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David Poland

By David Poland

“What’s IT All About, Beee Ohhhh?!”

it money

This is what changed about box office and here is when it changed…

People will go see a movie they really want to see on any date in massive numbers. Passion of the Christ. February 25, 2004. $83 million opening weekend.

Here are other titles that have made Hollywood reconsider release-dating since…

Ice Age: The Meltdown, March 31, 2006, $68 million

300, March 9, 2007, $71 million

Fast & Furious, April 3, 2009, $71 million

Paranormal Activity, September 25, 2009, platform opening

The Twilight Saga: New Moon, November 20, 2009, $143 million

Alice in Wonderland, March 5, 2010, $116 million

The Lorax, March 2, 2012, $70 million

The Hunger Games, March 23, 2012, $153 million

Avengers, May 4, 2012, $207 million

The LEGO Movie, February 7, 2014, $69 million

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, April 4, 2014, $95 million

Guardians of the Galaxy, August 1, 2014, $94 million

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, December 18, 2015, $248 million

Fifty Shades of Grey, February 7, 2016, $85 million

Deadpool, February 12, 2016, $132 million

Furious 7, April 3, 2016, $147 million

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, March 25, 2016, $166 million

Suicide Squad, August 5, 2016, $134 million

Beauty and the Beast, March 17, 2016, $175 million

It, September 8, 2017, $123 million

January and October are now the only months not to have $60 million domestic 3-day openings. (Even if you count American Sniper‘s first wide 3-day, in weekend 4, January and October are still the only months with no $90m+ openings.)

You’ll notice the non-franchise pictures sticking out. 300. The Lorax. The Lego Movie. Fifty Shades of Grey. And now, It.

These movies (and some others, like Deadpool) made a lot of their own gravy. Things that are true about their successes do not translate to other movies. Of course, there is a lot of gray in that. For instance, was Logan‘s success play off of Deadpool or was it so different that it hit a completely different vein (in the same time period).

This analysis is not meant to diminish It. Nor to bury it. The film is a legitimate phenomenon. But it is not the first… not even this year.

And it is not the savior of anything… not even Warner Bros, which has had a nice run of 4 legit hits in their last 5 releases.

Media needs to get out of the old paradigm of how previous media reported box office. Summer and Holiday season are still uniquely important. But it doesn’t much effect the WB bottom line whether that have a massive hit in August or September (detailed cash flow issues, yes, but put those aside for the moment)… but it matters a lot in how the industry is covered.

Beauty & The Beast doesn’t not matter because it was released in Q1. Nor does international box office because we don’t get a clean set of numbers from the studios every week like we do for the domestic box office.

There are many theories about what connected about It. I don’t deny any of them. But I also don’t think I have heard of any combination that can be repeated in any real way either. Warners has had well marketed flops. Lots of Stephen King movies.

Now, did the movie come out of the tracking gate very strong and then build on that sense of a huge hit coming, more by the nature of audiences than by any unique marketing or publicity effort? Yeah. Seems fair to me. But how did it get into the gate at $70 million, which would have made it a record breaker even at that number? And did WB screw up by not flipping the film with Annabelle: Creation and having the film open on August 11? No one can credibly deny that the scheduling makes clear that WB felt A:C was a stronger play (before it came on tracking).

This is central to the nature of the $100m+ opening segment of the film industry which is now very much a part of regular order.

Remember, the first $100 million opening domestic 3-day in the history of cinema was just 15 years ago, in 2002. In 2015, there were 6. In 2016, there were 8. We have already had 5 this year.

And if everyone is being honest – heaven forbid – there is no rhyme or reason to be sorted out between mast of these numbers. No one expects The Spanish Inquisition… or a $248 million opening for Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December.

Yes, I know there are people who predicted it. There are enough voices out there that everything is predicted. And then the 90% of the time they are wrong, no one cares, but we will forever here about the rare moment “they” are right. Yawn.

I am talking about people with a vested interest or who cover this stuff professionally. This is not an insult to the amateur anglers. But with a professional interest, it is not supposed to be such a guessing game. History is taken seriously. And when it comes time to disregard history, you move on… can’t linger in the past, even though it will most often show the answers of the future.

This is the super-tricky thing about analyzing this industry. Movies are not widgets. And I am not saying that because I love movies (though I do and movies are not widgets that way either). Every movie is a new product launch with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of variables that may or way not get the movie where it wants to go commercially (or aesthetically… but not the conversation at hand).

Four of the six top worldwide grossers last year were movies about animals featuring anthropomorphic animals. Finding Dory, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and The Secret Life of Pets.

Now you do the analysis…

Domestic Opening

Finding Dory, $133m
Secret Life of Pets, $104m
Jungle Book, $103m
Zootopia, $75m

Domestic Total
Finding Dory, $486m
Secret Life of Pets, $368m
Jungle Book, $364m
Zootopia, $341m

International Total
Zootopia, $683m
Jungle Book, $603m
Finding Dory, $542m
Secret Life of Pets, $507m

Worldwide Total
Finding Dory, $1.03b
Zootopia, $1.02b
Jungle Book, $967m
Secret Life of Pets, $876m

These are, obviously, all great successes. But can anyone legitimately differentiate what separates each? One thing that sticks out is that there seems more interested in domesticated animals in the North American while the rest of the world is somewhat more interested in wild animals.

Okay… interesting. But how does one parse that out? And can it be repeated?

Talking Animals of 2016
Total – $3.9 billion – avg $974m

Superhero Movies of 2016
Total – $4.8 billion – avg $796m

Then look at it this way…

Superhero Totals Since 2012
2012 – $3.7 billion (3 – avg $1.1b)
2013 – $2.9 billion (4 – avg $736m)
2014 – $3.6 billion (5 – avg $720m)
2015 – $2.1 billion (3 – avg $698m)
2016 – $4.8 billion (6 – avg $796m)
2017 to-date – $3.1 billion (4 – avg $780m)

Last year was the biggest grossing year for superhero movies ever. Yet, the average worldwide gross per movie is extremely consistent since the blow-up year of 2012, when Marvel’s Avengers, Batman, and Spider-Man were all in play.

So since the average gross of talking animal movies topped the best average in the last 5 years for superhero movies, will Hollywood revert to all talking animal movies? Of course not. But if the media figured out that stat, this would be covered as an inevitability.

Thing is, I think you can be pretty sure that talking animal movies will turn up a lot in the next few years. And most of them will die an ugly box office death.

Stats are a dangerous thing in the hands of people who don’t know what questions those stats should be trying to support.

This also brings us around to the Rotten Tomatoes discussion, wherein Captain America: Civil War gets the highest RT score of the superhero movies and grosses the most… but second-best RT scorer, Doctor Strange, is the 5th highest grosser. What does it mean? Not much… but that is my point.

Deconstructing how things went down on any one movie is virtually impossible from the outside. The takes from inside the group that made the film are, like any high school, variable depending on who is telling the story. Then start trying to qualify the decisions, good and bad, that were made along the way and you realize that “truth” is an illusion.

This is most true of great success and great failure.

Toby Emmerich was quoted somewhere about It, saying something to the effect of “I am gratified by how this has been embraced by the audience.” And that is about as honest a comment as you will find because he isn’t pretending that his vision was of this degree of success, he is not pretending that the bumps in the road weren’t there, and he is not crediting some magic trick done by marketing.

I have believed, going back to the early days of $100 million openers, that every film that wildly over-opens by expected standards starts by being handled in the standard and smart way the marketing departments at every major are capable of delivering (and do regularly). Then, something happens that is really beyond the control of the handlers. And a second level of nourishing and building on the out-sized passions of the audience then occurs. Maybe a third.

Mind you, the explosive nature of this event is mostly happening and changing within a six week period.

And then you have this explosion. And everyone wants to understand why it happened. Why is this movie different than all the other movies?

All the machinery and money and effort and love that goes into getting people to buy a ticket to your Movie X over their Movie Y… all real professionals who are real smart behind the wheel… and the answer is, “Ticket buyers wanted to see it.”

The horror business has been hugely successful in recent years, really starting with Paranormal Activity (in this generation of business) and its terribly clever campaign by Paramount. (Mind you… couldn’t open Ghost in the Shell while another studio had a shock win with Lucy… go figure. Did one group get dumb and the other get Lucy-ed? Of course not.)

Jason Blum, who has become the master of the genre for his generation, has has a 2017 as surprising as It‘s openings. He has made 3 or 4 movies every year since Paranormal and the majority have been profitable hits. But this year, suddenly, after 6 years without a $100m domestic grosser, boom. Split does $138 million domestic and Get Out does $176 million domestic.

What happened? What changed?

And in terms of It, there has been only one horror movie since Get Out, all the way back in February/March, Annabelle: Creation, which carried the weight and advantage of being the 4th in a series (cousins once removed of Mr. Blum). So is that it? A happy buzz from Get Out leading to a 6-month hunger for the next “original” horror film that looked good and It was that?

In the end, I think I feel about the handling of these unexpected mega-openers like parents who give birth to prodigies. Yes, they are capable of breaking the child and killing the gift. But that is rare. Most likely (in this case), they will be responsible and caring and do their best to create the best possible environment for the gift to blossom and grow. And then, when there is success, they will brad on it and enjoy the new cars and houses that their hugely successful child is likely to offer out of love.

These are career-making and career-saving events. Like the director or star of a massive hit, the behind-the-scenes players also get a boost and a pass for a nice period of time. Some will effectively built on the win. Others will quickly fade. Because the real answer to these phenomena is, I think, that it is almost always more than the sum of It‘s parts.

Except when it’s not.

6 Responses to ““What’s IT All About, Beee Ohhhh?!””

  1. Bulldog68 says:

    Just two quick observations as I need to read this a little more in depth, but I would think Hannibal in Feb 02 2001, and I am Legend, Dec 14, 2007 would qualify as well.

    When I have some time I’ll comment further. Good write up.

  2. Warren says:

    More than four talking animal movies came out in 2016 so $974 million is not the talking animal average. Kung Fu Panda 3, The Angry Birds Move, Storks, and Ice Age: Collision Course all came out in 2016 and there might have been others beyond that.

  3. hcat says:

    One of the fun things about watching this industry is that phenomena is part of standard operating business.

    I think putting Annabelle first was the right move, having It open just after Dark Tower tanked would have possibly lowered the excitement level for this. And it feels like an underdog win, anytime anything that cost under 50 opens anywhere close to this kind of number its great to see.

    Though I am not looking forward to how many Pennywises there will be out there on Halloween.

    Warren, Sing dropped in 2016 as well.

  4. Glamourboy says:

    Wow, after the first paragraph I could only manage to skim…what a terrible waste of time in putting this together. It doesn’t add up to anything.

  5. Doug R says:

    July 29, 2007 The Simpsons Movie

  6. David Poland says:

    Glamourboy… you got the point, albeit by mistake.

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