erik lundegaard

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

Studio
No. films
"Fresh" films*
% of "fresh" films
Avg. box office
DreamWorks/Paramount
12
7
58%
$153,894,953
Buena Vista
36
11
30%
$132,481,548
Warner Bros.
38
15
39%
$128,921,554
DreamWorks
10
5
50%
$125,634,867
Universal
19
7
37%
$119,575,789
Sony
30
8
26%
$113,209,160
Paramount
22
11
50%
$105,187,877
Fox
39
6
15%
$103,167,684
    * the number of films that garnered a 60% or better rating from the top critics in the country, and compiled on rottentomatoes.com.

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

Film
Top Critics' Ranking (RT)
Dom. Box Office
Horton Hears a Who
 81%  $154m
The Simpsons Movie
 81%  $183m
Live Free or Die Hard
 78%  $134m
Robots
 69%  $128m
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
 69%  $380m
Ice Age: The Meltdown
 62%  $195m
Because of Winn-Dixie
 53%  $32m
Nim's Island
 52%  $48m
Fever Pitch
 51%  $42m
Marley & Me
 50%  $143m
X-Men: The Last Stand
 50%  $234m
I, Robot
 50%  $144m
Kingdom of Heaven
 50%  $47m
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
 43%  $186m
Transporter 2
 42%  $43m
The Day After Tomorrow
 41%  $186m
Night at the Museum
 39%  $250m
Meet Dave
 37%  $11m
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
 37%  $32m
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
 31%  $131m
What Happens in Vegas
 30%  $80m
Fantastic Four
 27%  $154m
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
 25%  $20m
27 Dresses
 23%  $76m
Alvin and the Chipmunks
 22%  $217m
Taxi
 19%  $36m
Hide and Seek
 18%  $51m
Big Momma's House 2
 13%  $70m
Elektra
 13%  $24m
Cheaper by the Dozen 2
 12%  $82m
The Day the Earth Stood Still
 12%  $79m
Eragon
 11%  $75m
The Seeker: The Dark is Rising
 11%  $8m
Garfield: The Movie
 9%  $75m
Max Payne
 9%  $40m
Deck the Halls
 9%  $35m
Alien vs. Predator
 4%  $80m
Jumper
 3%  $80m
Babylon A.D. 
 0%  $22m

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.


Posted at 08:12 AM on Mon. Jun 22, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office, Movies - Studios  
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COMMENTS

Mike Smith wrote:

Kingdom of Heaven is actually a pretty good movie. But that, X-Men Last Stand, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith are the only ones on that list that I've seen.
Comment posted on Mon. Jun 22, 2009 at 02:19 PM

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