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David Poland

By David Poland

Categorizing The 2016 Box Office (To-Date)

The annual whining about the end of theatrical is in full force… and as wrong as ever. Ironically, the biggest threat to theatrical box office is currently the Murdoch brothers, who have expressed an interest in pushing the day-n-date issue yet again. (So far, every experiment has failed miserably.) The big studio fantasy about collapsing the windows and coming out ahead is, in my opinion, simply wrong because it is not a math equation… it is the nature of how content is consumed. Theatrical is the only significant differentiator even now… and it’s only going to become more so.

But that is not the point of this piece.

In looking at the numbers for the Top 50 films of the year worldwide to date, I noticed that they fall pretty nearly into seven categories.

1. Animated Movies – $4.31b
2. Comic Book Movies – $4.08b
3. Sequels – $3.25b
4. Reboots – $2.17b
5. Originals (even if sourced) – $1.88b
6. Foreign-driven – $1.42b
7. Horror/Extreme Thriller – $381.6m

I am making category judgements here. Zootopia, for instance, is an original AND animated. Same with Deadpool. The Jungle Book is kinda animated, kinda rebooted, etc. But I don’t think there will be a lot of serious arguments with my classifications.

The biggest challenge to classify is Warcraft, which is not a comic book, is not animated, is a domestic movie though it did just under 90% of its business overseas. I put it in with the originals… Because, really, it is. It is the biggest budget in the group and the highest grosser as well, even though it couldn’t get to $50m domestic. Still, an oddball.

Comic Book Movies are the top per-title draw, with just over $800m per on only five titles. But, as you know, they are also (with rare exceptions) the most expensive movies being made.

There wer eight animated releases going into this weekend. The top 5 average $750 million per film, which is competitive with and more profitable than the Comic Book category.

These two businesses are separate from the rest of the industry. They, with just 13 titles, represent almost half the revenue of the industry.

But that leaves about $9 billion on the ticket sales table for every other niche. This is not table scraps. This is not a starvation diet. Would most intelligent adults be happier if the revenue ratio leaned more towards originals and indie and quality in general? Sure. But let’s not go insane with the pitchforks and torches.

Of course, a look at the 11 originals that made the Top 50 (to date) is not going to encourage critical minds. Only Sully, The BFG, Central Intelligence, and (just barely) Bad Moms are “fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes.

Four of six of the reboot group were rated “fresh.” Only three of the 12 sequels were “fresh,” (Neighbors 2 only by the skin of its teeth). Comic book movies? Two of five were “fresh.”

Underrepresented in my list of the Top 50 worldwide is the Horror/Extreme Thriller group. Those films don’t generate the $90 million that would get it to the bottom of this group. But they are profitable a great deal of the time.

I was particularly impressed about how much money there is in films that don’t hit in the U. S. 99.4% of the grosses for those five films were  from outside the U.S. And the 5 films averaged $283 million in gross. That outdoes sequels, originals, and horror on average. It is worth noting that two of those five are sequels and one is from the Asian Spielberg (or Disney if you prefer), Stephen Chow.

For the “Woe is We”ers, if you look at the 11 originals, you’ll find that three come from independents and three more from lower-budget WB arm New Line. So the argument that studios are out of the original non-comic/non-animation business is buoyed. On the other hand, if you look back at 2000, when X-Men was the only big comic book movie, there were still only 14 originals (as I have classified them today) and four of those were from non-majors.

Here’s the list. You can chew on it yourself for a while…

TOP 50 AS OF SEPT 2016

16 Responses to “Categorizing The 2016 Box Office (To-Date)”

  1. Heather says:

    I’d put 10 Cloverfield in the original group.

  2. EtGuild2 says:

    Given WORLD OF WARCRAFT has made more money in its medium than THE FORCE AWAKENS, I’d be hard pressed to call it an original. It might just be best to lump it in with THE MERMAID as an “international play,” despite the Hollywood production. KUNG FU PANDA 3 would fall in there too. TRANSFORMERS 5 might qualify there too. NYSM3 and ICE AGE 6 if they get made. A category for “these wouldn’t get made if American box office was a main factor.”

    The main box office trend that is eye popping from a North American perspective remains that yawning gap between #8 and #9. Is anything going to fall between $200 million and $300 million this entire year? I’d wager on MOANA, DR STRANGE…and that’s it. What about between $175-$325 million? Maybe BEASTS at the high end and SING/TROLLS at the low end? It’s just a very strange phenomenon that plays into the Rothman quote featured on the sidebar that “when audiences are in, they’re in,” but there is no longer a floor.

  3. Spacesheik says:

    David, good article as always. I’m just curious why ‘Independence Day'(& to a lesser extent ‘Cloverfield’) are classified as reboots and not sequels.

  4. Geoff says:

    Dave good write-up but you can really keep just ignoring adjustments for inflation at this point?

    Weekend box office has now reported in the mainstream for more than 35 years now – just going back within that sample of time, there is a definite downward trend in overall ticket sales that has to be concerning for the industry. These aren’t apples-to-orange comparisons like say Gone With the Wind vs. Titanic…..we’re talking films from within the same franchises now even.

    You look at this chart on Box Office Mojo it’s pretty obvious that overall attendance at movie theaters pretty much peaked around 15 years ago and has been stalling ever since:

    From the early ’90’s until about 2013, the summer box office was routinely selling well over 500 million tickets to often around 600 million tickets…..each of the last three summers has barely exceeded 500 million tickets, that means there has been less overall to go around.

  5. Steve D. says:

    Have to agree with Geoff. Inflation is the elephant in the room here.

    You can only raise ticket prices so much to compensate for falling attendance.

  6. EtGuild2 says:

    I’m not sure if the great inflation debates pre-dated your time here, but good luck engaging on that…it’s an issue that was beaten to death on this blog. I’m not sure that it’s gotten any more alarming in the past 10 years.

    Inflation has slowed down recently. We went through an alarming period between 2005-2010, when prices went up 22% partly as a result of 3D and LieMax. That was when the inflation argument was really going on, and I thought we’d be seeing $9.50 averages by now looking at the trend-line, and the 3D craze reaching levels of insanity where Scorsese said even PRECIOUS should have been shot in the format. But since 2010, the increase has been cut in half, and is more sustainable. We’ve also seen the number of major studio movies decline significantly recently, with Disney, Sony, Fox and Paramount all tightening their slates from 10 years ago (WB and Universal are the exceptions). Dave is right in pondering whether the reliance on jumbo-budget tentpoles is the real specter on the horizon…5 or 6 years ago, I’d have said unsustainable inflation, but Paramount is really suffering as a result of releasing only 12 flicks a year with an average price tag in the high 8 figures.

  7. Geoff says:

    Nope Etguild, I have been on this blog since the beginning in the “Hot Button” days and I remember those debates – Dave has always been dismissive of even considering inflation as a factor, not sure why.

    One thing that I will say in his defense of that stance is that NOBODY is reporting the BUDGETS for these films adjusted for inflation and that makes it more difficult to compare.

    For instance when Godzilla (2014) opened and eventually did about $200M domestic, there were a few columnists that were quick to point out it actually didn’t sell as many tickets as the ’98 version and it didn’t – adjusted for 2016 dollars, Godzilla ’98 made $251M and Godzilla ’14 made $208M. However…..Godzilla ’14 cost $160M in 2014 dollars while Godzilla ’08 cost $130M in 1998 dollars (which is absurd when you think about it) – that’s a BIG difference there, no mention of it.

  8. brack says:

    I’m not sure what the point of figuring out adjusted for inflation dollars when it comes to budget and/or profitability, but the newer Godzilla was only $30m more than the ’98 version, and way more profitable on the domestic and international fronts. The idea of figuring out if more tickets were sold or not is something that ultimately doesn’t matter.

  9. EtGuild2 says:

    Yeah I think it only matters in situations where you reach a tipping point with pricing, and a recession takes out the bottom from the industry because you won’t simply pay $35 for mommy, daddy, sissy and brothy to see a 2D picture without snacks in a climate where *free* streaming exists.

  10. Geoff says:

    Speaking of budgets, did Summit REALLY spend over $150 million on Deepwater Horizon?!? Who would think to give Peter Berg that much money again after Battleship? :)

  11. Bulldog68 says:

    I don’t think it’s that Peter Berg was a bad decision, if that $150m is true, then it was a bad decision to spend that kind of money on this kind of film. Where is the history that this kind of film can do $300m in business for this to even see some kind of profit? Or even being released in September where the highest grossing film is still Crocodile Dundee from 20 years ago at $174m.

    When you have to break box office records for your movie to turn a profit, you’ve spent too much money. Regardless of the Director attached, this film would have to be something really special and strike some sort of chord with the American public for it to be a hit. Because I don’t think international audiences will be lining up for this. I like all the players involved so I hope I’m wrong.

  12. Geoff says:

    “When you have to break box office records for your movie to turn a profit, you’ve spent too much money. Regardless of the Director attached, this film would have to be something really special and strike some sort of chord with the American public for it to be a hit. Because I don’t think international audiences will be lining up for this. I like all the players involved so I hope I’m wrong.”

    You make a good point Bulldog – even if SPIELberg was the director, this is a very questionable decision.

  13. Bulldog68 says:

    And it was proven just recently that even Spielberg isn’t bullet proof. I had pegged BFG of at least being a $125m hit.

  14. Stella's Boy says:

    And Miss Peregrine cost $110 million. Two really expensive movies for late September. Also, Tim Burton said political correctness ruined The Brady Bunch and I think he was being serious.

  15. Geoff says:

    Yeah but I can see Miss Peregrine doing pretty well overseas.

  16. Stella's Boy says:

    True. Dark Shadows did pretty well internationally.

The Hot Blog

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin