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David Poland

By David Poland

The Slump Redux

I spent a lot of time on Thursday and Friday trying to get all of my numbers to work… then I took two days off (thinking about it endlessly) and then I figured out my mistake. Somehow, in dealing with Excel, I left Shrek 2 off the 2004 numbers. And fortunately, I could smell it, even if I couldn’t see it. So with that fixed…
It is in The Hot Button, about to go up, but the punchline is… studios are about even for the year, indies are way down (about $390 million), and the holdover dollars from films released last year is actually ahead this year by around $100 million.
So for “Hollywood,” The Slump is non-existant.
For indies, the slump is beyond Passion of The Christ… even with no major winner to suck out business, the indies have not found films to match last year without Passion, much less with it.
And as weak as this year’s Oscar slate was perceived to be at the box office, the Fockers more than matched Return of the King’s holdover and the Oscar dollars for Milion Dollar Baby and Sideways in particular made it a good Oscar holdover year.
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40 Responses to “The Slump Redux”

  1. patrick says:

    I think indies are down because there really hasn’t been anything amazing this year excpet for three films: Muderball, Me, You and Everyone We Know and Mysterious Skin. And the first two haven’t even opened yet and the latter seems to only be rolling out to a couple of cities each week. Mad Hot Ballroom was cute but it felt like Spellbound redux. I’m having a hard time remembering others I have seen because it’s been such an off year.

  2. So dollars $$$ are about even – TRUE – but when you factor in the higher ticket prices this year, anyone can see that ticket SALES…admissions…are in a slump.
    LESS Product equals LESS sales. Period. No matter where you live. (Iceland included.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Using Mr. Poland’s figures and including a 3% increase in ticket prices for 2005 over last year, the box office is down 4% ….. and the number of ALL films distributed (not just wide-released) is down 5%.
    Obviously there is a close relationship between the number of films they distribute, and the number of tickets they sell.
    So if you count ALL the films distributed in the U.S. (…and Canada), the slump doen’t look as drastic as if you only count the wide-release films.
    But a slump is a slump.
    Where are those indie films at?

  4. David Poland says:

    It’s lovely that you guys are so desperate to create a slump… wonder why that is?
    My guess is that by the end of the year, this will be one of the five biggest years for the studios in history… perhaps the biggest.
    But if you want to keep screaming “slump,” go ahead.

  5. Eric says:

    Michael Daviyd, I love the way you agree with yourself by posting anonymously.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Try telling General Motors, Chrysler and Ford that there is no slump in auto sales just because Toyota and Nissan are through the roof. Try telling Delta and American that the airline industry isn’t in a slump because Jet Blue and Southwest are thriving. Even if the box office overall numbers are similar to last year, the majority of the bucks are going to only a handful of select films, not all the studios on most of their films. George Lucas or Steve Jobs adding another billion to their personal fortunes does not help the bottom line at Viacom, Sony, GE, Disney or Time Warner.

  7. teambanzai says:

    There’s got to be more to this than just the numbers. My own informal poll of people like me that love films all seem to say the same thing they’re just not going to the theater as much as they used to. The commercials, the teenagers, or the quality of films all valid arguements, people are staying away.
    Currently unless it’s something I really can’t live without seeing opening day, if it’s not playing at the Arclight I will wait for the DVD.
    Friday we went to see Bewitched at the Arclight which is normally packed on a Friday night and about 20 after eight we looked around and the place was nearly empty. So no matter what the numbers say people are just not going as much as the used to.
    Does anyone have any numbers of repeat viewing? I’ll bet that’s down.

  8. David Poland says:

    Experiential analysis… especially in L.A. or NY… is inevitably skewed.
    The indie sector is not Japan vs America. The very worst read of all of this is that the business is down $300 million after a year with a $390 million indie and the 2nd highest domestic grosser of all time.
    If you knew anything, you would know that Steve Jobs does add to Disney’s bottom line for now and that that addition is why he hasn’t re-signed for more years…. because he wanted a rollback.
    There were 20 films that had a gross of over $30 million by this time last year… 24 this year… how is that “a few select films.”
    In fact, the money from The Passion of The Christ was even less spread out than Star Wars… Lucas pays Fox a higher distribution fee than Gibson paid Newmarket. And Fox will get all the rentals, which Newmarket could not.
    Everyone wants to say what’s wrong with the business… and what’s wrong is working just fine right now. The DVD slump is far more dangerous than anything going on in domestic theatrical.

  9. Michael Daviyd says:

    Hey Eric, who was that last anonymous post by???

  10. Wrecktum says:

    Hey, Poland…are you gonna write about Disney beating the pack by annoucing the first digital 35mm 3D conversion? Is that why you have Chicken Little dancing in this article?

  11. Martin says:

    I agree with Michael David – we need to start including Mexico in the numbers. This will get the domestic numbers much closer to last years and ensure high pre-orders from rental outlets.

  12. Eric says:

    It wasn’t me, dude. If I wanted to write an anonymous post to look like yours, I would over-use the “….” all the time like you do.

  13. L&DB says:

    On a side-note: That KONG trailer…oy. If those bastards at WETA win an Oscar for those garbage FX. Shocked, will be an understatement used by me in the future.

  14. Anonymous says:

    The trailer for Kong HAD me…until the awful, awful, awful CGI effects. Hook, line, and sinker, it was exactly the sort of Titanic-meets-Pirates of the Caribbean film that audiences (ie Me) want, until the horrendous mistake of showing that CGI. Pull, pull, pull, that thing out of rotation immediately….we might just have another “The Hulk” on our hands. Damn.

  15. Joe Leydon says:

    Somewhere tonight, Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange and Charles Grodin are laughing their asses off.

  16. Life&DeathBrigade says:

    No Use for a Nickname, I must disagree. The CGI that bothered me deals with everything BUT Kong. I liked his look and appearance, but the rest of the film looked unusually fake. Yes. I know it’s a film. Yet, WETA, unlike ILM or even any FX company associated with Gaeta, have a hard time pulling off CGI sets and backgrounds. It plagued the LOTR series, and it seemingly makes this trailer incredibly distracting. Sure. It can be fixed with a couple more tweaks and what not, but shooting in New Zealand might have done this flick in. And the jungle sets reminded me of every poorly lit interior set flick I have disliked over the last year. For the money Universal has spent. This film appears to look much cheapier than it cost. That’s what you get when you go with an inferiour FX company.

  17. joefitz84 says:

    Indies are indies for a reason. They don’t usually have commercial appeal.

  18. Joe Leydon says:

    I, too, liked early part of “King Kong” trailer — looked like they were going for faithful re-creation of original 1933 film’s narrative. But then… the CGI. I couldn’t help thinking of the trailer for the “Mighty Joe Young” remake. Funny thing: I never bothered to see the “Mighty Joe Young” remake.

  19. Geoff says:

    Regarding the trailer, I was somewhat underwhelmed, myself. But I don’t think it was the effects. I thought they looked good. I think it was just the whole way it was cut, there was no sense of awe. This should have been like the early trailer for Jurassic Park and it just didn’t happen. I can kind of respect their decision to not “hide” Kong with this campaign, because as we saw with Godzilla, that can backfire, too. But there was just no rhythm with the thing, no buildup. It was like “We’re here on the island, oh, there’s dinosaurs, oh, there’s Kong, cool….”
    And man, I do NOT get how Universal is selling this thing. Not one mention of “From the creator of the Lord of the Rings trilogy?” Come on, what are they paying the guy $50 million for? Peter Jackson is not a name brand, yet. There are only about four or five directors, out there, whose name can open a film: Spielberg, Tarantino, Shamaylan, Tim Burton, that’s really about it. Universal is kidding themselves if they think Jackson is at that level, yet. That’s not to criticize his directing, the guy is amazing. But he’s just not a brand name, yet.
    And yeah, filming EVERYTHING in New Zealand might come back to bite them in the ass. Skull Island? Sure, it can be done. But 1930’s New York City? Something tells me that they should have followed Chris Nolan’s lead with Batman BEgins and filmed on some of the more unique locations in Chicago or London. Worked beautifully for the look of that film.

  20. Michael Daviyd says:

    It must have benn David Poand then Ear-ache. He used … seventimes in his last comment.

  21. Michael Daviyd says:

    All right – whose the loser who’s using my name and can’t spell?

  22. Anonymous says:

    Oh crap! I spelled whose wrong!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous isn’t really “anonymous”, is it Eric.

  24. Wrecktum says:

    Poor Uni! They’re roadblock has backfired!! A derivative, not very well put together trailer featuring a too-modern Jack Black and shoddy early effect.
    After reading the underwhelmed responses on AICN, Chud, etc. tomorrow, the marketing folks in Uni City will be pretty glum.

  25. Lota says:

    i get a really bad feeling when audiences boo trailers (sometimes for months)…then the movie suddenly goes “wide”. King Kong got alot of boos towards the end. Charlie & choc factory also getting negativity. Depp looks scary…like Mary Tyler Moore.
    I also wonder if it is relevant in any way to compare 1930s-1940s attendance in the movie theaters to present day(like many articles seem to be doing lately) especially when the relationship of theater to studio was so different then financially, and I wonder if many of the attendance numbers are solely for movies, or for movies + serials etc.
    Where I worked in Europe the BO was definitely going up post 1999 and the tax man was happy. DOmestic films in many countries aren’t doing very well, but US films seem to do ok.
    The US box office net change seems so hard to compare over the last 15 yrs since it seems so many things have changed re. est budget, marketing costs and how takings/back end are calculated but maybe I was out of the country too long.
    If it really IS failing and more than a blip, I am sure there will be pink slips.

  26. Angelus21 says:

    I’ll see whatever Peter Jackson does now. He has earned it from the audiences.

  27. Wrecktum says:

    ^ Peter Jackson’s next film after Kong is “My First Enema.” Wanna see that?

  28. HulkamaniaStillRunsWild says:

    Mary Tyler Moore? Yeah. That reference works for the kids. Sure it does. Wonka actually looks better than most of the other supposed family fare this Summer. It will have to deal with the FF. Which just might become big because of the kids. More so than any other comic book flick ever.

  29. KamikazeCamel says:

    To the hell is Wrecktum? I can see a constant barrage of anal related jokes on the horizon relating to everything.
    Aaanyway, haven’t seen the Kong trailer. But I doubt it’ll turn into another Godzilla or Hulk purely because it’s not a Summer movie. There isn’t a movie just as big being released one week later.
    “So dollars $$$ are about even – TRUE – but when you factor in the higher ticket prices this year, anyone can see that ticket SALES…admissions…are in a slump.
    LESS Product equals LESS sales. Period. No matter where you live. (Iceland included.)”
    If they’re still making money though they probably don’t care.

  30. TheBrigade says:

    Camel, but the Winter movie season has sort of become the “NEW SUMMER” for box-office. Thus the reason all of this box-office slump stuff is nothing but huey. Since everyone pretty much agree 2 years ago, that the Fall/Winter has become INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT now. Universal might have another HULK situation on their hands. Even though it could be a JACK BLACK situation.

  31. bicycle bob says:

    if peter jackson made a film about enema’s i’m sure it would make 40 mill opening weekend

  32. BluStealer says:

    Every season is now very important to the Box Office. Not just 2 months of the summer.

  33. Anonymous says:

    For this “Lie of the Day” quote from Goldstein’s LAT article — one that brings upon an instant acid reflux reaction to my gut — I wish I could fire Ms. Pascal. It’s emblematic of why Hollywood is losing customers…
    “We’re not doing this cynically,” says Sony Pictures Vice Chairman Amy Pascal, who’s made “Bewitched” and “Charlie’s Angels,” with a remake of “Fun With Dick and Jane” due this fall. “Remakes are the best kind of genre film. They allow you to say something without people feeling they’re being hit over the head with a message. The core idea within ‘Bewitched’ is that love and magic are the same thing. It’s a great way to tell a love story in a sly, witty way.”
    Huh? They allow you say something without being hit over the head with a message? Is that their rational for remakes? I’d have more respect if she just said, “We own the properties. We’re minimizing risks. It’s a known franchise.” To deny it is a ridiculous lie. This coming from the woman who endorsed David Manning. Will those Brentwood people ever get it? They are not smarter than, nor are they pulling one over on anybody! We get their crap. On another note, even if it’s good, let’s all boycott WOTW opening weekend just to send a message that we don’t approve of manipulative marketing schemes.

  34. BluStealer says:

    The rational for remakes i easy. Money. Why else make Bewitched?

  35. joefitz84 says:

    The slump talk is just lazy reporting. Check the facts. Dave, you should be a source for all these lazy writers.

  36. Joe Leydon says:

    At the risk of reviving heated arguments: I wonder how many folks are not watching current miniseries like “Into the West” and “Empire” because they feel, what the hell, they can catch up with them when they’re released as complete packages on DVD?

  37. Anonymous says:

    NEW YORK A new Gallup poll released today confirms what the box office numbers from the past few months have suggested: Americans are staying away from the multiplex in droves.
    Asked if their moviegoing habits had changed in the past five years, nearly half (48%) said they were going out to the theater less. Only 15% said they were seeing more movies, with the rest staying about the same.
    Asked why they are reducing their habit, one in three said they “prefer to watch movies at home” (the DVD factor) but 1 in 4 said “it costs too much to go to the movies,” and 1 in 5 alluded to the “poor quality” of movies today.
    Quality also played a big factor in the answers to another question on what factor would get them into the theater more often. Here, 43% named lower ticket and concessions prices as the main draw, with 36% citing better quality movies–and 25% “better controls on audience behavior.”
    Another 19% said they’d go out more often if movie DVDs didn’t come out so quickly. DVD sales now represent three times box office earnings.
    The poll was based on interviews with 1,006 adults, with a margin for error of plus or minus three percentage points.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Joe – You’re right. For example, even though I want to see “Entourage” on HBO, I figure in a few months I can rent the whole first season for 4 bucks and save $150 in yearly subscriber costs. It’s not THAT important to see these shows every week.

  39. Joe Leydon says:

    Gee, I guess we can expect Dave to start writing about misinformed the Gallup pollsters are. Or how wrong the people actually polled must be.

  40. KamikazeCamel says:

    I’m more inclined to believe that it’s the price of movies that is keeping certain people away. It’s not that these people PREFER to watch a movie on DVD but it’s much cheaper to. Throw in a packet of popcorn and a bottle of coke from the supermarket and a night costs $10 as opposed to $50.
    My hairdresser was telling me today that her husband gets all the newest movies on VCD when they come out but she “prefers to go see them at the movies.” She was saying she refuses to watch Mr & Mrs Smith on VCD because she wants to see it at the movies.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin