By David Poland email@example.com
Batman & The Iceberg
Okay… so I get that John Horn had to ask the question… can The Dark Knight pass Titanic or even come close to Titanic at the box office?
And I understand that the new rule at the LAT is local, local, local.
But is it anything less than a dereliction of duty, whether it be Horn’s choice or his editors’ choice, to not even mention the worldwide box office success of Titanic, which really is what makes the box office landmark the equal of what “Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is to baseball.”
A domestic lead of $140 million or 23% on #2 Star Wars or $160 million/27% over Shrek 2, which is the #2 highest grosser in its first run alone, is obviously impressive. But the domestic box office is more like the home run record for a season. Eras change and the season home run number got threatened and then beaten… repeatedly. We later realized that the players, not the ball, were juiced.
The Dark Knight’s massive opening was “just” $7.3 million more than the last top film, Spider-Man 3, or a %% bump. Impressive, but not so shocking (except for the fact that it was unexpected from this particular film).
There have been eleven $100 million openings in history and every one has been in the last seven years… seven of the eleven in the last three years. That is a seismic shift in the idea of what is possible in one weekend.
The $400 million mark is less seismic in and of itself, but how we get to that number has changed a lot. For what is now the #2 film, Star Wars, the $400 million mark was only achieved after a third release of the film… the third release earning $138 million, bolstered by the lack of availability of the film. (I believe there was a vhs release, but the film was rare to see on free or pay tv, we were still before a major dvd market… there was an event to a theatrical re-release that seems to be a thing of the past now.) E.T., even more tightly held, also hit $400 million only by re-release, though the total domestic gross from the film’s two re-releases was only $76 million.
Then Star Wars: Episode One did it on its own power. Then Spider-Man (but neither sequel). Then Shrek 2 in 2004, Star Wars: Episode III missing by $20m in 2005, and Pirates II in 2006.
While the trio of three-quels last summer broke a record by all doing $300 million-plus domestic, none did $400m domestic. However, the worldwide numbers were what really mattered to the studios.
Shrek The Third lost $120 million from the prior film’s domestic gross, but held steady internationally to get to a reported $799 million. Spider-Man 3 lost $37 million domestic from its prior entry, but increased worldwide gross by $144 million to get to $890 million worldwide. And Pirates 2 lost in $1124 million in domestic value, but was stead overseas to be one of just five films ever to crack $950 million worldwide (2 Pirates, a Potter, a Ring, and Titanic).
Another thing that remains stunning about Titanic is that it and Jurassic Park are the only “originals” to gross over $900 million worldwide.
But the mega stat is that Titanic did overseas alone more than ANY other movie has grossed in total. International was more than double domestic. The second best all-time international gross is $500 million less than Titanic.
And that is why “titanic numbers” are close to impossible in the current marketplace.
I have said before, at some point, some studio will experiment with day-n-date for one of these mega-movies, something like the last Harry Potter, offering it across the globe in theaters and in one-view-for-one-payment showings through opening weekend into living rooms by satellite and cable. And that movie will gross $600 million in one weekend. And the one-view sales will be enormously profitable, since delivery costs are minimal and providers will take a much smaller cut than the 45% that exhibitors take. And in that moment, someone will have made the most profitable movie ever.
And if the entire industry follows suit, we will see the sky fall for real.
But I digress…
Domestic box office will continue to creep up on Titanic. Someday, perhaps in less than a decade, that number will fall. But the international number is far, far away in comparison. While international box office has grown, the biggest potential markets remain elusive. Piracy is still an issue. And while the habit of opening weekend has become greater in many of the traditional international powerhouse countries, that has led to increases in front-loading grosses, just as in the US. And many of the underscreened countries, recent generations have become habituated to taking what they can get when they get it, not to demand opening weekend access.
The Dark Knight is likely to take Titanic’s domestic lead from the current 27% to as close as half of that, maybe 13% or under $100 million. That’s shouting distance. Ticket price creep can push that further. (Keep in mind, in 1994, when we had the first two $300 million movies in one summer, we went two years before the next (ID4) and then Titanic in 1997, another two before Episode One. It was 2001 before multiple $300 million grossers in the same year became a norm.)
But the 67% lead of Titanic on Rings 3 internationally… that’s a looooooong way to reach.
For The Dark Knight to be the fourth film in history to crack $1 billion will be a big achievement… bigger than any Harry Potter film.
No Batman film has ever even matched the level internationally that it reached at home. But let’s give The Dark Knight that. $500 million at home and $500 million overseas. You’re $850 million away from Titanic.
But let’s give it more. International at 60%! So… $500 million at home, $750 million internationally. And we’re still almost $600 million away from Titanic’s number.
Do you want to believe in miracles? How about $600 million domestic and $900 million worldwide? You’re still almost $350 million away from Titanic.
And for all of you guys who have S.O.O. (Sudden Oscar Obsession), the top two grossing films in history did get Oscar nominations and wins. After that? Aside from the other Rings movies? #30 all-time was the next highest grosser to even be nominated… Forrest Gump. And #31, The Sixth Sense.
Those four movies are the only films to gross as much as $500 million worldwide and to be nominated. And yes, three of the four won. (1994, 1997, 2003) But you’re still looking at four nominations in 14 Oscars, 4 out of 70 nominations…. 5%.
The odds are better than an animated film getting nominated… 1 out of 105 opportunities since Beauty & The Beast got the only nod ever. .1%.
I am all for celebrating the achievement of The Dark Knight. But while hysteria may be fun from someone, that achievement is only great in context. And in the context of reality, this success is very exciting indeed… and not earth-shattering.
The first Batman was a real industry changer.
Titanic was a real industry changer.
Lord of the Rings was an industry changer (good for some, not so good for others).
And this summer, Iron Man is a real industry changer. (Whether that is good or bad, time will tell.)
The Dark Knight is a good movie that everyone underestimated. Everyone. On top of that, it is even more successful than anyone who pays serious attention to box office anticipated, even after the massive opening.
But to hit “Titanic numbers” a film will have to not only match or beat Titanic at home, but unless something changes significantly (and someday, it will), the film will need to do at least $100 million or more than Titanic at home and still be an international giant to get to $1.8 billion.
It really is a 56 game hitting streak. And the headline rhetoric should really be lessened before someone embarrasses themselves.
Oops. Too late.