The Hot Blog
There’s a $14m gap between Lucy‘s opening number and the next one on the summer chart (The Purge: Anarchy), $44 million to $30 million. I’m always interested in gaps like that.
There have been 30 films this summer so far that have been on 1,000 screens or more (not all opening… but eventually 1.000+ at some point in their release). Eleven have been at that $44 million or better. Twelve opened at $15m or below (some via limiteds). The seven in the middle have all gotten media hum that they are soft (The Purge: Anarchy, Think Like A Man Too, Hercules, Edge of Tomorrow, Tammy, Planes: Fire & Rescue, A Million Ways To Die In The West).
This is your studio middle class right now. Three sequels, two wannabe franchise funny people, and two movie star movies with male leads who are more popular internationally than domestically. Anyway… more food for thought than a fully formed argument at this point.
Lucy opened on the low end of the high end. But as we take each film individually, it was a sweet success. And audience reaction in testing before this opening suggests strong legs. In fact, according to Luc Besson (as seen in the DP/30 interview), Universal decided to go out 2 weeks earlier than originally planned to take advantage of how much audiences liked the movie. As it turned out, many critics, including some of the arty ones, went head-over-heels for the film, too. So a good feeling is being had by all (except those who don’t like the film… sorry, mates).
Brett Ratner’s followup to Tower Heist, Hercules… okay… stopping myself there. I haven’t seen this film and making assumptions about how mediocre it is would be unfair. On paper, it’s about the opening you would expect from The Rock… even a bit on the high end. Did Paramount’s normally brilliant marketing team get a damned thing out of the idea of it being a Hercules movie? Not really. It’s a 100% Rock sell. Even the lion attack that tags seemingly every piece of video on the film is without context. $29m is fine. The money will be overseas, if it’s there. This one is what they used to call “programmers.” These day, a $100m movie is a programmer… ha.
Woody Allen’s Midnight in the Moonlight was the per-screen king on 17 screens.
A nice start for Roadside Attractions and A Most Wanted Man, though it also reflects the solid, if not massive, hard core art house audience that is hungry for quality product that doesn’t stink of “direct-to,” especially during the summer.
Boyhood passed Snowpiercer this weekend, as the great big screen action movie should hit $4 million (the VOD ceiling) in theatrical next weekend and out while the intimate Linklater film successfully continues its expansion. The 300% screen expansion netting a 47% gross expansion clarifies the ultimate limitations of the 12 year production, but $10m theatrical seems completely possible.
If there is a “box office trend,” it cannot be reversed by the success of one or two or three movies. You see, that would negate the presumption of there being a trend at all. This is one of the hard parts of covering box office for journalists, especially for those without much history of doing so… box office is neither weather nor sports. Have you ever read a sports writer talking about the history of a team as though there is a new manager/head coach or 40% or more of the team has been turned over… as though the uniforms are out there playing? This is a false narrative. Likewise, the idea that change in the weather somehow colors the entire season that has already occurred or which can and will often change on the day.
So… Lucy. Far and away the biggest opening for Scarlett Johansson outside of The Marvel Universe. It’s was little surprising, looking back at her numbers. If you discount He’s Just Not That Into You as a group movie, The Prestige as a Jackman & Bale movie, The Horse Whisperer as her first film and a Redford movie, and Just Cause as Connery/Fishburne – and I think that is all more than fair – you realize that she has never led or been Top 3 in a movie that’s opened over $10 million.
It’s a little mind-blowing, really. The machinery around this young woman and the media hyperventilation is remarkable. And we are finding out, more and more, that she is actually a talented actress with serious aspirations about the work, not just a blonde with puffy lips and big boobs. Ironically, Lucy, which is, to its core, a genre movie, continues to make the case for Johansson as a quality actress. It was interesting talking to Luc Besson about her…
Anyway… here is one of those great twisty stats. Lucy will be the #2 all-time late July opening for an original film behind only The Village, which could be argued was a title in the Shyamalan franchise, empowered by his previous smash hit, Signs. So in that context, this is a huge success. Since the first couple of weekends of July are considered the sweet spot, you don’t see a lot of big openings in the second half of July and the ones that venture there come with a pedigree. Parts 2 and 3 in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, Simpsons, Austin Powers 2, Burton’s Apes, the 1st Captain America, Mangold’s Wolverine, Jurassic 3. These films and the Shyamalan are the only ones out ahead of Lucy in this release window. (And for the record, the choices the industry makes about when it releases movies is much more trackable than the box office fates of specific movies in specific years.)
Hercules is more on the Apes reboot tip. But the number will be more like the Lone Ranger or Wild Wild West reboots. Both of those films had the crap killed out of them for being very, very expensive and starring the hottest actors on the planet at their retrospective moments. The Rock is a real star, but not that star. Funders on the film surely looked not only at The Rock’s numbers, but international on movies like Clash of The Titans which did $330m international and even the sequel, Wrath, which did $220m international.Domestic will be okay. $100m is not out of the question. But the win or loss on the film will be in the international market… $200m minimum ($300m ww) before this isn’t seen as a mistake.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will pass Rise next weekend, domestically, it would seem. But we’re still waiting on international to load up, thanks to the World Cup. So only judging domestic… a bit of a disappointment, given the bigger opening on this one and another round of rave reviews. Still a likely success, but maybe a franchise with a glass ceiling.
It tells you a lot that studios are now handing out weekend estimates for international box office on Friday night/Saturday morning… nothing good about journalism or a strong interest in the detailed truth when it comes to these numbers. Nonetheless, Paramount has projected a $202 million international weekend for Transformers 4, driven primarily by China and a pre-estimated $92m opening weekend gross. This pretty much guarantees the first billion-dollar worldwide gross of 2014. As noted before, Chinese grosses should probably start being discounted significantly in box office coverage, especially when they are such a large percentage of the overall number. Why? Nothing against Transformers or any other film, but Chinese box office grosses return less than half of what other markets return to the distributor. But that detailed reporting (which is so easy) won’t be happening anytime soon, so…
Woody Allen’s seventh release by Sony Classics is opening a lot like their 2012 release, To Rome With Love… if a little softer in that its one more screens (17 vs 5). SPC seems to have found a “new normal” with Allen, grossing low teens with the not-sensational ones and doing serious numbers for arthouse with the ones people love. This trend is actually not new for Allen, but the lows are less low and the highs are higher.
The film is about the New Beverly revival house in Los Angeles and the future of film.
In light of a relatively soft summer, the wrongheaded trend of obsessing on year-to-year weekend-vs-weekend is back. But this weekend is unattractive on more reasonable measures.
Simply, what are studio expectations of sequels or a returning combination of talent? Trends have changed over time in this regard. And I don’t think this particular sampling should define much of anything. But on opening weekend…
The Purge – $34.1m
The Purge: Anarchy – (est) $28.3m
Plane – $22.2m
Planes: Fire & Rescue – (est) $17.9m
Diaz/Segal/Kasdan’s Bad Teacher – $31.6m
Diaz/Segal/Kasdan’s Sex Tape – (est) $14.9m
Off 17%, 19%, and 53%.
Here’s a little more history. Paranormal Activity, a historic piece of marketing by Paramount, did $19.6m on 760 screens, then $21.1m 1945 screens. Paranormal 2 opened to a much more conventional release on 3239 screens and $40.7 million. Paranormal 3 opened to $52.6m. Also on the Jason Blum tip, Insidious opened to $13.3 million. Insidious 2 opened to $40.3 million.
So… what do you think studio expectations were for Purge 2? Doesn’t take a genius.
There is a lot less history for a movie like Planes 2. Disney has theatrically released multiple, not very high grossing Pooh-related films. Famously, The Weinstein Company had a (relative) hit in Hoodwinked and Hoodwinked 2 did 20% of the business domestically and just 15% worldwide. But that is a much more severe drop than this.
This is, however, one of those situations where a lot of the value in this franchise for Disney- as with Pooh – is in merchandising, more so than in the movies themselves. And even if Planes 2 ends up at “just” $70m domestic, the first film did $130m outside of North America and even if that number drops too, the film itself will still likely be profitable. But again… the profit would probably not be worth the opportunity costs for the company were it not for that merchandising. But it is. So Planes 3 seems a good bet.
Sex Tape is not a direct sequel. And that may be one of the problems.
The Other Woman opens to $24.8 million, directed pretty clearly at a female audience. Sex Tape is, in spite of the word “sex,” a bit straighter… a husband and wife in trouble trying to get out of trouble. It’s a classic trope, pushed into 2014 by The Cloud and sex. But is that what audiences want from Cameron Diaz? It seems that the audience like Cameron “sassy.” The anomaly, commercially, being The Sweetest Thing. But that, like Sex Tape, suggested that it had overtly sexual themes. I wonder whether the number would have been bigger for this film had Columbia sold more of what the movie is… disconnected modern couple rediscovers their passion less from the sex in the tape than in doing something together with a shared goal. It is less sexy than wacky sex thing they sold… Cameron spread eagle in her panties and all. But that may have turned off the audience that drives Cameron Diaz movies. In Bad Teacher, the threat of sex was there (much more in the film than in the ads), but they sold that title hard… it was a modern Bad News Bears with Diaz as a modern take on Buttermaker.
To be honest, I am actually surprised that this campaign didn’t work. It felt like it would to me. But I was wrong. And much more importantly, so was Sony marketing. The business of selling movies is not for the faint of heart. And there are many legitimate stops of the wheel of blame.
Tammy passed $70 million this weekend and seems sure to end up in the high 80s domestically. Will any of the “Melissa McCarthy is over” writers be back to correct?
Transformers 4 is the #1 movie of 2014 by $150 million and growing. Get over it. (And keep in mind that this will be the first summer without a billion dollar worldwide movie since 2009. Tr4 numbers are nothing to mock, but there is also no other uber-movie out there this summer.)
Boyhood had an exception $1.2 million on 34 screens. These are Oscar season and top IMAX kinds of numbers. And part of the “Oscar numbers” thing is wide-release marketing budgets driving limited openings… something IFC cannot afford. They are being very aggressive “for IFC,” in terms of marketing dollars, but in Oscar season, you’re looking at $10 – $15 million on TV for a couple weeks that will push an expanded opening after the limited. Critics and film writers actually should feel some responsibility for this. It’s very rare when that is true, but I think it is here.
Edge of Tomorrow is crawling to a $100m domestic gross and Godzilla is doing the same for $200m domestic.
All three openings this weekend are off expectations. The Purge 2 is off about 23%, but with a budget so small that only the Universal ad spend is at issue. Planes 2 is (amazingly) also off about 23% from opening day for the first film in the series. And Cameron Diaz’s Sex Tape is off a painful 54% from Bad Teacher‘s opening (in which she was also teamed with Jason Segal and Jake Kasdan).
Should it make women worried about inequality in Hollywood happy that a spread-eagled, pink-pantied Ms. Diaz isn’t drawing? Not so much. The 41-year-old Ms Diaz is in spectacular shape for a women half her age, but even if Esquire’s Tom Junod deigns to get aroused by her, taken out of MILF mode, she doesn’t seem to have a young, male audience and without being in “sisters are doing it for themselves” mode, a young female audience.
Sony made a similar miscalculation with Friends With Benefits a few years ago, teaming Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, thinking the combination irresistible to young audiences. They weren’t quite as resistant as they seem to be to this pairing and the film became nicely profitable because of international audiences… which might happen with Diaz too. Bad Teacher was a $115 million comedy overseas. But at home, the interesting idea of having Diaz play “normal, attractive, middle class mom” is not lighting up the scoreboard.
Why did I start with Sex Tape? Because the other two films aren’t very interesting as box-office conversation. The Purge 2 has a low budget—allegedly under $10m—and even with a drop in opening day, it is likely to be profitable. And Planes: Fire & Rescue is a DVD spin-off writ larger… but hardly a large investment for Disney. And it, too, has a bigger international audience than domestic, pretty much assuring that it will be a profit center.
In other words, you can expect “Purge 3″ and “Planes 3, “regardless of where they end up in the US this weekend. Both will be profitable. You can stop whining about them now (if you were).
Boyhood expanded to 34 screens this weekend and on Friday did $330,000. That suggests a million-dollar weekend on just 34 screens. Impressive. But again, not shocking or unheard of. The film is going to do well. $8m seems like the bottom for its domestic gross. But growing it into the $20m+ range is certainly a possibility.
Interestingly, IFC is being quite transparent in its short-term planning. 44 more screens next weekend. (See the schedule of releases through August here.) This might be a mistake. Companies that play in this game for bigger theatrical dollars tend to be a bit more flexible and aggressive in the face of a hit. But IFC will figure it out, no doubt.
IFC’s biggest non-doc release since the Bob Berney era of 2002, is Frances Ha, with $4 million. Its biggest weekend was $550k on 60 screens. You can see how much bigger Boyhood is, in that it will almost double that number on almost half the screens. But it’s also worth noting that Frances achieved that high in the second weekend.
The one thing that seems clear is that Boyhood has a much better shot at theatrical revenues (and award season) by removing the glass ceiling of VOD. And in this regard—making a clear case for why VOD is not for every “small” film—Boyhood could change distribution for indies.
With every major announcement, there is a wave of media insisting that there is a universal meaning. The wave du jour is “bigger, Bigger, BIGGER.”
Dare I remind you that just a few weeks ago, before the Aereo decision, the wave was all about “disruption”?
The crazy thing about watching all this is that each event is unique unto itself, but there is, almost always, an insistence that each event is part of the big picture… until our attention turns elsewhere in an instant, like the dog in Up.
Even within the stories about Fox making a rejected offer to Time-Warner, there is a bit of schizophrenia. Everyone has noted that Time-Warner has scaled itself down, making it an attractive takeover target. But within a paragraph or two, it is also explained that this is really about the consolidation craze amongst those who are providing the “wires” into our lives, both through the air and through physical distribution.
David Carr closes out his column sensibly mentioning the AOL/Time-Warner deal of 2000. But he doesn’t really explain why. He’s still too busy chiding regulators who didn’t stop Comcast from acquiring Universal and don’t seem in a hurry to stop Comcast from adding Time-Warner Cable… or allowing DirecTV to get swallowed by AT&T. Carr and Team NYT are also in a tizzy over the super-sized Amazon and its vise-like control on publishing these days. This seems to distract the paper of record from the bigger picture.
The angle on this story I find myself eye-rolling over is that every move is now a response to Comcast and other merger-minded companies with internet delivery roles. The consolidated theory of the current situation is that, somehow, a company with 30% of the market will have a lot more buying power with 40% of the market, so somehow, the sellers now need to consolidate too. But I don’t buy that at all. I see no history suggesting it is true. Time-Warner Cable’s 10% of the market was, by itself, plenty to create an ongoing national saga as it fought out a retransmission agreement with CBS. Comcast/TWC might put a lot more television sets in play during the next showdown, but neither side wins in these fights. Neither side is just walking away from the table.
And not every merger of a media company is the same. One sort of size is not the same as every other kind of size. Muscling up by cable companies that who see their future leaning more and more to the internet delivery business is not about setting the price for content. Buying more content and the top specialized delivery brand which is already converting into an internet-driven play is.
Did we learn anything from the AOL/Time-Warner merger? (Here’s where I point out that I was publicly against that merger from the start, even though I was working for Time-Warner at the time. That was because it was clear that AOL was a bubble company eating a more substantial company and there was nothing good to come of it.) Time-Warner allowed itself to be consumed because being forced into a merger was seen to be inevitable and AOL was the king of the internet at the time. And they’ve been divesting ever since.
But the lesson I am most keenly interested in, regarding the AOL/Time-Warner merger, is that new ownership, no matter how hands-off they claim they will be, can’t keep their hands off the money… and the film and television businesses are not widget businesses. In the AOL/Time-Warner merger, it was inevitable that we would see some changes in the web business. But AOL blithely dropped established brands not because there was a problem, but because they were Time-Warner’s and not their own. Likewise, their power was felt at both WB and New Line in ways that didn’t make anyone happy… since AOL knew nothing about the film business.
Fox knows a lot about the film business, but it also has had a very different strategic position on most areas of the film business, from development to Home Entertainment. The only strategic match in the new streaming universe is that neither company has a film deal with Netflix. But after that, there are many significant variations. Of course, the most discussed element in this regard is HBO, a worldwide content delivery powerhouse to which Fox does not have an equivalent.
But in the straightforward issue of the TV businesses and the film businesses, both smell of burnt metal when considering this (unlikely) possibility. The Wall Street Journal did a very good job of explaining why the TV side is potentially ugly, but the piece writes of the film side as “unlikely to herald major change in the film business.” And to that I say, “Bull.”
There are two layers of problems. First, is the actual merger bringing two or the six remaining major MPAA studios under one owner. It is true that WB has moved to more outside funding in recent years, but the studio has been a much more aggressive spender and risk-taker over the last decade. If Fox had a summer like WB’s 2006 (Superman Returns, Poseidon, Lady In the Water, Ant Bully), heads would have rolled. Not at WB. And WB having a year like, say, last year’s Fox year is unthinkable… no attempts at anything bigger than a triple and only one of those.
It pretty much would have to fall one way or the other. Either Fox would find WB’s methodology attractive and shift that way or Fox would see WB as profligate and tighten everything up.
But the second layer regards the entire industry. Consolidating power for two studios would mean that that, suddenly, Murdoch and one other studio control half the strategy of the MPAA and the future of the business. Fox has, traditionally, been a passionate outlier when MPAA infighting gets clique-y. They are slow to jump in any pool until they know what temperature of the water is. The company has made some big moves when up against the wall, whether the Fox TV network or the first NFL deal or the Wall Street Journal purchase. But aside from those big leaps, it’s a pretty tight room. Often a brilliant room, but a tight room.
The next big paradigm shift is coming. The massive libraries at all of the majors are not being exploited well in the present streaming era. It’s got to happen. And when it does happen, the question of the theatrical window, the Blu-ray window, and the streaming endgame all need to find maximum revenue positions. Disney has its own ideas. Comcast has proprietary distribution interests. Sony and Paramount are likely to wait to allow others to lead. And that leaves the most conservative studio of this era, Fox, and the most aggressive, Warner Bros. With both companies under his control, Murdoch is in position to decide the future… both of online and theatrical.
For me, the Comcast/Time-Warner Cable is an 800-pound gorilla growing to 900 pounds in an industry under fire. I don’t think they change the game for everyone, whether they get TWC or not. But the film and television production business is not a utility.
People will need internet access until some other delivery system exists… that could be close to forever. And Comcast can only push customers so far. But the movie and television business can be collapsed in on itself and customers don’t get a vote. “Hey… in 2018 there will be only one studio-distributed release each week.” Only a select group would care, aside from the exhibitors filing for bankruptcy. In fact, a lot of film critics would cheer, presuming that it would mean better movies as a result of a limited number of releases.
In the future of more entertainment abundance than we can even imagine now, original content and the amount of it and the amount of risk capital entertainment conglomerates will spend each year will be seriously reconsidered. And yes, as David Carr memorialized with a column, unique content like “South Park” (and “Seinfeld “and “The Big Bang Theory” and “Family Guy,” etc.) will be worth a fortune… because it’s proven.
But on the film side, we are already noticing that no fad lasts forever. But the fad of the moment has a minimum $300m price tag with production and P&A. WB had three of those this summer (and it was a little quiet this year), a fourth coming, and Fox had one and maybe one more coming (a second sequel). Does Fox have any mega-budget films on the schedule next year? Fantastic Four? Probably on the cheaper side. Nothing else even suggests a huge budget. WB looks to have three… and three more in 2016 to Fox’s two (ID4-2 and Apes 3). Warner Bros ain’t Disney… but it’s a lot more financially aggressive than Fox.
This is a terrible, terrible idea for the movie business. WB and CBS? Sure. Fox and Sony? Makes more sense.
No question there are all kinds of economies that both businesses could take if Fox ate Time-Warner. But I fear that one of them with be a whole lot of investment in theatrically-released feature films, independent network television production, and a cultural legacy that is unlikely to ever be rebuilt if destroyed.
I’m trying to figure out something much worth saying about this weekend at the box office… but it’s pretty uneventful.
Apes opened well, not spectacularly. Now we will see what kind of legs it has… and wait a few weeks for international to start throwing money around the cage.
The one thing that is striking is that much-maligned Fox has 3 of the Top Ten films of the summer with Apes likely to make it 4 of 10 by next Friday. Fox also has 3 of the Top 10 worldwide for the year so far with Apes likely to make it 4 of the Top 11 pretty soon.
Currently, Sony and Warner Bros each has 2 in the summer Top 10 with single titles from Paramount, Disney, and Universal.
I guess I am missing all the “attaboy” stories on Fox’s great summer. Truth be told, I don’t think this is a “great” summer for any of the studios… but Fox is the top dog and has a real story in the international explosion of X-Men, the low budget return on Fault, and the risky recreation of the Apes franchise, which they tried before with Tim Burton and saw it fail.
The issue of animation at Fox needs its own story, with Rio 2 looking lame at home, but nearing $500m worldwide and the DreamWorks Animation relationship looking a little soft. Truth be told, Dragon 2 is the first of Fox’s 4 DWA releases that wasn’t an original/first of series. And if you look at the DWA run with Paramount, the big numbers are almost all for sequels or threequels. Given the big number for The Croods, driven by Fox’s international team, things look a lot better. Only the first Panda film did better amongst first-time titles… and only by $45m worldwide. And there is a good amount of international money still out there for Dragon 2.
Disney’s summer will really be defined by Guardians of the Galaxy, with Maleficent a success, but not a knock out.
The bulk of Universal’s summer starts next week, with 3 movies in 3 weekends on the way, though none of them are expected to be significant… though Purge 2 could be high profit.
Paramount also has its summer bulk in August, with Brett Ratner’s Hercules, in partnership with MGM and the Michael Bay-driven Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, co-funded by Platinum Dunes.
Fox has a little comedy coming starring 2 of the New Girl cast. Sony has Sex Tape. And Warner Bros has the oddball, starless Into The Storm, which will try to bring in the Roland Emmerich big-screen disaster audience.
Oh yeah… Transformers: Age of Extinction is now the #1 summer movie worldwide. If it keeps falling 50% a weekend, it will not pass Cap2′s domestic box office. It will be about $15m short. And at least $150m bigger worldwide.
Regardless of reviews and controversy, Tammy is heading to over $75m domestic and a nice profit for WB and Melissa McCarthy. Hopefully, the media will both to write that story.
The Obama-hating America did another $2.4 million… putting it at about half the earning power of its predecessor, 2016: Obama’s America, reminding us yet again that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but even the extremists are getting tired of the single note being played over and over again.
The happy story of the weekend is Boyhood, estimating a $74,800 per screen on 5, which is award-season strong. It pretty much guarantees that the film will be profitable. The question, as indieland sets off fireworks too close to the kids like a drunken parent on the 4th of July, is how big the film can get. Is it $8 million, $16 million, $24 million… $32 million? These are all legitimate possibilities. And no one knows the answer.
Oscarwise, the only non-Weinstein, non-Lionsgate, non-studio Best Picture nomination in the last decade was Roadside Attraction’s success getting Winter’s Bone nominated in 2010. But if you go back to the late 90s and 2000, USA, Grammercy, and October were all independent and getting films in… and that was the 5 nominee era. So with a film this well-liked, this unique, and potentially profitable, there is clearly a legit chance of a nomination.
Also making noise with over $9k per screen was Land Ho!, a Sony Classics release that should be very leggy, if not with huge numbers, as its audience – over 50s – takes a little longer to turn out, but turn out when they get a sniff of a “must see” and there is a distributor that knows how to work that angle well.
Begin Again had a nice expansion. $3 million for Ida is a reason to celebrate. And Snowpiercer smashes into a wall on this expansion as the VOD glass ceiling does it no favors.
A discussion about box office analysis broke out on Twitter and Lindsey Bahr asked: “serious question that could sound snarky: how do you think box office should be analyzed?”
Because 140 characters is rough and torturing people who follow me is not my idea of fun (even if I do it too often in haste), I threw this together as a quick answer. I reserve the right to add more ideas on the issues later.
Box office is not a horse race. Coming in first does not assure a win. Nor does coming in low on the Top Ten chart assure failure.
Expectations are rarely consistent, often loaded with politics, and not relevant to the meaning of the box office facts.
Almost all box office reporting is done on the basis of estimates. Readers deserve to know this.
Friday matinee numbers are only relevant as news in very, very limited circumstances. When an outlet reports anything, they must account for the likelihood that any report they make could define the issue for any number of readers. Box office is not a live reporting event, like a car chase or election. In theory, analysis as constant and detailed as election coverage might have value… but no one does it.
International is, in most cases of studio releases, going to be the majority of theatrical box office. It is not an afterthought or a non-issue. Budgets over $100m all take international into account as a primary issue. Any decent analysis must take this into account.
There are many financial steps in the revenue path of a studio’s theatrical release. No box office analyst ever knows them all. But familiarity with the elements involved and the generalities of how they tend to add up is a fundamental of box office analysis. Just reporting domestic theatrical is fine… but a very limited pursuit and should be contextualized as such.
Pronouncements about the success and failures of films must be more than a balancing act between the spin by various studios. It is the job of every studio publicist and press-chatting exec to spin the best version of their performance and often, to create perspective by tearing down the performance of others. Truth is a relative thing in these exchanges. Studios are not required to offer accurate production budgets, back-end percentages, marketing budgets, various deals that may cut the bottom line or add to it… and rarely offer any of it, unless it benefits their spin in a significant way. Analysis demands a deeper look.
Regurgitating the verbal press releases of studios about weekend box office is acceptable if clearly marked as such. Pretending it is editorial insight is a lie.
Box office analysis, when done professionally, is a serious effort to analyze a very high-profile, high-cost, high-risk business. It is not a blood sport nor is it an extension of the publicity machine.
So… Dawny Apes is not (box-office-wise) the The Dark Knight to Ape Rise’s Batman Begins. Incremental growth, but not explosive growth.
So let’s say that this Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ends up grossing between $170m and $220m domestically. Okay. The story is still, sorry to say, international. The first film in this rebooted franchise (Rise) did about 63.3% of its theatrical business internationally, $305 million to its domestic gross of $176m. So while the domestic improvement is meh, the international could blow this up to the next level. But no one knows until we know. And the World Cup will keep the answer at bay for a while longer.
In second place (eyeroll), Transformers 4 will pass $200 million today, passed Maleficent worldwide yesterday, and should be in the $700m club on or before next Friday. But like Apes, it too feels a bit underwhelming in the financials. It is still on track to become the worldwide #1 for 2014 (at least until InterNolan, Hungry Mockingjay, and Hobbit 3).
The question of this summer’s numbers is intriguing. We have six $200 million domestic grossers so far (inc Transformers), 1 shy of the record 7 last summer and summer 2012, with Apes, Guardians, and Turtles the most likely #7s (or #8) in play. Nothing unhealthy there.
What is missing are the domestic mega-grosses. We’ve gotten used to them since 2007 (the summer of the three-quel), when we had 4 summer movies over $300m domestic. That record has never been broken or matched. 3 in 2008, 2 in 2009, 3 in 2010, 2 each in 2011 and 2012 and 2013.
But here’s the other thing… the same phenomenon is happening in international this summer. This summer has as many $400m international movies as ever… and that seems like a reasonable standard for a worldwide box office hit, no? $200m domestic and $400m international. But while we have the same number – and potentially a record-breaking number – of films over that threshold, we are missing the big numbers. Top international grosser right now is Amazing Spidey 2 with $504m. We’ve had three summer films do better than that in each of the last three summers. There is a good chance that Tr4 will take the lead in international soon… but even then, we’ve had at least two summer films do over $600m internationally in each of the last three years. That isn’t coming close to happening this summer.
And keep in mind that the Chinese box office, which puffs up the international numbers on a bunch of these films, is returning less than half of what normally comes back to distributors from the rest of international. (There is probably an interesting story to be written about who, exactly, is making theatrical distribution deals with China and if US distributors are doing more direct deals than they do in some other major foreign territories and if there are any other fingers in that pie… but I’m not the one to write it.)
So what is happening?
I don’t think one summer defines anything in the film industry. As Sharon Waxman and the New York Times showed in 2005, you can bend yourself into pretzels trying to spin a story that you have decided is The Truth and simply be wrong… over and over and over again. The vestiges of that horrible, ignorant “reporting” in 2005 are still felt as the Times continues to insist it was right when it was clearly wrong. (And Sharon continues the Reporting Of Premature Ejaculation in The Wrap… with Brent Lang now bringing it to Variety, which seems to love it.)
(Note: I transposed the names of Lucas Shaw and Brent Lang in an earlier draft of this entry. My apologies to both.)
But the irrational exuberance of the industry about animation and 3D and comic book movies, in turn, is already showing quiet signs of retreat. There was talk of 3 a year from DreamWorks animation… back to 2. Same with Marvel. Same with 3D becoming the standard for all films. Film critics can tell you how many of the 3D movies are now being screened for press in 2D. There are only 2 traditional studio animation films this summer after 5 last summer. Even if Pixar had taken a summer slot, it would only have been 4. Only 4 are scheduled for next summer. And 4 for Summer 2016 (3 of which are sequels). Has the lesson been learned?
Disney has 6 huge movies coming in 8 months next year, 3 of them in one 7 week stretch. This is when their model starts to really be tested. Maybe it will be fine. In the end, audiences want what they want and circumstances be damned. Avengers and Star Wars in one year with a new Pixar and a new Brad Bird and the other two movies can just not be disasters and it’s probably a strong year.
Boyhood‘s doing gangbusters on 5 screens, looking at between $50k and $70k by the end of the weekend. Second best only to Grand Budapest in limiteds this year. About 40% better than Before Midnight last summer. What it means in terms of the ultimate box office for the film is unknown. Could be a $7m movie… could be a $15m movie. Pretty rangey. That big question (here we go again) is whether there is an international audience for this singular event that will blow up Linklater’s previously soft numbers for his non-studio films. Before Sunset did just over $10m overseas. The hope is that Boyhood can match and surpass.