An interesting weekend for a change.
Even the Furious 7 is interesting at this point. A mature franchise leaping somewhere around 60% in gross.
Or maybe it’s a little more obvious than that. The racial thing is not new. Paul Walker, however good a human being, was not a big worldwide box office star. But they have been selling this as “the last ride.” And Walker certainly had fans in the context of this franchise. Let’s assume that these factors could tweak the significant incremental growth of the franchise from 4 to 5 to 6 to, now, 7. The last 3 films had each grown in box office at a rate of somewhere between $125 million and $175 million worldwide.
And then there is a panda in the china shop… China. From what I can tell, Fast & Furious 6 was the first film to get a theatrical release there, in 2013. About $70 million. This one, their second? $250 million and counting. International growth outside of China? A bit over $50 million (to date)… or right in line with the previous growth of the franchise.
I am not a big fan of box office asterisks. Don’t like counting tickets (especially because the historic counting available to us is impossibly flawed)… don’t like adjusting for inflation. There is no logical comparison between box office in the 30s, 40s, or 50s, and box office now… forget about all the other availability like DVD and streaming and distractions, just on the basis of TV, the mass audience lives with movies in a very different way. The industry adjusted to this, but ticket counters don’t seem to get it. The past should be honored, but it is not an easy comparison.
But my point is, Chinese box office demands asterisks. On the most surface level, it is 3D in reverse… but it bends the box office conversation even more than 3D because all of the revenue is the same, much small “rentals” than anywhere else. Studios receive less than half of the box office take compared to anywhere else in the world. So, effectively, the grosses from China are worth (less than) half of what any other reported grosses are worth to the distributors. It is still a massive, growing, absolutely critical market for Hollywood. But there are now 20 billion-dollar-plus films and Furious 7 is just the 5th one of them to have gotten over $100 million added to their box office by China. And the onslaught is coming…
Another film that is about to move from the marginal China revenue category to maga-bucks is Avengers: Age of Ultron. The first Avengers, the first non-Jim Cameron film in history to pass $1.35 billion at the box office, only took in about $86 million from China… not nothing, but not a critical amount in defining its success. The cast is currently in China, promoting the sequel, and I can’t imagine that it won’t lead to at least $300 million at the Chinese box office next month. This could push the film close to the $2 billion mark, heretofore only cracked by Titanic (in 2 releases, including $45m from China in it’s digital re-release) and Avatar ($204m from China… the first Hollywood mega-gross in the country, in 2010).
Does it matter? As I noted at this beginning of this rant, I am not a big believer in asterisking every bump in the box office road. But unlike, say, 3D, access to the Chinese audience is not open territory. Not everyone can play. And if the grosses from China are 27% of a film’s title worldwide gross, meaning that the distributor will receive around 15% less from their worldwide gross, that is pretty significant (this is the story with the last Transformers movie).
And in 20 years, this will probably look like just another bump in the road. China will show more Hollywood films. More revenue will be returned to distributors. We’ll start seeing annual grosses over $500 million from China. It’s all gonna happen. Fair enough.
And there are plenty of surprises in this growth. You might assume that a mega-hit like Frozen made a killing in China. But no. Only about $50 million. It did 5x that in the mature market of Japan. The 10 Hollywood films that have done over $100 million in China, to date, are Furious 7, Avatar, Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim, Interstellar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the last two Transformers movies. That’s it. These are early days. And unless we can get a handle on piracy, it may be the last big market to go into play.
But for now, we should all have an asterisk in our heads when chewing on these numbers. But more importantly, we should be conscious of the “magic trick” that seems to be happening in front of our eyes. And as grown ups, we also have to be able to balance the questions about domestic box office – which has been shrinking marginally on an annual basis for decades now – and international grosses, which represent 95% of the population of the earth.
But I digress…
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 had a good opening, which only looks weak when compared to the release of the original, a surprise hit. But after 6 years, Blart ain’t exactly Star Wars coming back. Sony should be thrilled that it’s only off 23% so far.
Unfriended is yet another Jason Blum film… low budget, decent box office = profit. If you want to examine how power works in Hollywood, follow the Jason Blum. He is the kind of asset that can make a career in this town. A money tree. For now. (This trend will eventually pass and Blum has shown a broader interest than just horror/thrillers, including Whiplash, but that will be his 2nd act.)
I am glad that Disneynature exists. But Monkey Kingdom is one of those films that makes one worry that it all may get shut down before long. Really, Disney can lose small amounts of money on the films and keep it going just in brand support of its animal theme park interests. And you never know when one will shock everyone and hit big. Anyway… soft opening… not a disaster.
True Story isn’t a pretty launch. But it’s not a pretty movie. Life will go on for Searchlight.
And Child 44 was thrown out into the world by Lionsgate like an unwanted child. Audiences responded in kind.
But back to the happy stories… Ex Machina expands from 4 to 39 screens and scores a $20,620 per screen average. That’s really good. It doesn’t guarantee a huge gross, but it suggests that this could be A24′s biggest film. They are approaching it with a lot of caution, for better or worse. But the buzz is clearly growing. If you look at the other indie genre hit on 2015, It Follows, the 2nd weekend expansions are of a similar size (39 vs 32), but Ex delivered about double the per-screen, even with the higher number of screens. It Follows is at $13.2 million and A24′s high grosser so far is Spring Breakers with $14.2 million. So that seems doable.
Looking for a higher end comparison for Ex Machina, I looked at Birdman, which had slightly better numbers in expansion ($27.6k per on 50). Then there is Chef, which never had these numbers, but played well for a long time. Both of these films had the advantage of adult audiences. This is the dichotomy, as Ex Machina should do sensational business with genre fans, but is a smart film that could also play to grown-ups who usually eschew genre. A24, which is also having some success with the dramedy While We’re Young, is very into smart tweeners. If they can continue to build on their commercial success, they could become the next great light, leading the way in the indie world.
Also having a nice weekend is the Dior & I team, which is running a little behind Valentino: The Last Emperor, but is looking like it will be a million dollar doc, which is a not-insignificant challenge these days.
Also doing a strong per-screen number, albeit only on 1 screen, is Felix and Meira from Oscilloscope.
The glorious Clouds of Sils Maria, which seems to be more divisive for audiences than it has been for critics, did an okay $5260 per-screen on 31. This is one of those cases in which IFC eschewed day-n-date VOD and isn’t seeing it pay off in a significant way.