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David Poland

By David Poland

Universal's Bad Summer

Yes, Universal has had a bad summer.
Yes, there have been rumors about executive changes all summer.
No, none of this excuses shoddy “journalism”by long-time veterans who, after all of these years, still don’t understand how box office works. (Yes, Sharon Waxman… you.)
Public Enemies grossed more than $4 million last weekend and still has a shot at $100 million domestic. In any case, it is already the #2 Michael Mann film all-time domestically, behind only Collateral with $101m. The international box office, which is cited without any factual clarity, was $25 million going into this last weekend… and the film has opened in only 10 non-domestic markets, including just one week in the two major non-NA markets it is open in, the UK and France. The film is pretty much a lock to outgross Mann’s previous best in the both countries. (Collateral did $15m total in the UK and $11.5m in France… PE opened last weekend to over $9 million in the UK and $7.5m in France.)
Now… does $200 million or so worldwide make Public Enemies a good investment with a negative cost of over $100 million? Not so much. Make that argument. But please… be fair.
You can paint Bruno as a disappointment… but you can’t paint it as a money loser. Please… be fair.
Drag Me to Hell… disappointing numbers… but a money maker. Please… be fair.
And the one real financial loser, Land of the Lost. But it has only opened in 5 markets outside of North America. Please… be fair.
Finally… let me be very clear… Market Share In 2009 Is A Measurement For MORONS.
Buena Vista’s overall gross for the year – and thus market share – is more than a third off of Paramount’s. But with nine releases this year, every single one will be profitable.
At this point, BV is pretty obviously having the second most profitable year of any studio – WB is #1 thanks to Potter, the very profitable The Hangover, and some holdover NL titles – even though it is #4 in market share.
The only stat nearly as stupid – and popular – as Market Share is Tickets Sold. Mentioning either, in 90% of conversations, is an admission that you really have no idea what you are talking about and don’t care to know.

92 Responses to “Universal's Bad Summer”

  1. chris says:

    The measuring stick is moving all over the place, though. Don’t you usually use return-on-investment (How much did Universal spend on “PE?” How much did they make on it?)? But here you seem to be using what’s-the-reasonable-return-that-could-be-expected-on-a-Michael-Mann movie?, instead.

  2. David Poland says:

    My point, Chris, is that we don’t know what the return on investment is yet… so I offer you ALL the facts so you can use whatever measuring stick you like. Is there a problem with that?

  3. Che sucks says:

    It seems to me that discussions of Universal’s summer fortunes should take FAST & FURIOUS into consideration. Wasn’t that scheduled originally as a summer tent-pole? By moving that summeresque flick to April, the Universal suits probably squeezed an extra 45-60 million out of it as opposed to keeping it part of the crowded summer slate. Justified breast-beating and hair-pulling about LAND OF THE LOST – its general crappiness, ridiculous budget, and poor box office – should be counterbalanced by this success.

  4. Che sucks says:

    David —
    How do you think PUBLIC ENEMIES’ box office affects future considerations about larger budgeted adult summer counterprogramming [“adult” at least compared to the abundance of robot and dick joke movies during this stretch]?

  5. Wrecktum says:

    “Buena Vista’s overall gross for the year – and thus market share – is more than a third off of Paramount’s. But with nine releases this year, every single one will be profitable.”
    Are you saying the reports of $180 million production cost for G-Force is wrong? Because I can’t see how that’ll be profitable, even if it reaches $100m domestically.

  6. EthanG says:

    I think the talk about Universal lies somewhere in the middle of your argument and those of most media outlets DP. The truth is, this piece is being written right before the release of probably the most mis-marketed film of the summer, Funny People, which I doubt will reach $100 million domestic and $175 million worldwide.
    As you point out, Universal hasn’t had outright disasters…but this is a studio that hasn’t had a $200 million domestic grosses since “The Bourne Ultimatum.” It’s only had one $400 million worldwide hit since then, though that film “Mamma Mia,” is undeniably hugely profitable.
    Overall, most of its projects with at least 50 million dollar budgets have ended up probably somewhat in the red (Incredible Hulk, Charlie Wilson’s War, Leatherheads, Hellboy 2, Death Race, Tale of Desperaux, State of Play). There have been a couple smash hits, Wanted, Fast and Furious and Mamma Mia, thrown in with some possibly profitable big budgeters like American Gangster and Mummy 3.
    And Public Enemies and Land of the Lost may break even but it’s unlikely. “PE” has just a few major openings left, and probably needs to double its current worldwide box office to cover its P&A budget. “Land of the Lost” has a lot of openings left but needs $43 million alone to cover just its production budget…you really think international audiences are ready for a second round of dinosaurs after Ice Age 3??
    Also, everyone knows perception is as important as reality, and the perception that you’re the only studio without a film to hit $100 million domestically in the busiest time of the year is not a good one. Also, their upcoming schedule looks nothing short of disastrous…

  7. historylover says:

    David –
    Probably naive question: Would anyone in a studio actually do a managerial accounting analysis on a projected number of tickets needed to be sold in order to determine a contribution margin/ticket price? Wouldn’t such provide all other departments a practical break-even point from which to start?

  8. chris says:

    Thanks for the clarification. My only point is: What does #2 all-time Michael Mann film mean? Wouldn’t that back up the usual argument here that it’s crazy to spend that much money on a Michael Mann film and hope, even with international figured in, that it can be significantly profitable?

  9. Eric says:

    “Negative costs” for Public Enemies? Talk about shoddy journalism. 😉

  10. martin says:

    Chris, I doubt that Universal greenlit it hoping for Michael Mann #2 biggest box office hit (which could still be unprofitable at this budget), they were hoping for bigger Johnny Depp type money. I do agree with the Che Sucks guy that Fast and Furiouser should be included in any Uni summer numbers, and it does somewhat balance out the “Lost” money.

  11. martin says:

    Wait, G-Force cost $180 million? Is that a fact or a rumor? You know, $100 million, I could believe at the high end. But $180? No friggin way unless it went hugely over budget due to some CG issues or something.

  12. martindale says:

    According to boxofficemojo, G-Force’s budget was $80 mil, not $180.

  13. Wrecktum says:

    That makes more sense. I’ve had more than one person cite $180m, which makes no sense, unless Mill Nighy’s salary has exploded since Underworld 23.

  14. martin says:

    80 mill sounds about right, considering no major stars except on the voice-overs.

  15. Wrecktum says:

    That’s Bill Nighy, not Mill. My typing is atrocious sometimes.

  16. Tirithon says:

    Dave, how come tickets sold isn’t a good barometer? I’m not being snarky — I really don’t understand why it isn’t and I would like to know. It seems like it would be since DVDs and album sales are reported by units sold. Since inflation drives up the price of tickets, wouldn’t tickets sold be a better way to compare the relative success of films? If you wouldn’t mind taking the time to explain why, I think it would be interesting to read. Thanks!
    (I’ve been a long-time reader of your site but never posted a comment before. The ticket sold issue has come up before and I’ve never understood it, so I thought I’d finally raise my hand and risk a stupid question. Thanks for letting me post.)

  17. David Poland says:

    I would say the chances that Disney greenlit a talking gerbil movie at $180 million is zero.
    And if they were at $80m, they were trying to figure out if it could go down to $60m.
    Historylover… uh… no. I can’t imagine why anyone would every do that. Correlating ticket sales to box office can be done in the head of anyone who is good at math in seconds.
    The one situation in which they might consider those numbers is when they consider films that skew young or old and therefore will have a lower per-ticket average (something none of the “take the MPAA number or last year, add a quarter, and divide the gross by that” guessers take into consideration, since they cannot, since they don’t have those details).
    So, for instance, at $220 million, Harry Potter has likely sold more tickets than The Hangover at $250 million. Or close. We don’t know what percentage of tickets were bought at kids prices for Potter or precisely how deep the discount was. But you get my drift.
    And Che Sucks (you’re wrong) – I think the ditch for drama has been dug for years. What PE and Pelham and State of Play and Body of Lies do is say, “You can’t count on stars to dig you out of these anymore.” Then there will be some unexpected dramatic hit with some rising star in it or Ridley Scott will find a home run and they will all start chasing dramas again. In teh meanwhile, they will be saying, “Great script… can they talk less?” for a while.

  18. Direwolf says:

    DP, you know I work on film profitability since I come at this from a Wall Street angle. I agree with you that tickets sold is generally not relevant as it is revenue that must be compared with costs. However, I do think tickets sold is relevant to tie ratios on DVDs. I guess you implied this with your skew old or skew young comment. I’d only add that with 3-D premiums on animated films tickets sold might be more important for trying to determine the critically important contribution of DVDs.

  19. David Poland says:

    Well, Tirithon, the idea of counting albums as a financial measurement of success was mostly a mistake as well. At one point, the record companies too all the money and later, the artists got insanely rich deals that were pre-paid against eventual sales.
    DVD sales, you really don’t know. For one thing, hard numbers tend not to be available… position in the market (1-50, like record charts) are. And both returns on sales as well as the number of units sold to rental companies that will enter the re-sale market are not accounted for in public at all.
    The one place a count of people really does count is in television. And why? Because the networks are in the business of selling eyeballs to advertisers, not programming for quality or any other such standard. But even there, demographics matter in terms of how valuable the eyeballs are, because 18-34 eyeballs are worth more than over-35 eyeballs most of the time.
    Moreover, a movie ticket is not a traditional retail sale. Selling a movie is not a traditional retail kind of marketing either.
    It’s the same thing with the 3D overcharge. It is worth writing about because it is a way for studios and exhibitors to raise theater prices without seeming to rip people off. And it is interesting as a percentage of overall sales because we are still learning how the 3D opportunity affects the 2D opportunity. But in the end, gross is gross is gross.
    Watch The Apprentice sometime… pricing is not about how many you sell… it’s about maximizing revenues, because that is all that really counts. I have always said, a studio would me much happier selling 10 $10 million tickets to a movie than 10 million $1 tickets… because it’s probably cheaper to make the sale.
    Obviously, it’s an extreme way of positioning it. But the issue of turning theatrical into a price competitive business has been argued forever. You could surely sell Harry Potter on opening weekend for $20 a seat and while you would lose some, you would probably up the gross. If Land of the Lost is bombing, maybe $5 tickets would be a salvation in weekend two.
    But the film business, smartly, avoids this to maintain a collusive business model that creates a set pricing structure that keeps price competition from eating the business alive, as it has in home entertainment with the many variables in the rental market and deep discounting on sell-thru.
    Relative success is as simple and as complex as paying attention. When Batman opened in 1989, its record $40 million opening was mind blowing. Really. 20 years later, it’s the 149th best opening ever. If you get that, you understand the relative significance.
    Numbers of tickets sold is one small detail that explains why $40 million is now considered a mid-range studio opening in the summer. Batman launched VHS sell-thru… DVD pushed front-loading harder… eliminating the variable rental system (90/10, 80/20 and down) pushed it further… etc.
    And then there are the revenue streams. If you want to do the math on how much the DVD revenues were for a film vs the VHS revenues or virtually no home entertainment revenue for some titles, great. If you included all the variables in the analysis, it would be legit. But no one does.
    1980’s Stir Crazy was a $100 million domestic movie in 1980. Miss Congeniality was a $100 million domestic movie in 2000. Stir Crazy sold a lot more tickets. But Miss Congeniality had a $100 million+ gross overseas. I can’t even find a foreign number for Stir Crazy. But it was likely well under $50 million. And the DVD… there was no DVD of Stir Crazy until, I believe, 1999. How many units could it have sold? Miss C was at the very start of the DVD game and surely added at least $100 million in gross revenue in sales via the new medium.
    You know… it all counts. Studios make movies with revenues from ALL markets taken into consideration. It’s been a decade since any studio expected to make enough in theatrical more occasionally to cover the cost of production, much less marketing.
    Even worldwide gross is a narrow analysis, though once you have a good handle on what that total will be, you can project the rest out pretty well… though it has changed a lot on the last couple of years. But total worldwide gross is really the firmest basis if you want to throw numbers around and make assumptions.
    More often than not, the answer is “we don’t know yet.” But what journalist wants to admit that?
    Perhaps this is all a digression. The simple answer – profit and loss is not based on # of tickets sold. It is counted in dollars and cents.
    If you want another chart with numbers to play with, God bless you, but The Dark Knight is the #2 champ domestically, no matter how many more actual tickets Shrek 2 might have sold… or how many more tickets Gone With The Wind surely sold. (which brings us to the issue of analyzing “ticket sales” based on very different things being sold to a ticket buyer in, say, 1939, versus, say, 2009… but that’s another discussion).

  20. Martin S says:

    It dawned on me over the weekend that Uni had zero status at SDCC, even with Wolf Man this fall and Nottingham in the pipe. Wolf Man was even present in ’08, so to have nada for the flick being released in four months…gotta wonder.

  21. David Poland says:

    Well, Dire… if ticket sales to DVD sales is the comparison, why do you need to bother with ticket sales… why not just stick to gross?
    And while the gross-to-DVD sales numbers were more correlative in the past, as the DVD market shrinks, I would say, much less so. Ask any studio. What you could expect in DVD sales from a movie that did $40 million in Niche A two years ago is now 60% the number of sales… nothing to do with number of tickets sold. And 5 years later, The Dark Knight DVD didn’t come close to the DVD sales to the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King or even the Shrek 2 numbers from six months later (even after counting returns).
    And how are “tickets sold” correlated to repeat viewings? No one really knows, past research in opening weekends and sometimes in weekends 2 or 3.
    We are years away from having any real way of measuring the 3D thing, though it certainly is worth looking at all the measurements until it makes some clear sense.

  22. jeffmcm says:

    This is all assuming that ‘profitability’ and the balance sheet are the objective to be determined. They may not be.

  23. David Poland says:

    I forgot to include this link to a NY Times story from 2001.

  24. David Poland says:

    It’s a waste on money, Martin S… especially five months out… and even more so if Benicio isn’t available.
    Comic-Con is 1) a junket and 2) like the Oscar race. It is a way to get to a lot of press at once, but you have to want or need that press at the time. Few films are really benefited by that. And the rest is ego. No way Jon Favreau wasn’t coming back to Comic-Con for Iron Man 2… but will they sell a single additional ticket after dropping at least $500,000 going? Not a chance.

  25. Wrecktum says:

    The thing is, distributors aren’t selling a commodity. They’re selling an event the same way that concert promoters or circus owners are selling performances. Concert promoters don’t count tickets. They count revenue. Ticket sales are not a real metric of performance because a) tickets are discounted for a variety of reasons and b) different theatres charge different amounts for the same product, of which distribution companies only get a percentage.
    As such, no distributor has set up a system where they can measure the exact number of people who attend their films because it’s never been necessary before.

  26. Martin S says:

    Dave – I see your point, but Uni keeps making noise about the classic monsters re-launch and this would have been prime. I’m sure you’re right that its about money, but IMO it has to be long-term dollars, as in “we’re not going to be around to produce these flicks, so we’re not going to accrue the cost”.
    DeLuca is the guy I’d love to talk to right now. Odds are good he was at SDCC, too.

  27. Chucky in Jersey says:

    @che, @martin: “Fast and Furious” opened in April in theatrical. EDI and Rentrak measure the spring season this year as March 13-April 30.

  28. jeffmcm says:

    I think they know that.

  29. EthanG says:

    As far as DVD numbers go…plug, plug I go again… has a pretty exclusive deal to track industry grosses that’s been chronicled quite a bit.
    Other than that based on history, that you’re so fond of David, Universal is a massive, massive failure the last few years, and has few signs to reverse that trend. Universal has always been considered the “6th and least” studio of the majors, but this year takes it to another level.
    In 2008, Universal’s top DVD sales, ranked 11th and 14th…Mamma Mia and American Gangster..not great, but not disastrous. 2009 has been a downright funnyfarm. Role Models ranks at the top at 16th and then Mamma Mia at 25th..but those rankings are extremely low for a major studio. Maybe Fast and Furious will turn the tide. Otherwise this, along with Funny People, just shows that Universal’s days as a major are numbered.

  30. Dave, it is exactly that Stir Crazy/Miss Congeniality analogy that I bring up when people say we should adjust for inflation. Yes, a movie may have made $100m in 1980 that could equal $220m now or whatever, but are you going to add on the DVD revenue to the recent release’s gross? Are you going to take out all the re-releases? etc.

  31. guylodge says:

    Good article, Dave, but I have to correct you on the following statement:
    “PE opened last weekend to over $9 million in the UK”
    Actually, Public Enemies opened in the US and the UK simultaneously on July 1. It made about $3.7 million here in the UK on its opening weekend, and has grossed roughly $10.5 million to date.
    Respectable figures, but hardly as successful as you’re making out.

  32. RudyV says:

    Actually, in adjusted dollars (according to, Batman’s $40 mil opening in 1989 would be equal to $72 mil in today’s market.
    I just choke when people say insipid things like “Titanic is the highest-grossing movie of all time” (David O. Selznick must be rotating in his grave), or “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen…with a total of $379 million, [is] the 10th-highest-grossing movie of all time.” (try 84th, IMDB), or “Bullock’s own achievement with The Proposal…bumped 1994’s Speed as her highest grosser, with $140 million.” (Speed would have earned $207 mil in today’s dollars, USA Today).
    But we obviously can’t compare everything using adjusted dollars because too many Hollywood folks would feel emasculated to discover they need to make more than $718 mil domestic just to beat 101 Dalmatians.

  33. RudyV says:

    And if you really want to take re-releases out of the equation, how about Doctor Zhivago’s $891 mil in adjusted dollars, $920 mil for Jaws, $941 mil for The Ten Commandments, or even $1,022 mil for The Sound of Music?

  34. Wrecktum says:

    So? Big deal. Everyone who follows boxoffice performance knows that. Poland has written over and over again why the adjusted vs. unadjusted argument is fallacious.

  35. Dunderchief says:

    I hate the adjusted dollars argument. It’s a false equivalency.
    If you’re going to adjust Gone with the Wind’s grosses to today’s dollar, then you also have to adjust the entire entertainment landscape of 1939.
    Even with a more recent film like Jaws, cited above, there’s no way to account for the lack of cable television availability, home viewing, and wider entertainment options. You can’t just adjust 1975’s dollars to 2009’s dollars without also adjusting to modern viewing habits, modern competition in theatrical exhibition, and modern marketing priorities, all of which are virtually impossible to quantify.
    No one adjusts Babe Ruth’s career stats in terms of what he would have done if he played today. His achievements are relative to the era in which he accomplished them. No different with film.

  36. RudyV says:

    Oh, I get it–it’s kinda like the Special Olympics: we have to give a big pat-on-the-back to today’s moviemakers just for releasing anything in today’s overinflated market.
    So…Watchmen was a bigger money-maker than The Ten Commandments, Miss Congeniality is bigger than Stir Crazy, and any crappy B-movie that comes out seventy-five years from now will be bigger than Titanic.

  37. Dunderchief says:

    Absolutely the opposite, RudyV.
    We know objectively that $65 million for The Ten Commandments in 1956 is a monumental achievement, whereas $107 million for Watchmen in 2009 is big disappointment.
    You don’t need to create a false equivalency by adjusting the grosses in order to see the difference. You just need to judge each film respective to the historical facts surrounding its creation.
    You’re also forgetting the fact that every comparison you make above relies only on domestic box office, which is (in most cases) less than half of the total gross for a film. So even in “adjusting” the domestic gross, you’re nowhere close to accurately ranking the dollar values of the films.

  38. RudyV says:

    Americans don’t care about the rest of the world. What would be the reaction to a producer who bragged that his flick made twice as much money in Paris than L.A.?

  39. Dunderchief says:

    So, your argument is based on what you think people care about and not the reality of the situation? The old “facts are stupid things” gambit, eh?
    I think this exchange has come to its logical end.

  40. RudyV says:

    Actually, buy sticking to adjusted dollars, I’m saying that facts need to be put front-and-center.
    A pile of 600 million dollar bills is certainly larger than a pile of 200 million dollar bills, but the ones you stack in 1997 are worth much less than the ones you stack in 1939.
    What I’m pointing out is that there seems to be an awful lot of neophilia in the numbers, just so the entertainment press can crank out another “biggest weekend ever!” headline every couple months. They seem completely oblivious of the fact that, for example, The Proposal is “bigger” than Speed only by ignoring inflation. How long would a bank stay in business if their only claim to fame is that they’re raking in more dollars this year than they did 15 years ago?

  41. jeffmcm says:

    While directly adjusting 1965 dollars for 2009 dollars doesn’t include the different viewing platforms, video, etc., it still seems to me that it’s a better, if imperfect, way to compare popularity over time.
    And it helps put the lie to, say, when Michael Bay announced that he was the most financially successful director in film history a couple of years ago, or whatever that was.

  42. RudyV says:

    …and if we stuck to the “there are just too many variables to consider, so we should just forget about it” mindset, then we would have had nothing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of last week.

  43. The Big Perm says:

    I just found some spare change in my pockets. I am more sucessful than Buster Keaton’s The General!
    And there is some anti-foreign money bias out there…I heard people feebly trying that argument in my travels out there and no one ever seemed to be too impressed when someone’s movie was huge in India. Maybe I was hanging out with assholes though, I mean it was LA and all.

  44. Dunderchief says:

    Jeff, I think the problem is exactly what you said: trying to compare popularity over time. I’ll go back to baseball. More people attend baseball games today than they did in the 1920s, but it was without a doubt one of the most popular forms of entertainment then, much more so than it is today, when baseball doesn’t even hold a candle to the popularity of pro-football. There aren’t any raw numbers, adjusted or unadjusted, that would give you a proper indication of popular comparison.
    I agree with you that the system of comparisons is imperfect. That’s why I’m against trying to quantify it at all.

  45. jeffmcm says:

    By the way, I’m glad to read that, according to DP, Drag Me to Hell will be profitable. I hadn’t realized how low the budget was.

  46. jeffmcm says:

    Dunderchief, I don’t believe that the only options should be ‘find the perfect answer’ or ‘do nothing at all’.

  47. Dunderchief says:

    That’s hardly what I was inferring.
    Judging the commercial success of a film respective to the era in which it was made seems, to me anyway, to be a comfortable middle ground to the options you just gave.

  48. jeffmcm says:

    But the point is, there should be a way to compare films from different eras. I don’t care that The Sound of Music sold more tickets than Repulsion. I’m interested in comparing The Sound of Music with Transformers 2.

  49. Dunderchief says:

    Right, I think we all get that (and I fear that this is inevitably a circular discussion), but as I was saying to RudyV, I don’t think it matters if The Sound of Music sold more tickets than Transformers 2 from a modern business perspective.
    If all you want to know is which movie sold more tickets, then adjust away. It is an accurate metric to compare how many butts were in the seats. However, I still don’t think it’s an adequate way to measure the comparable financial success of any movie.

  50. jeffmcm says:

    Yes, this is a circular argument. How The Sound of Music did from a ‘modern business perspective’. That’s not relevant to my specific interest here.

  51. jeffmcm says:

    Sorry, the grammar got screwed up there.

  52. Dunderchief says:

    RudyV, I missed your comment above about what you called “neophilia in the numbers.” And I think you are correct in your assertion that a lot of this is driven by studio-hype and entertainment media corroboration.
    But in your comparison of The Proposal and Speed, I think you are only looking at one side. You say that inflation cannot be ignored in comparing the grosses. But if you are going to inflate Speed’s gross to today’s dollars, shouldn’t you have to prove that Speed would make the same amount of money it made in 1994 if it were to come out today, 15 years later?
    Of course, such a statistic is impossible to prove, which is why I find the whole concept to be very apples-to-oranges and, ultimately, futile.

  53. RudyV says:

    Agreed. I also think the apples-to-oranges comparison should have been blindingly obvious to the USA Today writer (Susan Wloszcyzna) who didn’t think it was odd to claim that a romantic comedy had become a bigger hit than a tentpole action flick.

  54. jasonbruen says:

    I am sure I will get a “no kidding dipsh**”, but everything about the process of a making a movie has to be taken into account when deciding if it is a financial success or not. I am sure that is the underlying statement with the last few posts, but it seems that it got off track just comparing DM grosses. DVD earnings, as DP suggested, do factor in. So does budget. $107M for Watchmen would be great (or a success) if it cost $50M to make. And Sound of Music costing peanuts to make versus $200M for Transformers 2 (or whatever Bay thinks it cost) factors in.
    Secondly, comparing movie grosses by adjusting to inflation doesn’t mean anything today. It’s not as if Warner Bros sat on the $40M of opening weekend for Batman and waited until it became $72M today to spend. The money earned in the past was spent to cover development costs at Warners. Baseball is an adequate comparison. Who knows what Sound of Music would earn if it came out today? Maybe $900 some million, maybe less. Just like Ruth today, who can say. We live in a juiced-up era, with close fences. But we also live in an era where any pitcher can through 95 mph.

  55. jasonbruen says:

    In a round-about way (and wordy way), I was basically trying to spit out what Dundercheif stated in his last post.

  56. jeffmcm says:

    Let me just add that when it comes to people sitting in a theater watching a movie (or at home watching a DVD), nobody cares what a movie’s budget was or how much the studio spent on development.

  57. Dunderchief says:

    That’s not always true, Jeff. I have had many movie-going experiences where the cost of the film was difficult to separate from the creative endeavor (mostly experiences of the “what a waste” variety).
    But even when it is true, it certainly doesn’t negate the realities of a profit-driven filmmaking industry. The entanglement of art and commerce is not something we’re going to unravel with a half-page blog discussion.

  58. jeffmcm says:

    Sure, but my point is that the ordinary filmgoer doesn’t care if a film is profitable or not (except for when they hear about ‘buzz’) or such other inside-baseball things. A ticket to Transformers 2 costs as much as a ticket to Humpday.

  59. Telemachos says:

    Seems to me that what the inflation-adjusted lists are good for is showing, in today’s dollars, how much of a US cultural phenomenon a film was. So THE SOUND OF MUSIC was a much bigger phenomenon and “big deal of 1965-66″ than TRANFORMERS 2 was this year…. in fact, SOM was roughly twice as big a deal.
    The other area where the adjusted lists helps are with relatively recent films that also competed in the DVD/video/overseas market; this is more of a legitimate oranges-to-oranges comparison. For example, RETURN OF THE KING adjusts to around $441 million domestic: basically, it was somewhat bigger than TF2 and in basically the same playing field (although of course the international market varies a lot with the strength of the dollar, new territories opening up, etc).

  60. David Poland says:

    “Universal has always been considered the “6th and least” studio of the majors’
    How old are you EthanG? Seriously… not baiting.

  61. RudyV says:

    Opening weekend figures also exclude quite a few of the confounding variables mentioned, so it seems odd to brush off the $40 mil opening of Batman in 1989 as “merely” 149th largest of all time, when in adjusted dollars it’s equal to $72 mil–quite a respectable figure even for today. Did it open on multiple screens per venue, with a big marketing emphasis put on that very first weekend, just like today? Um, yes.

  62. David Poland says:

    “What would be the reaction to a producer who bragged that his flick made twice as much money in Paris than L.A.?”
    The reaction would be funding his next film (assuming the same variables).
    The reason why Adam Sandler isn’t The Tom Cruise of his generation is that he doesn’t sell much overseas. The reason why Will Smith is this generation’s Schwarzenegger is that he does.
    The reason Brad Pitt is a decade into a run with just one film under $150m worldwide is the overseas market. He is a modest star at home and one of the 3 biggest over there.
    YOU may not care about the rest of the world, but there would be no Harry Potter or Transformers or even The Dark Knight as we know them if it were not for the overseas revenue.
    Domestic box office as the primary definer of a film’s success is for hicks in the sticks. If you are interested in reality, you need to consider more.

  63. David Poland says:

    RudyV – I am completely in agreement with you that the hype machine is insane… but that doesn’t mean that the only alternative is the weird and inaccurate use of tickets sold or adjusted gross.
    The $40 million Batman opening was MASSIVE. Seriously. It was a major, major breakthrough. And the rise of the opening weekend gross since is not just a phenomenon of inflation or ticket prices rising. It is a systematic shift in how revenues are produced.
    But the bottom line is the bottom line. It’s not charity to those who make and hype films.
    A movie like The Hangover, grossing 10 times (or more) what it cost to produce, is a massive success in any era. Star Wars, in its first run, did about 50x cost. 5x more massive.
    And it works in reverse too… do you think that Paramount making a couple of hundred million on an investment of over $300 million and revenues of over a billion is very impressive? It’s a lot of money, but you’re right… it’s about the same at $10 million sometime in the past. And in the context of a studio that spends $750 million a year making movies and another $500m (minimum) selling them, not that overwhelming.
    My point remains… allow for the complexity of it all. Oversimplification makes idiots of us all.

  64. Telemachos says:

    One additional thing to keep in mind — which reinforces how big BATMAN was — is how many theaters they opened in. BATMAN was in just over 2100 theaters…. that’s very very modest today (the biggest blockbusters now open in twice that amount) but was huge back then. It pretty much took over the summer much like DARK KNIGHT did last year, and its $40 million opening was significantly more than the previous weekend record-holder (GHOSTBUSTERS 2’s $29 million, set just a week earlier).

  65. Wrecktum says:

    Ghostbusters 2 was trash.

  66. Telemachos says:

    Shock and surprise: audiences 20 years ago were just as dumb as they are today. :)
    Actually, GHOSTBUSTERS 2’s opening makes a lot of sense — a sequel to a tremendously popular and hugely successful film opening in the summer. But like BATMAN & ROBIN, it fell off quickly (compared to the legs of other 1989 blockbusters).

  67. hcat says:

    “Universal has always been considered the “6th and least” studio of the majors, but this year takes it to another level.”
    Sony was always the also ran studio with the occasional five year spikes (82, 87, 92, 97, 02) and it was only after getting a workable franchise with Spiderman where they able to keep up with the rest of the majors. It was only in the past three or four years that Universal came crashing down in market share, replacing Paramount who would have been stuck in the back of the pack without the Dreamworks deal.

  68. LexG says:

    There is no difference quality-wise between GHOSTBUSTERS 1 AND GB 2.
    The first one is WAY OVERRATED and the second is sort of underrated. Both B-minus, 2-AND-A-HALF star movies with a couple of MINOR chuckles and WHOLE REELS that go by with nary a laugh.
    I grew up on all the SNL, Ramis, Reitman, Landis formative classics… and Ghostbusters has always been sub-Meatballs IMO. A few big laughs, a lot of LAME spots, and totally coasting on that Murray era where he’d do that “zany guy” schtick with the cracking voice and detached party guy demeanor.
    Don’t get me wrong, love Murray and he’s an icon, but he’s gotten much better with age, and all things considered, even though he’s considered God now and Chevy considered a smug prick… I always preferred Chevy’s brand of half-asshole, half-spaz smarm to the early “wild and crazy” Murray.
    Also, Universal is the best studio in the history of the universe, the place that makes awesome gang and crime flicks like Scarface and American Gangster and Fast and Furious and The Kingdom and the Bourne movies and shit that’s all green and edgy and HARDCORE AS FUCK by mainstream bullshit standards… they’ve handily replaced WB as the last bastion of old-school bad-ass crime type shit.

  69. Martin S says:

    I can forecast better than the weather man.
    This has always been about the bigger problem for Uni, namely Zucker’s overall management. Amazing how none of the big mergers has worked save ABC/Disney.

  70. Lota says:

    GB 2 *was* crap Lex in many ways.
    Ghostbusters the first had two major things going for it–
    1) novelty
    2) naivete
    Both those things were missing from GB 2.
    GB 2 had too many ‘in jokes’ and was like a mediocre TV episode, compared to the novelty & naivete of the 1st.
    “you never studied”

  71. Chucky in Jersey says:

    So Universal has a bad summer? U was on a cold streak in 1998 until “Patch Adams” that Xmas. The following summer U had a run of hits — “The Mummy”, “Notting Hill”, “American Pie”, etc.
    Speaking of U it’s a good thing they co-financed “Inglourious Basterds” and hold the international rights. The financially shaky Weinstein Co. has that film in US/Canada. Should Weinstein Co. collapse in the next week or so, could U step in and distribute?

  72. Hopscotch says:

    Sort of my take on Ghostbusters. It’s the all-time king of throw away line movies. The movie is seriously built upon just a handful of zingers, notes, and off-screen dubs.
    “The Flowers are still standing.”
    “No human being would stack books this way.”
    “I think it can hear you Ray.”
    As for Uni, most studios go through bad streaks. I remember Fox went through one in early 2000s that was pretty bad (Titan A.E. anyone?) Uni did have Fast & Furious this spring. I guess Funny People will seal their fate. I have heard mixed things, but I know of other comedies with mixed reviews that have gone on to score big.

  73. Lota says:

    But Hopscotch, the Ghostbusters was genuinely simple and simply funny! People of all ages supposedly (I was too young to remember) loved it–kids to grandparents. It is easy to say in retrospect that they were throw-away lines, but I don;t remember too many other movies being so clued in on the quotable dialog at the time, where people actually remember the lines long after the movie aged. It made an impression. Actually there was torture played for laughs–when Bill Murray was doing his ESP stuff and zapping the guy student but not the student he was lech-ing after.
    I remember fuck-all from Ghostbusters II except Bill Murray’s comment that OScar was named after a weiner and the brief mocking of Vlad and heavy metal. The rest was forgettable in that movie. It did not make an impression.
    Martin said on another thread that the SNLers in 82-85 really got it right and I think that was correct. There were many funny ‘character’ men and women that made comedy great on SNL as a TV show and in the movies they spawned esp. in the early-to-mid 80s.
    The only other comedy with as many fondly quoted lines at that time that are still remembered was SPinal Tap.

  74. Lota says:

    Can someone tell me what the theatrical run window (average) in the USA was for a major movie in 1989 compared to today? I grew up taping movies off cable/TV but I don’t remember when it became a big thing to “own” movies and how that affected movie-watching habits). It makes the big openings of the 80s have a different context of course.
    I mean prior to the internet/DVD which was another wave of change).

  75. jeffmcm says:

    Boxofficemojo says that Batman ran theatrically from June to December in 1989, so apparently a popular movie would run 6 months.
    Remember second-run theaters? Those are basically gone too.

  76. Lota says:

    wow. 6 months. no wonder everyone in school to the last kid would have seen a popular movie in a theater or on HBO/Showtime when I was little.
    were second run theaters those wee run down old downtown street village theaters in big city neighborhoods and main strips in small towns where you could see a movie months after it came out for $3?
    If that is what you mean, yes they are all dead in my area. many of them were torn down (decrepit buildings) or are now live rock or metal or hip hop venues since cheap movies where only 5 patrons would show up weren;t quite enough to pay rents.
    Even fine arts theaters are dropping like flies despite fundraisiers and Universities using them for courses.

  77. Wrecktum says:

    “Boxofficemojo says that Batman ran theatrically from June to December in 1989, so apparently a popular movie would run 6 months.”
    So? Boxofficemojo says that The Dark Knight played for eight months. I don’t see your point.

  78. jeffmcm says:

    Then either BOM is missing data, or The Dark Knight is an outlier (which I think is the case – didn’t it get an awards re-release?). No matter what, I’m sure we can all agree that movies used to last a lot longer in theaters than they used to.
    I’m just answering Lota’s question, no need to get all challengy.

  79. David Poland says:

    As late as 1982, ET was in the Top 10 for 44 weeks. Movies could run almost a year in real first-run theaters, though some second-run crept in as they continued on.
    VHS had just started.
    By 1989, the window was already shortening for VHS. But it was Batman that changed the game by announcing a Thanksgiving VHS release before the summer was even over. And it was a sell-thru, which was not being done very much before then, certainly not with studio hits.
    That shortened the window significantly and Batman’s last million $ weekend was weekend 14. A year before that landmark was weekend 17 for Roger Rabbit.
    When DVD got hot and sell-thru became the big cash cow, the windows got shorter, initially to get DVD cash in within the quarter after release (roughly) and then because there was a sense that DVD was the driver, not the aftermarket. Everything moved faster to a shorted theatrical window and as quick a DVD release as possible. Then they realized that the theatrical money really did matter and that they could jam everything into the first weeks… and that’s where you get The Dark Knight doing $500 million in 7 weeks and pretty much being played out at that point. Batman did almost 20% of its box office after weekend 7… and Dark Knight did about 6% of its total after that. 1988… Roger Rabbit did about a third of its domestic gross after weekend 7.

  80. leahnz says:

    wow, that’s quite fascinating. the times, they are a changing; i often miss movies i really want to see now because they are in the cinema for all of 6 hours and out

  81. LexG says:

    Wasn’t FATAL ATTRACTION like a September release back in 1987?
    Thanks to the aforementioned “dollar theaters,” I think I finally saw that in like April or May of ’88… it was still around on the big screen into the following *summer.*
    Shit, compare that to today where if you suddenly got the itch to finally get around to a two-month old movie like “Wolverine” tomorrow, you probably couldn’t find it within three states.

  82. christian says:

    “Actually there was torture played for laughs–when Bill Murray was doing his ESP stuff and zapping the guy student but not the student he was lech-ing after.”
    That opening scene made me dislike Murray and the film. And I love Murray. It’s the worst of his smug lazy roles. And Ramis and Ackroyd are just straight men. But parts of it are quite cool and stylish. Love that stop-motion animation…

  83. jeffmcm says:

    I disagree, not just because I love that movie, but because Murray has certainly been more ‘smug and lazy’ in several other movies. The Man Who Knew Too Little? Larger Than Life?

  84. The Big Perm says:

    Ackroyd is so not a straight man in that movie. You could say that Ramis is, but you need a straight man who why not?
    Ghostbusters 2 should have been great, if they hadn’t ignored everything that made the first be a good movie. How the FUCK could they open part 2 and say they’re all losers who work children’s birthday parties, when they had saved the world from demons which were captured by tv and seen by millions of witnesses actually in New York? Stupid, shiity screenwriting. Even if the government shut them down, they’d be millionaire many times over with books and talk shows and whatever else.

  85. christian says:

    Let me recant: Ackroyd is great in GB, since he’s clearly the paranormal guru. I love his sincerity. I would have liked more.

  86. The Big Perm says:

    I would agree that Ackroyd and Ramis get a little shortchanged in the movie. But they wrote it, so I guess it’s their fault! Ackroyd never seemed too interested in being the star. Witness also his script for The Blues Brothers, where a lot of times he’s just backup.

  87. christian says:

    Except he dances funnier than Belushi and nails the immortal line: “We’re on a Mission From God.”

  88. The Big Perm says:

    Probably few would agree with me, but I think Ackroyd is funnier than Belushi was.

  89. martin says:

    Interesting, I actually found the early card reading/ESP scene with Murray one of the best in the entire film. It’s those character moments, or just scenes about “people”, that were completely missing from GB2. To me, GB2 is everything that’s wrong generally with sequels, and also whats wrong with MOST blockbusters these days. Too much focus on the cool fake shit, and not enough of the cool real shit, and I’m referring both to CG as well as to artificial/supernatural elements. There were a few decent things in GB2, like the Murray paranormal tv show, but once the first act was over that movie went to hell.

  90. martin says:

    Also, along with Spaceballs, I think GB1 is Rick Moranis best comedic stuff. As I said on another thread, mid 80s got the best out of the SNL and SCTV guys.

  91. LexG says:

    “Too hot to handle, too cold to hold
    They called the Ghostbusters and they’re in control…”
    Bobby Brown >>>> Ray Parker.
    Also GB2 has that song that goes “spirit, some people hear it, some people fear it, some people won’t go near it” and has been lodged in my head since opening day 20 years ago and won’t leave.

  92. martin says:

    True Doug E Fresh song is memorable. The film had some texture, but mostly fell flat. I do have hope that they’ll get these kinds of elements working in 3 and I do think Rogen and crew get it. There are a lot worse ways they could go than with an Apatow feel:

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“Well, actually, of that whole group that I call the post-60s anti-authority auteurs, a lot of them came from television. Peckinpah’s the only one whose television work represents his feature work. I mean, like the only one. Mark Rydell can direct a really good episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ and Michael Ritchie can direct a really good episode of ‘The Big Valley,’ but they don’t necessarily look like The Candidate. But Peckinpah’s stuff, even the scripts he wrote that he didn’t even direct, have a Peckinpah feel – the way I think there’s a Corbucci West – suggest a Peckinpah West. That even in his random episodes that he wrote for ‘Gunsmoke’ – it’s right there.”
~ Quentin Tarantino

“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima