By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Weekend Estimates by Klady Games
Big news this weekend… the box office is 79% up over last year… put ALL of your money into domestic theatrical NOW!!!
With all due respect, there have been twenty $100m openings in the history of the movies. Every one of them has been in the last 10 years. Nine of them have been in the last 3 years.
Is $153.6m (or slightly more) for the opening of The Hunger Games an amazing feat, the #3 opening ever no matter what the standard? Absolutely. But without getting into the “adjusted numbers,” which I think are bullshit rhetorically, this specific number is a product not only of the massive popularity of the books, but of the front-loading and accordioning of theatrical.
The first $50m opening weekend was in 1995. The movie was Batman Forever. This set a new standard and between 1995 and 2001, there were 17 films with opening grosses of over $50m… or 2.8 films a year.
The next big landmark was another sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which scored a $72m opening in 1997. But that was an outlier, The closest any film got to it in those six years was $68.5m for the Planet of the Apes reboot.
And then, the next big leap… 2001… Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone… from the $72m record to a $90.3m record for the first Harry Potter movie. Just a year later, another massive leap… the first Spider-Man… $114.8m.
Spider-Man was a combination of huge demand and the largest number of actual screens – not theater count – in history. Accordioning. Multiplexes, which spurred the increase in opening weekend grosses through the 90s, were now willing to expand the number of screens playing a film on opening weekend to numbers heretofore thought impossible. There might be a deal, for movies like Batman or Jurassic, where in, say, a 14 screen complex, the films would run on 4 or even 5 screens for the first couple of weekends. With Potter and Spider-Man, you might see as many as 8 or 9 screens out of 14 running these films- not necessarily during all the day’s time periods – on opening weekend.
Of course, it would be 2 years before the next $100m+ opening. Shrek 2 became not only the 2nd biggest opening of all time with $108m, but it ended up being the 2nd highest grossing domestic film ever, behind only the uber-leggy Titanic of the previous era.
A year later, 2005: Year Of The False Slump, it was the sixth Star Wars movie and for the 1st time, a second $100m opening in the same year… Potter 4.
In 2006, there were, again, two $100m openings, this time both in the same season (summer). There was also a new step up… Pirates 2 bested Spider-Man’s still-record opening of $114m by just over $21 million.
Then, in 2007, we saw the utter mastery of accordioning. The Triple Tri-quel Summer. THREE $100m+ openings in four weekends. This included Spider-Man 3 setting a new opening record with $151m… a $15m leap over Pirates 2, just the summer before. (Shrek The Third was at $121m and Pirates 3 at $115m.)
There’s never been anything quite like the Triple Tri-quel Summer before or since. Perhaps one reason for that is that none of the three films was able to parlay those openings into more than $336m domestic… which ain’t chicken feed… but a step backwards in gross for 2 of the 3 franchises. This suggested that there was a glass ceiling… not on openings, but on legs when so much franchise power was placed in one short month.
In 2008, The Dark Knight set a new record for opening… but not a shocking opening. $7m ahead of the previous summer’s Shrek 3, this was the fourth of six Batman films to open by breaking the previous record for opening weekend. The numbers seem antiquated now, 23 years after the first film broke the $40m record, truly crushing the record set just a weekend earlier by Ghostbusters II of $29.5m. Spider-Man‘s $24m leap would be of a similar proportion 13 years later.
Prior to The Dark Knight‘s massive record-breaking opening, two films in history had opened to more than $125m. In the 44 months since, there have been six… three in the last 8.5 months alone.
Thing is… none of this is easy or a gimme. I’m not saying that at all. The Hunger Games is only the third non-sequel in history to open to over $100 million. Spider-Man and Alice in Wonderland, two storied literary franchises. That’s it. Not Avatar, not Potter, not Batman, not Shrek, not Star Wars, not Transformers. So this is not a small thing.
But tribute (pun unintended) must be paid not only to the novels that spawned this craze and perhaps not at all to the movie which will find its legs in the weeks to come, but to the business practices of distributors and exhibitors that make a $150m weekend realistically possible. Personally, I don’t think front-loading is a great practice for the overall business of making and distributing and making profits on movies. But I respect the conceit that now allows for so many franchises to ring up these massive opening weekends.
I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see The Dark Knight Rises out-open THG. No matter what, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which TDKR doesn’t open to at least $135m, Joker or not. And Twilight: The End also seems to be in the sure over-$135m category, I don’t see any others at this level.
However, 2010 is the current record-holder for $100m openings, with four. Well, the count above is already at three. I like Amazing Spider-Man to turn that corner as well. And it is easy to forget that the last Lord of The Rings film came at a time when the highest opening number ever was still Spider-Man’s $114m. That number has now increased by a 50%. If The Hobbit can improve on Return of the King’s opening by that same 50%, that’s an $108m opening. There has never been a $100m opening in December before. But there had never been a $100m opening in November before 7 years ago. There have been 4 in those 7 years.
Again… being the third biggest domestic opening of all-time and one of just ten $120m+ domestic openings of all-time cannot and should not be an achievement that is diminished or discounted by anyone. But I believe in perspective. And giant numbers sometimes take one’s breath away. For me, a leap of 20% over the previous record – whatever that record – is breathtaking. Anything less than that, just great.
Might I also point out before I go that of the twenty $100m+ domestic openers, only THREE are in 3D. This might seem like an unfair thing to point out, as the 3D crazy is only a couple of years old. But seven openings over $100m since Avatar… and again, only three were in 3D, only Potter’s finale scoring with an open of over $117m.