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David Poland

By David Poland

Stupidest Headline Of The Summer

Early Summer Movies Underperform At Box Office
It is completely appropriate for Dean Goodman or anyone else to point out that the record setting openings of three films this May, as well as a record setting month of May, has to be put in perspective by reportage of the cost of the films and the failure of each (and no doubt, Pirates 3 will follow domestically) to match the second films in their respective franchise series.
But “underperform?”
This is the insanity of a media that sets up films as targets by exaggerating their potential then starts tearing them down as “underperforming,” when in reality, they are performing remarkably well.
Spider-Man 3, much as I hated it, will likely be the 18th highest grossing film of all time, pushed out of 17th by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the final gross of which is quite uncertain at this point.
This is the same idiotic mentality that led to Slump Chat in 2005… you know, when theatrical box office was finished because The New York Times and others refused to acknowledge that Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 warped the whole box office year in the record-setting 2004 and that if you removed those two freaks, the year was off by very little in reality. And they still sell this shit in every article where they deign to mention two straight up years at the theatrical box office, much less the ever more surging international box office. They weren’t wrong… it just… well… there was a real problem… it just changed… because prices went down… no… because large screen TVs got more expensive… no… because the DVD market made less product available… no…
Of course, there is also the goofy Mark Harris article in EW this week that once again has a man in his 40s telling America what they REALLY want… because he knows… because more people in this country alone went to see each of the three massive openers on opening weekend than read EW in a year.
Mark… I love that you have taste… I love that you want better movies… I love that you don’t feel serviced by the studios summer slate… but in your journalistic ivory tower, it is easy to forget that the reason why the studios are now funding that crazy fall slate of movies that they make very little on but which become so important during the Academy Award race you wanted to extend (Sweet Jesus!) in another myopic article last year, is that they make money on Spider-Man 3. Or did you really believe that Sony bought the James Grey movie at Cannes that Universal dumped unceremoniously (that includes arty Focus) was because they know that adults really want more Russian mob dramas?

33 Responses to “Stupidest Headline Of The Summer”

  1. anghus says:

    So predictable. Like clockwork, when the Summer begins i can hear two headlines coming from the media
    1. Biggest Hurricane season on record predicted
    they said this last year. and we were hit with a total of zero major storms.
    2. Summer Blockbuster season underperforms
    Why does the American media seemed so focused on telling everyone how bad everything is?
    Couldn’t the headline easily have been
    “Lackluster films Still bringing in big bucks”
    I really do believe that a majority of entertainment journalists would have nothing to write about if they weren’t decrying the downfall of the entertainment industry, as if Hollywood is always one bad year away from total collapse.
    This ‘verge of the apocalypse’ style reporting is getting really old.

  2. jeffmcm says:

    Hurricane season still has several months to go.

  3. anghus says:

    yet, i’ve already heard that we’re in for the biggest one ever.
    they predict hurricanes this time of year.

  4. I dread to think what they’ll say next year if this year’s movies are underperforming. I mean, next year we don’t have the third films in three of the biggest franchises of all time. I’m sure by then they’ll be saying that 2008 is down on 2007 astronomical box office levels or something.

  5. Blackcloud says:

    Hurricane season doesn’t start until Friday. I guess last year’s season underperformed, since there wasn’t a Katrina-level storm. By those standards, the San Andreas Fault has been underperforming for the last century, and the New Madrid Seismic Zone’s doing even worse.

  6. Skyblade says:

    I don’t think it’s so much about predicting the sky to fall, as wondering if the vein is running dry. Diminishing returns are logical conclusions, but what does Hollywood have waiting in the wings? Transformers and Golden Compass could explode, but if they don’t, we are plum out of movies guaranteed to perform at over 300 million. So we could run into real slump talk again.

  7. anghus says:

    Honestly, the only problem with the numbers are the rapidly escalating budgets that seem to have no cap.
    If box office dollars are getting harder to come by, why are studios putting 250-300 million dollars into movies that with P&A have to make 700 million to break even?
    I think a 150 million dollar Spiderman 3 would have made the same amount of money as a 258 million dollar Spiderman 3.
    Look at the Xmen films as an example.
    X-Men (2000) – Production Budget 75 million
    Domestic: $157,299,717 53.1%
    + Foreign: $138,950,336 46.9%
    = Worldwide: $296,250,053
    X2: X-Men United – Production Budget 110 Million
    Domestic: $214,949,694 52.7%
    + Foreign: $192,607,919 47.3%
    = Worldwide: $407,557,613
    X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006) -Production Budget: 210 million
    Domestic: $234,362,462 51.0%
    + Foreign: $224,893,546 49.0%
    = Worldwide: $459,256,008
    So by raising the budget almost 100 million dollars brings them just over 50 million more in ticket sales. The math doesn’t make sense. They keep amping up the budgets to ridiculous levels but the returns don’t get much better. Unless the DVD numbers are different for these films, and i’m guessing they’re pretty consistent, i can’t see why they’re cutting an extra hundred million for the sequel.
    But does anyone see budgets tightening in Hollywood. I don’t think they know how. People will use 300 as an example of an affordable blockbuster, but do you think Zack Snyder will ever shoot another film for less than 100 million again after it’s success?
    As for Pirates 3, it was the softest sell of any massive franchise i’ve ever seen in terms of marketing.

  8. Crow T Robot says:

    I think Harris’ point is a righteous one. Lazy, phoned-in movies are making tons of money because lazy phoned-in movies have made tons of money before. The trade off of invention for slick marketing is rewarded time and time again. Studios see no room for improvement. This evil trend brings us to where we are now in 2007: “Frankensummer” — a slate of films made up entirely of parts from the past 7 summers.
    And again, with this comes a new contempt for content. I saw a three hour Pirate Movie today that didn’t think to include one act of pirating in it…
    I mean burn a fucking DVD or something, Jack!

  9. ployp says:

    Where did $210 million go in X-Men 3? The bridge scene? I don’t remember being impressed by the special effects at all.

  10. bipedalist says:

    I’m with you, Crow. Great theory – Frankensummer. I felt so let down by this shit this summer I wanted to scream. Even my 8 year-old was let down. She liked Pirates okay but couldn’t abide Shrek 3, which she thought was “dumb.”
    And yes, I am with Mark on extending the Oscar season as well, for reasons I’ve already stated way too many times elsewhere.

  11. Direwolf says:

    Totally agree with your thoughts here, DP. I saw that headline as I was preparing a note on the weekend for the Wall Street site to which I contribute. I had to explain that while the box office was just fine, it was weak compared to expectations of some observers and this would likely lead to some negative headlines and selling is DIS and DWA.
    Anghus…I agree as well about the understated sell on Pirates, at least as far as what is coming directly from Disney. Other than a spurt of “opening Thursday at 8PM” TV ads I really haven’t seen much in the way ads for the film, especially compared to what I saw from Spidey or Shrek. Or maybe I am watching the wrong channels. Assuming Disney made the call to keep ads down and let the power of the franchise drive the opening weekend, I think it is a good call. They can ramp advertising now if they are nervous or they can save a few tens of millions which will help when the film comes in near the mid-300s.
    I saw one Wall Street estimate this morning for Shrek at $350 million. That is looking high to me. Anyone else agree?

  12. Wrecktum says:

    Here are the “underperformers” of summer:
    Spider-Man 3: $800m+ worldwide
    Pirates 3: $400m+ worldwide in SIX days
    Shrek 3: $230m worldwide and it hasn’t even opened in most territories
    Still to come: Transformers with HUGE int’l launch. The Harry Potter July juggernaut. Etc, etc.
    The reports of the death of summer have been greatly exaggerated.

  13. Sandy says:

    Going to see it tomorrow…and I’m gonna have fun. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable one’s life can be when you’re not constantly scrutinizing and critiquing.

  14. cjKennedy says:

    “As for Pirates 3, it was the softest sell of any massive franchise i’ve ever seen in terms of marketing.”
    I wonder if that’s one of the appealing things to studios about these franchises: they’re presold. Based on the first 3 big ones so far this summer they also seem to be pretty much review proof if you can make 2 without completely dropping the ball.

  15. Hallick says:

    “The reports of the death of summer have been greatly exaggerated.”
    The phrase ought to be “the dearth of summer”, as applied to the satisfaction the blockbusters aren’t delivering so far.

  16. cjKennedy says:

    That’s one thing the box office numbers don’t tell you. How much are people really enjoying themselves? I haven’t heard the kind of excitement expressed so far this year I remember hearing with Pirates 1 and Spider-Man 2. At best I’m hearing “pretty good”.

  17. torqtump says:

    David’s complaint confuses demand with utility. Basic economics fallacy.
    People are buying this product because the demand is highly inelastic. In other words, people go to blockbuster movies because they need something to do (for parents, somewhere to take the kids; for teenagers, somewhere to hang out with friends). No matter how shitty the blockbuster movies, many people will still go see them, because not going to see any movie leaves them bored and lonely, and going to non-blockbuster movies is less consensual and will again leave them lonely.
    But that doesn’t mean people are enjoying these blockbusters. Utility is different than demand. If the quality of the food in the grocery store goes down, people will still buy food, they just won’t enjoy it as much.

  18. jennab says:

    Dave, good insights. However, would love to see you examine profitability of these films long term. And maybe look at the inflation adjusted per screen average for this year’s crop of blockbusters…? The studios employ so many strategies to boost opening weekend numbers, it’s almost a joke to trumpet them. Some thoughtful analysis is due and you’re just the man for the job.

  19. bipedalist says:

    CJ, I totally heard this exchange at the Farmer’s Market:
    “What movie are we going to see?”
    “Shrek the Third.”
    “It’s a cute movie.”
    “I saw Spider-Man 3. It was okay.”
    “Did you see the first one?”
    “No, Shrek. It was cute.”
    “Are you going to see Pirates 3?”
    “I don’t know. Probably.”
    “The first one was cute.”
    People go to them because they’re there. Of the three threequels, Pirates was the most satisfying because at least it packed a lot in. Spider-Man was probably the worst. Shrek the 3 was meh. I barely remember it.

  20. Spacesheik says:

    This isn’t a summer blockbuster season – regardless of profits – this is a summer of prepackaged Mcdonald’s cinematic meals, and you know something? They ain’t filling. Not SPIDEY 3, not SHREK, not PIRATES 3.
    They’ll open huge of course, as will FANTASTIC FOUR 2, TRANSFORMERS, etc but let’s be honest its not going to be a very memorable summer.
    But then again what do I know? I’m in the second largest moviegoing demographic that Poland pointed out (the 66% under 40) but I grew up in summers that featured BLADE RUNNER, RETURN OF THE JEDI, STAR TREK II, POLTERGEIST, ET, CONAN THE BARBARIAN etc. Those were the glory days. All great movies, all classics.
    Which movie this summer has the potential to be a classic? BOURNE? OCEANS 13? A PG DIE HARD 3?
    Depressing as shit.

  21. Sandy says:

    Classics are in the minds of the viewer…as I recall, Return of the Jedi was ridiculed for having Ewoks and Conan the Barbarian? Fun but a classic it’s not.

  22. Sandy says:

    Classics are in the minds of the viewers…as I recall, Return of the Jedi was ridiculed for having Ewoks and Conan the Barbarian? Fun but a classic it’s not. You can thank George Lucas for inventing marketing of characters too.

  23. Sandy says:

    The site is slow today – I edited so sorry for the double post.

  24. Wrecktum says:

    Conan is pablum and Jedi is worse. They’re fun for 10 year olds. Today’s 10 year olds will be chanting a similar mantra when they’re 35. “Woe, I wish today’s shit were as good as Spider-man and Pirates!!”

  25. jeffmcm says:

    Okay, now I need to stand up and defend Conan (which is the best of the 80s sword and sorcery movies) and Jedi (apart from the Ewoks it’s pretty good).

  26. Wrecktum says:

    “Okay, now I need to stand up and defend Conan (which is the best of the 80s sword and sorcery movies)”
    That’s like trying to pick out the best clump from a cat’s litter box.

  27. Lota says:

    F*ck Conan Jeff, c

  28. jeffmcm says:

    There’s nudity in Conan?
    I have to say that I’ve never seen Excalibur – but that’s the only one on that list, Lota, that I haven’t seen. I don’t think Big counts in this genre and neither does Wings of Desire – which bored me to tears.

  29. Spacesheik says:

    EXCALIBUR is a magnificent film, no dout about it and one of the best, if not the best Sword and Sorcery epics, but please don’t include LADYHAWKE on that list for pete’s sakes, Lota.
    THE DARK CRYSTAL was a well made fantasy, a bit maligned even during its time for some reason, maybe it was too dark for the kids but its certainly miles better than the fodder that came after it such as LABYRINTH (which I only remember due to the David Bowie hair).
    CONAN is a classic in my view, its a rousing retelling of what is essentially a comic book hack and slash character: the violence was tight, James Earl Jones was a masterful villain, the Basil Pouledouris score was among his best, and you can’t argue with Sandahl Berghman rolling in the nude either. The film still works today.
    You guys remember the Columbia flop KRULL? I liked that as well. And don’t forget the low budget sleeper THE SWORD AND THE SORCEROR.
    And yes TIME BANDITS is a masterpiece and a classic.

  30. Lota says:

    Jeff don’t brag about deficiencies in your education and get Excalibur seen. Boorman was a fine director and no one could have done a sword and sorcery medieval piece quite like that even though I find it disturbing the way he filmed his daughter in the beginning (she was Igrayne…you’ll see what I mean when you see it).
    Skeik, I love Rutger Hauer and I like hawks and medieval stuff (and I did like Krull even though I see the deficiencies in the storytelling dept) so Ladyhawke stays even though Matthew B nearly drove me around the bend…he is so irritating. I wonder if Sarah JP wears earplugs at home. Others too in retrospect Dragonslayer, Flight of the dragons, The Navigator (Medieval oddyssey), Labyrinth, last unicorn, Willow and even the SHE-RAH movie (The Secret of the sword) was decent.
    Jeff–BIG counts in the sorcery department–what do you call the Zoltar machine? SO there were no swords, so what, it still was great fantasy & sorcery and is damn better than Conan.
    I still say COnan is cheese for boys and not a good movie. The comic still makes me laugh hysterically probably for the wrong reasons. I do read it at the comic conventions, secretly of course. I just love the way Conan addresses women.

  31. jeffmcm says:

    Big = magic realism. If you include it you have to include 18 Again and Splash. I was strictly speaking of fantasy adventure movies that took place a long time ago in a land far, far away.
    Thanks for the turnabout, now I know how you felt when I said I didn’t particularly care for Bitter Tea of General Yen: I found your response here very condescending.

  32. Nicol D says:

    Conan the Barbarian took grade B pulp material and turned it into something lyrical and yes…even classical.
    If you look at the director’s DVD there are haunting moments of actual visual poetry in it, such as when Conan destroys the temple at the end. I think if someone really hates Milius’ Conan they are probably responding more to the material or subject matter as opposed to the way it is presented.
    Polodouris’ score is quite frankly one of the best I have ever heard. The early trailers for Gladiator utilized it perfectly. It is glorious, even majestic.
    Does it have flaws…sure. Many of the leads were not professional actors, but they do not speak much. It is a beautifully rendered visual film about a time in history that is rarely revisted, if in a fantastical way. It is also beautifully shot with a stock that captures the realism as opposed to feeling like a set.
    And Sandahl Bergman was sexy and strong in a way that many modern female heroines could not fathom. She really was Schwarzeneggar’s equal.
    King Conan is one of the sequels I wanted to see up there with the Star Wars prequels and Fury Road.
    Arnold is actually the right age so who knows…
    …but that is another story. The defense rests.
    Oh and Hanks in Big is a classic but not the same genre as Conan.
    Damn I love eighties cinema!

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