Hot Button Archive for May, 2002

Spider-Man Opens & Early Bourne Review

What does the estimated $114 million start for Spider-Man mean?
Why beat around the bush by writing about anything else first, even if Mike Ovitz’ exit from AMG is a bigger story in the overall framework of the industry? Of course, your never-modest correspondent might point out that the Spider-Man story is really just an extension of the ongoing insanity in this industry as covered in this column for the last couple of years in particular.
The story of this weekend is not likely to be one that lasts very long. It’s not so much a matter of Star Wars: Episode Two beating the Spider-number in two weeks. The truth is, it is really up to George Lucas and Fox to decide whether the record falls. Yes, I am saying that George Lucas can decide for himself whether he wants to have the next record-breaking opening. All he and Fox has to do is to allow enough theaters enough flexibility to show Attack of the Clones on more than 6000 actual screens, just as Sony did on this opening weekend. (The screen count/per-screen statistic is now the most abused number in box office analysis.)
Everything else that LucasFilm and Fox have done in preparation for Clones is right on target. Besides masterminding the buzz on the supposedly independent internet and newsmagazines, they have now taken the amazing step of opening the media floodgates by screening the film for the press this Tuesday, more than a week before opening night and close enough to the Spidey opening to shift the buzz a full week ahead of schedule. There have even been reports that Fox has released the embargo rules – something they have since denied. However, the fact that the alleged memo freed the press to review as of this Wednesday – the day after the press screenings – suggest that it was real… and that Fox is expecting the door to open regardless of what the rules are.
After all, what else can be expected after last week’s Time Magazine review by Jess Cagle, which misleadingly suggested that Time’s film critic, Richard Schickel, had seen and approved the picture, and the parade of internet reviews that has started appearing, as per LucasFilm’s plan (they all saw the film weeks ago). Don’t even get me started on the most clever (ab)use of Ain’t It Cool since DreamWorks used the site to beat the Gladiator drum early.
But what about Spider-Man? Oops… I already forgot about the record-shattering weekend. Spider-Man is a good movie. The most amazing part of this weekend’s record-breaker – and I know some of you will get a quizzical look on your face when you read this – is how quiet it was. Yes, there was a whole lot of cross promotion and hype. But it was nothing in comparison to the Harry Potter hype… not even close. More pointedly, I was floored by how easy it was to get into the movie this weekend. My nephew, who went to see Spidey as part of a birthday party on Sunday, was amazed by the line that snaked down the street. But it was a third the size of the lines for Episode One and a quarter the size of weekend lines for Batman. And seats were available for a 4:15 show. You’ll notice that most of the “look at these sell-out” stories are about Saturday.
Sorry, Spider-Man just isn’t one of those industry-changing franchises. Of course, it’s not X-Men either… solid but not stunning. It’s a terrific franchise. To my mind’s eye, it’s a better franchise than the Harry Potter franchise (fewer percentage players with smaller percentages for the those who exist). In some ways, it is better than the Lord of The Rings franchise (it’s not limited to three films and the sequels don’t inherently have to feel like continuations).
But it’s just not Star Wars or Indiana Jones or even a Batman. It just isn’t. The $411 million worldwide scored by Batman thirteen years ago would likely be over a billion these days. Of course,
the production and P&A costs would be treble as well.
Remember, the film whose record Spider-Man just broke, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, had a hard time passing the $300 million mark domestically after a $90 million opening weekend and no major franchise opposition (Lord of the Rings) for over a month. And while Lord of the Rings opened with a little better than half the number that Potter did, their final domestic tally will be separated by less than $10 million total.
Titanic, the highest domestic and worldwide grosser of all time, opened to under $29 million. And Star Wars: Episode One, which opened to less than $65 million, a number that lingers in the record books behind four separate openings from last summer (Pearl Harbor, Planet of the Apes, The Mummy Returns and Rush Hour 2), but still became the fourth highest grossing film domestically, the
second highest domestic grosser ever if you don’t count re-releases and the third highest grossing film of all time worldwide. We can all whine and bitch about Jar Jar Binks, but understand something… audiences did not turn their backs on The Phantom Menace and its box office was not a phenomena of a massive opening weekend. Episode One was the leggiest franchise movie since Jurassic Park hit in 1993… back when second-run houses actually made money and a film could run for over a year in first and second run.
Of course, I feel a little silly dissing Spidey just as it becomes the first film with a $100 million weekend. But it’s about perspective. Sony execs are quite smart not to start guessing, as Warner Bros. execs did, that Spider-Man could end up doing Titanic numbers. They know that a domestic haul of $350 million is more likely and that $400 million would be a stunning triumph in today’s (or any day’s) marketplace. Chasing Titanic’s $1.8 billion theatrical haul will require a true freak of movie nature. Harry Potter is now #2 all-time, coming just short of the billion-dollar mark. Think about that. The number two film of all time is more than 44 percent behind number one.
So, does Spider-Man have a legitimate shot at $1 billion worldwide? Not really.. Attack of the Clones is the only film with a legitimate shot at the billion mark this year. My bet is that the next Harry Potter movie will drop slightly and the next Lord of the Rings movie will rise slightly. If there really was
a disappointment factor on The Phantom Menace and if Attack of the Clones is really that much better, making up the $78 million that TPM was short of a billion shouldn’t be that difficult. Additionally, Clones has the advantage, as did Spidey, of a 50 cent ticket increase across much of the nation marking the start of summer. When you are talking about these numbers of tickets sold, the increase can account for $5 million to $7 million in additional gross on opening weekend and as much as $50 million in total gross numbers.
Oh yeah… Spider-Man. Look for a final number between $650 and $750 million worldwide. And there is nothing wrong with that. Anyone who writes about next weekend being a disappointment when Spider-Man slides to $52 million is an idiot. And when Attack of the Clones opens to $78 million – $97 million with Thursday included – anyone who writes about Star Wars being in trouble is also an idiot. I anticipate
that Lucas and Fox will plan a huge, but not record-chasing opening and plan on being the leggiest film of the summer, outgrossing Spider-Man by $100 million or more domestically and by $200 million or more in
foreign territories. That’s the plan I anticipate. The reality? Who knows?

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“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott