By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
20 Weeks Of Summer: The New Normal?
It’s been a weird summer.
There have been 37 films released on 1000 screens or more. Only 1 of those films failed to get to $10m at the domestic box office. 33% of the films grossed $100m or more domestic. 43% of the films were between $25 million and $100 million.
The two grossers from non-studio distributors that were in that $25m-plus group were Earth to Echo (Relativity) and Chef (Open Road). But it is worth noting that Echo launched on 3230 screens and Chef, which launched on 6, never got to more than 1298 screens.
Indies were in the majority in the under-$25m group of 10 films (I’m including Expendables 3 and The Hundred-Foot Journey in the over $25m group). Two Lionsgate, two Weinstein, two from newcomer Clarius, one each from IFC, Roadside, and studio dependents Searchlight and TriStar.
Five films that launched in limited release (each under 7 screens) have gotten to $10m domestic theatrically. In 3 of those cases, distribution expanded at some point to over 1000 screens. The other two are Boyhood and Belle, neither of which has hit the 775 screen mark.
But let’s get back to the new normal…
Every single film in the domestic and worldwide Top Seven for this summer will have grossed at least $500 million and cost at least $150 million.
The only movie released this summer which cost over $150 million that won’t gross $500 million-plus is Edge of Tomorrow. It will “just” gross $370 million, which makes it the #9 film worldwide for the summer.
The film that stopped the string of $150 million-plus movies at the Top 7 domestically is 22 Jump Street, which was the biggest “cheap” hit of the year with $190 million domestic and $304 million worldwide on a studio-claimed $50 million budget. It beat worldwide #6/domestic #9 How To Train Your Dragon 2 domestically, though Dragon 2 did $235m more worldwide.
So there were 9 films costing over $150 million… and 8 of the 9 will have scored better than $500 million worldwide by summer’s end (Guardians is the one still working to get there).
Looking back at last summer, there were (at least) nine $150 million budget releases and the results look a little less attractive. Only 6 films got to $500 million worldwide last year. On the other hand, the highs were higher ($1.22 billion last summer to 1.05 billion this summer… and a 2nd film at $970m million ww to this summer’s 2nd best $744m).
But what corporate studios seek is not the maximum profit from movies, but the most stable business model possible that leads to predictable, repeatable profits.
This was the same issue with sell-thru DVD. By trying endlessly to frontload movies to maximize the first few weekends so that the DVD window could be shortened, they left tens of millions in theatrical revenue on the table… per big movie, not overall. Hundreds of millions each year. But the return from DVD was so massive that it became the much higher priority. The focus on increasing DVD sales, including quickly inflating marketing budgets, was first priority… until the bubble burst.
In Summer 2012, there were 9 movies with a cost of over $150 million. Only six grossed $500m ww or better. Again, the highs were higher (Avengers and Dark Knight 3), but three of those $150m+ movies made less than $400m worldwide… and one of them is getting a sequel!
Media keeps getting distracted by their perceived shiny objects – overall domestic grosses, individual achievements, and the $300 million domestic total that eluded every film this summer – and forgets what the reality of this business is. Making money. And not losing money. A big fat hit looks great on the cover of the annual report and can even drive revenue in other divisions. But corporations love stability… incremental growth… predictability.
But it gets better!
How many movies this summer do you suppose cost (at least, as admitted) between $50 million and $150 million? Five. Last summer? Nine. The summer before? Ten.
The four this summer were (from least expensive to most); 22 Jump Street, Planes: Fire & Rescue, Into The Storm, Hercules, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And the range of grosses on these films are from $94 million to $304 million. Two are guaranteed to be profitable, one is borderline but a merchandise franchise (Planes) and the only two where there is any real chance of a loss are Hercules and Into The Storm.
So… of all 14 films that cost over $50 million released by majors this summer, only two are likely to suffer small losses, Edge of Tomorrow and Hercules and one is likely to take a decent-sized writedown.
And films under $50 million?
The majors and their dependent arms released 20 such films. There are some money losers. But there are some cash cows too. The Fault in Our Stars, Neighbors, and Lucy. Blended and Tammy to a lesser extent.
There are some smaller budget films that will, indeed, lose money. But not a lot. And not the majority.
I must admit, I am still chewing on all of this. Has the industry landed almost exactly where it wants to be? Obviously, more is always better. But there isn’t any real pain at the majors this summer. And all of the majors have hits, with Universal being the only one not to have a $300 million ww movie… but making money on every film except Endless Love and the borderline A Million Ways To Die In The West, which was primarily funded outside of the studio and hitting well with Neighbors, Lucy, The Purge: Anarchy.
Have we come to the place where companies investing $300m plus in production and marketing can be comfortable that 88% of the films made at that price will return over $500 million at the box office alone? Because that’s a big deal.
Or is this summer an illusion, singing the siren song to drive big spenders to their doom? Remember, in the next three years, studios are planning 6 – 8 comic book movies every year with budgets in excess of $150m… and that is before getting to all the other big, expensive films in other genres, including 3-5 animated movies with these big budgets every year.
This is the question…