women, I've heard, tend to pay more attention to movie critics than men. That's one of the problems Hollywood execs have with women: they care about quality.
"SATC," of course, is a fairly critic-proof franchise but not completely. It can squeak by with a not-horrible 53% rating, as the first movie garnered from top critics at RT.com. But "SATC 2" garnered a 9% rating from top critics—and it was a pretty loud 9% rating, too. People heard. Women heard.
My guess is that "2" won't gross more than $115M. If word-of-mouth is bad, as it seems to be, it might not break its $100-million budget.
In other news, "Prince of Persia" (23%) proved it was no tentpole in the desert, finishing third with $30 million.
Their loss, "Shrek"'s gain. It fell by only 38% to remain no. 1 for the weekend. The lesser of three evils.
"Shrek" Sinks Because "Shrek" Stinks
Dreamworks' "Shrek Forever After" opened with the third-highest opening weekend of the year—behind only "Iron Man 2" and "Alice in Wonderland"—with over $70 million domestic (estimated).
A triumph? Not really.
Here are the opening weekends for the four "Shrek" movies. All numbers are adjusted to 2010 dollars:
* Top Critics Only
** All numbers are adjusted to 2010 dollars
That's quite a comedown.
Obviously new films tend to open weaker than sequels, which is what happened with the first "Shrek." But because "Shrek" was good (86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) it went on to gross $375 million, or no. 3 for the year.
And because "Shrek" was good, its sequel, "Shrek 2," opened gangbusters: $138 million. And because "Shrek 2" was good (88% rating on RT) it went on to gross $564 million, or no. 1 for the year. In fact, until "Dark Knight" and "Avatar" came along, it was the no. 1 movie of the decade.
And because "Shrek 2" was good, its sequel, "Shrek the Third" opened gangbusters: $140 million. But because "Shrek the Third" wasn't good (49% on RT) it went on to gross only $372 million. I know: "only." But that's a $200 million drop from the previous film.
And because "Shrek the Third" wasn't good, its sequel "Shrek Forever After," opened with half the numbers of "Shrek the Third": $71 million. And because "Shrek Forever After" isn't good, either (40%), I assume it'll gross even less. Will it gross $250 million? Will it outdo "How to Train Your Dragon," which is already at $210 million?
Other factors could be at work, of course. The world's complex. Maybe there were simply better options this weekend. Maybe people are finally tired of this 10-year-old franchise. Maybe we don't have the patience for any fourth movie.
But in general I think the above is how moviegoing works—and it tends to be ignored by the powers-that-be. If you keep making a quality version of a beloved product, people will show up. Once the quality slips, the audience slips.
BTW: When referring to "good" and "bad" versions of "Shrek," I'm talking about the general critical reception, which, I argue, and have argued, is on par with general audience reception and word-of-mouth. Me, I only saw the first "Shrek," which I didn't like.
Look, Donkey! Maybe people are finally sick of us!
Box Office Stat of the Day: Average Weekly Movie Attendance for the Last 100 Years
Via George Lucas's Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success: How much we loved movies (or not) in the first year of every decade:
|Year||U.S. Pop.*||Avg. Movie Att. (Weekly)**|
* in millions
I believe Edward Jay Epstein, in his book The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood, said '46 or '47 was the big year in terms of weekly movie attendance. 95 million? Something like that? After the war people wanted to do nothing so much as go into a dark theater for 90 minutes. Similar to 1930, though, on this chart.
What's surprising is the reversal since George Lucas' 1970s. I didn't know that. As a percentage of population, weekly attendance hasn't risen much, going from 8% in 1970 to 9% in 2000. But percentage of populaton shouldn't matter as much as asses in the seats, which, despite TV and VHS and video games, has risen 62%. And that's not the volume of our asses, either. Plus, these are merely domestic figures. Imagine the global numbers.
It'll be interesting to see what DVDs have wrought this past decade. Or what 3-D will do to get moviegoers back into the theaters this year. "I see you" indeed.
The beautifully refurbished Heights Theater in Columbia Heights, Minn.
"The Ghost Writer": Summit Entertainment's Latest Delicate Flower
Last Friday I went to the opening-night showing of Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” at the Egyptian Theater about a mile from my home. It’s a fun movie, smart and adult, and so of course it’s only playing in 42 other theaters around the country. Not even one per state.
Will it go wider? It’s being distributed by Summit Entertainment L.L.C. (as opposed to L.P. (R.I.P.)), the minor studio responsible for both the “Twilight” movies and “The Hurt Locker.” Last November Summit opened the “Twilight” sequel in over 4,000 theaters and who knows how many screens. Last July it opened “The Hurt Locker” in four theaters and probably that many screens. During its entire, six-month run, “Locker” wound up making $12 million domestically, which the “Twilight” sequel most likely made by the first showing of the first day.
This isn’t an argument against “Twilight.” I’m not arguing against making money. I’m arguing against losing money.
Here’s the history of Summit since it became an L.L.C. in 2006. Sorted by U.S. gross:
||U.S. Gross / Theaters||Opening / Theaters||Open|
|1||Twilight: New Moon||37%||$296,023,000||4,124||$142,839,137||4,024||11/20/09|
|5||Never Back Down||16%||$24,850,922||2,729||$8,603,195||2,729||3/14/08|
|7||Fly Me to the Moon||22%||$13,816,982||713||$1,900,523||452||8/15/08|
|8||The Hurt Locker||97%||$12,671,105||535||$145,352||4||6/26/09|
|10||Next Day Air||22%||$10,027,047||1,139||$4,111,043||1,138||5/8/09|
|15||The Brothers Bloom||48%||$3,531,756||209||$90,400||4||5/15/09|
|16||The Ghost Writer||75%||$1,129,000||43||$183,009||4||2/19/10|
* Rotten Tomatoes rating from top critics only
Look at those theater totals at places 9 through 14—compared with "The Hurt Locker" at no. 8 and with "The Ghost Writer," which just opened. I’ve been railing against this kind of thing for years. A.O. Scott railed better last August when he critiqued the general direction of movies:
Middle-aged actors and critically lauded directors look like extravagances rather than sound investments. Forty is the new dead. Auteur is French for unemployed. “The Hurt Locker” — the kind of fierce and fiery action movie that might have been a blockbuster once upon a time — is treated like a delicate, exotic flower, released into art houses and sold on its prestige rather than on its visceral power.
“The Hurt Locker” was Summit’s delicate flower last summer, and, because they released it delicately, they made money from it delicately. Now they’re treating “The Ghost Writer” the same way.
Again, the problem isn't that “The Ghost Writer” is released into 1/100th the number of theaters of “Twilight." It’s that it’s released into 1/50th the number of theaters of “Push” or “Never Back Down” or “Sorority Row” or “Sex Drive": Crap that nobody wants, nobody goes to, and which lose money. But at least these movies are given the chance to lose money. "The Hurt Locker" and "The Ghost Writer" aren't even given that chance.
Quality film, in other words, isn't just treated as its own genre. It's treated as a genre 50 times less important than the others.When the others lose money.
It's a greater mystery than the one the ghost writer solves.
The New King of the World
To put this in perspective: When James Cameron's "Titanic" became the worldwide box office champion with $1.843 billion in 1997-98, it more than doubled the previous record set by "Jurassic Park" in the summer of 1993: $914 million.
In the 12 years since, and despite rising ticket prices , no film has gotten within 60 percent of "Titanic"'s total. "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" reached $1.1 billion in 2003-04, the second (and awful) "Pirates" movie reached $1.06 billion in the summer of 2006, while "The Dark Knight" grossed almost exactly $1 billion two summers ago. Those are the only other movies that even reached the $1 billion mark. Basically halfway there.
Until now. This week, "Avatar," Cameron's first movie since "Titanic," broke "Titanic"'s worldwide box office mark and currently stands at $1.861. And climbing. Fast.
Cameron's raising the bar when no one could even get close to the bar before. That's almost mean.
“Avatar” Passes “Dark Knight”
Early estimates have “Avatar” winning the Friday box office with $9.1 million (over “Legion”'s $6.7 million), which means several things:
- It now has $526 million domestic. So it should pass “The Dark Knight”'s box-office total of $533 million today and thus become the second-highest-grossing domestic film (unadjusted) of all time.
- When that happens, it'll become the highest-grossing film of the decade. Which means James Cameron has had the highest-grossing film of the decade two decades in a row. Not even Lucas (1970s) or Spielberg (1980s) can say the same.
- On a lesser scale, and assuming no surge from “Legion,” it will be no. 1 for six weekends in a row. No other film of the 2000s had better than four weekends in a row. It's the longest reign atop the weekend box office since, of course, “Titanic,” in 1997.
Build it well and they will come.
“I want you to open at $75 million and then drop only one or two percent the following weekend, and never drop more than 30 percent any weekend. This is going to be a movie with legs, OK?” “OK, Skip.”
The Sky People Are Speaking
The weekend actuals are in and we have a new no. 1 movie of the year! Hauling in $15.1 million, it's..."Daybreakers," the new no. 1 movie of all 2010 releases. Congratulations! Guess you can't keep a bad vampire down.
Oh, and "Avatar" was the no. 1 movie in the country again for the fourth weekend in a row and has now surpassed "Transformers 2" as the highest-grossing domestic release of 2009, while its worldwide box office is at $1.34 billion, no. 2 all-time by a mile. So, yeah, good job there, too, Jimmy C.
I keep wondering when it's going to drop big time but it's got staying power like no movie since... "Titanic." Example: It opened in the mid-$70 million range, which is less than half of "Dark Knight"'s opening weekend, and yet, four weeks later, the domestic totals of the two films are comparable: After 24 days, "Dark Knight" had $441 million, "Avatar" has $430 million. Plus "DK" was coming off a fourth-weekend total of $26 million. And remember: "The Dark Knight" actually had staying power. That's what's amazing about all of this. Cameron's movie has a real shot of beating both "Titanic" records: the $600 million it made domestically and the $1.8 billion it made worldwide. His only competition is himself.
No. 2 With a Bullet (or an Arrow)
Less than a month after it opened, James Cameron's "Avatar" is already second on the unadjusted worldwide box-office list...to James Cameron's "Titanic." Of course it's got a long way to go to be no. 1: another $700 million or so—or what only 35 films have managed to make worldwide in their entire run.
What's remarkable isn't just the fact that Cameron now has the top two films all-time; it's that almost every other top film is a sequel, or part of a trilogy, or based on an extremely popular series of books. In the top 20, you can count the originals on one hand: Cameron's "Titanic" at no. 1, Cameron's "Avatar" at no. 2, and Pixar's "Finding Nemo" at no. 19. That's it. (I was going to add "Jurassic Park" but then remembered the Crichton novel on which it's based.)
Here, from boxofficemojo, is the current top 20 worldwide list. Unadjusted:
|Rank||Title||Studio||Worldwide||Dom. / %||Overseas / %||Year^|
|3||The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King||NL||$1,119.1||$377.0||33.7%||$742.1||66.3%||2003|
|4||Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest||BV||$1,066.2||$423.3||39.7%||$642.9||60.3%||2006|
|5||The Dark Knight||WB||$1,001.9||$533.3||53.2%||$468.6||46.8%||2008|
|6||Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone||WB||$974.7||$317.6||32.6%||$657.2||67.4%||2001|
|7||Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End||BV||$961.0||$309.4||32.2%||$651.6||67.8%||2007|
|8||Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix||WB||$938.2||$292.0||31.1%||$646.2||68.9%||2007|
|9||Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince||WB||$929.4||$302.0||32.5%||$627.4||67.5%||2009|
|10||The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers||NL||$925.3||$341.8||36.9%||$583.5||63.1%||2002^|
|11||Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace||Fox||$924.3||$431.1||46.6%||$493.2||53.4%||1999|
|14||Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire||WB||$895.9||$290.0||32.4%||$605.9||67.6%||2005|
|16||Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs||Fox||$884.4||$196.6||22.2%||$687.9||77.8%||2009|
|17||Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets||WB||$878.6||$262.0||29.8%||$616.7||70.2%||2002|
|18||The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring||NL||$870.8||$314.8||36.1%||$556.0||63.9%||2001^|
|20||Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith||Fox||$848.8||$380.3||44.8%||$468.5||55.2%||2005|
Will "Avatar" make it to $1.5 billion? More? Variety's Clifford Coonan reports that the Chinese hen hsi hwan the film. In the U.S., meanwhile, with everyone back to school or work after the holidays, the film's weekday totals are dropping off at a 50% rate—but that's still a slower rate than other films in the top 10. We'll see how it does this weekend. There's still buzz about the film. There's backlash, too, but mostly I hear (or read on Facebook) that even if you don't like the chatter, and even if you think the storyline is too "Dances with Wolves," you need to check it out in the theater, because it's AMAZING in the theater. That's nice to hear. Cameron's getting us all back together again. Except for these folks, of course.
My take. Again.
King of the World!
Last Monday I wondered if James Cameron's “Avatar,” already at $615 million worldwide, would eventually surpass “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” at $1.1 billion worldwide, to become the second-highest-grossing film (unadjusted) of all time—after Cameron's “Titanic,” which is no. 1 by a mile with $1.8 billion.
That question hasn't been answered but it has. Because after today “Avatar”'s worldwide b.o. is estimated at $1.01 billion: fourth all-time and spitting distance to “Lord of the Rings.” So by Wednesday or Thursday, James Cameron will officially have the two highest-grossing movies of all time.
Meanwhile in the U.S. “Avatar” is already at $350 million and will shortly blow past “Transformers 2” ($402 million) to become the no. 1 movie of the year. The only question is if it can surpass “The Dark Knight” ($532 million) to become the no. 1 movie of the decade. If it does, Cameron will have had the no. 1 movie of the decade two decades in a row. No director has ever done that. Not even Spielberg, though he came close (“Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Jurassic”).
Hollywood tends to place its bets on opening weekends but Cameron's showing everyone how short-sighted this is. “Avatar” made $77 million opening weekend. That's 28th all-time and fifth best for the year—behind “New Moon,” “Transformers,” “Wolverine” and “Harry Potter.” But such films tend to drop like rocks (40-60 percent) that second weekend. “Avatar”? It dropped two percent, to $75 million, giving it the best second weekend of all time. Unadjusted.
The best third weekend? “Spider-Man” at $45 million. Whoops. Scratch that. Now it's “Avatar” at $68 million.
And from here on in Cameron's just competing with himself. The record-holder for best fourth weekend is “Titanic” at $28 million. Fifth weekend? “Titanic.” Sixth? Same. All the way through the 12th weekend. It's all “Titanic.”
Which means weekends 2 through 12 are now all Cameron.
Cameron, by himself, is rewriting the lessons of Hollywood, and the biggest one is this: Opening weekend is for pikers.
Go to the movies this weekend? Lots of people did. Before the weekend was even half over the numbers crunchers were celebrating an all-time record (unadjusted) of $278 million, beating the weekend "The Dark Knight" opened in July 2008.
But that's not the big news to me. The big news is that "Avatar" won the weekend with a $75 million haul. If that number holds, 1) it's the second-biggest second weekend ever, after "Dark Knight"'s $75.16 million*, and, 2) that -2.6% drop from the first weekend is the 10th lowest drop between first and second weekends for a film opening in 3,000 or more theaters. And the top nine on that list? None came close to "Avatar"'s $77 million first weekend. None even came close to a $50 million opening weekend. They're mostly cartoons/family films ("Cheaper By the Dozen 2," "Bolt") that opened poorly or so-so before the holidays, then caught on during the holidays. You might say the same for "Avatar" except that it didn't open poorly or so-so. It opened phenomenally.
And continues phenomenally. After 10 days, Cameron's movie has made $212 million in the U.S. (7th-best for the year) and $402 million abroad, for a worldwide total of $615 million, or 47th best all-time (unadjusted). No. 2 on the worldwide list is "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" at 1.1 billion. Can "Avatar" surpass that mark? If it can, Cameron will be the writer-director of the two highest-grossing films of all time. Talk about your kings of the world. Here's hoping it keeps going and wipes the stink of "Transformers 2" off the year.
More on "Avatar":
- The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's critic Colin Covert has a fun, Freudian take on "Avatar." Jake's movement from re-birth to manhood is definitely a big part of the movie—it's a hero myth, after all—but Covert's vision of Col, Quaritch as an Oedipal father in need of a major adjustment adds a fun new element for me. "Quaritch is an iconic Bad Dad," Covert writes. "He threatens to shoot Grace in the mining camp’s control room, and later physically attacks her, Trudy and Neytiri in separate incidents. Mom and dad fight a lot."
- BTW: "Avatar"'s success, following on the heels of "The Blind Side," means that two of the three biggest movies this fall feature strong women who nurture young men away from the influence of bad men and turn them into good men. A theme?
- Michael B. Laskoff has a pro-capitalistic take on both "Up" and "Avatar," but to me it's a misreading. A rather gross misreading. Carl's house in "Up" is more about the burden of dreams, or the past, than a Wordworthian getting-and-spending. And arguing that "Avatar" is pro-capitalist because Cameron invented something wonderful and new, and thus, in Laskoff's words, "has done exactly what the high priests of capitalism—from Adam Smith and Alexander Hamilton to Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan—have always preached: allow daring, vision and capital to find one other and the extraordinary can emerge," is not only ignoring what "Avatar" is (a not-so-subtle critique of the military-industrial complex), but what capitalism is. Yes, you want daring and vision. But capital rarely finds the two. Capital is too busy chasing after what has worked before. It wants to endlessly copy the successful. There's little daring in it.
Balance sheets over blood: one of the many pro-capitalist
messages Michael Laskoff sees in "Avatar"
- Finally, a cool look, from Devin Faraci of chud.com, on how Cameron's final film differs from Cameron's original script treatment. Among the changes (SPOILERS): Jake is named Josh; Josh cries when he first walks as an avatar; the planet is always fighting the humans as if they're a virus—it doesn't just happen at the end; and there is no unobtanium. We're just messing with the Na'vi to keep them in line. It's interesting stuff, but, unlike Faraci, I agree with most of the changes Cameron eventually made. He brought a big ship in lean and tight.
* UPDATE: "Avatar" wound up grossing $75.6 million over the weekend—meaning it had the best second-weekend ever (unadjusted). It also did better abroad than the numbers originally indicated: its worldwide total now stands at $623.6 million.
The 2000s: Decade of the Sequel
A few weeks back in the New York Times Magazine, A.O. Scott asked the following question:
The rebel Hollywood of the ’70s gives way to the blockbuster-mad ’80s, which is followed by the rise of the indies in the ’90s. And then?
And then Frodo and Spider-Man, Mumblecore and midbudget Oscar bait, Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Dark Knight” and the Transformers movies, along with everything else.
Which is more smorgasbord than answer. So let’s answer the question Scott wouldn’t. What were the 2000s to film? How did this decade differ from previous decades? How will it be remembered?
Here’s my quick-and-dirty answer: the 2000s were the decade of the sequel.
Yeah, I know. The sequel? What year are you stuck in, idjit—1978? Sequels have been the driving economic force for Hollywood for years, for decades, and you’re saying that now, suddenly, this decade, we’re in “The Era of the Sequel”? Get a clue!
Except I’m talking less about how many sequels were made than how well they performed. Sure, they’ve almost always performed well; that’s why they keep getting made. But this decade? They’ve performed really well.
Here’s a chart of no. 1 box-office hits of the year that were sequels, per decade, for the last 40 years:
The two no. 1 sequels in the 1980s both came from the “Star Wars” franchise: “The Empire Strikes Back” in 1980 and “The Return of the Jedi” in 1983. Ditto his prequel, “The Phantom Menace,” in 1999. The only non-“Star Wars” sequel to go no. 1 during this period was James Cameron’s “Terminator 2” in 1991.
So basically the only time a sequel reigned atop the annual box office chart from 1970 to 2000 was when it happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
In 2002, Lucas’ second prequel, “Attack of the Clones,” actually became the first of the “Star Wars” movies not to be the year’s most popular movie. It finished third to both “Spider-Man” and “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” So it seemed we were entering a new age.
We were. The following year, the sequel to “Two Towers,” “Return of the King,” was the biggest hit of the year, and it’s been sequels ever since:
2003: “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”
2004: “Shrek 2”
2005: “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith”
2006: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”
2007: “Spider-Man 3”
2008: “The Dark Knight”
2009: “Transformers 2”
An argument can be made that this isn’t that big of a change. Sequels have gone from finishing second or fourth for the year to first. Big deal.
But it is different. Here’s how things used to work. Some new movie would come along and everyone would say, “Oh, dude, you gotta see this!” and everyone would go. These movies would become the no. 1 movies of the year: “The Exorcist,” “Jaws,” “Rocky,” “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Batman.” And, yes, all generated sequels. But with the exception of “Star Wars”—actually even including “Star Wars”—these sequels didn’t do as well at the box office. There was usually something original people wanted to see more.
No longer. Now the original film is merely a stepping stone to the vast wealth of the sequel. Sure, the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” made $363 million inflation-adjusted dollars in 2003, but the second made $464 million in 2006. Sure, the first “Shrek” made $339 million in inflation-adjusted dollars in 2001, but “Shrek 2” brought in $510 million in 2004. And, yes, “Batman Begins” made $230 million in inflation-adjusted dollars in 2005. Three years later, “The Dark Knight” brought home $533 million.
Instead of something original, we now want the same characters, doing the same thing, in a story that either improves upon the original (“The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man 2”) or doesn’t (“Spider-Man 3”: any of the “Pirates” sequels).
The question is why.
Part of it has to do with the way movies are rolled out now. Word-of-mouth means less, critics mean less, opening weekend means more. It’s a spectacle and people pay for the spectacle. Search the New York Times archive for the term “opening weekend” and for most of the 20th century you’ll get references to the “Wood, Field and Stream” columns of Raymond R. Camp. “Opening weekend” isn’t used to refer to the movies until 1980, in an article anticipating the release of the first “Star Wars” sequel. And opening weekends didn’t truly become currency until “Spider-Man” broke the $100 million opening-weekend mark in May 2002. That’s when even the average moviegoer took notice. Since then, Spidey’s record has been broken five times—all by sequels.
Movies are made differently now, too. Sequels are anticipated. They’re planned along with the originals. Sometimes they’re filmed along with the originals. The word “sequel” isn’t even effective anymore since we’re really dealing with four types, maybe more:
- The traditional sequel: These usually come out once every three years. Each film contains its own dramatic arc and more-or-less ends. Examples include the “Spider-Man” movies, the “Shrek” movies, “X-Men,” “Lethal Weapon,” etc.
- The double-whammy sequel: Several years after the success of the original, these sequels are filmed together and released within a year of each other. Usually the second sequel is of the “to be continued” variety and everything’s tied up (more or less) with the third sequel. Examples include “Back to the Future,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Matrix.”
- The episodic sequel: These are often released every year. They’re based on popular books and follow the path of the books. Examples: “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” possibly “Lord of the Rings.”
- The “Wait! Let me squeeze out one more” sequel: Shows up 15 to 20 years after the last one, when the stars and/or director don’t have the options they once had, and are relying on past glories to resurrect careers. Examples: “Indiana Jones,” “Rocky” and “Rambo,” “The Godfather.”
Even if the studios are better at making and marketing sequels, however, it doesn't answer the question why are we going as often as we’re going? Because the studios are better at making and marketing sequels? Because theaters, and thus box office, are for blockbuster sequels, while the dramatic movies that don’t generate sequels are now for home viewing via PPV or Netflix? Because in the age of the Internet, we no longer see star-driven movies (“Forrest Gump,” “Jerry Maguire,” “As Good As It Gets”), or director-driven movies (Spielberg) but character-driven movies (Shrek, Batman, Harry Potter), which are easier to sequel-ize? Because after 9/11 we all became a bunch of wimps and just wanted daddy to tell us the same story over and over and over again?
All of the above?
No. 1 sequels used to be George Lucas’ province but now we’re all living in George’s world: special effects are everything, actors are nothing, things whiz by, the fun never stops. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we used to go to the movies to see how people behaved on the roller coaster ride. Now we go for the roller coaster ride. If it has people on it, even better.
The Lessons of a New Moon
So what lessons can we cull from the $140 million opening-weekend of “New Moon”—the third-highest opening ever, and the highest (by far) for a non-summer film? Hint: It's not about the vampires and werewolves.
The biggest lesson is this: Quit ignoring girls. If you make a movie aimed at the sensibilities of teenage girls as much as “Star Wars” is aimed at the sensibilities of teenage boys, they will flock.
Here's a second, similar lesson: Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. The Twilight series is trading on what made the most successful movies of all time (Gone with the Wind, The Sound of Music, Titanic) successful. Those movies gave us a girl, choosing between two guys, against a backdrop of historic tragedy. The Twilight series just leaves out the backdrop of historic tragedy, and, rather than, say, Ashley and Rhett, or Leo and the other guy, this girl is choosing between a vampire and a werewolf. OK, so some things do change.
Final lesson? Girls are just as dopey as boys. Maybe dopier.
(Psst: Transformers 2)
OK, not dopier.
The Biggest Movie of the 2000s Ranks Just Behind the Third-Biggest Movie of 1965
The good and bad of blogging is that there's always something to write about because there's always something online worth refuting. This is good because you always have a subject. This is bad because you always have a distraction from what you should be writing about.
Allow me to be distracted this morning.
I came across this HuffPost piece via IMDb.com, which, for some reason, thought it link-worthy. Danny Groner argues that the biggest hits of the decade are cartoonish, explosive granfalloons but the "Twilight" series is character-driven and appeals to both fortysomething parents and their tweens. Plus they're boffo box office. So Hollywood should take notice. Or already has:
Fourties [sic] these days skews younger, not older, and that's where Hollywood is seemingly heading in the next decade. Sure, new parents are bound to pop up to replace the young moms who have outgrown Dreamworks' animated films. Nevertheless, if this decade's enormous box office stats has taught us anything it's that people are willing to see twice as many movies as long as it keeps them feeling young and in touch with what's popular.
His point seems to be that Hollywood movies, driven by animation and explosions, are more popular than ever, but they can be even more popular if less attention is paid to kids, and the kids in all of us, than to tweens and the tween-parents in all of us. Or something.
Despite whatever argument that is, my disagreement with him comes earlier, when he talks about how popular movies have been in the 2000s:
It's evident that big blockbuster franchises reigned supreme in a way they never had before and nobody would have anticipated. And they did it bigger than any decade before. These so-called "kids' movies" pulled in huge numbers around the world.
So few words there, so much wrong.
- This decade, blockbusters continued to reign supreme in the way they have since the 1970s. It's nothing new.
- I believe this was anticipated.
- They did it bigger than any decade before only if you don't adjust for inflation. Once you adjust for inflation, it's a different, sadder story.
I'm sure someone, somewhere, has a spreadsheet of adjusted numbers for international box office, but inflation-adjusted domestic numbers are easily accessible online. And what do they tell us? That, at least it terms of individual films, the blockbusters of this decade blocked little and busted less.
Since the advent of sound, six of the eight decades are represented in the six highest-grossing (and inflation-adjusted) domestic films of all time:
- Gone with the Wind (1939): $1.4 billion
- Star Wars (1977): $1.2 billion
- The Sound of Music (1965): $1 billion
- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982): $1 billion
- The Ten Commandments (1956): $.9 billion
- Titanic (1997): $.9 billion
Which decades are missing? The 1940s and the 2000s. The 1940s don't show up until no. 20, "Fantasia" ($.6 billion) while the 2000s don't show up until no. 27, "The Dark Knight" ($.5 billion). And what ranks just ahead of the biggest hit of our decade? "Thunderball," which wasn't even the biggest box-office hit of its year. It wasn't even the second-biggest box-office hit of its year. It came out in 1965 and both "The Sound of Music" and "Dr Zhivago" did better at getting our asses in the seats.
So the biggest hit of this decade ranks just behind the third-biggest-hit of 1965...and movies are more popular than ever?
I'll admit that if you toss in DVD sales and rentals, TV, PPV, etc., movies may be more popular than ever. But not in terms of box office, which is Mr. Groner's sole measure.
I'll also admit that the way blockbusters reigned supreme did change a bit this decade. But that's a discussion for another day.
Your Summer Movie Quiz — Answers
If you missed yesterday and want the questions, scroll down. Or go here.
1. Which two summer releases made the most money overseas?
The correct answer is D) “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” "Harry Potter" has grossed $625 million abroad—the 8th-most a film has made overseas—while "Ice Age 3," which grossed $195 million domestic, killed overseas, grossing $674 million, or the 3rd-most money any film has made abroad. "Ice Age 3"! Only "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" ($742 million) and, of course, "Titanic" ($1,242 million) have grossed more abroad.
The overseas numbers thus far:
- "Ice Age 3": $674 million
- "Harry Potter": $625 million
- "Transformers 2": $430 million
- "Angels & Demons":$351 million
- "Terminator: Salvation": $236 million
2. According to the documentary “Food, Inc.,” what is added to almost everything we eat and drink?
The correct answer is A) Corn. Mark Whitacre mentions the same thing in "The Informant!"
3. In “Wolverine,” after Logan’s half-brother Victor tells him, “We can’t let you just walk away!” and Logan begins to walk away, what do the murderous team of mutants do to bring him back?
The correct answer is D) Nothing. They let him walk away.
4. Who’s Richard Greenfield?
The correct answer is C) The market analyst who downgraded Disney’s stock earlier this year because he predicted a bad outing for Pixar’s “Up," which is currently the third-highest-grossing movie in the U.S. Its overseas totals ($124 million) lag mostly because the film hasn't opened yet in Germany (late Sept.), the UK (October) and Japan (December).
5. In what way is the new “Star Trek” similar to the original “Star Wars”?
The correct answer is E) All of the above. J.J. Abrams knows you go with what works. 30 years ago.
6. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is currently ninth in terms of domestic gross, with over $401 million. But where does it place when you adjust for inflation?
The correct answer is C) 67th, just behind “Smokey and the Bandit.” But it did already pass "Twister" and "The Poseidon Adventure." So: Kudos.
7. Before Sam goes off the college in “Transformers,” what does he say to his loyal, automobile-transforming autobot Bumblebee, whom he’s leaving behind?
The correct answer is D) All of the above.
8. What is Summer’s biggest hang-up in her relationship with Tom in “(500) Days of Summer”?
The correct answer is C) She doesn’t believe in love. Or "lurve." Or "luff." Although it turns out she does. It's just that, as the saying goes, she's just not that into him.
9. In “District 9,” what is the name of the main alien protagonist?
The correct answer is C) Christopher Johnson.
10. What do the following films have in common: “In the Loop,” “The Cove,” “Paper Heart” and “Cold Souls”?
The correct answer, sadly, is C) None went wider than 100 theaters. Brother, can you spare a screen?
11. Which film opened in the most theaters without making at least $100 million?
The correct answer is D) "The Land of the Lost," which didn't even get halfway there: $49 million.
12. Of those films whose widest release was fewer than 3,000 theaters, which grossed the most?
The correct answer is C) "Julie & Julia," whose widest release was 2,528 theaters but has grossed $88 million and counting. Fifteen films that opened between May and September played in more theaters yet haven't made as much money, including "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3," "The Final Destination," "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," "Funny People," "Land of the Lost," "Year One," "Aliens in the Attic," "Shorts," and, of course, "Imagine That." All of those films opened in more than 3,000 theaters.
"J&J" also outdid the three other films mentioned in the multiple choice: "The Ugly Truth," "The Time Traveler's Wife" and "My Life in Ruins." Those films focus on women who have careers and search for love. "Julie & Julia" focus on women who have love and search for careers. It don't know if there's a lesson there, but it's a nice change.
We push in line at the picture show
For cool air and a chance to see
A vision of ourselves portrayed as
Younger and braver and humble and free
—Joe Henry, “Our Song”
Summer's over. We've got autumn movie posters rotating to the left and autumn movies arriving in our theaters: the semi-serious, the longshot Oscar contenders, the Halloween horror pics. Summer movie season starts the first weekend of May and ends the first weekend of September, so most postmortems have been done already. Mine is in the above quote from Joe Henry—you don't have this song? Get it—and in the overused line of Yeats' from “The Second Coming”: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” The best lack all distribution while the worst show up in 4,000 theaters opening weekend.
No, it wasn't all bad news. Four of the top five grossers are either good-enough films (“Star Trek”: $257m; “Harry Potter”: $299m), good films (“Hangover”: $273m), or great films (“Up”: $291m)—but that last, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” is big enough and dumb enough that it gets its stink on everything else. $401 million. Michael Bay wants what's in your wallet! He knows there's not much in your mind.
Glad “Basterds” ($105m) has legs—and not just Diane Kruger's. Glad “Julia” is still cookin' it up ($86m). Too bad about the docs: “Food, Inc.” ($4m) and “The Cove” (less than $1m) deserved bigger audiences, but barely trickled into theaters; par for the course for docs. “Funny People” ($51m) deserved a bigger audience, too. “Hurt Locker” ($12m), sure, but I wasn't as ga-ga over it like some, and I get why people didn't go. But “Funny People” was funny and raunchy and it died, relatively speaking. Adam Sandler's “Big Daddy” made $163 million in 1999 ($231 million, adjusted), so where were the Sandler fans? Where were you idiots? At “Transformers,” probably. Or maybe you're all big daddies now.
How about you? What did you see this summer that you recommend? What did you see that left you shaking your head? What are you going to remember? What do you wish you could forget?
Here's the image I like to carry away...
Packed House for Basterds
Early estimates have Quentin Tarantino's “Inglourious Basterds” making $37 million over the weekend—$14.3, $12.9 and $10.3—but it'll be interesting to see if it's not higher. Patricia and I went last night, Sunday night, at 6:30, to one of the day's dozen shows at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle, and the place was packed. I haven't seen a theater that crowded in a while—let alone on a Sunday night when everyone was supposed to be home and getting ready for the workweek. They applauded at the end, too.
UPDATE: $38 million: $14.3, $13, $10.6. Not a big leap but a hop.
It’s not so much Brooks Barnes’ argument on the front page of The New York Times this morning (“Starring in Summer’s Big Hits, Virtually Nobody”), it’s how he defends his argument.
The argument itself is a no-brainer. Yes, not many stars are in the summer’s big hits. Yes, for the most part, characters-driven movies (Harry Potter, Optimus Prime), and concept movies (“Paul Blart,” “The Hangover”), trump star-driven movies.
But Barnes proves his point by comparing this summer to 2000 and 1990. Why not be mathematically correct and focus on 1999 and 1989?
Because then he’d highlight how little has changed. The big summer movie of 1989 was “Batman,” which, while it had Jack Nicholson in the Joker’s role, was, again, a characters-driven movie. People went more for Batman than Jack. A decade later, the big hit of 1999 was “Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” the fourth film in the series that, you could argue, marked the beginning of the end of the star-driven movie.
Barnes also overdoes his argument—which doesn’t need much overdoing—by lumping together, or having executives lump together, all of the star-driven movies that disappointed at the box office this summer, including Adam Sandler’s “Funny People” and Johnny Depp’s “Public Enemies.” The problem? Both were directors’ films rather than stars’ film. They were perceived that way and marketed that way. And they were serious films, and serious rarely does well in summer. And “Public Enemies” didn’t do that poorly—it’s near $100 million domestic—which, even adjusted for inflation, is the sixth-highest-grossing Johnny Depp film. As famous as he is, Depp is still more actor than star to me. If he’s playing a character people like—Captain Jack—sure, they come out in droves. Otherwise, it’s “Dead Man.”
This raises another point. Weren’t star-driven movies always characters-driven movies? Fans went to see Bogart being Bogart, Redford being Redford, Cruise being Cruise. When they deviated from those roles, box office dropped.
Something is happening, surely, with moviegoers and their loyalty to stars, but the discussion the topic deserves wasn’t on the front page of today’s New York Times.
The Wobbly Legs of "G.I. Joe"
After busting out gangbusters on Friday with a $22 million opening, "G.I. Joe" hasn't fared particularly well. It was the only film, among the top 20 grossers Saturday, whose percentages dropped, and they dropped by 18 percent. Its studio's Sunday estimation was off by $1.5 million—indicating enthusiasm, such as it was, was waning even more than they thought—while it was one of only three films whose percentages dropped Tuesday. And while the other two, "Orphan" and "Funny People," dropped by 1 percent, "Joe" dropped by 7 percent. "Joe"'s torso may be buff, in other words, but his legs are weak.
The lowest-grossing film for any film to open in over 4,000 theaters is "Mission: Impossible III," which wound up making $134 million, domestic, back in 2005. "Joe" is now at $67 million. Fingers crossed.
Die, Die, Die!
For the first time since it opened on June 24, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" made less than $2 million (domestically) in one day—when it grossed $1.7 million yesterday, down 42% from the previous Monday. I know. Cold comfort. But so far it's the only comfort I've found.
Quick Movie Quiz
Revenge on "Revenge of the Fallen"
Here's the plan. We find every 14-year-old that's propeling "Transformers 2" toward the $400 million mark in the U.S., and possibly the $1 billion mark globally, and in 30 years force them to watch it again. Plus the original. Plus all sequels. Plus the '80s series. Back to back to back to back. As a way of saying thanks.
The movie's box office has fallen off, certainly, but not preciptiously liked I'd hoped. I had my fingers crossed for "Gigli" numbers (-81% during its second weekend) or at least "Wolverine" numbers (-69%), but "Transformers" only fell off by "Terminator: Salvation" numbers: -61%.
I'm hoping for better next weekend. Stop the stupidity. While we can.
Jackass of the Day: Rob Moore
“[Critics] forget what the goal of the movie ['Transformers 2'] was. The goal of the movie is to entertain and have fun. What the audience tells us is, ‘We couldn’t be more entertained and having more fun.’ They kind of roll their eyes at the critics and say, ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about.’”
—Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount, which is distributing ”Transformers 2 for DreamWorks, in an uncredited AP article.
Why We're Getting 10 Best Picture Nominees
The Annual Box Office Rankings for Best Picture Nominees, 1991-2008*
|Year ||BPN BO rank||BPN BO rank||BPN BO rank||BPN BO rank||BPN BO rank|
|2008 ||16||20 ||82||89 ||120 |
|2007||15||36||50 ||55 ||66 |
|2006||15||51||57 ||92 ||138 |
|2005||22|| 49 ||62 ||88 ||95 |
|2004||22||24||37 ||40 ||61 |
|2003||1||17||31 ||33 ||67 |
|2002||2||10||35||56 ||80 |
|2001||2||11||43 ||59 ||68 |
|2000||4||12 ||13 ||15 ||32 |
|1999||2||12||13 ||41 ||69 |
|1998||1||18||35||59 ||65 |
|1997||1||6||7 ||24 ||44 |
|1996||4||19||41 ||67 ||108 |
|1995||3||18||28||39 ||77 |
|1994||1||10||21 ||51 ||56 |
|1993||3|| 9 ||38 ||61||66 |
|1992||5||11 ||19 ||20 ||48 |
|1991||3|| 4 ||16 ||17 ||25 |
* Best picture winner represented in red.
Want one more?
|Year ||BPN BO rank ||BPN BO rank ||BPN BO rank ||BPN BO rank ||BPN BO rank |
|1970 ||1 ||2 ||3 ||4 ||11 |
The problem isn't the number of nominees. The problem is the disconnect between studios, distributors, audience and the Academy. We don't make best pictures anymore. And if we do make them we don't distribute them. And if we do distribute them we don't go see them. And if all three happen, but the movie happens to be a cartoon or a superhero film, the Academy can't be bothered.
I'll say it again. The Academy is fixing something that ain't broken (the tradition of five nominees) because of something that is hugely broken. All of the above.
BTW: I charted the above for the drastic change that took place in 2004, but I never noticed —until I created this graph — how the best picture winner is almost always (eventually) the no. 1 or 2 box office hit among the five nominees. That's good to know. Or at least it was in the era of five nominees. Now it's useless knowledge.
The $67 Million Advantage
By the way, and related to yesterday’s post: If you take all 243 films that were released superwide (into 3,000 or more theaters) from 2004 to 2008, and divide them by Rotten Tomatoes' ranking (“fresh” meaning 60 percent or better from top critics, “rotten” 59 percent or worse), and total and then average the box office for each category, this is what you get:
All Superwide Releases, 2004-2008
|Type ||No. of films ||Total B.O. ||B.O. Per Film |
|"Fresh" films ||76 ||$12,064,252,567 ||$158,740,165|
|"Rotten" films ||167 ||$15,321,793,613 || $91,747,267|
That's a $67 million advantage.
Are there extenuating circumstances? No doubt. "Fresh" superwide releases are more likely to open during the prime real-estate months of May, June, July, November and December—by a 66% to 47% ratio. Their marketing budgets may be bigger, too, but of course I have no data on that. (Does anyone?)
Most importantly, "fresh" films open, on average, in 231 more theaters than “rotten” films.
But even if you take away this advantage—by dividing the average box-office take by the average opening theater count—the “fresh” films are still much, much more lucrative:
All Superwide Releases, 2004-2008, by Theater Count
|Type ||No. of films ||Avg. B.O. ||Avg. Thtrs. ||Avg. |
|"Fresh" films ||76 ||$158,740,165 ||3,581||$44,331|
|"Rotten films ||167 ||$91,747,267 ||3,350||$27,385|
|RT Critic Rating ||No. of films ||Total B.O. ||B.O. Per Film |
| 90-100%||13|| $2,996,670,616 ||$230,513,124|
|0-9%||25|| $1,493,738,755 ||$59,749,55|
If you build it well, we will come.
Dumb like a Fox
Last week, John Lesher, the president of the Paramount Film Group, was fired and replaced by Adam Goodman, former head of production at Dreamworks SKG. Nikki Finke’s blog listed a number of offenses against Lesher, including drunkenness, while the L.A. Times said his biggest offense in his 18 months on the job wasn’t greenlighting enough pictures.
Maybe the two are related. I have no idea—I’m way the hell up in Seattle, and I don’t read much on internal studio dynamics—but the following, at least, demonstrates a problem Paramount has had for the last five years. It’s a table on how the big six studios (plus DreamWorks) fared with their superwide (3,000+ theater) releases from 2004 to 2008, ranked by average box office:
Superwide Releases, 2004-2008, by Studio/Distributor
||% of "fresh" films
||Avg. box office
If you’re a regular reader you know I’m someone who believes that, with similar movies, good generally beats bad. People are more likely to go see a good popcorn movie over a bad one, and an exciting arthouse movie over a dull one. To paraphrase a famous movie line: “If you build it well, they will come.”
Paramount, according to this chart, builds them better than most, but, on average, fewer people show up.
The bigger question the table raises, though, is this: What’s up with Fox? They have the lowest percentage of fresh films and the lowest average box office per film as well. If you’re wondering what Fox's 39 superwide releases over the last five years look like, here you go. As sorted by top-critics-ranking on Rotten Tomatoes:
Fox's Superwide Releases: 2004-2008
||Top Critics' Ranking (RT)
||Dom. Box Office
|Horton Hears a Who
|The Simpsons Movie
|Live Free or Die Hard
|Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
|Ice Age: The Meltdown
|Because of Winn-Dixie
|Marley & Me
|X-Men: The Last Stand
|Kingdom of Heaven
|Mr. & Mrs. Smith
|The Day After Tomorrow
|Night at the Museum
|Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
|Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
|What Happens in Vegas
|The X-Files: I Want to Believe
|Alvin and the Chipmunks
|Hide and Seek
|Big Momma's House 2
|Cheaper by the Dozen 2
|The Day the Earth Stood Still
|The Seeker: The Dark is Rising
|Garfield: The Movie
|Deck the Halls
|Alien vs. Predator
It’s not pretty. I liked, well enough, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “The Simpsons Movie” and “Marley and Me,” but there’s no standout film here, and most of their menu smells like the glop of McDonald’s. In fact, they’re the only major studio over the last five years not to release a film superwide that garnered a 90% or better rating from the top critics in the country. DreamWorks (“Wallace and Gromit”) Paramount (“Iron Man”) and Universal (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) each did it once; Sony did it twice (“Casino Royale”; “Spider-Man 2”); Warner Bros. three times (“The Dark Knight”; “The Departed”; “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”); and Buena Vista, with a big helping hand from Pixar, did it four times (“Ratatouille”; “WALL-E”; “The Incredibles” and “Enchanted”). Fox? Nothing. Not even close. As you can see.
Equally astonishing is the kinds of movies Fox decides to dump into 3,000+ theaters. “The Seeker”? “Meet Dave”? “Elektra”? The preeminent popular genre of the decade is the superhero film and what has Fox done with it? They’ve taken one franchise that started brilliantly (Bryan Singer’s “X-Men”) and run it into the ground, while taking one of the more famous superhero teams ever created (“The Fantastic Four”) and never got it off the ground. You could argue that Fox’s most successful superhero over the past five years isn’t Wolverine or Mr. Fantastic; it’s Spider-Pig.
In the 1930s studios had personalities. Warner Bros. was gritty gangster stuff, MGM went after glamour and sophistication, etc. Studios are corporate-run now—smaller entities within larger multinational conglomerates—so we no longer ascribe a personality to their output. Lucky for Fox.
Hollywood Elsewhere, via Variety, reports that Sony chief Amy Pascal has pulled the plug on “Moneyball,” the Steven Soderbergh adaptation of Michael Lewis' book, which was to star Brad Pitt as Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, and which was to begin shooting Monday. Earlier this month, Patrick Goldstein, expressing enthusiasm for the project, wrote about how it would adhere closely to the book. Maybe that was the problem. Too cerebral? Too much about baseball? Neither of which (baseball, cerebral) plays well in international markets?
Jeffrey Wells, for one, is doubtful:
What this seems to mean is either that (a) Pascal doesn't believe that stars like Pitt mean all that much when it comes to opening a costly film — that the movie itself has to have the commercial goods or it's not worth doing, or that (b) she's half-persuaded that the 46 year-old Pitt — 50 in four and a half years! — isn't much of a star any more. Or a combination of both.
Who knows? Maybe Pascal knew she was taking a chance with Soderbergh, and, after the relative failures of two recent Sony offerings, “Pelham” and “Year One,” she wasn't in the chance-taking mood.
As I said: Bummer. With that talent, and that source material, I had high hopes the movie would be good. Certainly better than “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigilo,” “Stealth,” “Bewitched,” “Guess Who” or “RV,” all of which Sony/Columbia, and presumably Pascal, not only greenlit but opened in more than 3,000 theaters in recent years.
The One Lesson of Summer Box Office
Thursday night I took Patricia to see “Up” because I thought she’d love it—she did, particularly Dug—and because I wanted to see it without the 3D. I’m glad we went. Movies should be big and 3D seems to make them smaller. It’s as if, in creating the appearance of density, characters become heavy tiny objects rather than light big objects. The unfurling of the balloons and the house taking off—a great cinematic moment—is much more beautiful on the flat screen. Roger Ebert agrees.
“Up,” dismissed early and long for its elderly lead character, is already past the $200 million mark, the second-highest-grossing film of the year, and looks poised to pass “The Incredibles” ($261 million) to become the second-highest-grossing Pixar pic ever. Another example that quality—certainly brand-name quality—wins in the end.
Except Variety is now attributing the success of “Up” to...what? 3D, of course:
“Up’s” boffo run is the latest example of how 3-D runs can boost a film’s bottom line through higher ticket prices. The film’s 3-D runs make up only 40% of the total screen count, yet they contribute 60% of the gross.
So how much of that 20-percent difference is in higher ticket prices and how much is in higher attendance figures? And if the latter, how many moviegoers would’ve seen the film anyway? I mean, is anyone seriously going to see “Up” because of 3D? At least Variety tempers its enthusiasm with some later-graf common sense from Disney:
Chuck Viane, Disney’s prexy of domestic distribution, said 3-D has been a boon to “Up,” but he added that the foundation of any successful pic is a good story. “3-D enhances the storytelling, and thereby, the run,” Viane said.
For really misreading stats, though, there’s Variety’s Anne Thompson. I found the article—her six lessons of summer box office—in the usual roundabout Internet way: a link on Nathaniel R.’s site to a David Poland piece critiquing Anne Thompson’s original article. Now I add to the chain.
I like Nathaniel’s caveat: “I can’t say I ‘enjoy’ David Poland’s habitual attacks on other film journos but he definitely makes good points in this article.”
As someone who’s been attacked by Poland, I couldn’t agree more. Particularly since Poland, in his attack on me, got so much wrong.
I’d argue he goes overboard here, too. He attacks all of Thompson’s six lessons and... well, most of them are pretty bad. She draws big lessons from a small sample—always a mistake—when she could’ve crunched all six of her lessons into one. Quality sells. She implies as much with her adjective choices in nos. 3 & 6: “Smart R-rated dumb male comedies sell” and “Lackluster sequels sell--but don't break out big” (italics mine). She might’ve done the same with nos. 5, 4 & 2: bad Eddie Murphy movies don’t sell; unfocused family films don’t sell; and good origin myths (“Star Trek”) trump bad origin myths (“Wolverine”).
As for her no. 1 lesson? “Originals sell”? She writes:
The very thing that the majors are most afraid of is what makes Pixar King of the Mountain, every single time: originality. While everyone else looks for easy-sell labels, Pixar relies on a very old-fashioned idea: make it good and they will come. Up scored not via marketing prowess, but through great word-of-mouth. Gross to date: $191 million and going strong. Heck yeah!
Again, I’m happy about the performance of “Up,” not to mention “The Hangover,” which—amazingly!—looks poised to go over the $200 million mark as well. And I certainly wish this lesson were true. But is it? The highest grossing film thus far this year is “Star Trek,” which is a reboot of an old movie and TV franchise. Not original. And earlier in the article Thompson herself taps the films she thinks will be the summer’s big blockbusters: “Transformers: Revenge of the...” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood...” Both sequels.
Here, in fact, are the 10 highest-grossing movies from the last five years:
| ||Title ||Dom. B.O. ||Type |
|1. ||The Dark Knight (2008) ||$533m ||sequel |
|2. ||Shrek 2 (2004) ||$441m ||sequel |
|3 ||Pirates of the Caribbean 2 (2006) ||$423m ||sequel |
|4. ||Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)||$380m ||sequel |
|5. ||Spider-Man 2 (2004) ||$373m ||sequel |
|6. ||The Passion of the Christ (2004) ||$370m |
|7. ||Spider-Man 3 (2007) ||$336m ||sequel |
|8. ||Shrek the Third (2007) ||$322m ||sequel |
|9. ||Transformers (2007) ||$319m ||reboot |
|10. ||Iron Man (2008) ||$318m |
Eight of them are sequels or reboots. The only two that are not—”Passion” and “Iron Man”—are based on previously published material. Which is to say: none are originals. You won’t see an original story on this list until no. 17—Pixar’s “The Incredibles”—and original stories remain few and far between thereafter: “Night at the Museum” (no. 19), “Hancock” (no. 24), more Pixar (“Cars,” “Wall-E,” etc.).
I’m not saying this won’t change. People flocked to musicals until they didn’t. But for the moment we live in a sequel era. We want daddy to tell us that story again.
However, if Ms. Thompson had written “Originals can sell,” well, I wouldn’t have argued with that. That’s a good lesson to get out in Hollywood.
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.
A Monday Hangover
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.Here’s my guess.
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...
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.
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%
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!"
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”
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?
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”
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”
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?
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”
C. “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan”
Feel free to post your guesses in the comment field. I’ll post answers later in the week.
Last week I wondered how much “Wolverine”’s box office would fall off during its second weekend and suggested north of 60% wouldn’t be good news for the franchise. Well, the numbers are in. It’s 69%.
What does that mean? A 69%, second-weekend drop is the 61st-worst in boxofficemojo’s tracking period (roughly, since 1980), but even this stat is misleading. The worst second-weekend dropoff, for example, is a 2005 film called “Undiscovered,” which fell off 86.4% from its first weekend. But Lions Gate, which pushed it into 1,304 theaters that first weekend, was already pulling out, and left it in only 754 theaters its second weekend. The steep dropoff, in other words, represented more a preemptive studio strike rather than audience disinterest—although there was obviously that, too. “Wolverine,” in comparison, increased its theater total for the second weekend, by three, to 4,102 theaters.
Here’s what’s more telling. "Wolverine"'s is the worst such dropoff for any film that opened in 4,000+ theaters, beating out the May 2007 sequels, “Pirates 3” and “Spider-Man 3,” both of which dropped 61.5% their second weekend.
Expand down to films that opened in 3,000+ theaters? It’s tied, with "Elektra," for sixth-worst:
|1. || Friday the 13th (2009) || -80.4% |
|2. || Doom ||-72.7%|
|3. || Hellboy II||-70.7%|
|4.|| Eragon ||-69.9%|
|5. || Hulk (2003)||-69.7%|
|6. || Elektra ||-69%|
|6. || Wolverine ||-69%|
What do the above movies have in common? With the exception of “Hellboy II” (whose second weekend was “Dark Knight”’s first), and Ang Lee's "Hulk," they all have lousy scores on Rotten Tomatoes. I'm talking less than 20%. In laymen’s terms, they sucked.
In fact you could program a not-bad "Movie Festival in Hell" from the films on the dropoff list. Here's your schedule: Start out with "From Justin to Kelly" at 10 a.m., offer "Captivity" at noon, then, say, "Pluto Nash," “North,” “Miss March,” "Return to the Blue Lagoon" and top it off with "Gigli."
Not exactly the company Wolverine wants to keep. Or any of us.
Postcard of the Day
"Heighdy! See how I'm picking up the local jargon? Things going extremely well for us. Found the graves of Clyde and Buck in abandoned cemetery overgrown with weeds. One of the strangest sensations we ever had—standing six feet over Clyde. On Monday we'll see Bonnie's. ... Bob is taking a lot of pictures. Perfect Bonnie and Clyde locations! Quite uncanny to see cities and towns that look like 1932 this year."
— David Newman (with Robert Benton), in East Texas for further research for their script, "Bonnie and Clyde," May 1964. From "Pictures at the Revolution" by Mark Harris, pg. 60
Logan's Run: $85 Million
I was surprised but not shocked that "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" did so well this weekend, bringing in $87 million, which, unadjusted, is the 18th-best opening weekend ever. It's a superhero movie, after all, and a popular character, and it opened in over 4,000 theaters (the 14th-most ever) and, according to Brandon Gray, on 8,300 screens (which is the Xth-most ever? Someone?). The biggest surprise, from Michael Cieply over at the Times, is the make-up of the audience: nearly 50 percent female. Although, in retrospect, it certainly makes sense, Hugh being Hugh...
No, the number to look for is how much it falls off next weekend. That's when the bad reviews (37% on RT, 44 on metacritic), and so-so word of mouth (assuming), might be felt. A drop-off of more than 60 percent (as with "Watchmen," "X-Men 3" and "Spider-Man 3") will definitely mean something in terms of what people really think of this thing.
ADDENDUM: The actuals are in and it's $85 million, which is good for 19th-best opening weekend. The movie it dropped behind? "X2: X-Men United." Any guesses as to "Wolverine"'s dropoff next weekend?
The Short, Unhappy Life of Fox Atomic
Most moviegoers don’t know from studios — particularly these days when each studio seems a bland corporate entity without the personality, or even the Eastern-European mogul, that each had back in the day.
I’m no different. Even as a critic I never paid much attention to which studio released which film. But I became aware of Fox Atomic when I was gathering info for what became that Slate article on box office last year — because 20th Century Fox seemed a case study of what was wrong with the movie industry. Its crap films (distributed by parent company Fox, mostly) got massive distribution while its good films (put out by specialty division Fox Searchlight, mostly) were barely shown anywhere. Between these two — the slovenly screw-up to Fox Searchlight’s straight-A student —was Fox Atomic, which seemed to distribute, on the 2,000-theater scale, disappointing genre films like “The Hills Have Eyes 2.”
Here, for example, is Fox’s 2007 schedule sorted by each film’s maximum distribution. Pay particular attention to the Rotten Tomatoes rating on the right:
|Rank ||Movie ||Distributor ||Dom. BO ||Max. Thtrs. ||TR Rating |
|1.|| Fantastic Four 2||Fox||$131M|| 3,963 ||35%|
|2. || The Simpsons Movie||Fox||$183M|| 3,926 || 89% |
|3. || Alvin and the Chipmunks||Fox||$217M|| 3,499 ||24%|
|4. || Live Free or Die Hard||Fox||$134M||3,411||80%|
|5. || The Seeker: The Dark is Rising||Fox||$8M||3,173||13%|
|6. || Mr. Magorium||Fox||$32M||3,168||36%|
|7. || Firehouse Dog||Fox||$13M||2,881||38%|
|8. || Epic Movie||Fox||$39M||2,840||2%|
|9. || The Comebacks|| Fox Atomic||$13M||2,812||10%|
|10. || Reno 911!: Miami||Fox||$20M||2,702||34%|
|11. || Aliens vs.Predator - Requiem||Fox||$41M||2,617||15%|
|12. ||Juno|| Fox SL||$143M||2,534||93%|
|14. || The Hills Have Eyes 2|| Fox Atomic||$20M||2,465||12%|
|15. || 28 Weeks Later||Fox Atomic||$28M||2,305||71%|
|16. || Death Sentence||Fox||$9M||1,823||16%|
|17. || I Think I Love My Wife|| Fox SL||$12M||1,794||19%|
|18. ||Pathfinder: Legend of the Ghost Warrior||Fox||$10M||1,756||11%|
|19. ||Waitress|| Fox SL||$19M||707||89%|
|20. || The Darjeeling Limited|| Fox SL||$11M||698||68%|
|21. ||Sunshine|| Fox SL||$3M||461||75%|
|22. || The Namesake|| Fox SL||$13M||335||85%|
|23. || The Savages|| Fox SL||$6M||201||90%|
|24. ||Joshua|| Fox SL||$.4M||152||62%|
|25. ||Once|| Fox SL||$9M||150||97%|
Sad, but in a way I understood the dynamic between Fox and Fox Searchlight. The former heaved onto our plates mostly fad-laden slop while the latter parceled out, in teaspoons, cuisine for the adult palate. I didn’t agree that this was always the best thing, financially, to do. Couldn’t, say, “The Darjeeling Limited,” given proper distribution and marketing, have done better than, say, “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising”? But at least I understood how they understood it all. Give the masses goop and pray for money. Give the elites caviar and pray for awards.
But Fox Atomic? What was its point? A specialty studio that released stuff that made even Fox hold their noses? Movies that didn’t do well critically or financially?
Well, Fox Atomic is dead now, its shop closed, its employees returned to the larger Fox fold. Here’s a list of films they distributed in their short, unhappy lifetime, along with domestic box office total and Rotten Tomatoes rating. Each opened in at least 1,500 theaters:
- Turistas (2006): $7M, 15%
- The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007): $20M, 12%
- 28 Weeks Later (2007): $28M, 71%
- The Comebacks (2007): $13M, 10%
- The Rocker (2008): $6M, 39%
- Miss March (2009): $4M, 4%
- 12 Rounds (2009): $11M, 20%
Any death, any funeral, is a lesson. We all go sometime. What do you want to leave behind?
Hopefully it’s not “Miss March.”
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.
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.
The Backwards Threats of Hollywood Execs
Some executives, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect their relationships with those who vote for prizes, have said in the last few weeks that they do not expect their studios to make any movie in the foreseeable future as a specific Oscar bet.
If honors happen to come, as they came to “The Departed,” a Warner film that was a surprise best-picture winner in 2007, so be it. But few are looking to make the next “Frost/Nixon,” a smart, critically acclaimed film that got Ron Howard a nomination as best director this year.
Look, I enjoyed “Frost/Nixon” well enough. But threatening not to make the next “Frost/Nixon” is like, I don’t know, threatening not to serve a baked potato at your next dinner party. Not many people are going to lose sleep.
Read Cieply’s entire piece. On the one hand, the lament of these executives is part of my lament: In recent years, the Academy hasn’t been nominating box-office hits for best picture. Let’s trot out that stat again. Since 1944, when the Academy finally settled on five best picture nominees, there have only been seven years when not one of the best-picture candidates was among the year’s top 10 box-office hits: 1947, 1984...and the last five years in a row.
But blaming only the Academy for this is both dishonest and hypocritical. Me, I mostly blame the studios. Here’s the bigger problem: Best pictures are no longer perceived as movies for all of us. They’ve become, as in the language above, niche pictures, and one niche of many. Here’s your gory horror, your chick flick, your urban comedy. Here’s either your gross wish fulfillment (the superstrong and superpowerful) relased into 4,000 theaters in the heat of summer, or here’s your small, sad slice of reality (the superweak) released into select cities in the dark of December. The former’s fun, the latter’s “important,” and never the twain shall meet. Anymore.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the consolidation of these niches makes each niche more like itself. The gory horror film becomes more gory; the chick flick becomes pinker and fluffier; the serious film becomes deadly, sadly serious. And the idea of a best picture “for all of us” becomes just that: an idea.
Thus the primary threat above — that the majors will no longer make and/or target specific films as Oscar candidates — is amusing in two ways. One: the majors haven’t even been producing many best-picture-type movies in recent years — they leave that to the indies — so threatening not to do what they’re already not doing is, yes, not a viable threat.
More importantly, removing the "best-picture niche” may allow what elements are in that niche (seriousness, etc.) to bleed into other niches and create something that's both important and not limited. I.e., something for all of us.
It's not only not a threat; it might even be a solution.
See you in a few hours.
And the Award for Least-Seen Best Picture Nominee Goes To...
As I mentioned earlier, only two best picture nominees since 1980 haven’t wound up among the year’s top 100 box-office hits — “The Dresser” in 1983 and “Letters from Iwo Jima” in 2006 — and yet we have three this year alone. Amazing. The sad part is they’re not even great films. Maybe “Milk” but that’s it. I mean if the Academy is going for quality over popularity, as David Carr suggests, why not choose quality? Instead of a bland mediocrity that pleases neither moviegoers nor critics.
“Milk,” by the way, has the best shot of cracking the top 100. It’s currently at no. 104, only $1 million behind no. 101, “Street Kings,” a dirty-cop movie starring Keanu Reeves that opened in over 2,000 theaters in April. Yes, that sentence is sad in so many ways.
First there was that odd, Joker-mask video he did for his Carpetbagger blog. Then last week he clapped the Academy on the back for choosing quality (meaning: “The Reader”) over popularity (meaning: “The Dark Knight”).
But yesterday? He launched into one of my least-favorite journalistic devices: How the popularity of this or that film reflects the nation’s mood.
The Times is infamous for doing this. Just last year, on May 15th, Michael Cieply implied that the upcoming summer movies, including “The Dark Knight,” “Tropic Thunder” and “Pineapple Express,” were just too dark. “The mix,” he wrote, “may not perfectly match the mood of an audience looking for refuge from election campaigns and high-priced gas, said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia Pictures marketing executive…”
Turns out “The Dark Knight” was just the refuge people were looking for. So Brooks Barnes took over, and on July 28th, wrote the following: “The brooding film, directed by Christopher Nolan, also fits the nation’s mood, Warner Brothers executives said.”
Problem solved. We weren’t repelled from the movie because it reflected our mood; we were drawn to it. Once it became clear we were drawn to it.
See what fun you can have with the nation’s mood?
Carr, whom I love, and who’s a better writer than both Cieply and Barnes, has actually done something worse. He begins his article, “Riveting Tales for Dark Days,” by once again lauding the Oscar nominees. They are, he says, an upbeat lot, particularly compared with the gloom of last year’s “No Country” and “There Will Be Blood.” They reflect our nation’s can-do spirit in troubled times. In one graph he dismisses what he’s doing and then keeps doing it:
Using the Oscars as a prism on national consciousness is a hoary, time-worn activity perpetrated by those of us who must find meaning in sometimes marginal work. But it does seem worth at least a mention this time around that both the Academy and audiences are showering love on such upbeat movies at a rough time in history.Why is this worse? Let’s let “X” stand for “What people would do or are doing because of the nation’s mood.”
Cieply’s X wasn’t verifiable but predictive. It was two months down the road when only idiots like me would remember that he, or someone he had quoted, had made such a prediction.
Barnes’ X was verifiable and correct. People were in fact going to see “The Dark Knight.”
Carr’s X? Verifiable and incorrect. And not just incorrect in a small way. Incorrect in a way that refutes his entire premise.
He mixes two unstable elements. He writes that January box-office receipts are up by 10 percent (true) and that the Oscar nominees are more upbeat than last year (true-ish, though there’s nothing as purely pleasant as “Juno” in the mix). So he concludes people are drawn to these upbeat best picture nominees.
Problem? For whatever reason (and I blame the studios as much as anyone), we’re not drawn to these upbeat nominees. We’re drawn to “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” which has made, as of today, $69.3 million. The nominees, save for “Button,” have all made less. Some a lot less: “Slumdog” ($59.5M), “Milk” ($21.9M), “Frost/Nixon” ($12.9M) and “The Reader” ($10.2M). In fact, as I mentioned yesterday, Brandon Gray, over at boxofficemojo.com, has written that these nominees are, at the time of the noms, the least-attended ever. (I’m still interested in his math on this, by the way.)
In Carr’s defense, and despite the “showering love” line above, he does say that the upbeat nominees “reflect an appetite on the part of the Academy, and by proxy, the public, for a nice, big chunk of uplift.”
That’s a nice one. Using the Academy as a stand-in for the public when the two have never been further apart.
So I’m a little worried about David Carr. He’s better than this.
Who Sees the Oscar Nominees Anyway?
Gray comes to this conclusion about Oscar and box office:
Slumdog Millionaire was a snowballing success prior to the Oscar nominations and Gran Torino, which received zero nominations for instance, was a hit, and neither picture's status fundamentally changed after the nominations were announced.He also mentions in passing the b.o. difficulties of “Frost/Nixon” but no one seems to be taking Universal to task for this. When the movie had buzz in December, Universal kept it limited (205 theaters). After the noms, they opened it wider (1,000+ theaters), but by then it had been overshadowed by both “Button” and “Slumdog,” and word-of-mouth wasn’t great, and people stayed away. Maybe they would’ve anyway. Who knows? But Universal pushed it for the Oscars, and then relied on the Oscars to push it to the public. Didn’t work.
In better news, Focus Features, a Universal subsidiary on life-support, finally opened “Milk,” one of the best films of the year, wider. It plays in 882 theaters today. About effin’ time. Yet it's still the only best pic nominee not to play in at least 1,000 theaters.
Milk Left Out
But — that said — what a great group over at filmexperience! Nathaniel R. was nice enough to post the MSNBC quiz and dozens of his readers posted their results. I should immediately apologize for the Frank Langella question. Some actors in some roles make an early impression that never goes away, and, for me, Langella will always be Zorro. That’s how I first saw him. At age 11. Later when he became a star on Broadway as Dracula, I’d think, “Hey, it’s Zorro.” When he played the villainous chief of staff in “Dave” I went: “Dude: Zorro!” On and on. Nixon, too. Still, I should’ve made the answer easier. Because how can you not imagine him as Jack the Ripper?
No apologies to anyone who got no. 14 wrong. That was a gimme.
One reader, meanwhile, suggested no. 8 didn’t have much to do with the Oscars. For those who haven’t taken the quiz (and c’mon already), here it is:
At the time of the nominations (Thursday, Jan. 22), how many of the best picture nominees had been seen in more than 1,000 theaters in the U.S.?
A. All five
The answer is One, “Benjamin Button,” and for a second I agreed with the reader. A second later I thought: Actually this is the most relevant question in the quiz. It’s not some factoid only the most insane person would know (see: no. 2); it’s about how isolated our supposed best pictures have become. Again: read this.
I found it particularly instructive that many of Nathaniel’s readers thought “Milk” was one of the most-distributed nominees when, as of today, it’s the least. Its theater-high was 356. Hell, every best-picture candidate expanded the weekend after the Oscars except for “Milk,” which remains in its truncated state of 250. I’m no insider or businessman but... Does that make sense? Is there a plan here? Who’s running Focus Features anyway?
Only a handful of best-picture nominees this decade haven’t been distributed into at least 1,000 theaters: “Gosford Park” (918), “Lost in Translation” (882), “The Pianist” (842), and, the winner of the least-distributed best-pic nominee of the decade, “Letters from Iwo Jima” (781). If “Milk” doesn’t expand, it will more than halve that mark.
So what is Focus Features saying? That it can sell “Brokeback” but not this? That Americans are more willing to understand the people who bombed Pearl Harbor, speaking in Japanese, than the people who opposed Prop. 8, speaking in English?
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep saying it until someone gives me a response I understand: How good can the studios be if they can’t sell quality?
B.O. for Best Pics
“Plus de 4 millions de Shrektateurs”
That 4 millions isn’t euros; it’s people. It’s asses in the seats. That’s how movie popularity is tabulated in France. As opposed to in the U.S. where it’s all about the dollars, and where, if you’re paying any attention at all, you have to adjust for inflation to get the true measure of a movie’s popularity.
Feel free to let each measurement stand for each culture.
So it’s the Friday after the noms and the studios are busy things. Universal, unwilling to do the heavy lifting for “Frost/Nixon” in December, is finally expanding Ron Howard’s film from 153 theaters to more than 1,000. Other films that are expanding: “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Wrestler,” “Rachel Getting Married,” “Revolutionary Road.” There’s a pattern, and it follows the pattern of previous years, and it’s getting a little old.
That said, here’s how the best picture nominees look in terms of box office before the expansion:
|Movie ||Domestic $ ||Thtr High ||2008 BO Rank |
| The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ||$104M||2988||22|
| Slumdog Millionaire||$44M||582||62|
| The Reader||$8M||507||148|
Kudos to the way Paramount handled “Benjamin Button.” It put it out there in December. It didn’t wait for the Academy to bestow what it would. More congrats to Fox Searchlight who pushed “Slumdog” in the right ways.
But — and I’ve said it before — what lazy bastards over at Universal. In some ways “Frost/Nixon” is the most accessible of these films and yet it is, until the noms, the least-available. 145th??? I’m almost hoping it bites it at the box office during the next few weeks. Just to show Universal. Of course they’d probably take the wrong lesson away from the experience and stop getting involved in films like "Frost/Nixon" altogether.
Meanwhile, their art-house division, Focus Features, rumored to be on life-support, appears to be doing nothing with “Milk.” Of the little-seen best picture nominees, it’s the one that’s not expanding, and it's the one, along with "Slumdog," that's most deserving of a big audience.
Feel free to let that irony stand for the culture.
An Ad For Something No One Needs
A friend once wrote a song called “Mr. Time,” which, in its overall sense of losing everything (inch by inch) while waiting for something, anything, to happen, I’ve always, unfortunately, identified. One stanza in particular hits home:
Tooth by tooth
You put on a smile
And stuff in a word for yourself
But every word on your own behalf
Is just an ad for something that no one needs
There’s doing and there’s selling. The great myth of America is that it’s all about doing (Horatio Alger, bootstraps, etc.), while the great reality of America is that it’s all about selling. I’m not a bad doer but I think I’m one of the worst sellers in the world. I can sell nothing, particularly myself, because of what’s articulated in “Mr. Time.” Every word on my own behalf does feel like an ad for something that no one needs.
This means, yes, I’m still thinking about Tad Friend’s New Yorker piece on Tim Palen and Hollywood marketers. Particularly these lines: “Publicity is selling what you have... Marketing, very often, is selling what you don’t have...” These are people so good at their craft they can sell what doesn’t exist. Remarkable. God, I hate them.
I do want to mention one area where I agree with marketers. It comes two-thirds of the way through the article and involves test audiences. Friend writes:
Yet testing is fraught: it rewards comedy, narrative, and familiar stars or plot elements, and often undervalues the new. Executives’ testing stories take divergent paths to the same punch line. Either they decided not to tamper with a “Pulp Fiction,” despite testing results invariably described as “the lowest scores in the studio’s history,” or they were confounded when an “Akeelah and the Bee” faltered commercially despite “the highest scores in the studio’s history.” In both scenarios, the numbers lied. “Testing is a sham,” one marketing consultant says. “All you’ve learned is what people thought of a movie they didn’t have to pay for. It does not mean they’re going to go pay for it.”
Ex-motherf---ing-actly. Particularly the line about undervaluing the new. It was the same for “Seinfeld” and the British “Office” and the American “Office”: low, low audience test scores. People didn’t get these shows. They didn’t get “Pulp Fiction.” I’ve never seen anything like this before so it can’t be any good. In this way, test audiences are actually like marketers, who, according to Friend’s article, have trouble selling the new because there’s no playbook for it. It takes a lot of luck for a “Seinfeld” to get through. One wonders how many “Seinfeld”s — and thus cash cows — get killed in the process.
So that’s the area where I agree with marketers. Here’s the area where I don’t get marketers. These are people who supposedly can sell anything — including something that doesn’t exist. They can sell crap and make us think it’s pudding. But they can’t sell quality.
The best films are sold on a limited basis, in select cities, and might, if carefully nurtured, make it into most big cities and most states. But that’s if it’s lucky and the zeitgeist is right. Otherwise, not.
I know marketers take their orders from someone else, as we all do, but some marketers, as Friend tells us, are now running the studios. Universal, run by a former marketer, is one of the worst culprits. Unless they know something I don’t, unless there’s a strategy here that I don’t see, they’re in the process of killing both “Frost/Nixon” and “Milk.”
There’s an assumption out there that people don’t want quality. There’s an assumption out there that people want (the same old) crap. I’m hardly a pollyanna but, more and more, I’m assuming the opposite.
That’s the unanswered question from Friend’s article. It’s the unasked question of marketers and admen everywhere: How good can you be if you can’t even sell quality?
The Man Who Sold "Crash" to the World
When Crash won the Oscar for best picture, I was half-drunk at a party in Seattle but sobered up quickly. I had to. I’d promised my editor at MSNBC that if the unthinkable did happen, if Crash won best picture that night over Brokeback Mountain, I’d write a piece about it. I finished it at 10 a.m. the next morning. It included diatribe, head-shaking and a quiz. It included everything but a culprit.
Now we have one. In the Jan. 19 issue of The New Yorker, regular contributor Tad Friend writes about Tim Palen, co-president of theatrical marketing at Lionsgate, the studio responsible for, on the one hand, Fahrenheit 9/11, 3:10 to Yuma, The Bank Job and Gods and Monsters, and, on the other, the Saw films, The Punisher (both recent versions), Good Luck Chuck and Witless Protection.
These two hands are obviously my hands, critical hands, hands that divide quality from crap. They would not be Palen’s.
Friend drops a bomb early:
Publicity is selling what you have: the film’s stars and sometimes its director. Marketing, very often, is selling what you don’t have; it’s the art of the tease.
That's great, insidery detail but it feels like it's missing the point. Yes, marketing, in this sad age, is selling what you don’t have. But how is that a tease? A tease is offering what you do have but not following through. Selling what you don’t have? The rest of us call that a lie. Sometimes we call it a felony.
In Hollywood, they brag about it.
“The most common comment you hear from filmmakers after we’ve done our work is ‘This is not my movie,’ ” Terry Press, a consultant who used to run marketing at Dreamworks SKG, says. “I’d always say, ‘You’re right—this is the movie America wants to see.’”
Nice. Apparently Hollywood isn’t dream factory enough. Apparently Hollywood filmmakers aren’t offering enough wish fulfillment. That’s where marketers come in. They lie to us about the lie. If the film is crap, they figure out ways to get us to eat it. Palen is one of the best at this. He entices us into the restaurant, gets us to sit down at the table, gets us to chew. By the time we realize what we're eating, he’s gone.
And, yes, he’s the one responsible for the bad taste in our mouths the morning of March 6, 2006:
Paul Haggis, the writer-director of the 2005 film “Crash,” says, “I came in thinking Tim was doing everything wrong. He made the poster Michael Peña screaming over his daughter, rather than selling Brendan Fraser or Matt Dillon or Sandra Bullock. I worried that the trailer, a mood piece about how people have to crash into each other to feel alive, was going to seem like overly significant claptrap. Then Tim and Sarah”—Sarah Greenberg, Palen’s co-president, who handles publicity—“came to me and said, ‘We’re going to go for an Academy campaign.’ I really, really thought they were crazy: this was a little six-million-dollar film.” For the cost of three full-page ads in the Times, about two hundred thousand dollars, Lionsgate sent more than a hundred thousand DVDs of the film to every member of the Screen Actors Guild—pioneering a now common saturation technique. In a huge upset, “Crash” beat “Brokeback Mountain” and “Munich” to win Best Picture.
Remember how polarizing that battle was? That’s Palen’s specialty. The article opens with the premiere of Oliver Stone’s W., a Lionsgate film Palen has to sell, even though, particularly for a Stone film, it’s actually, unfortunately, kind of fair. Palen can’t use that. “From the marketing perspective,” he says, “we needed some teeth.” Later, Friend writes: “Palen has always believed in being polarizing, always been willing to alienate much of the audience in order to motivate his core.” Dots aren’t connected, but one can’t help but be reminded of someone else who sold us a W.
It’s a sad article, a wag-the-dog article that is more effective for Friend’s restraint. Marketers now run the show: Oren Aviv at Disney; Marc Shmuger at Universal. “Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make,” Friend writes, “but who’s in them.” Why are stars disappearing? This is part of the reason. Why so many niche movies? This is part of the reason. Why do films no longer bind us together but keep us apart? This is part of the reason.
It's a must-read. Palen, whose mother was assistant to a cheese manufacturer, tends to use the word “cheese” to describe what he’s selling. “America likes cheese,” he says of Good Luck Chuck. “...straight out of the America-loves-cheese playbook,” he says of an upcoming Gerard Butler trailer. It’s a kind word for what he’s selling. Don't bite like the Academy did.
A Universal Lack of Focus
After potential Oscar-nominee “Gran Torino” did so well at the box office, I checked out how the other Oscar contenders are faring:
|Film ||Studio||Thtr High ||Dom. B.O. |
|The Dark Knight ||WB ||4366||$531M|
|The Curious Case of Benjamin Button||Par.||2988||$94M |
|Slumdog Millionaire ||FoxS ||614||$34M |
|Milk||Focus ||356 ||$19M|
The box office for “Dark Knight” is obviously no surprise. It’s a good film but it’s in the running because of its box office. If it had made, say, $19 million, like “Milk,” you’d be hearing crickets.
Kudos to Paramount. They put “Benjamin Button” out there and people are responding. Kudos to people.
The box office for “Slumdog Millionaire,” meanwhile, is a nice surprise but shouldn’t be. Fox Searchlight is the same studio that smartly promoted “Sideways” in 2004, “Little Miss Sunshine” in 2006, and “Juno” in 2007. Apparently they know what they’re doing. Apparently they can sell a good film with universal themes even though it’s set in a foreign country. How about that?
But WTF with Universal and its specialty division Focus Features? Two of the most talked-about films of the fall, “Milk” and “Frost/Nixon,” and moviegoers have barely had the chance to see them. Is the studio waiting for the Oscar noms before they push? What if the noms are disappointing? What if the attention goes elsewhere? What then?
Perhaps I should cut Focus Features some slack — they slipped “Brokeback Mountain” into a homophobic America in 2005 and made $83 million — and one assumes the strategy for “Milk” is similar. But then there’s this worrisome report from Patrick Goldstein.
More, Focus’ strategy with “Milk” isn’t looking at all like their strategy for “Brokeback.” Check out the theater totals for the first seven weekends of both “Brokeback” and “Milk”:
Meanwhile, I have no idea what Universal is doing with “Frost/Nixon.” Ron Howard has had a long-time relationship with the studio. He’s made 10 films for them, including five that made more than $100 million, including, from those five, two Oscar contenders (“Apollo 13”; “A Beautiful Mind”), and every one of those 10 films played on more than a thousand screens. One assumes they know what they’re doing with “F/N,” too. On the other hand, the studio’s last movie with Howard was “Cinderella Man,” which the studio opened wide and disastrously in June 2005. Maybe they’re gun shy. Or maybe, to stay with the Nixonian theme, it’s as Deep Throat says in “All the President’s Men”: “The truth is, these aren’t very smart guys, and things got out of hand."
Less Than Grand “Torino”
The weekend isn’t over yet but the weekend box office race is. They know us too well now and have already calculated how we’ll act the rest of the day.
The surprise winner is Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” which expanded from 80+ theaters on Thursday to over 2,800 Friday. Moviegoers, including Patricia and myself Friday night, responded.
Both of us were disappointed. The film works within Eastwood’s oeuvre — particularly: how his character responds to violence — but, by itself, it’s wanting. Eastwood’s famous one-take directing style works less well with non-actors like the Hmong than with actors at the top of their craft, like Gene Hackman or Morgan Freeman, or, here, John Carroll Lynch (Marge Gunderson’s husband in “Fargo” and Arthur Leigh Allen in “Zodiac”), who plays Martin, the Italian barber. Some nice scenes in that shop, even if, once the Jewish tailor and the Irish construction worker arrive in the film, it all feels too much like Eastwood’s departed vision of America. I’m still waiting on the Chinese launderer.
But the big problem is still: None of the Hmong are actor enough to stand with Eastwood. They seem cowed by his presence. They mumble. They strike false notes. Again and again. They could’ve used some more takes, or coaching, or something. Even the baby-faced priest isn't a powerful enough presence. They should've gotten someone who could stand toe-to-toe with Eastwood. They didn't.
Even so, I’m glad the film got out there and people responded, and it made me wonder how the potential Oscar nominees are doing thus far at the box office.
The numbers are indeed horrible. “Delgo” opened in 2,160 theaters and barely made $500,000. How bad is that? The worst opener last year, for any film in 2,000+ theaters, was “P2,” which opened in 2,131 theaters and still made $2 million. So “Delgo” is four times worse than the worst movie that opened last year. Yikes.
In fact, as the article indicates, “Delgo” has the lowest per-theater average ($237) for any "very wide" release (2,000+ theaters), and the third-lowest average for any “wide” release (600+ theaters) ever. Or at least since 1982, which is as far back as Box Office Mojo goes with their numbers.
The only films that have opened worse are, at no. 2, “The Passion Recut,” which averaged $233 in 937 theaters, and “Proud American,” a series of vignettes highlighting the pride and determination of Americans, which opened in 750 theaters this September and made $128 per. Remember those numbers the next time someone at FOX-News reads too much into the dismal box office of Iraq War movies.
The big problem with “Delgo,” though, is hardly those celebrity voices. Its distributor is Freestyle Releasing, and, of the 15 worst “wide” openings, Freestyle is responsible for three: “Delgo” at no. 3, “Nobel Son,” also released this month, at no. 6 ($374), and “Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour,” at no. 13 ($523). No other distributor has more than one film in the bottom 15.
Not sure what they’re doing over there. Overbooking? Underadvertising? P.T. Barnum must be rolling over in his grave. Or guffawing. Anyone who can't sell schlock to the American public should probably get out of the business.
What Recent Blockbuster Should've Been Nominated Best Picture?
Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences settled on five Best Picture nominees in 1944, there have been only six years in which no nominee was among the year's top 10 box office hits: 1947, 1984...and the last four years in a row. I wrote about this last January.
So the question: What recent top 10 box office hit has been worth nominating? Here are your choices:
1. Shrek 2
2. Spider-Man 2
3. The Passion of the Christ
4. Meet the Fockers
5. The Incredibles
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
7. The Day After Tomorrow
8. The Bourne Supremacy
9. National Treasure
10. The Polar Express
1. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
4. War of the Worlds
5. King Kong
6. Wedding Crashers
7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
8. Batman Begins
10. Mr. & Mrs. Smith
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
2. Night at the Museum
4. X-Men: The Last Stand
5. The Da Vinci Code
6. Superman Returns
7. Happy Feet
8. Ice Age: The Meltdown
9. Casino Royale
10. The Pursuit of Happyness
1. Spider-Man 3
2. Shrek the Third
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
6. I Am Legend
7. The Bourne Ultimatum
8. National Treasure: Book of Secrets
9. Alvin and the Chipmunks
Of these, the only movies that had a shot at a nom, really, given the Academy's traditional predilections, are "Passion of the Christ" in 2004, "The Da Vinci Code" and "The Pursuit of Happyness" in 2006, and... that's about it. "Passion" didn't make it because, some may argue, it was too political in the wrong way. I'd argue it just wasn't good enough. "Da Vinci Code"? Again, not good enough. Same director and star as "Apollo 13" but no "Apollo 13." "Happyness"? Who knows? Probably should have been nom'ed, though — over "Babel" certainly. It's one of the few films over the last five years in which art and commerce blended well enough to create the happy medium that is usually the very thing the Academy honors. But they ignored it. Or, more precisely, it didn't make their top 5. Might've been no. 6.
Non-traditional arguments can be made for "Spider-Man 2," "The Incredibles" and "Casino Royale," but each would be unprecedented (superheroes, superhero cartoons, Bond), and it still doesn't answer the question: Whatever became of the happy medium of films like "Dances with Wolves" and "Apollo 13"? Has Hollywood changed? Has the Academy? Have we?
Dark Knight + Oscar
I missed this article about the Academy Awards and box office when it came out two days ago — distracted, as ever, by the presidential campaign and the World Series — but it’s certainly in my wheelhouse. Last January I wrote an article (or articles) on the subject for HuffPost, and throughout the year I’ve certainly blogged enough about Times’ writers Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, and the two tag-team on this one.
Here's the point: In the past, popular but lightweight movies were nominated best picture (Three Coins in a Fountain; Love Story; Raiders of the Lost Ark), while weighty Oscar nominees could be huge box office hits (Bridge Over the River Kwai; The Graduate; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). But for the past 30 years, and particularly this decade, we've seen a split: Box office hits rarely get nom’ed and weighty best picture nominees rarely become box office hits. Last January I wrote:
How rare is it when at least one of the best picture nominees isn't among the year's top 10 box office hits? Since 1944, it's happened only five times: 1947, 1984...and the last three years in a row: 2004, 2005, 2006. What was once a rarity has now become routine.
Make that the last four years in a row. The biggest box office hit among last year's best picture nominees, Juno, topped out at 15th for 2007, $25 million behind Wild Hogs.
Now, according to Cieply and Barnes, the studios, who have been busy closing their prestige divisions, are hyping their box office hits, including The Dark Knight and Wall-E, for best picture. Good for them. Unfortunately, Cieply’s and Barnes’ article is also filled with the conventional wisdom of Hollywood insiders. No sentence screamed at me more than this one:
However, several [Oscar campaigners] noted a belief that audiences — weary of economic crisis and political strife — are ready for a dose of fun from the entertainment industry.
It screamed because last May, in Cieply’s article about how Hollywood insiders were worried about their gloomy, sequel-shy summer box office, we got this graf:
The [summer movie] mix may not perfectly match the mood of an audience looking for refuge from election campaigns and high-priced gas, said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia Pictures marketing executive who is now an adjunct professor…
What movies, included in this “mix,” did Cieply specifically mention that the audience might not be in the mood for? The comedy Tropic Thunder, which quietly made $110M, and, of course, The Dark Knight, which noisily grossed $527M. Internationally, it's approaching $1 billion.
You’d think a journalist might be shy about quoting Hollywood insiders in the exact same way after dropping a bomb like that. Not here. Seriously, I encourage everyone to read Cieply’s May article. It’s instructive. Hell, it’s downright Goldmanesque. Nobody may know anything but some of us really don’t know anything.
In the end, and depending on what gets released in the next few months, I wouldn’t mind seeing Dark Knight get nom’ed. It shouldn’t win, of course (Three Coins, Love Story and Raiders didn’t win either), but it was a hugely popular, critically acclaimed film and in the past that’s been enough for the Academy.
But that’s only one part of the equation: a box-office hit will have gotten nom’ed. The other part — a weighty best picture nominee that becomes a box-office hit — will take more work. Work, I should add, the studios don’t appear interested in doing.
Why Titanic is unsinkable
I’ve got a piece on MSNBC today about The Dark Knight’s box office and why it probably won’t pass Titanic’s domestic record of $600 million and why it definitely won’t pass Titanic’s worldwide gross of $1.8 billion. The latter prediction is a no-brainer and the former prediction is the result of finding a similar film (blockbuster, summer, PG-13), with similar percentage drop-offs (daily, weekly) and plugging in The Dark Knight’s original weekly total. That film is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (the second one) and here’s how its percentages calculate with The Dark Knight’s original numbers:
|Week||Box Office||% change|
|1|| $238 million|
|2||$110 million ||-53.7%|
|3|| $62 million||-43.5%|
|4|| $37 million||-39.8%|
|5|| $20 million||-46.5%|
|7|| $9 million||-30.6%|
|8|| $6.7 million||-26.5%|
|9|| $6.7 million||-0.6%|
|10|| $3 million||-53.7%|
|11|| $2 million||-35.3%|
|12|| $1 million||-34.3%|
|13|| $737, 903||-44.1%|
| 22|| $273,329 || -39.8%|
The total? $515 million.
How accurate is this formula? It predicts $110 million for Dark Knight’s second week; the film wound up making $112 million. So not bad so far.
The Dark Knight might do better than this, of course. For one, its percentage drop-offs, thus far, aren’t quite as high as Pirates'. Plus it’s a better film, and so should have longer legs, etc., and there’s Oscar buzz. But Titanic looks safe.
Of course that's what they said in 1912.
Repeating last year’s performance looks like a long shot, given the rest of this summer’s lineup. This batch is light on sequels, gloomy in spots (as with “The Dark Knight”) and heavy on comedies...The mix may not perfectly match the mood of an audience looking for refuge from election campaigns and high-priced gas, said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia Pictures marketing executive...
— The New York Times, May 15, 2008
The success of “The Dark Knight” is an example of what can happen when an array of factors coincide...The brooding film, directed by Christopher Nolan, also fits the nation’s mood, Warner Brothers executives said.
— The New York Times, July 28, 2008
Different writers, to be sure, but it raises this question about movie audiences: Do people go to films to escape the national mood or reflect it? Or do they just go?
And just what are the “array of factors” Brooks Barnes gives in yesterday's article (via quotes with industry executives) for The Dark Knight's continued success? Let's see: 1) expertly executed promotion plan, 2) brooding film matched national mood, 3) sour economy forcing families toward cheaper entertainments like movies, and 4) the publicity following Christian Bale's questioning by the police last week.
Wow. Nothing on the stuff we talked about last week. No mention of the word “quality.” No mention of the phrase “word-of-mouth.” That's part of the problem with relying on quotes from industry executives. Those guys are in a bubble. They're in a town that talks about movies constantly so they can't tell the difference when people really start talking up a movie. In Seattle (or in Minneapolis, Omaha, Denver, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Portland, take your pick...), it's a little easier. One wonders if relying on industry executives for quotes about movies is a little like relying on Dick Cheney for quotes about WMDs.
Both articles also remind me of something I tell my writers in the magazines I edit: Just because someone gives you a quote, doesn't mean you gotta use it.
The Dark Knight, somewhat ironically given Batman’s origin, is no orphan as to who or what is responsible for its massive success. A lot of fathers out there. To me, yes, it’s the Batman brand, plus it’s the fact that the film is a sequel to a well-made movie, plus it’s the buzz that the new one was even better. Plus it opened in more theaters than any movie in history. That never hurts.
Now the question: How far will it go? In pure dollar terms — that is, unadjusted for inflation — it may have already passed Batman Begins (at $205 million domestic). It will surely pass Tim Burton’s original Batman ($250 million) this weekend, maybe even before, making it the most successful Batman movie ever. Then, in terms of superhero movies, it has these guys lying ahead of it:
|2.|| Spider-Man 2
|| $373 million
|3.|| Spider-Man 3
|| $336 million
|4.|| Iron Man
|| $314 million
|5.|| The Incredibles
The fact that The Dark Knight took in $24 million on a Monday is a good sign. $24 million is a good weekend for most movies. For the curious, Spider-Man’s $403 million is no. 7 on the unadjusted domestic gross list. The No. 1 movie is Titanic at $600 million. When TDK passes Spidey, we’ll talk.
In the meantime, one of the better descriptions of Heath Ledger’s performance comes to us from someone, David Denby at The New Yorker, who didn’t even like the film. Proof, if we needed it (and some of us obviously do), that it’s worth reading past your opinions:
Christian Bale has been effective in some films, but he’s a placid Bruce Wayne, a swank gent in Armani suits, with every hair in place. He’s more urgent as Batman, but he delivers all his lines in a hoarse voice, with an unvarying inflection. It’s a dogged but uninteresting performance, upstaged by the great Ledger, who shambles and slides into a room, bending his knees and twisting his neck and suddenly surging into someone’s face like a deep-sea creature coming up for air. Ledger has a fright wig of ragged hair; thick, running gobs of white makeup; scarlet lips; and dark-shadowed eyes. He’s part freaky clown, part Alice Cooper the morning after, and all actor. He’s mesmerizing in every scene. His voice is not sludgy and slow, as it was in “Brokeback Mountain.” It’s a little higher and faster, but with odd, devastating pauses and saturnine shades of mockery. At times, I was reminded of Marlon Brando at his most feline and insinuating. When Ledger wields a knife, he is thoroughly terrifying (do not, despite the PG-13 rating, bring the children), and, as you’re watching him, you can’t help wondering—in a response that admittedly lies outside film criticism—how badly he messed himself up in order to play the role this way. His performance is a heroic, unsettling final act: this young actor looked into the abyss.
Never Google Yourself - Part I
Last week I got called stupid 5,001 times.
The extra came from my seven-year-old nephew, who I was picking up from golf lessons and driving to a friend’s house so I could take the two of them to, of all things, a Pokemon class for the afternoon. At the friend’s house, my nephew, all enthusiasm, wanted to get out the SUV’s side doors, but I was unfamiliar with my sister’s car — the newest car I’ve ever owned is a ’96 Honda Accord — and didn’t know there was an “Open” button located on the ceiling. “Open it!” he insisted. I held up my hands. “How do you open it?” I asked. Frustrated with an uncle whose newest car was five years older than he is, my nephew delivered the coup de grace: “Stupid!” he said. I laughed.
The other 5,000 times I got called stupid came as a result of that Slate article. My nephew gets a pass: he’s seven. The others, I assume, are a bit older.
David Poland's critique on “The Hot Blog” is indicative. His criticisms of my article — in which I wrote that, in general, a 2007 film that was well-reviewed (via Rotten Tomatoes’ rankings) made $2,000 more per screen than a 2007 film that reviewers slammed — are basically four-fold:
1. I love RT [Rotten Tomatoes]. It is a great site and a great idea [but] as a basis for statistical analysis, you should probably poll Patrick Goldstein's neighbors as soon as use those numbers for a factual analysis...
Some sympathy here. I didn’t critique RT in the Slate article. In earlier drafts, yes, but you’ve only got so much space, even online (where attention spans are shorter), and besides who wants to repeat themselves? Three and a half years ago I’d written about RT’s shortcomings in the same manner Poland did, and those shortcomings are still true, but I still say that as an attempt to quantify quality — which is what you need in a statistical analysis that uses quality as a frame of reference — it’s helpful.
2. The second HUGE mistake is, somehow, in spite of indicating a lot of knowledge in general, thinking that bulk numbers - as in, every film released on as many as 100 screens - can be used to analyze anything in a reasonable way. The math of the studio Dependents is quite different than the true indies, much less the small releases of under 300 screens and the behemoths of summer and the holiday season.
Obviously math from one place to another can’t be “different” (2 + 2... etc.), but if the box office numbers we’re getting are being calculated differently, well, that would be good to know. But Poland doesn’t continue. Maybe this “different math” is common knowledge in L.A. but it isn’t with me. Part of the reason I wrote the piece is that those Monday morning box office numbers always seem half (or less) of the story. If there’s more to the story that I’m missing, and that boxofficemojo — the site from whom I got most of my numbers — is missing, I’d like to know.
3. The biggest, perhaps, problem of all, is that after trying to take a run at this idea, and examining his data, Lundegaard didn’t just throw this junk science out. To wit… what is the leggiest wide-release movie (domestically, since it is the only stat we can use for all US releases as of now) of The Summer of 2008? Anyone? What Happens In Vegas... Rotten Tomatoes percentage? 27%.
Two things. He’s equating popularity with legs, which isn’t a bad method but has its own problems: Namely the problems he ascribes to my methodology in #2. But here’s the second and more important point: There will always be exceptions. I don’t understand why people don’t get this. All I’m saying, all the numbers are saying, is that a 2007 film that was well-reviewed (via Rotten Tomatoes’ system) generally did better, to the tune of $2,000 per screen, than a 2007 film that reviewers slammed. Are there exceptions? Of course. The tenth highest per-screen average belonged to National Treasure 2 and its 31 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating. Twelfth highest belonged to Alvin and the Chipmunks and its 24 percent rating. But when you crunch all the numbers, and despite such exceptions, the rotten films still sink below the quality films in box office.
4. And riddle me this… how can Lundegaard or anyone else assume that critics are increasing box office when “good” and “bad” are not the exclusive provenance of critics. There is no sane and knowledgeable person I know who does not accept that word of mouth is the most powerful element on the ongoing box office of a movie after the first week...
Three paragraphs later, Poland writes my answer: “There is nothing in Lundegaard’s story that suggests in any sustainable way that critics reviews have a direct cause and effect on box office in a real way.” Exactly! Because that’s not what I’m arguing. I’m arguing correlation, not causation. I’m arguing that critics, perceived as elitist, are simply fairly good barometers of popular taste. I’m arguing something fairly basic: that both critics and moviegoers like quality and don’t like crap.
Is this revelatory? In a society that dismisses quality, and that holds up crap for imitation, it certainly feels revelatory.
The studios will always try to make their numbers look good, and it’s part of our job to find out how they’re lying with them. Is my method — ranking films by the per-screen average for their entire run — the best method? I don’t know. It’s a method, a method we don’t usually see, and, maybe, a method to build on.
We interrupt this vacation to bring you a Slate piece
I’ve got a piece on Slate about movie box office and critical acclaim. If you’ve arrived here from there, apologies. It’s no fun to travel and find the same shit you saw in the last place.
The argument in the article is basically two-fold: 1) Quality films — as judged by critics’ rankings on Rotten Tomatoes — do better at the box office than people realize, and 2), as a result, critics, who are perceived as elitist, and moviegoers, who are, by their numbers, populist, are actually closer in taste than people realize. I’ve made this argument before. It’s the numbers-crunching that’s new.
While on vacation in Minneapolis, I’ve been re-reading David Mamet’s Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business. Mamet isn’t much of an essayist. He tends to wander within the confines of even a short essay — exploring four themes in four pages — but he packs a wallop, and the world, in a paragraph. It’s worth reading, or re-reading, for the paragraphs.
Mamet is an outsider who went inside; he knows how Hollywood works better than I ever will, and so it’s nice that some of my assumptions, about how audience-testing squelches innovation, and thus possible cash cows, are borne out by his experience.
Hollywood outsiders can never be sure. There’s that tendency to think, “Well, they’re professionals; surely they know what they’re doing.” Pushing against this is that great lesson from All the President’s Men: “The truth is, these aren’t very smart guys, and things got out of hand.”
We’re all involved in our self-fulfilling prophecies and maybe the numbers-crunching is mine, and maybe opening schlock in 3,000 theaters is Warner Brothers’. Who knows? But I’ll keep watching the numbers.
OK, back to vacation.
The top 100 opening weekends
Much talk lately about Sex and the City’s $55 million opening weekend. Most ever for a movie starring a woman! So where does it rank on the opening-weekend list? Fifty-first. Meaning the top 50 opening weekends all starred men. Or ogres or mutants or robots or lost fish. So the very thing women are bragging about shows how tangential they’ve become in Hollywood. But Sex and the City gives hope that maybe someday they’ll be as important as ogres.
What else does the top 100 opening-weekend chart show us? Nearly half of the movies (46) are sequels. In fact, nine of the top 10 openers are sequels. (Only Spider-Man, at no. 4, still holds its spot.) And all but 11 of the top 100 were released this decade.
That’s right: As if we needed further evidence, this decade is all about opening. The oldest movie on the list is Batman Returns, at no. 92, which was released way back in June 1992 and made $45 million opening weekend. By the end of our current decade (if not by the end of our current year) it should be pushed off the top 100 to make room for its descendant, The Dark Knight, as well as Hancock and who knows what else. By the end of the decade 93-95 will be from the decade.
What’s intriguing about the older films is how much they didn’t rely on their opening weekends. The big movie from 1993, Jurassic Park, took in $47 million, or only 13 percent of its final domestic gross, opening weekend. Compare that with last year’s big film, Spider-Man 3, which took in $151 million, or 45% of its final domestic gross, opening weekend. So even 16 years ago, word-of-mouth still mattered. Now the idea is to make a killing opening weekend, when the studio's take is higher, and don’t fret what follows. Including moviegoers going, “Well, that was a waste of two hours.”
Equally intriguing is what films aren't on the list: Titanic, Star Wars... The biggees.
The following is a list of the top 10 opening weekends: Two Spider-Mans, two Pirates, two Shreks. Plus a Star Wars, an Indy, a Harry and an X-Men. It's a list that could use some women. Or something that doesn't remind me of the cinematic equivalent of a Big Mac.
|Rank||Movie||Studio||Opening||% of Total|
|1|| Spider-Man 3 (2007)||Sony||151,116,516||44.90%|
|2|| Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)||BV||135,634,554||32.00%|
|3|| Shrek the Third (2007)||Par/DW||121,629,270||37.70%|
|4|| Spider-Man (2002)||Sony||114,844,116||28.40%|
|5|| Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)||BV||114,732,820||37,10%|
|6|| Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)||Fox||108,435,841||28.50%|
|7|| Shrek 2 (2004)||DW||108,037,878||24.50%|
|8|| X-Men: The Last Stand (2005)||Fox||102,750,665||43.80%|
|9|| Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)||WB||102,685,961||35.40%|
|10|| Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)||Par||100,137,835||n/a|
Audience test scores and “The Office”
I’m not the first guy to not get fashion magazines. You take the world’s best-looking people, give them the world’s best make-up artists and hairstylists and photographers, airbrush out what imperfections remain...and half the time they still look like heroin addicts. But Patricia subscribes to a few of these things and sometimes they’re worthwhile. The W magazine with Charlize Theron on the cover includes an article on Ricky Gervais of The Office fame, horribly titled “Tricky Ricky,” in which we get the following:
Before The Office premiered on the BBC in 2001, Gervais recalls, the show received the lowest audience test scores in the network’s history, but he defended every word in the script. It was a similar story with the American version: Gervais remembers getting an e-mail from producer Greg Daniels saying the series had scored abysmally. “I sent back a message: ‘Brilliant, so did we,’” he says. Now, he points out, The Office is NBC’s highest-rated sitcom. “All the things I’ve ever loved, I hated at first,” Gervais adds. “the best things are an acquired taste.”
For the writer, Paul Quinn, the point of this story is that Gervais’ apparent self-assurance, “rooted in defensive smugness or genuine confidence,” helped save his greatest creation. Here’s the lesson to me: Audience testing sucks. Seriously. It was the same story for Seinfeld, which became one of the most successful sitcoms in TV history. But the initial test scores reflected an audience distaste. People didn’t like it because they didn’t get it. It wasn’t familiar.
One wonders if testers are attempting to fix this obvious problem with innovative shows and movies. Forget aesthetics for a moment. Just think of the money. These things are cash cows. Cash cows with long fucking lives. And the money people, whose job it is to find such cash cows, when confronted with them, actually try to turn them into something else.
If you don’t recognize Seinfeld and The Office and The Office for what they are, or what they might be, what good are you? How many other Seinfelds are you turning into something ordinary and short-lived? How much money are the money-people blowing?
Why movies that open in 2,000 theaters should be avoided
I like crunching box-office numbers because it unwarps my perspective. It gives me a swift reality check.
Example. Last year I must have seen the trailer to Eagle vs. Shark a dozen times. I frequent Landmark Theater chains and they kept showing it, along with those increasingly bothersome Stella Artois ads; and while I was never interested in seeing the film (too many indie clichés), I assumed it would play in the 200-300 theater range, such as The Science of Sleep did in 2006. Nope. Topped out at 20. Twenty. Arrived June 15th, left August 5th. To me it seemed the film would never go away and yet it hardly showed up at all.
Meanwhile, movies that played in 100 times as many theaters, such as The Messengers, The Condemned, The Invisible and The Last Legion, didn’t even make a soft impression on my brain. Niche dynasties are being created without an ounce of awareness on my part. Or yours. And it’s only getting worse.
Overall, by my admittedly suspect calculations, and not including re-releases, 596 films played in U.S. theaters in 2007. They range in availability from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which overwhelmed 4,362 domestic theaters last May, to the 77 films, such as Oswald’s Ghost, Primo Levi’s Journey and Looking for Cheyenne, whose widest domestic release was exactly one theater.
In quality, 2007’s films range from IMAX: Sea Monsters, which got a 100% rating from the compiled critics on rottentomatoes.com, to the three films (Constellation, Redline and Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour) that couldn’t even manage a marginal thumbs-up from an online critic.
I’ve been crunching box office numbers for a few years now (here are links to articles about 2004, 2005 and 2006 box office) and, despite the occasional swift reality check, generally the numbers bear out what most of us know intuitively: critically acclaimed films rarely get wide or even marginal releases, while universally despised films are spread like manure across the country. You begin to wonder, in fact, why anyone in their right mind would want to be a movie critic. The job is essentially quality control in an industry that not only doesn’t care about quality but seems to punish it. No wonder print publications, which are abandoning their own forms of quality control, are letting movie critics go.
How bad was it last year? Of those 596 films, 406 didn’t manage a marginal release (500+ theaters), and of these, 65 were so marginal they didn’t accrue the five reviews necessary to get a Rotten Tomatoes rating. But of the remaining 341 films, 215 were deemed “fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes (i.e., 60% of movie critics gave the film a positive review). In other words, if you went to a film that didn’t get a marginal release in 2007 — including La Vie En Rose, Once and The Namesake — you had a 63% chance of seeing a film most critics thought watchable.
From there, the numbers drop. A movie whose widest release was in the 500-1999-theater range? A 39% chance it was watchable. In the 2,000-2,999-theater range? 22%. Basically one in five. You have a better chance of meeting someone who thinks Pres. Bush is doing a good job than seeing a good movie that plays in 2,000 theaters.
Here’s a chart:
|Widest Release||Movies||"Fresh" Movies||%|
| 1-499 theaters||341||215||63%|
| 500-1999 theaters||68||27||39%|
| 2000-2999 theaters||76||17||22%|
| 3000+ theaters||46||20||43%|
That spike in the 3000-theater range is a nice surprise, but it shouldn’t be. One assumes studios and distributors know what they’re doing and save their better popcorn films (a Norbit notwithstanding) for super-wide release. The critics’ numbers simply reflect that.
(And I don’t mean to imply that a Rotten Tomatoes rating is sacrosanct. One of 2007’s big disappointments for me, Spider-Man 3, buoyed, one expects, by fanboy critics and weary newspaper critics, managed a “fresh” RT rating of 62%. RT is simply a general overview — a way of quantifying quality — but there are still a few bugs in the system.)
The overall numbers are starker when you chart for initial release rather than widest release:
|Initial Release||Movies||"Fresh" Movies||%|
| 1-499 theaters||361||232||64%|
| 500-1999 theaters||53||14||26%|
| 2000-2999 theaters||74||16||21%|
| 3000+ theaters||43||17||39%|
Now I know that trying to stop a Spider-Man or a Shrek is like trying to stop an avalanche. But at the least — at the least — these numbers should give moviegoers pause before attending a film that opens in the 2,000-theater range. Think about it logically. For films to open in this many theaters, their concept has to have some kind of widespread appeal. So why don’t they open wider? Most likely, they’re not good enough to be popcorn pictures. Consider them stale popcorn pictures.
Imagine that you only saw films that opened on 2000-2999 screens. Here’s what you would’ve seen in the first 12 weeks of 2008: One Missed Call (0% RT rating), Meet the Spartans (3%), College Road Trip (12%), First Sunday (15%), Untraceable (16%), The Eye (19%), Mad Money (20%), Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins (25%), Never Back Down (26%), Step Up 2 the Streets (27%), Rambo (31%) and Definitely, Maybe (72%).
One out of 12. And I don’t even know about the one.
Americans have already spent over $420 million on these 12 films. Surely there’s better uses for our money, our time, our lives. This ain’t practice, people.
The most popular movies of all time are chick flicks
The highest-grossing film of all time, both domestically and internationally, is Titanic, a chick flick. The highest-grossing domestic film of all time, after you adjust for inflation, is Gone With the Wind, a chick flick. The third-highest-grossing domestic film of all time, after you adjust for inflation, is The Sound of Music, a chick flick.
Moreover, all three films have the same basic storyline: A woman choosing between two suitors against a backdrop of historic tragedy.
So Rose has to choose between Jack and Cal (no choice at all, really) as she sails on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
So Scarlett has to choose between Rhett and Ashley (a little more difficult, but not much) as she struggles to survive and thrive during the U.S. Civil War.
And so Maria has to choose between Captain von Trapp and God (perhaps the most difficult choice of all) during the 1938 annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany.
If Hollywood is looking for a template on how to make a blockbuster, this is it: A woman choosing between two men (that’s how you get women in the seats) against a backdrop of historic tragedy (that’s how you get the men in the seats).
Given how much money Titanic made — $1.8 billion worldwide, more than $700 million ahead of the second-highest-grossing film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and almost a billion dollars ahead of the highest-grossing film from last year, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End — I’ve always been surprised that Hollywood hasn’t attempted to make more of these types of films. Then I found out they had. A friend, a screenwriter in Hollywood, told me that in the late ‘90s he worked on a water-themed movie because water-themed movies were big then. He said that was the lesson the studios picked up from Titanic’s success: People like water.
Some part of me doesn’t quite believe this. Some part of me thinks, “Surely the people in charge are smarter than that.” Then I remember that great line about the Nixon administration, and people in power in general, from All the President’s Men: “The truth is these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”
Some may argue that the above films aren’t really chick flicks. That chick flicks are smaller-scaled, modern and light. That there is no historic tragedy in chick flicks.
Here’s the point. “Chick flicks” implies that movies for and about women are their own genre, or sub-genre, and don’t do well at the box office. That implication is 180 degrees from the truth. Boys may flock to Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, and Jurassic Park, but they don’t flock the way that girls flocked to Titanic. Not even close
In fact, in order to create a blockbuster, all you’ve got to do is find the right actress, the right actors, the right historic tragedy, and then cross your fingers that you’ve created Titanic rather than Pearl Harbor. Which, I should add, still grossed $449 million at the worldwide box office.
The formula works even when the movie doesn’t.
Where in the world are Iraq War movies popular?
Discussions about box office tend to stop with Monday morning’s numbers and bad puns. So 21 “raked in the chips,” and Superhero Movie was “a superdud,” and Stop-Loss was “shot down at the box office.” Why not push the envelope? How about Stop-Loss was car bombed? Had its legs blown off? Got ambushed in an alleyway in Tikrit?
Admittedly Stop-Loss’s numbers weren’t great: $4.5 million; 8th place. But it played on only 1,291 screens, meaning its per-screen-average, while pretty sucky ($3,505), was still better than all but three films in the top 10. Unfortunately our discussions about box office don't go that far. Instead we make some bad puns and add Stop-Loss to the list of Iraq-war-film casualties: Lions for Lambs ($15 million domestic box office), Rendition ($9.7M), In the Valley of Elah ($6.7M) and poor, poor Redacted ($60K). Underperformers all. Cue taps.
Except: If Stop-Loss follows the example of these films, it will make most of its money abroad. Rendition made $14.9 million, or 61% of its total, abroad (U.K., mostly), while Lambs pulled in $41.9 million, or 74%, from foreign countries (Italy and Spain were the big spenders). Elah also made 74% of its total abroad (France and Spain, mostly), while Redacted, which couldn’t do much worse, didn’t, pulling in $600,000 (France and Spain, again), or 10 times what it earned here.
Is this something else Americans should be embarrassed about? We went into Iraq thinking it would be good entertainment, and for a while it was (Pvt. Jessica, “Mission Accomplished”), but when it turned serious we turned the channel. It was supposed to be a Jerry Bruckheimer flick, Shock and Awe, with clear heroes and villains, and it's become a complicated, hard-to-understand, morally ambiguous film out of the French New Wave. It's become Battle of Algiers.
Hollywood has tried to make it easy for us by making its Iraq War films about us, and setting the action here, in the U.S., but the source material is still that morally ambiguous, hard-to-understand, French New Wave film. So we're letting the foreigners figure it out. They're figuring it out over there so we don’t have to figure it out over here.
Yeah, we should be embarrassed. This is our national story but we can’t be bothered. Elah is a good movie but we can’t be bothered. Stop-Loss is another good movie, and it’s got handsome leads, and it’s about camaraderie, and the few sacrificing over and over again for the many, who are us, but we can’t be bothered.
How awful is that? We can't even be bothered with how little we're being bothered by the war. And how much others are sacrificing.
Thank God for France.
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