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The Film Industry Sky Continues Not To Fall

God bless the entertainment media. It loves living in the bubble where we believe the spin that each executive, agent, and publicizer tells us in their own interest.

I have nothing against these people personally, but it is the job of the media to look past its navel. When executives are in a job for 12 or 15 or 15-16 years or 18 years as Brad Grey, Jim Gianopulos, Amy Pascal and Ron Meyer have been in the major exit formation of the last two years, the idea that “these days, a studio chief is lucky to get to bat” is just a punch line for a joke about self-delusion.

(The pull quote is from Stephen Galloway’s often bizarre piece, “Galloway on Film: Brad Grey’s Paramount Exit and Studios in Turmoil.”)

Even the question about whether Kevin Tsujihara is long for his job is three years into the role with a lot of road already traveled and a studio that is expected to be sold to AT&T before his fifth anniversary in the job.

And before we get all “it’s not that way at Disney,” as things are all platinum over there, let us recall the years of turmoil under Iger before the current strategy of massive acquisitions and all-IP all-the-time finally took hold. 2005-2009 Dick Cook. 2006-2010. 2010 – 2012 Rich Ross. And don’t forget Peter Schneider and Oren Aviv in the production chief slot. Sean Bailey and Alan Horn have since become the stable base of the film division. But only after years of flailing about.

Galloway references the “good ol’ days” of the studio system when the heads of the studios were the owners of the studios… as if that circumstance has been remotely relevant since the old studio system died in the late 1960s, nearly 50 years ago.

The fact of the matter is that the tenures at the four studios in play right now were all remarkably long, not remarkably brief… or brief in any way.

And if the last time you felt this kind of intense movement going on in this town was when Frank Wells died in 1994 (which affected only one studio, really), you have been asleep.

How many times was Universal sold since 1994? (Rhetorical, but the answer is five… Six  since 1990.)

Remember MGM? When they were really in the movie business in the late 90s/early 2000s… gearing up for Kerkorian to sell the asset one last time?

And that time in 2000 when Bill Mechanic got fired just before X-Men opened, within three years of Titanic, There’s Something About Mary, Star Wars: Episode 1, Fight Club, and, yeah, Big Momma’s House?

In the last 50 years, the film industry has undergone massive upheavals. The end of the studio system as it was known, corporate ownership, distribution shifting to wider and wider releases, VHS rentals, cable television, DVD sell-thru, multi-plexing, mega-plexing, satellite, internet, DVD by mail, streaming, the internationalization of box office, and many more categories and sub-categories. The movie theaters almost all went bankrupt, many of the chains twice in this period.

1984 – Murdoch buys Fox. Eisner takes over at Disney.
1989 – Sony buys Columbia. Warner Bros and Time merge.
1990 – Universal/Matsushita. MGM/Parretti.
1994 – Redstone buys Paramount. DreamWorks SKG is born.
1996 – Kerkorian gets MGM back
1999 – Universal/Seagram
2000 – Universal/Vivendi
2004 – Universal/GE.
2005 – Iger takes over from Eisner at Disney. MGM sold by Kerkorian last time
2011 – Universal/Comcast

And let’s not forget Warner Independent, multiple realignments at Focus, Miramax under the Weinsteins at Disney, Miramax after the Weinsteins at Disney, Miramax sold by Disney, Summit pre-merger, Paramount Classics, Paramount Vantage, USA Films, Artisan, New Line, Fine Line, Newmarket, Rogue, ThinkFilm, Picturehouse, Overture, and soon to be on the remnant bin, Relativity… am I missing anyone?

Brad Grey was, for years, the guy who had a real effect on the upper echelons of other studios as he tried and failed to get a top-tier exec to run production at Paramount. Job titles, divisions built and folded, and massive raises were the order of the period at four other studios. Meanwhile, Gail Berman and John Lesher got the crap kicked out of them in public after failing in a job neither was either suited to or given a chance to succeed with.

Grey did NOT do “well to last as long as he did.” He has never been anything less than a disaster for Paramount. Not everything he did or touched was a disaster. But you can’t point to a single year since he took over that was building to anything… at least not anything that was really a part of the studio, so the DreamWorks successes count only as very expensive, temporary illusions. Paramount has never recovered from when Geffen pulled the wool over Grey’s eyes and made the DreamWorks deal with the studio.

Don’t get me wrong. Philippe Dauman was an even bigger drag on that studio since he came on board, pretty much guaranteeing future failure by aggressively seeking to maintain status quo rather than building, the same pattern as Grey but with very different motivations.

But don’t tell me (or anyone else) that these guys were victims of the circumstances of the industry. That is some epic lame excuse-making.

Turmoil is not new. It is not shocking. And it is not something to which studios do not adjust a lot quicker than those of us who cover them. How many years has it been, already, since all the majors adjusted down the price tag on comedies and drama to reflect the revenues that stopped coming from DVDs? As it was happening, journalists reported that the sky was falling because the agents who were suddenly unable to get the insane numbers out of the studios that they had been getting were squealing like stuck pigs. But things changed and the media still hasn’t quite caught up. They got distracted by Netflix instead.

“For now, it’s all murky. The future is hidden, the present hard to understand.” Galloway writes. If he believes that, it is a good thing he is not a top executive, because it would get him fired for cause.

Running a studio is a series of choices based on circumstances. The results are a combination of good choices, bad choices and fate… a lot of fate.

But a proper owner of a studio shouldn’t be basing the measure of a studio head on any one choice… or any single year, for that matter. There are chiefs whose studios have great years and should be fired and chiefs who lose a fortune on a movie or two and are absolutely the best thing for the future of the studio. There is no formula that can be qualified by a calculator (unless pockets are shallow enough that a year of failure is the end of the journey for the studio).

It’s not all murky. You are doing the job. Universal had its most profitable year as a studio in 2014 with no tentpole movies. Then it broke that record a year later with a group of tentpoles. There are different ways of doing things, different strategies, and different results at the bottom line than in the open view of the public (and media).

The financial disaster of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is undeniable. But Tom Rothman was not running Sony Pictures at the time it was made. He was running a division with a different mandate. Look at the line-up of films this year. Aside from Spider-Man Homecoming, there is not one $100 million production on the slate, except perhaps Jumanji. There are only a few over $50 million. That is, generally, what a Tom Rothman studio looks like, love him or hate him. That is why he got hired. He may get lucky, hit a mine, and make a fortune. But he is not going to bury your studio in big losses regardless. He’s not in the game Disney is in and he will not go that way. Nothing murky about it.

Fox under Stacey Snider? Perhaps riskier than Rothman. She will be better liked. We’re a year away from knowing what her studio will really look like and how much it will look like her run at Universal or if there are other plans. There are seven untitled Fox films slotted into 2018, three of them Marvel. What she makes of the new X-Men may well define her tenure at Fox. But I would bet on a lot of interesting stuff coming by then that isn’t so expensive. But murky? Nah. You don’t get that job by being murky.

Warner Bros is a bit murky because the films have been kinda murky over the last 18 months. Has nothing to do with questions about how the industry will move forward.

Universal is stable enough to bounce a quarter off of. With as much turmoil as the studio has had in ownership, it is now the second most stable in the top production job. Two franchise movies this year (F&F #8 and Despicable 3) and a wannabe reboot with The Mummy. Lots of mid-range offerings, including Pitch Perfect 3. Nothing murky there. 2018 looks a bit like a rewrite of 2015… as planned.

Disney is, obviously, riding high… doing as it pleases… no murk in sight.

And Paramount is the mess that Brad Grey made. Not enough movies. Not enough exec muscle. Not the proper backing from Dauman. Studio in massive transition.

So… Paramount and to a lesser degree, WB are “murky.” Sony and Fox are in planned transitions. And Universal and Disney are full steam ahead.

Yeah… the post-theatrical revenue stream is unclear at the moment. Too many ideas and not enough will to make real change in a hurry.

Yeah… everybody wants the seemingly guaranteed IP of Disney… but only Disney can have it… so not a realistic question.

Yeah… we don’t see the next generation of leadership chomping at the bit from here on the outside. Studios keep recycling the same old talent, all of whom come with baggage or they would still have their old jobs. But that is a very specific, unmurky problem. A lot of people who would be top execs have decided there is more money and freedom in producing. Being in charge of a studio owned by a corporation isn’t as much fun as reporting to a guy with a big cigar.

Still, all over this town, people are doing their jobs. They are working years ahead of what we will see in the theaters. Second guessing remains a deadly preoccupation.

Winners win, to every field. What happens with post-theatrical revenue or new formats, etc… not really the difference between winning and losing.

It’s the movies, stupid.

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4-Day Estimates by President’s Day Klady

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BYOB Oscar Week

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Weekend Estimates by February Blahs Klady

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Lego Batman stepped up a bit from Friday estimates, but it’s fallen even further behind The Lego Movie in that comparison. Odd, but that is the nature of a phenom like the first Lego film.

Fifty Shades Darker didn’t have a drop-off in the 60s, but that is more a function of where it started than its support. It dropped (slightly) more than the second weekend of Ghostbusters did last summer after the two films had $46m openings. That said, Darker does have a strong enough base that it will (obviously) be over $100 million domestic and it is reporting $187m international already. So it is already pretty close to profit in theatrical, even with marketing costs. Expect a tighter, more publicity-heavy campaign for the final film of the trio, with a cut in marketing spending to maximize profitability for an already sold and clearly defined audience, a la Twilight.

The Great Wall did mediocre business. Not an outright disaster. Not the success that some are “reporting” based on Chinese grosses. The film will lose a nice chunk of money for Wanda. But not enough to matter.

John Wick: Chapter 2 dropped almost the same amount as weekend two of the original, though from a much higher launch. So it is well past the original’s gross ($43m) already and has a good chance of passing the worldwide gross of the original with domestic alone ($89m). The movie likely cost twice as much, based on the very cheap first film, but still, nicely profitable and see you at the Wick 3 opening next summer. (Will they get Sandy Bullock for that one?)

Speaking of profitable and Lionsgate, La La Land is looking like the most profitable non-franchise film ever for the indie studio that is married to Summit. It will end up the sixth-highest grossing film (domestic and worldwide) for the distributor, topped only by Twilight and Hunger Games films. The only other LGF films within box office range, the Divergent series and Expendables, were a lot more expensive.

Hidden Figures is a huge hit for Fox as well. Domestically, it is one of the studio’s 5 biggest grossers of the last three years, including two DreamWorks Animation films (which shouldn’t really count, as Fox only distributes).

Moonlight is not likely to catch up to The Witch or Ex Machina domestically for A24’s all-time best grosser, but at just $4 million behind, it has been an enormous success.

And don’t forget that Manchester By The Sea has more than doubled the gross of any film previously released by Roadside Attractions, with $46m. It is also a giant leap for Amazon Studios, the company that owns distribution rights, more than tripling their previous highest grosser, Love & Friendship. Given the amount of cash Amazon has, I would say that buying Roadside outright for some scores of million and letting the current team run all their theatrical distribution (with Bob Berney as a top-paid consultant) and to have a 5 film release line-up of their own choosing each year would be a win for both sides.

Fist Fight seemed like an easy sell. Ice Cube opens. Charlie Day is a popular supporting comedian. Kinda funny premise. But something went wrong on the way to the multiplex and only Lottery Ticket opened worse for a movie starring Ice Cube in the last decade. My theory is that the pitch was surprisingly unclear. We all got that Ice Cube wants to kick Charlie Day’s butt. But why? Does it make sense? What is the movie? Clearing up a misunderstanding? Day’s character becoming Rocky? What’s funny about Cube’s rage? The ads focus on a few jokes, but leave one wondering what the hell the movie is? And even if they wanted to sell something the movie is not, they needed more clarity.

A Cure For Wellness was aggressively unclear. I am a Dane DeHaan fan, but he isn’t Johnny Depp. You have to sell the movie, whatever the hell it is. I don’t think the new regime at Fox was too interested in killing themselves to save this one. Stacey Snider was at DreamWorks, but not for the Gore Verbinski era there. I believe Verbinski is massively talented. But if he wants to become “the Pirates king” again, he needs some better IP. James Mangold’s Logan is exactly the kind of movie he could kill for Fox or another studio. A real studio budget… but not a crazy one. Pushing expectations. Getting back to making things work when you don’t have every option on earth for the world’s most dramatic stunts or images.

Todos Queremos A Alguien is another Lionsgate effort to crack the Spanish-language market in America. Bless them for that. Highly under-served. 353 screens. Modest success. (Also known as Everybody Loves Somebody.)

2017 Oscar Shorts has become a nice annual event for Shorts International and Magnolia. $1.6 million for a shorts program is nothing to sneeze at. I don’t know how much of this money gets back to the filmmakers, but that could be nice too.

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Friday Estimates by Still Lego’d Len

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Slow-fading IP and soft originals define this box office weekend. The Lego Batman Movie will be a modest success, degree depending on international. But it’s already 20% or so off of The Lego Movie and that is with Batman, a character that almost always wins. Estimates of what The Ninjago Movie might do should probably be revised well below $100 million. That may cause a push at WB to push the recently pushed back Lego Movie sequel to a closer date again.

Fifty Shades Darker is not a disaster, financially. But domestically, it is a gray shadow of the original and the promise of the franchise. Some Big international markets seem sure to be off by significant percentages as well. Film #3 is already shot and really, there is nothing to be done to fix what is wrong here. So expect lower numbers the third time, but again, not to the point of not being profitable.

The Great Wall didn’t die… but is not strong. Matt Damon’s brand gets a boost from this opening at all.

Ice Cube is looking at his worst opening in over a decade with Fist Fight. The only one nearly as soft was Lottery Ticket, which was a non-spin-off spin-off of the Barbershop brand, but at WB, where selling to the “urban” audience is not generally a strength. I have to say, I was the target audience for this movie… but I’m not sure anyone selling it knew that.

A Cure For Wellness openly sickly. Fox spent on it. But you didn’t really get the sense they were all in on this one. Perhaps they should have pushed it into August, after Valerian, hoping that release established a commercial branding of Dane DeHaan, which it might. (He’s great… but not an opener.)

No $10k per-screen openers on the limited/exclusive scene this weekend.

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Weekend Estimates by Leggo My Whip-O Klady

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So I gave too much respect to Fifty Shades Darker. The Friday number, with its hardcore must see-ers, was the anomaly. This one dropped like a stone the rest of the weekend. Off 45% from the first film in the series. If that translates to the entire run, $90m domestic is the target and the international… who knows? 45% international off would be $222 million, about $310 worldwide. Still profitable. But no one at the studio will be thrilled with the energy needed to launch the third next year. As long as the international holds – and it could hold much better than domestic – there will be profits. But pushing out the third in a series when you know your once-big-hit will do $70 million max domestic is a cranky activity.

The Lego Batman Movie delivered on its Friday launch as one would expect from a family film… but will it pace Moana and Sing and The Lego Movie? Lego opened significantly better. But it found a legit adult audience. and was less about the kids. There are benefits both ways. And looking at the Ninjago trailer, the best long-view chance for the franchise is young kids, not adults. So this may be a good sign for WB.

John Wick: Chapter Two flexed more muscle than expected and becomes a more realistic opportunity to get to $100m domestic. That may become overstatement by this time next weekend. But $29.4 million puts Wick 2 in the top tier of Lionsgate openers, behind only franchises that were always meant to be franchises. So take the win.

Hidden Figures just keeps going. Now it looks like $150m is the domestic minimum and $175m is realistic. La La Land is coming back to earth more quickly, but still a remarkable run and it should be near $140 million when it wins Best Picture. The Weinstein Company is being cautious with Lion, but doing nicely, holding well and passing $30 million. Arrival will have passed $100 million domestic by this time next weekend. Manchester by the Sea remains solid. And Moonlight passed the $20m barrier this weekend.

The only $10k+ weekends in limited/exclusive were A United Kingdom from Searchlight on four and Kedi from Oscilloscope on one.

I’m Not Your Negro is doing strong doc business, though the real box office surprise for docs this award season is The Eagle Huntress, which has done $3 million.

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Friday Estimates by Lego Klady Dark w/ Almonds

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-30%. -16%. +100%.

This would be as good a weekend as any to see the future of the IP-obsessed trend in Hollywood. Those who want to believe things are great with remaking everything will point out that all three of these movies will make money in the end. And that is true. Those who are more circumspect will note that even with down opening days, it is unlikely that either of the first two sequels will enjoy a 3-day multiple as good as the original and that the third cost at least double what the original cost. And someone who hates the IP trend will note that… well, they will stew, as 2 of the 3 got great reviews and the third will make up for domestic losses overseas.

The bigger question is… will studios burn their own houses down relying on ever-weakening over-used IP before the trend ends and they move back into a more moderate posture? Or will they get so desperate to make the trend work that they day-n-date their own industry beyond the point of recovery?

In some ways, just being off 30% should be a relief to Universal and Team 50 Shades. Tracking, at one point, had the second of three (so far) dropping 50% or more. I expect this launch to get worse today, not better. Still, if $55m is the 3-day, Universal would have taken that the first time and they won’t die from it this time. This is also one of those cases where international is dominant, having done 2.4x what domestic did the first time around. So even if this one drops hard and ends up at $110m domestic, international is sure to be $250m at a minimum. Even with an increased budget, $360m is a success for everyone involved… just not as much of a success. And it could well be higher than that. And if the third film drops to $250m worldwide… still making money… not a ton at that point… but making money. It is a truly hideous movie. Everyone involved should be embarrassed. But everyone also gets a new house or two or five.

The Lego Batman Movie is not an underdog. So the drop in the opening, which I think WB anticipated in recent weeks based on how hard the push got, is disappointing. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Batman is the King of IP Cash. Iron Man may seem to be kind of the hill right now, but when Downey stops wearing the suit, whoever follows will fall back in line behind Batman. And when WB decided to make a Batman Lego film the next in what they hope will be an annual series from now until forever, they were clearly intending to boost the franchise into its future, not to stay just below even from the phenom of the original. But it didn’t.

Lego Batman is going to make a lot of money (gross and profit). $300m worldwide is pretty much guaranteed. But it is also going to bring the fantasy of the Lego cash cow back down to earth. Even with great reviews, the “you have to see this… I know you think it’s for kids, but it’s for everyone” phenomenon of the first film is not going to keep getting extended to a bunch of Lego movies. Sorry. Just not. I suspect that this film will be the peak of the Lego franchise, aside from the first theatrical Lego movie. (Worth noting that there is a metric ton of Lego “movies” on streaming, cable, and in video games, so the novelty of active Lego characters isn’t really there for kids either.) Assuming the September Ninjago movie is terrific, I would expect it to do half of whatever Batman Lego does… and then, some panic will set in, as it has on Fantastic Beasts.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is a sequel to a modest hit that has become a cult-y favorite since the original’s release 2.3 years ago. This opening doubles the opening of the original, which is great for them. It still leads to a modest success, well under $200m worldwide, unless it really takes off overseas in some unexpected way. And it might.

Paramount looks like it will have a solid year to come, but the winter campaign has been surprisingly disastrous. They may actually lose money on Rings, though they might also break even sometime late this year in post-theatrical… but just barely. They will be upside down on xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. They already took the writedown on Monster Trucks. Silence is barely on their spread sheets, but will still lose a little for the studio. And Allied will bleed red. Fences looks like breakeven will be a happy ending. Arrival is the one financial bright spot… but it is not quite as bright as expected.

They have Ghost in the Shell (aka Scarlett Painted White & Rendered Even More Flawless), Baywatch, and Transformers V… 3 purely commercial vehicles coming down the pike. The whole line-up until next fall. I truly hope they hit them out of the park. I worry that there isn’t a single middle movie for 10 months, which could be a surprise hit. All 3 of these films need to be major hits to get credit for being hits at all. And that is a heavy burden to carry.

Compare this to Sony, which is also fighting uphill right now. 8 releases before next fall, only 1 of which, Spider-Man Homecoming, needs to gross huge numbers to be seen as a success. They are still swinging for the fences with Life and The Dark Tower, but not on insane budgets. And the hopefuls include a Scarlett Johansson comedy, an Edgar Wright comedy, and Danny Boyle’s return to Trainspotting with the full crew intact, plus two Sony Animation films, which won’t be expected to do Disney numbers. It could be that nothing surprises joyfully. But if Spidey does great – which I think it will – and 1 or 2 of the others breaks out, Sony is back on its feet.

On the other hand, if Paramount runs the table with 3 movies and does over $2 billion worldwide with them, they too are going to be seen as being back on their feet.

Nice roll-out on 4 for A United Kingdom, with $4500 per screen on Friday. Duckweed, a $90m comedy hit in China arrives on 27 screens here and is performing modestly.

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50 Shades Of BYOBlog

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Weekend Estimates by 3rd Weekend Personality Klady

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Super Bowl eats Sunday at the box office. Rings falls like a stone, allowing Split to rise to the top again, though the Split estimate seems a little high. Both Hidden Figures and La La Land estimate with an eye to being Sunday counter-programming. Again, finals may vary. And The Space Between Us finds too much space in theaters. And I Am Not Your Negro dominates in limited (45 screens), more than doubling any other film’s per-screen for the weekend.

Covered most of this weekend yesterday.

Split passes $100m domestic before next Friday. Becomes Jason Blum’s #1 all-time domestic grosser next weekend.

Sony made a point of sending out international numbers on Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, which has already done almost $95m internationally to its soft numbers here at home.

Likewise, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is chasing worldwide breakeven with $112m international in the bank and just under $40m at home.

Rogue One, by the way, is just over $1 billion thanks to China’s $69 million… which is really like $35 million in juxtaposition to the returns in other international markets… but still, just over a billion. Anyone who claims Disney didn’t expect to get to this number is living in a fantasy. But anyone who assumes they expected a lot more is equally (more, really) deluded. The film performed almost exactly as expected.

The only Oscar bump in play is with smaller movies, like The Saleman, Toni Erdmann, The Red Turtle, and I Am Not Your Negro, which is not the frontrunner for Best Documentary, but may make Team OJ chafe a little.

Lion expanded to 1405 screens from 575 and did modestly well, but most of the bump for Best Picture movies in wider release is just slower droppage.

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Friday Estimates by Super Klady’s Bowls

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The Ring, which was a DreamWorks property converted from the Asian horror films, embodies the entire cycle of too much of current box office. The first film was an underdog that opened decently, but then grew very long legs, grossing $1m or more for 9 weeks. As a comparison, last year’s only horror film to gross $100m domestic, The Conjuring 2, had five such weeks. The Ring launched a craze on the film world, as Asian remakes appealing in particular to young women, and then domestic horror appealing to young women was a huge trend for a number of years.

The Ring 2 opened huge ($35m) by 2005 standards, #15 for the year. Then, unlike its predecessor’s 8.6 times opening weekend, it did 2.2X opening. And with that (and The Grudge 2), the heat was off and no Asian horror remake has since grossed more than $40 million domestic.

And now, Rings is a reboot of a dormant franchise, 12 years from its last incarnation, riding the tide of studios mining ancient IP. This one will do okay, having kept its budget in line with the market, though one wonders why they didn’t cut this budget in half and give it the Jason Blum treatment. If you look at the list of high-end producers on the film, that may explain the problem… they may have made it for something like Jason Blum money and still ended up with a $25m reported budget. That is a given cost of rebooting successful, older IP. Paramount particularly carries this weight with DreamWorks rights.

Anyway… Rings will probably make a little money when all is said and done. Not a flop. Not a smash. Grist for the mill.

Split, which will end up being #2 for the weekend, is more than that. Original production. Cheap. Big grosses. Cash cow. Looking forward to Splitter. (Just kidding… haven’t even seen this one… in no rush… but McAvoy looks like he is having great fun.)

Hidden Figures remains muscular, as I suspected it would be back in September, when at the Toronto event. It will pass the Oscar Best Picture frontrunner, La La Land, either this weekend (Super Bowl sluggish) or during the week. Arrival, the third Best Picture nominee which will likely gross $100m domestic, dropped its screen count in half this weekend, slowing the process. But it’s only $2 million away… hard to imagine Par not pushing it over.

The Space Between Us is barely made any room for itself in the market, looking at a weekend under $3.5m as Super counterprograming.

I Am Not Your Negro is riding great, well-earned reviews to a $10k+ 3-day per-screen. It will be the only one in that category this weekend.

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Weekend Estimates by Not A Bad Weekend Klady

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Split holds strong and will be Jason Blum’s second franchise (wasn’t one… is now) to crack $100m domestic. A Dog’s Purpose did well… but didn’t explode with families on Saturday, muting the celebration a smidge. Hidden Figures is holding like a champ, passing $100m, though it is still chasing La La Land, which is $2.5m ahead. Resident Evil: The (Alleged) Final Chapter had, by a good bit, the worst opening of the series… but the international is where the money is and Sony knew that going in. Gold barely opened. CBS and Lionsgate really pushed hard for Patriots Day, but haven’t found the hook, even for the Peter Berg audience. The Salesman leads at arthouses, likely to open well before Trump’s Muslim ban, but surely buoyed by Farhadi’s inability to come to The Oscars, scoring $22,900 per screen.

There’s not a whole lot more to dig into here than in the brief above. Was A Dog’s Purpose hurt by the bad publicity drummed up by TMZ and PETA? Maybe. A little. But not a lot. The only real argument that it had any effect at all is if you believe it was going to blow up surprisingly large because of the dog-loving audience. That didn’t happen. But was it going to happen either way? I have no idea.

Jason Blum has created (with others) a cash-cow genre for studios large and small, but Split looks like it will be his biggest success, especially in a mature segment. His top domestic grosser is $108m and that is sure to be cracked by Split by post-Super Bowl weekend.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is another nail in the coffin of studios chasing old IP of mediocre value.

Toni Erdmann was considered the likely Oscar winner for foreign language. But The Salesman is now looking like it might be the rarest of Academy events… a straight-up political vote in defiance of Donald Trump.

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Friday Estimates by Still Splittin’ Klady

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Split becomes a monster for Universal, likely to hold off the family film, A Dog’s Purpose, also from a happy Universal, scoring early in 2017 with 2 non-franchise films, reminding the industry that IP is not the only way. Resident Evil 6 doesn’t care much about the soft US opening. Their grosses have been 80% international the last 2 films, both over $195 million. La La Land and Hidden Figures both pass $100m domestic this weekend, buoyed by Oscar noms. Even with a nice expansion bump, Team La may be a little disappointed that the bump isn’t bigger. They’ll live. And the weeekend bump may well be bigger than the Friday. Gold fools.

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BYOB Oscar

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Weekend Estimates by Klady’s March

Weekend Estimates 1-22 at 10.23.52 AM

 

 

 

 

 

Split kills it in a multiple of xXx: The Return of Another Old Mediocre Franchise. Hidden Figures holds strong while La La Land sees its first traditional dip, though it will be looking for Oscar nominations Tuesday to turn that around next weekend. The Founder rolls out like a franchise its financiers don’t really believe… to mediocre results. The only movie of any size release to do better than $6200 per-screen was the #1 film, a sure sign of a soft weekend.

Last year, the only $40 million horror opening was for The Conjuring 2 in the summer. Last year, there were only five originals that opened over $40 million (Deadpool, Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Trolls, Moana) and the only one that was live action was only barely an original. The #1 original opening last January was 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi with $16.2m and only Kung Fu Panda 3 opened to more than Split.

The opening for Split remarkable. Was it helped by the Women’s March and men free to head to the theater on Saturday? Does it change the face of theatrical cinema? Obviously not. Would it have been well-served by a day-and-date VOD opening? No. It would have cost this title tens of million of dollars in profits. And if Universal is honest about it (not that anyone will ask them), they know this. Split could do Paranormal Activity numbers all around. Huge profits… in theatrical and post-theatrical. This is why windows matter. Studios will fail if they try to cherrypick box office losers for day-and-date. The theatrical system will collapse in time. Very, very dangerous.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage continues a clear string of soft results for IP for which there is minimal demand. xXx did $271 million worldwide. The sequel – a better movie, but without Diesel – did $71 million worldwide. Now… the question is, will international territories save this from the ash heap of movie history? Allegedly, it has scored $50 million in its first weekend overseas. Triple that and this film will be within range of profitability, maybe.

Hidden Figures‘ strong holds continue. It’s a terrific audience movie, no matter how poorly directed and how many opportunities for improvement were missed. And I expect an Oscar nominatios for Best Picture on Tuesday, and it will then pass $100 million next weekend.

Also headed over $100 million then is La La Land, which took a funny smack on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend about people getting angry at friends who don’t love the movie 100% (https://youtu.be/abn6cPxrc5w). The film took a 42% hit this weekend, which may or may not have been affected by the Women’s March, but isn’t shocking. Expect an expansion and a big uptick next weekend.

The Founder snuck out like a Big Mac fart this weekend. I like the movie more than a little. Others don’t. But either way, TWC didn’t push too hard. In an era of IP obsession. With the biggest restaurant chain in the world as the center of the film.

Terrible weekend in arthouses overall. The high mark was $6,970 per-screen. Only six films over $2000 per-screen outside of the Top 10. Yick.

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“A lot of us felt blindsided,” Van Vliet told me. In the seventies, Van Vliet was drafted out of film school by Industrial Light & Magic, where he worked on The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now 62 and semi-retired, he said, “Once you get into your fifties, you’re pretty disposable.” Van Vliet was in the middle of reviewing DVD screeners before casting his Oscar votes, a process he estimated would take a hundred and twenty hours. “The Academy is essentially asking us to give them three weeks of labor, and then they’re going to take our results, put them into a ceremony, and sell it,” he said, referring to the seventy-five million dollars that the organization earns from the television broadcast. “Then they’re turning around and kicking us in the teeth.”
~ “Shakeup At The Oscars”

“Richard Schickel was a very perceptive critic and a wonderful writer and documentary filmmaker. As a person he was, to use a once popular term, ‘crusty,’ and he could be brutally funny. But it’s his deep and abiding love of movies that I’ll always remember about him. His early 70s PBS series ‘The Men Who Made the Movies,’ his 2004 restoration of Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, his wonderful little book about ‘Double Indemnity,’ his biographies of Chaplin and Cary Grant… this is a man who gave his life to the thing he loved.”
~ Martin Scorsese