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David Poland

By David Poland

Weekend Estimates by Oh Those Delayed Sequels Klady

Weekend Estimates 2016-10-30 at 10.53.33 AM

Box office writers are forever trying to narrow things down to a trend story. I fight this. But today, it is worth discussing one trend that is very real… and has been real for decades, perhaps starting in the Home Entertainment era with Eddie & The Cruisers… II.

Cable, VHS and then DVD inspired overreach in 1989 and for a long time after. The notion was that a film would build a bigger audience in Home Entertainment and that would create a larger audience for the next in the series. Sometimes, it took. Sometimes, it didn’t. Mostly, it created an upper tier of direct-to-DVD (or Direct-to-Blockbuster in the VHS era).

In the last few years, the new revenue territory that has created the IP Era is international. The idea of finding a new and perhaps bigger audience overseas both extends the life of franchises and has inspired studios to relaunch franchises that in many cases – we are learning – were better off as good memories.

The trend line for all of this began with the Fast & The Furious series, which launched as an oversized success, then fell off domestically on 2 Fast 2 Furious but more than made up for it with an international bump. It wasn’t massive, but it meant that the overall worldwide gross was higher. So the third film experimented with going overseas (Tokyo Drift)… the domestic dropped by half, but the international remained stable (off 12%, back when domestic was seen as a big influence on foreign).

The big leap was making the fourth film, Fast and Furious. Even with the international uptick, Tokyo Drift was the worst performer of the first trio. And everything was trilogy-oriented back then. The expected choice would have been direct-to-DVD with a seriously reduced budget. But instead, they invested in getting Vin Diesel back and the film did almost as much international-only as any of the other films had done worldwide. The title also hit a new domestic high. So on to Fast Five, which more than doubled the international gross from $208m to $426m. Worldwide was $626m, making it a major franchise, on par with Bond or even better.

But international growth wasn’t done. F&F6 went up another 5% internationally. But then Furious 7 broke the billion-dollar line, the new holy grail for studio franchises. And not only did it break it, it broke it on international alone, with $1.16 billion. There was also domestic growth, but it was a side issue in comparison.

A big factor in the story is China, which in the case of F&F, went from $66 million on #6 to $390 million on #7. China, in terms of actual money coming back to studios, worth about half of what other international territories are. But that’s still about $80 million in rentals from one country outside of America. Big money in a low-margin business.

But… when all the wind-up monkeys start banging their cymbals to the same tune, it doesn’t always go so well.

This year, the chickens came home to roost on this trend. There are multiple categories of how these play out.

No Expecting Much Domestic But Hoping To Top Marketing Costs
(Succeeded With: Paddington)
Absolutely Fabulous
Bridget Jones’ Baby

Old IP Hoping That A Big Audience Is Waiting
(Succeeded With: Anchorman 2)
Zoolander 2
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Variations Seeking To Do Worldwide Business Over $400 Million, 30% Domestic Or More
(Succeeded With: Fast & Furious)
The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Independence Day: Resurgence
Jason Bourne

Some successes, some failures. But the dangerous ground is the attempts to re-launch the more expensive titles and to hope they blow up to greater size.

Long discussion short, Inferno joins that last group. The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons are, by far, Ron Howard’s biggest grossing films and the only films of his to do over $200 million internationally. Inferno is already at $132m internationally, no matter how weak the domestic opening. Would Sony prefer that it gross more than $100m domestically? Obviously. But whatever it does here, it looks like $300m-plus worldwide, which means profits.

Of the list of “bigger” films, only Ben Hur failed to get to $100 million internationally. Still, of the six movies listed for 2016, all but three of the seven (Inferno, Jason Bourne, and Warcraft) will lose money.

So is the problem real? Yeah. Is it an infection that affects the whole film business? No.

What jumps out as the most obvious factor. Da Vinci 3 and Bourne both have movie star leads/characters intact. Huntsman dropped Snow White, ID2 lost Will Smith, Ghostbusters flipped (making it a successful Paul Feig comedy but not a successful mega-movie) and Ben-Hur counted on a director’s iconoclastic style, which sold big—once—when he had Angelina Jolie kicking ass. He didn’t have a star to open this one.

This jumps out from the casting of other big films this year. Captain America: Civil War had Iron Man as well as first-ever cameos by Ant-Man and Spider-Man, plus the premiere of Black Panther to add even more value. Suicide Squad barely had Batman… but he was in every ad.

Conversely, X-Men: Apocalypse put the box office exclusively on the shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence. Powerful shoulders, but less so in blue paint.

Then sometimes, you get a new idea with a relatively obscure character that people fall in love with… Reynolds’ Deadpool, as Downey’s Iron Man was before him. Or you get something that may seem played out, like The Jungle Book, that actually delivers something that audiences haven’t seen in this age of supposedly having seen everything.

Or… you get a movie like Warcraft in which the domestic audience just doesn’t care. And the international audience is so strong that you now only get to profit, but you wonder whether they will even bother with the domestic theatrical next time out.

Okay… that was that…

Moonlight‘s expansion is even more impressive than its four-screen/$100k+ number last weekend. $23,940 on 36 is a very impressive number. For reference, last year, Ex Machina expanded to 39 in weekend two and did $20,478… went on to gross $25 million. If Moonlight does over $20 million, people are going to soil their show biz diapers.

The other recent comparison would be The Imitation Game… but that had different variables, in terms of commerciality and as it closed in on Oscar nods, expanded to 1566 screens. Moonlight isn’t going on 1500 screens. Ever. So the $90 million fantasy is just that. But still, huge win for A24, which also made hay this year with The Witch ($25m) and the abandoned The Lobster, which got to $8.7m on a very short turnaround once they picked it up.

Only other indie in the $10k-plus arena is Jim Jarmusch’s Iggy Pop & The Stooges doc, Gimme Danger.

17 Responses to “Weekend Estimates by Oh Those Delayed Sequels Klady”

  1. Joshua K. says:

    That should say “Madea” instead of “Medea.”

  2. EtGuild2 says:

    It’s depressing to see some blowback for “Moonlight” from the black community…but it’s hilarious that instead the defenders of “”black masculinity”” are rushing out to see a movie starring a man in a dress.

    As for “Moonlight” itself, it’s running two weeks ahead of “Room” in gross, another A24 release with a similar date/release pattern. CAROL and DANISH GIRL, the last two high-profile LGBT prestige releases, are definitely in range.

    PEREGRINE is actually Tim Burton’s highest grossing movie of all-time outside of very well-established properties (Apes, Alice, Willy Wonka, Sleepy Hollow). Pity about that production budget.

  3. John E. says:

    …and that was the last time a Dan Brown novel became a big-screen movie.

  4. EtGuild2 says:

    Question…is MECHANIC RESURRECTION an actual movie, or some kind of structural investment scheme? It looks like it became Jason Statham’s top grossing movie as a single lead this weekend… ever. I can’t begin to comprehend how that’s possible. This may occupy a 4th category in your list:

    Sequels that Exist only as Shell Frameworks for Offshore Tax Schemes, whereupon individuals are ushered into theatres by Chinese Communist Party goon squads:
    (Mechanic 2)

  5. Sideshow Bill says:

    You could have put Blair Witch on that second list, Dave.

  6. Ray Pride says:

    Five-foot-six Jason Statham’s big in China.

    Wouldn’t American theater chains eventually tire of studios supplying movies that draw audiences only in other countries?

  7. Ray Pride says:

    Who besides the always-superior Armond White has spoken against Moonlight? (“When [he encounters] someone from his past, it’s scored to the anachronistic Barbara Lewis r&b hit “Hello, Stranger.” But the scene might have been richer had Black… reacted to a less maudlin pop artifact (Sylvester’s “Mighty Real,” Eddie Kendricks’s “Girl, You Need a Change of Mind,” LL Cool J’s “Jingling Baby”) that stimulated black gay consciousness.”

  8. EtGuild2 says:

    I’ve run into some pretty sad and heavy bashing on the film’s Facebook page and on Twitter on how it’s an “attack on black masculinity,” with some women going to far as to call it a call to arms to defend their men. It’s not “Ghostbusters” level by any means, but it’s a reminder that niche community social mores have a ways to go.

    And to be fair on MECHANIC 2 internationally, it’s done bizarrely well outside of China as well. Subtract the Chinese gross and it’s still on par with MECHANIC 1 and TRANSPORTER 2’s overall totals. I expect Mechanic 3 will be the first threequel ever released where the first film didn’t hit $30 million domestic, and the second dropped 25%.

  9. Ray Pride says:

    Wonder how soon a Moonlight-bashing “Slate Pitch” makes it way onto that site.

  10. Pete B. says:


    Just out of curiosity, could you expand on what you mean by “… it’s a reminder that niche community social mores have a ways to go.” What qualifies as ‘niche’?

  11. EtGuild2 says:

    I would qualify minority urban residents who attend historically black mainline or evangelical protestant churches as “niche.”

  12. Bitplaya says:

    @EtGuild2 While I don’t share the sentiment I know somewhere Nate Parker is seething that story of gay love is getting more critical acclaim than his Braveheart play. Moonlight is engineered to get white academy votes. It’s also apparently a good movie too.

    I think Parker and others who make historical plays miss a big thing. Black people have no desire for movies as medicine. Like none. Historical movies about the Black experience are almost always painful. Nobody is looking for that. We can get that shit on the news.

  13. EtGuild2 says:

    I’m not sure that’s always true, having seen 12 YEARS and THE BUTLER in nearly all-black audiences. But I agree that’s mostly the case, and that’s a great point. I always wonder why movies like KICKS and GIMME THE LOOT don’t perform better, given they’re set on the streets, but are thematically escapist. Maybe it just isn’t enough.

    On MOONLIGHT’s quality, I definitely need to see it again…it’s very, very good. Is it significantly better than other movies that similarly address its themes, most recently MY BROTHER THE DEVIL (which in part traces the gay coming-of-age of a UK-Persian gangbanger)? Not so sure.

  14. chris says:

    What on earth is going on with “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk?” Seems like Sony is just dumping it. No screenings, no pr at all in some markets?

  15. Ray Pride says:

    $40 million isn’t what it used to be.

  16. Hcat says:

    I would think between the two of them Birth is more engineered for Academy votes than Moonlight. Moonlight seems just as well done and a slightly larger undertaking than his debut, but nothing about it seems to scream OSCAR like (insert Weinstein title here).

    Really they represent two entirely different ways to swing for the fences in the indie sphere. Moonlight being very fortunate to be hooked up with A24 which has a AMC in 2011 vibe going for it where a few million devotees are anxiously willing to watch everything that is coming next.

  17. Movieman says:

    Only a troll like Armond could bitch about a film using Barbara Lewis’ “Hello, Stranger,” simply one of the most gorgeous pop songs ever recorded.
    He was probably just pissed that Chiron doesn’t grow into a self-hating gay/conservative Republican.

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