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Moana has a solid, if not animation-world-beating start. Fantastic Beasts holds solidly. Doctor Strange still has a mystic hold over audiences. Allied gets out of the geat slow and anticipates big international returns. Arrival has the best hold on the big board. And Bad Santa 2 gets stuck in the chimney, along with Rules Don’t Apply. Muscular exclusive runs for Lion and Miss Sloane lead arthousers while Billy Lynn suffers a per-screen roughly equivalent to one ticket per show through the weekend in an agonizing expansion.
Disney may be going light on the Sunday estimate for Moana, but it still looks like a minimum $200m domestic, $600m worldwide movie any way you slice it. It ain’t Frozen, but it will be in the upper group of Walt Disney Animation movies and the #4 animated movie of 2016, behind Finding Dory, which ultimately passed Zootopia, and #3, The Secret Life of Pets, which will be just over $875m worldwide when it’s done. It’s a testament to Disney’s marketing power in this segment that it will go so high. Released by other studios, it would easily have done half its numbers.
As noted earlier, Fantastic Beasts is fine. It got to $150 million at the same pace as Potter #3 and a day faster than Potter #2. Clearly, it doesn’t have the dramatic heat of the first Potter nor the muscle of the films that came later in the series. But there is plenty to build on.
Doctor Strange lives in a similar place as Beasts. It is an undeniable success. But it’s “only” the seventh best first film of a Marvel character to date. This is going to be a big part of the ongoing discussion of comic book and other CG-driven movies moving forward. How much is enough? Sony was happy to give up on the Amazing Spider-Man version of the franchise after two films that each grossed over $700 million worldwide. I think they will look smart, as I think Spidey 3.0 will be a much bigger franchise. But still, how much is enough for these films?
The same issue will come up for Disney with the offshoots of Star Wars, which are sure to be massive… but not nearly as massive as the core franchise. It will be a few years before there is a real baseline of box office history to judge how annual Star Wars movies ebb and flow.
When you look at 2016, it counters arguments about comic book movie exhaustion, with 5 such films in the worldwide Top 9 right now… and 3 of them being the first films for Deadpool, Doctor Strange, and Suicide Squad. The only real trouble spot in the category this year was X-Men: Apocalypse, which still managed to do $545 million. Still, Marvel seems to be anticipating this problem with significant new character cameos in Civil War. DC also got on this, to some degree, with BvS, with the arrival of Wonder Woman and an ad for Justice League (that felt like an ad). Not quite as skillful, but definitely a trend line to keep in mind.
Allied did not have a great opening, dead in the middle between Zemeckis’ last two films, The Walk and Flight. The problem for this one is that it cost a lot more than Flight. On the other hand, Brad Pitt. He is a big reason why the film is more expensive and why it still has a legit chance at $150 million worldwide or more.
Paramount had happier news with its other “A” movie, Arrival, which dropped just 8% in its third weekend. The film is already pretty much guaranteed to be in profit in theatrical (including P&A… and in simple math, not studio contract math) and could get a big boost from the award season. It’s not like an awards movie that people will need to find after they hear about nominations. It is a well-liked, reasonably commercial film that will have another call to action if award nominations (and critics groups) go as expected.
Trolls continues to roll. It’s running a little behind The Croods, which is the #1 DreamWorks Animation film in the Fox distribution era. But a success any way you cook it. Fox has both DWA movies next year and in 2018, the post-Katzenberg DreamWorks Animation show moves to Universal.
Bad Santa 2 continues the trend of old franchises that people truly love that don’t perform as long-sitting sequels. In this case, it’s been 13 years. They added Kathy Bates, but didn’t give us much of a sense of what she added or why we should come see the reunion. Just for argument, it is a movie I am the prime audience for. I was one of the first raves for the original Bad Santa, seeing it in an early screening when Miramax wasn’t quite sure what they had. I love Kathy Bates. I love the idea of the kid being the same kid, 13 years later. I have been supportive of Broad Green. And I work with the company doing publicity for the film all the time. No discussion of doing anything for the movie. One e-mail the morning after Halloween with a screening time (which I just opened for the first time). Minimal push. Maybe the movie sucks and the team figured it was a write-off and this opening is what it had coming. Maybe Broad Green is tired of losing money and and alley-ooped it, though it is their widest opening and their second best opening as a distributor. Part of me hopes it is terrible because then I won’t feel bad that an opportunity was missed.
Hacksaw Ridge is not giving away its shot. It had the second best hold of the wide releases and could well break through into the award season. I also think the international could be significant.
Rules Don’t Apply is not a happy story. Why did they launch wide? I don’t know. Into a very busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend? I don’t know. With two wonderful young leads who have no opening power (yet) and a legendary star and writer-director who hasn’t been in the market in 15 years? This is a movie that could have had a weekend not unlike Miss Sloane or Lion, a few screens, a 5-figure per-screen, and something to build on.
The only opening Warren Beatty has ever had that was over $6 million was Dick Tracy. And this romantic period piece opened wider than any film he was ever in or wrote or directed. I don’t know whether this film would have been a hit under other release methods… but it wouldn’t be getting punched in the face on Drudge, which really sucks. Doesn’t deserve that. At all.
Speaking of smaller releases with happier stories, Loving (421 screens), Moonlight (618), and Manchester By The Sea (48) are clustered together right around Rules, each with between $1.2 million and $1.7 million coming in over the weekend.
The big per-screen winners for the weekend were Lion and Miss Sloane, with $31k on 4 and $21k on 3.
And the car wreck of the weekend was Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which is setting records for major studio futility in its second wide weekend. It’s brutal. Many bad decisions, aside from the movie itself. Ang Lee doesn’t deserve to be embarrassed like this and I suspect, because he is such a fine filmmaker and so likable, that it will quickly be forgotten (except by those who paid for it).
Among Walt Disney Animation films, Moana is only behind Zootopia. But few big animation movies open on Thanksgiving weekend, so it’s too early to get a realistic handle on where this big wave is going. The great news for Disney is that Moana doesn’t face Sing! until December 21, and while Trolls is holding well, it’s not eating the market.
Fantastic Beasts remains a curiosity. It’s doing fine. But what is fine when you are looking for the next great franchise? It would be crazy to expect numbers matching the mature Potter and so far, it is pacing #2 and #3 pretty well. The real question for Beasts is whether it can come close to those 2&3 numbers internationally, where both early Potter films grossed over $545 million. If the film does in the 500s worldwide, it won’t be a failure, but WB will be trying to figure out how to build the franchise.
Doctor Strange is a solid B for Marvel… but that A level is awfully high for any new character to hit. Already closing in on $600m worldwide, it’s a hit in the general marketplace. But how much higher can it go?
Allied is not a hit. Domestically, at least. But the international market is Brad Pitt heaven. So don’t be surprised if this one ends up in the $250 million range worldwide.
Arrival, on the other hand, is holding strong and building with word of mouth. Paramount will get a boost of publicity with Denis Villeneuve coming to town next week and with awards and nominations almost here.
Bad Santa 2 did bad business, too.
Not a good start for Rules Don’t Apply, which probably should have tried to find an audience to build on instead of fighting the wide fight from opening day.
Solid starts for exclusives Miss Sloane and Lion.
I suppose in a year of the potentially horrific, we should be all the more thankful for the joyous things we have in our lives.
My wife. My child. My family. My health.
This is the 20th Thankful column and I am still grateful for so much.But what a long, strange trip it has been.
I am thankful to DP/30 and the variations of it (Celebrity Conversations, Lunch with David) that have become the work that I am still invigorated by every week. Talking to people who really care about their work has, I have found, no expiration date. I learn about them, about the jobs they do, and about myself as I sit down with first-timers, repeat interviewees and that group of people with whom I have now had hours of conversation. I still get nervous for some (Jeremy Irons and James L. Brooks, most recently) and find comfort in the familiarity with others. And while it is considered underperformance by some, I am proud of the 30 million views of the show online.
While on this topic, I am very thankful for the people who come up to me in unexpected places to tell me that they appreciate what DP/30 offers them, as film students, fans or just film lovers. I never quite know what to say, except to thank them for watching. The show has, with more than 1,700 half hours and continuing weekly, become an annual diary of movie history.
I am thankful that so many interesting filmmakers seem to be emerging and finding audiences right now. Who would have guessed that Pablo Larrain would have a hit American movie as well as a beautiful reflection of Chilean history in the same year? Barry Jenkins is back in the saddle and unlikely to get out of it for a long while. Jeff Nichols also has two films this year. Lonergan. Yorgos Lanthimos. Paolo Sorrentino is back with a TV series. Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan have expanded the Soderbergh Cinematic Universe on TV. (Amy, by the way, was a schoolmate of Barry Jenkins.) Ben Younger is back after 12 years. Denis Villeneuve has been so busy making the next Blade Runner, he hasn’t been around to support his amazing Arrival. Shawn Levy has remade himself as a serious film and TV producer. Taylor Sheridan has written himself into the director’s chair. Mel Gibson is turning heads again. Bayona (as everyone seems to call him) is doing amazing work on a studio level. Amazing work still being pumped out (as expected) by Verhoeven and Chan-Wook Park. Mike Mills just gets better and better. Andrea Arnold.
I am not thankful that I am surely leaving people out who I mean to mention… but I am thankful that someone will remind me and make me feel super guilty before the weekend is over.
I am thankful to watch veteran actresses explode on the screen in their 50s and 60s, from Annette Bening to Isabelle Huppert to Sigourney Weaver to Sally Field to Meryl Streep to Kathy Bates to Susan Sarandon and on… and even when they are playing grandmas (only two in this group this year), they aren’t ever just playing the grandma. Not only are they creating something special in their work, but filmmakers are creating special roles with these movie divas in mind.
I am thankful to Denzel Washington and August Wilson and Margot Lee Shetterly and Barry Jenkins and The Lovings for keeping us from going through another season of #OscarSoWhite, which is critically important to the industry, but gets reduced to a bumper sticker conversation that leads nowhere. I suspect that next year’s Oscars will be less (ahem) colorful next year… not because Academy members are racists, but because the industry simply doesn’t make enough of the kind of movies that are Oscar-nominated with people of color in the lead. Even though nearly every movie of color is in play this year, the miracle is that so many are so good, not that there are enough to make their inclusion in the Oscar raise inevitable. It’s still only six movies. And over a hundred contenders of the lily-white variety. The industry needs to deal with this.
I thank the industry for the increasing availability of filmed content. We have never had as much to choose from. And overall, home entertainment has never been cheaper. But I fear deeply for the misguided whims of major studios looking to break down the system of windows, the classic notion of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. I have been on the bleeding edge of the evolution of delivery. I remember (and owned) the earliest VHS players. I bought illegal copies of movies that were not otherwise available as a teenager. I remember the first Blockbusters, the first format war, the first DVDs (buying gray market hardware from Japan), the launch of sell-thru DVD, the first (horrible) streaming, and the industry destruction of DVD by flooding the market and competing with itself on price. The lesson is that change comes with a combination of demand and acquiescence. This industry has no problem shooting itself in the foot. As volatile as the last 40 years has been in this industry, we are about to face the biggest transition yet. And the diamond standard will be maximizing the first-viewer opportunity… because that will be the only place where premiums will be acceptable to large numbers of buyers. And not just on IMAX screens or for special events. We have to stop thinking that all grosses are equal… they are not. There are now $70 million grossers that make more profit than $400 million grossers. Hell, there are $400 million grossers that lose money. We must find a way to keep the future in perspective and not seek short-term solutions that will undermine the long-term (which might only be five years into the future). Think of the Iraq War and the short-term emotional fix it brought America… then think of the price tag, in lives, in trillions of dollars, in unexpected consequences. It is an absurd analogy only in the count of the dead.
I am thankful for A24 and their fearlessness and also their modesty. They are the current gold standard in quality distribution. Fox Searchlight is still the one with the widest shoulders and the amazing Oscar history. Sony Classics is still the only true art division thriving inside of a corporate studio ecosystem. Weinstein is still the loudest distributor. Focus is finding itself. Roadside Attractions has made a remarkable place for itself, playing to more fields with more diversity of product than anyone (sometimes for better, sometimes not). Newcomers, from Broad Green to Europa to Bleecker Street, are making their mark and evolving. But I don’t think there are many people around this industry who aren’t surprised and amazed and fascinated by what A24 pulls off. Who else would have made The Lobster an $8.7 million hit in America after picking it up from a dying distributor and releasing it two months afterward. They weren’t just satisfied adding it to their library and making the money on home entertainment. I love films from all of these distributors every year. But right now, A24 is the one that, when they decide to go there, you have the sense that something impossible might happen. For a lover of film and the industry, that is nirvana.
I am thankful for the distributors who fill the middle lane, from Oscar-winning Open Road to STX to (this year’s B.O. winner-to-be, again) Lionsgate/Summit to, really Weinstein and Searchlight and Focus, the three of which have feet in both camps. The film industry is having growing pains, trying to figure out where it will land financially, and these companies are releasing movies that aspire to commercial success. But they also have the freedom to be daring. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Sometimes the right films rise and sometimes not. They can’t make you love their films when you don’t, but they often pick films that studios are put off by and it turns out that you like them… you really, really like them.
As I sit here considering the industry, I am thankful for the testosterone of Disney. The mega-budget business is the most misunderstood thing in the business right now. Media swings between the arousal and hype of giant numbers and the manic depression of seeing so much of the media landscape dedicated to giant movies that are, for the most part, mediocre at best. (Of course, the irony that media is upsetting itself by obsessing on shit is beyond most.) Disney is, really, the only company doing what they do. Because Disney is the only company with so much undeniable IP. The concept will implode at some point. Every trend does. But they are not standing still either. Marvel has simply been a lot smarter than DC, which has some great IP, but less so than the, rawer, more humanist Marvel. And they have earned the benefits of their big ideas for how to do this. I don’t have to see every film that comes out of the shoot. And when a really fun one lands (like Doctor Strange), I am as thrilled for that as any other great movie surprise. (Well, not any… but…)
I am thankful that the good people at Paramount are about to have a great run of movies. And I am thankful that some of the less good people at Paramount will likely be saying goodbye in the new year. Hopeful, the powers that be with pick wisely. If there is one constant in the craziness of industry change, it is that studios’ fortunes tend to improve right after major transitions that were meant to get rid of (alleged) failures. Weird. Some of my favorite people in this town are on that lot. I will be rooting for them and their films as I also look forward to the change that will make Paramount a fully functional studio again.
I am thankful for the support of people at studios who appreciate what I have been doing all these years. And I don’t really mind those who do not. I am not hungry the way I once was. I am certainly in a more peaceful place than many of the people employed by studios. I do not fit in the simplistic formula that is in operation at many places these days. I don’t seek being an anomaly, but an anomaly I am. I am not a shiny new object, unclear about who I am or what I offer. But I am a shiny old object for those who care to pay attention. And it has been my good fortune that many do. And for that, I am thankful. Very thankful.
I am thankful for Laura Rooney, who started MCN with me and for Ray Pride, who has become my primary partner is keeping it rolling in the last number of years. And for everyone along the way who contributed a lot and a little and everything in between. There are choices I have made that have been good and others that have been bad… some for me, some for others. But I have always asked that people who participate in my little world of MCN want to be there and are doing work they want to do. And I have been self-indulgent enough to expect the same of myself. Many, large and small, have come and gone during this 15 years here. I’m thankful that I still have some choices.
I am thankful. Period. A lucky man. I am lucky that there are people upset with me because I don’t write enough anymore. I am lucky there are people watching and appreciating my interviews. I am lucky that publicists create space for my oddball product. I am lucky to have a healthy 6-year-old (6 and 99/1000ths, he’d tell you) and a wife who has put up with the nonsense of my life and work for these years.
I am thankful for being allowed to be a part of an industry I love and to have found places for myself over these last 3 decades that make me feel at home. Never too easy. But never too hard either.
Of course, I am thankful to anyone who is reading this. I believe that one should not act in the world to get the response that comes back from your acts (or words). But without you, the readers and watchers, this high-wire act would have been a messy spot on the concrete below long, long ago. I have not held up my part of the conversation with you as much as I once did… and for that, I am sorry. Still, I thank you deeply for engaging. Agree with me or not, thank you for caring enough to care, not just about me and my work, but in the big, wide conversation about movies (and TV too). We are a minority group. We are not under attack, but we are a minority of people, held together with a shared love. Life in the bubble has been good to me. And I thank you.
Fifteen years ago, this very weekend, Warner Bros unleashed Harry Potter to cast his spell upon us. A $90 million 3-day opening which led to a $318 million domestic gross and $975 million worldwide.
Five years ago, the Harry Potter saga ended. And now Fantastic Beasts and How To Find Them is here… and it didn’t open as well as any Potter film’s 3-day, which is even more disappointing considering that the the last five Potter films all opened on a Wednesday, to take advantage of the demand, but also reducing the demand for the 3-day weekend.
That said, WB went back to the original Potter strategy and came up a little softer on the launch. But this is a successful opening and a big enough sampling by real people that it is now on the movie, not the marketing, to see what heights this franchise-to-be will scale.
But if anyone is telling you this is a massive success and “hooray,” they are full of it. And if anyone is telling you this is a problem opening, they are also full of it. This is right down the middle. This opening suggests a mid-200s domestic gross and a $600m+ worldwide gross. WB would have preferred $800 million worldwide. They would have been in despair at under $500m worldwide. No one can create an instant franchise from scratch. This franchise is, for now, much like Hunger Games (except that THG was much cheaper) or Twilight. Will the audience for this film be loyal? Will the audience grow? Will it dip a bit and stabilize at a lower number? Only time will tell.
The two other newcomers, both wide-ish (over 1,500 screens, under 2,000), opened soft and will hope for redemption over the Thanksgiving weekend. Although they are next to each other on the list of weekend numbers, The Edge of Seventeen doubled the gross of Bleed For This.
The strongest hold in the Top 10 is Hacksaw Ridge, which I suspect could see a significant bump over the holiday.
Jack Reacher and The Accountant are a tale of two movies that are around $137 million worldwide right now. The former is finding most of its money overseas and the latter domestically. Unless there is more money overseas to find, Reacher is now over as a series. The Affleck will be profitable, as it was a cheaper film.
In less-wide release, two strong starts. Manchester by the Sea does $59,350 per on four, which is strong, if not overwhelming. And Nocturnal Animals, which is more of a commercial play, does $13,189 per on 37… which confuses me utterly. But the movie is a tough sell. It’s kind of a women’s movie… kind of a thriller… kind of hard-R… kind of stylish. I say, sell the hard-R and get some money rolling in. But this seems like a play at a wider berth, awards included. I fear for the long-term results of that.
Loving expands solidly to 137 screens, maintaining $6,300 per-screen. This is probably a film that will not have a successful widening until Oscar… which is a long hold from now.
Elle expanded and did okay… but not as well as it would if people really knew what was in the movie. Very hard to sell, especially while hiding the French language. But wow, what a movie! A lot of powerful emotions out there in theaters this award season… but no film would have more intense discussions afterwards at dinner than Elle.
And Moonlight, now on 650 screens, is killing it. $6.7 million is a big number for this film, pre-awards. Everyone involved should be very proud. If it gets the Oscar nominations that are expected, it will be in the teens, at least… which is a huge success for a film that embodies the spirit of everything so deeply valued by artists everywhere.
Nice holds for Doctor Strange and Trolls lead the way, while a solid unspectacular opening for Arrival offers hope and Almost Christmas is almost a strong opening. Loving expands quite well to 46 screens, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk cleans up in to 2 extremely specialized theaters, and Elle scares up a crowd in 2.
Don’t know that there is much more to say than was said yesterday.
Doctor Strange is $23m behind Guardians’ 10-day. Still, excellent.
Trolls held significantly better than any of the similar openings in the last couple years. It should hit $100 million tomorrow (aka 11 days), which suggests it deserves to be put in a unique class. No animated movie in the last 5 years has grossed over $200 million domestic without opening over $55 million. Until Trolls. (Since 2012, 14 animated films that went on to over $200m domestic opened over $55 million.) The highest grosser amonsgt the under-55 crowd was The Croods, which did $187m domestic after opening to $44m. Trolls is $5.5m ahead of Croods after 10 days and held 15% better on its second weekend. $200 million seems pretty much inevitable and could really take off over Thanksgiving. It has some serious competition in December with Sing, which is also an animated jukebox musical, though I suspect that Sing is looking for the over-55 model for its launch. And there is Moana too.
Arrival is an interesting movie commercially. It’s performing really nicely for an Amy Adams movie… and a little soft for a big sci-fi thriller. And this movie is both of those things. So this number feels fine to me. I think the word-of-mouth is going to be surprisingly strong. Most people I speak to don’t really know what to expect from the film. I get that. I didn’t know either. And I can’t wait to see it a third time soon.
Almost Christmas is really a franchise sequel, seven years later, with slightly odd timing. Quite inexpensive, it should pick up a bit/hold well next week and is likely a money maker, if not a killer app.
Great holds for Hacksaw Ridge and The Accountant, two audience-first movies.
People question Tyler Perry, but Boo! A Madea Halloween is the #2 Madea movie ever. There is magic in that dress.
Loving expands to 46 screens and has a hugely impressive $11,500 per-screen, which is a lot better, in my eyes, than a $59,000 per-screen on 2 or 4. There is not a fortune in this film, but it is a solid indie with strong Oscar future.
Speaking of $59k per-screens on 2, Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk opened in NY and LA and did a strong $59,350. The hard part now is that they have to expand. All hail efforts at art on Hollywood’s dime.
The great Elle grabbed $27,500 per on 2, which for a French-language film is impressive. Yet another film that leaves you thinking about the president-elect. Challenging. Upsetting. Brilliant movie.
Even though Doctor Strange had an inevitable opening Friday-to-second Friday drop, the opening pace, right with Thor 2, started to push ahead on weekdays. And Friday showed a 42% increase on Thor 2‘s second Friday. This suggests that the final domestic number for this film could be in the high 200s or even tap 300 million.
Trolls has the rare and wonderful 0% drop. That suggests that the weekend could actually go up, as second weekend drops from opening day tend to take the biggest hits of the weekend.
Also holding well is Hacksaw Ridge. And The Accountant is finding new figures as it hits second run.
Arrival is the newbie and the box office mirrors the movie itself, which kinda sneaks up on you as it asserts its greatness. A $25 million-ish launch isn’t bad. This will be Amy Adams’ second opening as the lead, behind only Enchanted, which was Disney princess brand movie (before they officially started building that as a renewed brand). It is Denis Villeneuve’s biggest opener and will inevitably be his biggest grosser (until Blade Runner, Part Deux arrives).
Almost Christmas is not quite This Christmas, which was a hit for producer Will Packer nine years ago. But it could hold strong in the month to come, as we get to Thanksgiving and, well, almost Christmas. And the production costs were on the low side, so even starting soft, this looks like a money maker over time.
EuropaCorp is now not only producing, but distributing. Shut In is their fourth release, but they’re still looking for a hit. Miss Sloane is up next with a big performance by Jessica Chastain. Then a break until they release again in March. Luc Besson’s
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the film with the potential to be a worldwide hit that would accelerate the distribution side. But even if this effort doesn’t work out, EuropaCorp is one of the great non-American film companies of the world and will keep on keeping on. It’s a very different idea than Relativity was, but with a similar international-first foundation.
The big exclusive release this weekend is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. 28k per screen on two yesterday. Of course, those are the two 120-frames-per-second screens, drawing cinema obsessives who must see the new magic trick. Sony expands to 1.100-plus screens next weekend, with still only two showing in the new frame rate. That will tell the tale. I’d love to see the movie at a normal frame rate and watch the movie, not the tech.
Also strong: Elle, the great Verhoeven’s take on sex and passion and perspective.
Doctor Strange has the best November opening of any original/first-of-a-franchise aside from the first Harry Potter. It’s only the second Marvel opening in November and is almost identical to the Thor 2‘s opening. It’s also Marvel’s biggest “second shelf” launch. Trolls is a strong Dreamworks Animation opening, almost double Rise of the Guardians, their last November launch. And ironically, one of the last Fox DWA launches is their strongest. Hacksaw Ridge gets a solid start, but not overwhelming. Wouldn’t be surprised to see this one hold strong after the election.
Doctor Strange delivers the fifth $30m+ opening day of 2016 and the first since Suicide Squad in August. It’s a solid opening, slightly better than the original Iron Man, which kicked off the Marvel Universe by Marvel and slightly behind Guardians. Trolls will not catch up, but will likely come just short of a $50 million launch, not quite at Disney levels, but strong for DreamWorks in recent years. Hacksaw Ridge gets off slowly.. .but will could build in middle America after the election.
Box office writers are forever trying to narrow things down to a trend story. I fight this. But today, it is worth discussing one trend that is very real… and has been real for decades, perhaps starting in the Home Entertainment era with Eddie & The Cruisers… II.
Cable, VHS and then DVD inspired overreach in 1989 and for a long time after. The notion was that a film would build a bigger audience in Home Entertainment and that would create a larger audience for the next in the series. Sometimes, it took. Sometimes, it didn’t. Mostly, it created an upper tier of direct-to-DVD (or Direct-to-Blockbuster in the VHS era).
In the last few years, the new revenue territory that has created the IP Era is international. The idea of finding a new and perhaps bigger audience overseas both extends the life of franchises and has inspired studios to relaunch franchises that in many cases – we are learning – were better off as good memories.
The trend line for all of this began with the Fast & The Furious series, which launched as an oversized success, then fell off domestically on 2 Fast 2 Furious but more than made up for it with an international bump. It wasn’t massive, but it meant that the overall worldwide gross was higher. So the third film experimented with going overseas (Tokyo Drift)… the domestic dropped by half, but the international remained stable (off 12%, back when domestic was seen as a big influence on foreign).
The big leap was making the fourth film, Fast and Furious. Even with the international uptick, Tokyo Drift was the worst performer of the first trio. And everything was trilogy-oriented back then. The expected choice would have been direct-to-DVD with a seriously reduced budget. But instead, they invested in getting Vin Diesel back and the film did almost as much international-only as any of the other films had done worldwide. The title also hit a new domestic high. So on to Fast Five, which more than doubled the international gross from $208m to $426m. Worldwide was $626m, making it a major franchise, on par with Bond or even better.
But international growth wasn’t done. F&F6 went up another 5% internationally. But then Furious 7 broke the billion-dollar line, the new holy grail for studio franchises. And not only did it break it, it broke it on international alone, with $1.16 billion. There was also domestic growth, but it was a side issue in comparison.
A big factor in the story is China, which in the case of F&F, went from $66 million on #6 to $390 million on #7. China, in terms of actual money coming back to studios, worth about half of what other international territories are. But that’s still about $80 million in rentals from one country outside of America. Big money in a low-margin business.
But… when all the wind-up monkeys start banging their cymbals to the same tune, it doesn’t always go so well.
This year, the chickens came home to roost on this trend. There are multiple categories of how these play out.
No Expecting Much Domestic But Hoping To Top Marketing Costs
(Succeeded With: Paddington)
Bridget Jones’ Baby
Old IP Hoping That A Big Audience Is Waiting
(Succeeded With: Anchorman 2)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
Variations Seeking To Do Worldwide Business Over $400 Million, 30% Domestic Or More
(Succeeded With: Fast & Furious)
The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Independence Day: Resurgence
Some successes, some failures. But the dangerous ground is the attempts to re-launch the more expensive titles and to hope they blow up to greater size.
Long discussion short, Inferno joins that last group. The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons are, by far, Ron Howard’s biggest grossing films and the only films of his to do over $200 million internationally. Inferno is already at $132m internationally, no matter how weak the domestic opening. Would Sony prefer that it gross more than $100m domestically? Obviously. But whatever it does here, it looks like $300m-plus worldwide, which means profits.
Of the list of “bigger” films, only Ben Hur failed to get to $100 million internationally. Still, of the six movies listed for 2016, all but three of the seven (Inferno, Jason Bourne, and Warcraft) will lose money.
So is the problem real? Yeah. Is it an infection that affects the whole film business? No.
What jumps out as the most obvious factor. Da Vinci 3 and Bourne both have movie star leads/characters intact. Huntsman dropped Snow White, ID2 lost Will Smith, Ghostbusters flipped (making it a successful Paul Feig comedy but not a successful mega-movie) and Ben-Hur counted on a director’s iconoclastic style, which sold big—once—when he had Angelina Jolie kicking ass. He didn’t have a star to open this one.
This jumps out from the casting of other big films this year. Captain America: Civil War had Iron Man as well as first-ever cameos by Ant-Man and Spider-Man, plus the premiere of Black Panther to add even more value. Suicide Squad barely had Batman… but he was in every ad.
Conversely, X-Men: Apocalypse put the box office exclusively on the shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence. Powerful shoulders, but less so in blue paint.
Then sometimes, you get a new idea with a relatively obscure character that people fall in love with… Reynolds’ Deadpool, as Downey’s Iron Man was before him. Or you get something that may seem played out, like The Jungle Book, that actually delivers something that audiences haven’t seen in this age of supposedly having seen everything.
Or… you get a movie like Warcraft in which the domestic audience just doesn’t care. And the international audience is so strong that you now only get to profit, but you wonder whether they will even bother with the domestic theatrical next time out.
Okay… that was that…
Moonlight‘s expansion is even more impressive than its four-screen/$100k+ number last weekend. $23,940 on 36 is a very impressive number. For reference, last year, Ex Machina expanded to 39 in weekend two and did $20,478… went on to gross $25 million. If Moonlight does over $20 million, people are going to soil their show biz diapers.
The other recent comparison would be The Imitation Game… but that had different variables, in terms of commerciality and as it closed in on Oscar nods, expanded to 1566 screens. Moonlight isn’t going on 1500 screens. Ever. So the $90 million fantasy is just that. But still, huge win for A24, which also made hay this year with The Witch ($25m) and the abandoned The Lobster, which got to $8.7m on a very short turnaround once they picked it up.
Only other indie in the $10k-plus arena is Jim Jarmusch’s Iggy Pop & The Stooges doc, Gimme Danger.
This one makes sense.
Not every piece of it lines up. There will be regulatory issues. But the AT&T/Time-Warner merger makes sense for both companies, as well as the public.
Until the United States government decides that the internet is a utility and must stand alone as such, we will see more of this consolidation of content and delivery systems.
Disney, Fox, Sony, and Viacom lack major co-partners that also own a delivery utility. This will change. It will probably change for Netflix at some point, too.
I have been saying for what feels like a very long time that the missing commodity in the Streaming Era is the massive studio libraries. They have been sitting there for a few years, waiting for their lasting value to be determined. And the answer is is that they are greatest long-tail bait possible.
There is a giant, insane maze of rights, both domestic and international, for all the studio libraries. But as each year passes, the tangles get a little less tangled and holding on to those streaming rights gets more and more attractive.
At the same time, a library like Disney’s, skyrockets in value for streaming… even if they are stuck in a Netflix output deal for the next 4 years. When Netflix agreed to a $350 million a year deal for Disney streaming, it was an insane amount of money. Today, you can be sure that Disney feels like it is getting royally screwed and that the value is a lot closer to a billion a year. And to Netflix, it would be worth even more than that, as they will be able to cut back on original programming by a billion or more with Disney as cover, likely building paid domestic subs by 10% or more next year when the number has now been pretty flat for over a year.
Not every studio’s library is worth a billion a year to a as-of-yet-not-built streaming business. But we are heading there… and higher.
There are already an absurd number of overpriced streaming opportunities out there. $15 a month for a narrow swath of content can’t be the future for the entire industry. Or $8 a month for TV that is otherwise free over the air. But serious competition is coming and the content companies are getting ready for that battle, slowly holding onto more rights more tightly until they launch their juggernauts.
The starting gate of all of this has Comcast holding the cable universe as a priority and AT&T focusing on satellite. Both are selling access to the web for streaming. Disney is sitting back, struggling on the TV network side, the next obvious target but without a web access company big enough to eat that company whole. And Fox, which owns the fourth and final major broadcast network, seems to want to be the aggressor, not the pursued.
I still believe that the future of post-theatrical film is subscription-driven and will allow access to nearly everything that exists. Delivery system will, in time, become irrelevant to everyone except for those making money by providing said systems. A function of utility.
A mega-company like AT&T/Time-Warner (AT&TW?) will do many things which will compete separately with other companies. I see the question less as about self-dealing than about prohibiting the big company from hiding massive amounts of content behind exclusive walls.
Of course, exclusivity is not purely a product of mergers. Most Time-Warner movies appear – at least in the first years of their lives – only on HBO/Cinemax. Disney and Sony have been in exclusive deals with STARZ/Encore for years. Paramount has been a part of EPIX. Showtime, after parent CBS broke from Paramount, has been a bit of a hodgepodge on the movie side. The studios were split up amongst the cable nets decades ago. Nothing new there… except ownership.
I do agree that this massive company will be unwieldy to manage. I wouldn’t be shocked if, in 5 years or so, the company were to split itself into 2 companies: AT&T Utilities and AT&T Entertainment. It would be a lot more complicated than this, but it would, essentially, give Time-Warner a MVPD of its own in DirecTV, much as NBC/Universal has Comcast.
Both DirecTV and Comcast are already working on the combination of “cable” and a significant streaming presence. But it’s still half-assed, especially on DirecTV. These consolidations are defensive, not aggressive. How will Comcast Cable or DirecTV’s satellite service survive in a world of streaming anything at anytime anywhere?
They can’t, as they are now. Even with control of the content companies, there are massive changes to come. MVPDs will become primarily the live and premiere window for content. Post-premiere will be accessible in multiple ways, with little control aside from possible windowing, in the hands of the content companies. Corporations love predictability over almost everything. They are not looking to create the newest volatile market.
The next great magic trick is not about consolidation or whose wire you are watching content on… it will be about how to maximize the long-tail world and how to generate big enough revenue streams in that long-tail world to sustain new content.
There will always be a hunger for whatever is next… but how much hunger for how many outlets delivering how many hours of television or theatrical-level “film” every month/year?
As I have written before, the danger of day-n-date is not that the market wouldn’t find balance between the films that work well with that distribution pattern after a period of extremes (not unlike what we are seeing in the streaming universe right now). The problem is that the process of finding balance for the distributors would likely be quite destructive for exhibitors (as we are seeing in the indie world right now), changing the foundations on which this is all built.
But this is far afield from the mergers of the moment.
The cost of leasing top-end new content was multiplying, so Netflix shifted to their original content strategy, which has actually slowed the growth in value of streamed content a bit.
Ever since Netflix created the streaming market – and make no mistake, they were the absolute first mover outside of free YouTube – the clock has been ticking on the value of selling content to Netflix (and those that have followed) being overcome by the value of content creators selling streaming content themselves.
The AT&T/Time-Warner merger is the first tipping point event. Time-Warner has been, really, more aggressive than anyone (pre-Comcast/NBC/U merger) about trying out the streaming waters. They’ve built Warner Archives, first as a DVD service and then as a streamer. They’ve bought existing online businesses, like Flixter (and Rotten Tomatoes with it), before dumping it earlier this year… not the solution. They bought into Hulu this summer, which I would imagine is someone’s next takeover target… a LOT cheaper and with less-focused leadership than Netflix.
With AT&T as a parent, I would expect that Time-Warner will sell off its 10% of Hulu and build its own “NewFlix,” putting a mixture of new and old WB library content, film and TV, into a OTT, discounted for DirecTV subscribers, but at a price comparable to Netflix for anyone who wants to subscribe.
Disney still seems to me to be the logical eventual buyer of Netflix.
And that leaves Paramount, Sony, and Fox.
Sony, through its PS3 programming, has the best shot at building their own standalone OTT distribution.
I like Fox to end up with Hulu as its OTT base.
And Paramount’s world changes massively in a re-merger with CBS, the only broadcast network with a paid OTT business in operation.
6 major OTTs at $12 a month is $72 a month, leaving roughly $30 – $48 a month for everything else.
If Comcast and AT&T are making solid revenues providing internet access, they can press that advantage and also offer a better level of service by adding (as such) cable/satellite access service as an add-on to the OTT service.
That puts a new kind of value on Charter (which bought Time Warner Cable to become the #2 internet provider in the US), Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint… as well as Google’s expanding internet access service.
I’m sure, as all these companies consolidate and experiment, that there will be an ugly few years of fighting over who gets what share of the somewhat inflexible pie. But in the end, I still see much more content, available with much more flexibility, for everyone at a price not much different than what people are spending on cable/satellite today.
Don’t fear The Merger. Everyone will always feel like they are paying too much or being left out for not being willing to pay that fare. But there is no scenario in which I see the consumer who is willing to spend within current norms getting less for their money 5 years from now… especially 10 years from now.
The threat is to the ecosystem of new original content, not to the consumer. Because the longer the tail on content, the less wide an audience focused on what is new, the fewer dollars to keep that machine going (or at least, the less motivation for content creators who are already deeply invested).
The newcomers land in the same order as they did Friday, Madea leading, but there are some “funny” estimates for the 3-day, which may shift when Sunday numbers are counted. The only change in order might be Ouija 2, which could fall behind The Accountant for #4. Also accelerating, after an excellent four-screen launch on Friday, is Moonlight, with an estimate that is even more stellar than expected, leading the exclusives by a distance.
BooMadea’s estimate seems a mill or two high… but still #1. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back gives an honest estimate, which could actually go up a little, a 51% improvement on the first in the series. Ouija: Origin of Evil also estimates high, fighting off The Accountant for the #3 spot. Ouija 2 may well fall to #4 tomorrow, but will still likely be equally profitable or more profitable than the Affleck thriller. Keeping Up With The Joneses couldn’t keep up with six other movies and is better than that, but probably not good enough to get a word-of-mouth surge that would alter its trajectory. A trio – aside from the Wonder Woman to come – of actors who are well-liked, but don’t to inspire people to buy tickets.
Suicide Squad is holding to hit $325m domestic… which made me look at the year and the massive disparity between the top 8 titles so far and the rest. Jason Bourne is the #9 movie of the domestic year to date and it is almost exactly HALF the box office of #8, Suicide Squad.
The are NO titles between $175 million and $320 million. NONE. That hasn’t happened in the domestic box office since 1988, when Rainman was the #1 movie of the year with just under $175 million. Almost 30 years and a whole different box office universe, pre-DVD.
The disparity is not evident at the international box office, though there is a near-$200 million hole in the worldwide box office between $553 million for The Mermaid and Suicide Squad‘s $744 million. The worldwide target for “the big movies” (budgeted over $175 million) to be safely into profit is…. perhaps not coincidentally… $600 million.
I’m not saying that all the bigger budget films that don’t do $600 million are money losers. There are many variables in budgets and in post-theatrical revenues. $500 million is the edge of danger (though there could still be black ink, in reality, if not on the studio books). And not every $600 million grosser will be profitable… but the vast majority will.
I don’t know exactly what this means or the root causes. Each film is its own universe. One can hardly say that Jason Bourne‘s $401 million worldwide makes it a “have not.”
For all the complaining in the media, there are only five bigger budget money losers this year so far: The Huntsman: Winter’s War, The BFG, Alice Through The Looking Glass, Star Trek Beyond, and Independence Day: Resurgence. Others that seemed like big trouble were saved internationally (from Warcraft to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows). And Ben Hur wasn’t that expensive (but it will lose money).
And unlike the constant refrain in much of the media, caused by the very same media’s misreporting of the industry, there were about 20 movies released by studios this year that were just around or over $150 million in production costs. That is a quarter of the releases. And I am not including Dependents (Searchlight/Focus/SPC) or any of the indies. Just major studios, where I include Tri-Star, Screen Gems, and New Line.
The BIG movies with the BIG budgets and the BIG grosses or the DISAPPOINTING grosses are like a shiny object to press. And while 20 such movies is a lot and a higher percentage than in the past, the illusion that this is all that major studios now do is false.
And I hate to break it to the media (wait, that’s me), but The Secret Life of Pets and Deadpool, both massive hits, may stink of IP, but were relatively cheap. They lead 21 $75-million-or-less homegrown studio releases that have grossed over $100 million worldwide.
Did I mention that Moonlight had a great 4-screen opening? It did.
Also a strong start for The Handmaiden on 4… but not close to Moonlight.
I suspect that 90%+ of audience members going to either film will come out buzzing with movie joy.
And the superstunt for the election is Michael Moore in Trumpland, a spoken-word concert event by Moore talking to, as I gather, a crowd of Ohio Trump supporters. $20,850 per on two screens before its immediate iTunes bow.
Not an interesting weekend, all things considered. Lots of soft franchise openings and a failed launch of what could have become a comedy franchise.
Madea is back to her traditional level of business. A little behind, but the details of opening don’t seem to matter to the final domestic number with this franchise. But look for a $53m – $65m gross total, which is what Madea does (with only one outlier… Madea Goes To Jail). Madea has never once done more than $1.3m internationally.
Jack Reacher also returned this weekend, though the Paramount ads were so dark and off-center that I wasn’t quite sure who they were after. The teen boy hard-R audience, perhaps? In any case, they kicked the original opening’s ass by 74%, which is impressive. Still, the domestic launch looks to be around $25 million, which is good, but hardly breathtaking. The expectation, no doubt, is that most of the revenue will be international. And if international also reflects the level of domestic uptick, this movie would do $350 million-plus… which would make it a hot, rising franchise produced at a pretty reasonable budget.
Ouija: Origin of Evil appears to spell “mediocre,” but with cheap production, it’s hard to lose on these bets, Even falling well off the original (original knock-off of a board game, that is), this seems destined to be profitable, if not a new house in London for anyone.
What happened to Keeping Up With The Joneses? Nothing. They just didn’t sell the thing effectively. The movie was better than the ads… which is not a good thing. There is something missing from the formula to keep it from being the comedy Mr & Mrs Smith (perhaps movie stars?), but it’s not lacking entertainment value. If they had sold the third act turn, instead of the jokes that tested biggest, perhaps they would have been better off on opening weekend.
The arthouse is back to life. Moonlight is killing it for A24 with $32,500 per screen on Friday and over $60k per screen for the weekend. The Handmaiden did $4750 per screen on four and will be over $10k for the weekend. And Trumpland, the last-minute Michael Moore concert film (now available on iTunes) did a handsome $5,300 per on two on Friday.