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It’s been a weird summer.
There have been 37 films released on 1000 screens or more. Only 1 of those films failed to get to $10m at the domestic box office. 33% of the films grossed $100m or more domestic. 43% of the films were between $25 million and $100 million.
The two grossers from non-studio distributors that were in that $25m-plus group were Earth to Echo (Relativity) and Chef (Open Road). But it is worth noting that Echo launched on 3230 screens and Chef, which launched on 6, never got to more than 1298 screens.
Indies were in the majority in the under $25m group of 10 films (I’m including Expendables and 100-Ft Journey in the over $25m group). Two Lionsgate, two Weinstein, two from newcomer Clarius, one each from IFC, Roadside, and studio dependents Searchlight and TriStar.
Five films launched in limited release (each under 7 screens) and gotten to $10m domestic theatrically. In 3 of those cases, distribution expanded at some point to over 1000 screens. The other two Are Boyhood and Belle, neither of which has hit the 775 screen mark as of yet.
But let’s get back to the new normal…
Every single film in the domestic and worldwide Top Seven for this summer will have grossed at least $500 million and cost at least $150 million.
The only movie released this summer which cost over $150 million that won’t gross $500 million-plus is Edge of Tomorrow. It will “just” gross $370 million, which makes it the #9 film worldwide for the summer.
The film that stopped the string of $150 million-plus movies at the Top 7 domestically is 22 Jump Street, which was the biggest “cheap” hit of the year with $190 million domestic and $304 million worldwide on a studio-claimed $50 million budget. It beat worldwide #6/domestic #9 How To Train Your Dragon 2 domestically, though Dragon 2 did $235m more worldwide.
So there were 9 films costing over $150 million… and 8 of the 9 will have scored better than $500 million worldwide by summer’s end (Guardians is the one still working to get there).
Looking back at last summer, there were (at least) nine $150 million budget releases and the results look a little less attractive. Only 6 films got to $500 million worldwide last year. On the other hand, the highs were higher ($1.22 billion last summer to 1.05 billion this summer… and a 2nd film at $970m million ww to this summer’s 2nd best $744m).
But what corporate studios seek is not the maximum profit from movies, but the most stable business model possible that leads to predictable, repeatable profits.
This was the same issue with sell-thru DVD. By trying endlessly to frontload movies to maximize the first few weekends so that the DVD window could be shortened, they left 10s of millions in theatrical revenue on the table… per big movie, not overall. Hundreds of millions each year. But the return from DVD was so massive that it became the much higher priority. The focus on increasing DVD sales, including quickly inflating marketing budgets, was first priority… until the bubble burst.
In Summer 2012, there were 9 movies with a cost of over $150 million. Only 6 grossed $500m ww or better. Again, the highs were higher (Avengers and Dark Knight 3), but 3 of those $150m+ movies made less than $400m worldwide… and one of them is getting a sequel!
Media keeps getting distracted by their perceived shiny objects – overall domestic grosses, individual achievements, and the $300 million domestic total that eluded every film this summer – and forgets what the reality of this business is. Making money. And not losing money. A big fat hit looks great on the cover of the annual report and can even drive revenue in other divisions. But corporations love stability… incremental growth… predictability.
But it gets better!
How many movies this summer do you suppose cost (at least, as admitted) between $50 million and $150 million? Five. Last summer? Nine. The summer before? Ten.
The four this summer were (from least expensive to most); 22 Jump Street, Planes: Fire & Rescue, Into The Storm, Hercules, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And the range of grosses on these films are from $94 million to $304 million. Two are guaranteed to be profitable, one is borderline but a merchandise franchise (Planes) and the only two where there is any real chance of a loss are Hercules and Into The Storm.
So… of all 14 films that cost over $50 million released by majors this summer, only two are likely to suffer small losses, Edge of Tomorrow and Hercules and one is likely to take a decent-sized writedown.
And films under $50 million?
The majors and their dependent arms released 20 such films. There are some money losers. But there are some cash cows too. The Fault in Our Stars, Neighbors, and Lucy. Blended and Tammy to a lesser extent.
There are some smaller budget films that will, indeed, lose money. But not a lot. And not the majority.
I must admit, I am still chewing on all of this. Has the industry landed almost exactly where it wants to be? Obviously, more is always better. But there isn’t any real pain at the majors this summer. And all of the majors have hits, with Universal being the only one not to have a $300 million ww movie… but making money on every film except Endless Love and the borderline A Million Ways To Die In The West, which was primarily funded outside of the studio and hitting well with Neighbors, Lucy, The Purge: Anarchy.
Have we come to the place where companies investing $300m plus in production and marketing can be comfortable that 88% of the films made at that price will return over $500 million at the box office alone? Because that’s a big deal.
Or is this summer an illusion, singing the siren song to drive big spenders to their doom? Remember, in the next 3 years, studios are planning 6 – 8 comic book movies every year with budgets in excess of $150m… and that is before getting to all the other big, expensive films in other genres, including 3 -5 animated movies with these big budgets every year.
This is the question…
The box office oddities keep on keepin’ on….
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will pass the domestic gross of last summer’s GI Joe reboot with The Rock sometime during the week and is now pretty much assured to push Neighbors out of the summer Top 10, leaving only Guardians as a domestic Top 10 original.
Guardians of the Galaxy will be the #1 domestic grosser of the summer, but could miss the Top 5 worldwide and not hit $300m domestic.
Let’s Be Cops is a certifiable hit, whether critics like the notion or not. For perspective, the only Lorne Michaels-produced comedy that opened as well or better in 5 days was Mean Girls… and only by $600,000. To be fair, a lot of LM’s hits were many years ago. But this ain’t no MacGruber or Hot Rod. It is the 2nd cheapest studio release of the summer (Fault… also from Fox) and it will make reasonably good money, even with minimal international revenue.
Expendables 3 is waiting on international. It has been pointed out that the leak of the film could have damaged the opening. I say 15% (which ain’t nothing) or less. The second film dropped too. But this one feels like the clever gimmick Stallone came up with is now a parody of itself and the audience knows it. Self-parody is a genre killer.
The Giver is more weak sauce, reminding us that the hit YA franchises are not a gimme.
Boyhood is holding strong with a nice expansion.
Universal missed with Get On Up, but The Purge: Anarchy has now out grossed the original both domestically and internationally. Like Tammy, it was written off too fast and too intensely this summer.
On the indie side, The Trip To Italy is the strongest new release. Nice (if not overwhelming) numbers for Frank, Life After Beth, and Yves Saint Laurent.
I hate this time of year.
Good indies that are commercially challenging get “launched.” Bad studio movies that they’ve given up hope on get freed. (Go into the light, Giver.)
There is a good chance that Guardians of the Galaxy will end up beating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before the weekend is over (not that slotting matters). Both films have landmarks this weekend… Guardians at $200m and Turtles at $100m.
There are three $10m – $20m openers this weekend. Degrees of disappointment vary. For all of the profound navel-ga… uh, deep, profound insight about the real-life horrors of Ferguson, Mo occurring in the same week Let’s Be Cops is released, it’s having the best opening vs production costs. If the reported $17m production price tag is true, a $40m gross – which it looks like it’s headed for – is a win.
The Expendables 3 is yet another franchise dying domestically, but continuing because of international. The sequel was off about 17% domestically from the first film… but up 29% internationally. Friday is off 45% from Ex2′s opening Friday. That extrapolates to $47m domestic. But the eyes are still on what they hope will be a $200m gross internationally. But even if the film does gross $250m worldwide, don’t expect them to be in a rush to make Expendables 4. Of course, if international is off anything close to the domestic, the film will lose money and that will be that.
The connection of Let’s Be Cops to the horror show in Ferguson is nonexistent. But it allows for plenty of pretentious writing. The timing is clearly less of a problem for audiences than for film critics. I can’t imagine that this opening number would be any different if Ferguson wasn’t happening. Meanwhile, if this universally-panned film really just cost $17 million to make, its crappy $15m likely 3-day will be okay, suggesting about $40m total domestic to go with TV sales overseas and a small profit on the film. This is the kind of situation where Fox’s fiscal discipline makes Shinola out of shit.
Phillip Noyce is a true high-quality director. The Giver got onto Charlie Rose. But the opening number… ugh. I haven’t seen the film. I won’t be seeing the film. But again, if the reported cost of $25m is real, the movie has certain already covered production with international dollars, leaving some price and P&A to The Weinsteins. So it may not be a total car wreck for the company.
It’s a particularly ugly scene on the bottom half of the Top 10. 65%, 74%, and 67% drops, combined with 43% off for the adult-focused The Hundred-Foot Journey, and the one okay drop, for Lucy.
Okay $15k range per-screens for indies The Trip To Italy and Frank. (I love Frank, BTW. Weird, indie, smart, fun.) A24′s experiment with an early DirecTV-only VOD release of Life After Beth will generate about $7,500 per on 2. The aggressive young indie announced this week that it will continue to experiment with DirecTV on another film. Everyone’s looking for The Answer.
I cannot say enough about what Michael J. Fox has done for Parkinson’s awareness, research, and for those suffering with the disease.
But there is a distinction between what Mr. Fox has been going through (Muhammad Ali, too) and what was the case with Robin Williams, assuming there was a recent diagnosis, as suggested by his wife’s statement.
According to the National Parkinson’s Foundation, both Fox and Ali suffer from what they call Young Onset Parkinson’s. This is when people are diagnosed before 50. Unique to this diagnosis are:
* A slower disease progression
* An increased rate of dystonia (sustained abnormal postures, such as turning in or arching of the foot and toes) at onset and during treatment
* A lower rate of dementia
* An increased rate of dyskinesias in response to L-DOPA treatment.
* As is the case with older-onset Parkinson’s disease, the speed and severity of the progression of Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease can vary greatly among individuals.
The average age at which a Parkinson’s diagnosis is made is 62. Robin Williams was 63.
I went down the Parkinson’s track about 30 years ago. My godfather, for whom my son is middle-named, was diagnosed at around 60. He was wealthy… well cared for… family quickly active in the Parkinson’s community. One of the smartest men I have known. I wasn’t there every day. Not close. I lived in other cities as he battled through that last decade of his life.
I remember the shuffle. I remember the bursts in which I could see “him” inside the slowing body. I made the trips to the men’s room, when that was still possible, and had the conversations with his wife and the increasing issue that bathing and all other bathroom activities became. I remember the increasing lack of frequency of those moments where “he” showed in the conversation. The increasing frustration… belligerence even.
I watched, from some distance, a person who I loved almost like a parent, go slowly, block by block, gesture by gesture, loss by loss.
And I saw a man’s wife, desperate to care for him as she committed to back when marriage was a more solemn thing for more of the population, literally killing herself to do right by this man. Would she have developed dementia practically on top of his passing had she not gone through the stress of this decade? No one can ever know. But I think it contributed. Whatever propensities she had were certainly not as closely examined and cared for while her focus was all outside of herself.
And I have watched the process again since. And I have known others who lived through this wholly undeserved horror.
Am I condoning suicide as a choice for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s or other diseases primarily of the over-60s that are painfully debilitating? Not as broadly as that.
But I think of how I would feel. I think about my father, who at 80 decided that his medical challenges so overwhelmed his quality of life that he allowed himself to die without medical assistance (except pain meds) by way of allowing his failed kidneys to kill him over the course of a week or so… painless, but fatal.
And I think of a man like Robin Williams, who had such power over his body and his mind, considering a future with diminishing power. I think of what it must be like to imagine your legacy being overwhelmed by your illness.
I think of Roger Ebert, who lost so much so fast, but who still had the power to communicate in a way that really was his most comfortable form. He made the most of it… but it was a gift, really. Not being able to speak or eat or travel easily was a real and profound loss. But he could still be Roger.
Could Robin Williams be Robin Williams with his motor cut by half, much less with it cut by 90%? And when, in that inevitable deterioration, would he lose control… not just of his body and his mind, but the ability to pull the plug when he, somewhere in his soul, decided enough was enough.
I have been avoiding writing about Robin Williams for the last few days because I felt like too many people were writing with too little actual information, and with too little insight into what the man’s pain really was. There have been some really beautiful pieces. But a lot of click bait and wild hypotheses.
And this morning, Robin Williams’ death, which could well have been fueled by many issues aside from Parkinson’s, became a little less blurry to me. I am fortunate not to suffer from depression. I am not famous. I have not earned enormous wealth, nor do I carry the pressures of it.
But facing inevitable, sped-up, profound deterioration. That is not treatable. That is not something to work through. That is, in my view, a door that you walk through consciously, knowing that you may soon lose consciousness or the power to express yourself.
Remember, Robin Williams watched Richard Pryor battle with Multiple Sclerosis for almost 20 years before Pryor died. The last six years of his life, Pryor didn’t perform.
(Added, 3:28p) As someone smartly pointed out, Williams also spent years watching his close friend Christopher Reeves deal with a catastrophic injury and the repercussions in his life.
Anyway… there is probably nothing that could happen to me physically that I fear more than constant, harsh, inevitable deterioration. (The next 30 years of my life will include a lot of deterioration. But it will hopefully be slow enough and incremental enough that I can make the adjustments as it comes… until I can’t.) So this announcement not only hit my personal history button, but my intimate fear button. And I wanted to be as clear as I could… more than 140 characters clear.
Getting old ain’t for sissies. And even horrible, painful choices can be brave.
So pretty happy weekend for both Paramount and Disney – and Michael Bay and Marvel – as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles launches about as well as Paramount could have hoped for the reboot and Guardians drops a solid-for-a-second-weekend-after-a-mega-opening 56%. Win-win.
In fact, the Guardians drop is dead on with the Captain America 2 drop from April, which in finals was 56.6%. Might be the same for Guardians as today has not happened yet. Could be better. Previous best drop this summer from a $90m+ opener was Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s 61.2%. (Don’t let that stop you from presuming that audiences hated it because you don’t like it, journalistic seekers of truth.)
The Ninja Turtles open is right there between 22 Jump Street and Maleficent for the summer. Of course, this means absolutely nothing, aside from spin over word of mouth, to the people who paid for and made the movie. Each film comes into the market within its own universe of cost and potential returns and each one will be right back there within 6 weeks. Between now and then, sound and fury signifying hype.
The real story of this weekend is the three movies from three different studios who thought they had some room to work. This date for Into The Storm suggests that WB must not have expected Guardians or Turtles to do these numbers. The movie is not Grade A, but you can fool some of the people some of the time yet this was not that time. I have no idea what the real budget of the film is, but it claims to be rather cheap, so maybe it will be able to find enough cash internationally to get into the black based on the effects, which are not unimpressive.
The Hundred-Foot Journey seeks to counterprogram with food and Indian culture and Helen Mirren getting her groove back in what used to be the Meryl Streep summer romance slot. What Disney found out the hard way is that Helen Mirren isn’t Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts and no amount of Oprah thrown at the marketing – which by the way, is not selling what the movie IS, which is a problem – could make her so. Of course, the last Meryl Streep effort in this slot opened to $14 million, which is why there hasn’t been one in a couple years. This open is “only” 20% off that.
And Step Up: All In, a franchise discarded by Disney after 3, picked up as a piece of business by Lionsgate, took another step backwards that couldn’t have been too much of a surprise to LGF. It’s kind of fascinating. There has been a drop with each film in the series and the drop on opening weekend has grown each time, from 8% to %16% to %25% to 44% this time. This suggests that “Step Up 6 would open to something like $2.6 million… which is why VOD beckons.
Lucy‘s hold looks pretty good considering the hurricane of the last two weekends in its target demo. Universal can’t love 49% in weekend three, but it could be a lot worse. It should hit $100 million on Wednesday or Thursday.
Hercules is also holding reasonably well against the August rush, but at a lesser level with a higher budget. There’s already $73m in from international. They’ll need more. But that is the route.
Get On Up is done. No one likes to talk about it, but black audiences, when they turn out in numbers, are heavily first weekend customers… often opening day heavy. So when you see a 63% drop for a well-reviewed film about a great performer, you know that the white audience just isn’t showing up much and much of the black demand has been sated. Universal also got smacked by the media distraction over Guardians. This should have been a fall or spring movie. Just got lost here, except with its core constituency.
A Most Wanted Man crosses the $10m plateau running neck-n-neck with Boyhood. It’s only fair to point out that And So It Goes, Rob Reiner’s summer rom-com for over 50s released by newcomer Clarius and FreeStyle Releasing, is ahead of both of those films. I wonder what that film could have done with a more mainstream distributor.
Also, Open Road’s Chef is a million away from $30 million. Impressive.
Soft weekend for new indies. Jim Cameron’s latest undersea exploration didn’t draw much. What If, which has a lot of love and goodwill floating around it (including Zoe Kazan charming the sweet bejeezus out of everyone), found a modest $6700-per on 20. And The Dog, which has taken about a year to land in theaters from the festival circuit, managed just $5050-per on 2.
And a very strong single-screen number for South Korean film, The Admiral: Roaring Currents… for the record.
So the Ninja Turtles opening day is right in line with the second tier of summer openings, between 22 Jump Street and Maleficent. That leaves about a $20 million range for the opening weekend number, which is completely a product of how the movie holds on Saturday. Did the must-sees blow up the Friday number or is it more of a normal opening Friday? We shall soon see… as it actually happens… you know, when it takes the step from being speculation to being news.
A summer-best Friday-to-Friday drop for Guardians of the Galaxy still leaves its 8-day total a bit behind Transformers 4, but looking like it has a good chance of topping Tr4‘s likely $245m domestic. Does that mean $260 million or $280 million or closer to this summer’s elusive $300 million? No one could know. The advantage Guardians has is open space. Expendables 3 and Sin City 2 are in the way of the next two weekends, but there is room to stretch the legs out after that. One thing is pretty clear. If $300m domestic for Guardians does happen, it will likely be in late September.
Into The Storm is low-budget high-CG, but this opening day and what could well be a $15m weekend is not a winner. International is its only hope… even at this relatively low budget.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is an oddball. It’s on 1,000 fewer screens than Million Dollar Arm (which should have starred Kurt Russell), but it’s landing with a similar box office number. Relatively inexpensive, but with a big ad buy pushing the Oprah/Spielberg angle. This is why you had Dependent arthouse arms, because they worked the margins on a movie like this and a big studio just isn’t built to do that. So I have no idea, really, whether $30 million domestic for this film is a win for DreamWorks and Disney. If it were Searchlight or SPC or Weinstein, you would naturally assume “yes.” Here, it’s a “maybe.”
Step Up: All In is all out of gas. Opening day is 47% off the worst Step Up opening day prior to this. A domestic total around $20 million probably signals that the next film will step into the VOD space, where it will be hailed as a breakthrough if it does over $10 million.
Get On Up is already getting on out. The core audience that was going already went. This is a classic “bad date” situation. If it opened, say, next weekend, then more people would be out looking for movies to see and this one might have stuck out more. As is, lost in the sauce. And if they really thought Chadwick Boseman had a shot at awards, they should have taken the awards route. Instead, this one is over before it really began.
Soft weekend in new indies. Jim Cameron’s latest undersea doc is drowning with what looks to be a $400 per-screen for the weekend. The Millennial romance, What If… is doing an okay $7k per-screen on 20. And the glorious doc The Dog looks like it will squeeze out $5k per on just 2 screens. Not enough.
This series is everything great and distancing about Steven Soderbergh.
Here’s the best way I can describe it. If you enjoy all of Magic Mike, you will love this series. If you only are there for the “big” moments, you will probably find the first 4 hours frustrating and then start falling in love with the show in episodes 5, 6, 7, and beyond.
Me? I love the detail. I love the subtlety. I love that Soderbergh rarely tells you, as the audience, how to feel in anything other than the most demanding way.
What is the show about? Too much to turn into a sentence or even a paragraph. It’s about women who embrace their equality when the society doesn’t. It’s about race. It’s about extreme bravado and stunning fear. It’s about old money. It’s about the nature of power. It’s about how power can shift in an instant. It’s about how sheer bravery and utter stupidity can occupy a person in the same moment.
The series kind of reminds me of the most recent season of Boardwalk Empire, which really cut back on the genre fun (tits, guns, oversized personalities) and got to the gut of things. There are some big personalities in The Knick, but you won’t see a big, fun, wild Bobby Canavale-on Boardwalk–type performance on this series. (You might see Bobby Canavale next season… who knows?… but he would likely be seething, not barking.)
Casting by Carmen Cuba and Soderbergh is remarkable. Clive Owen is perfect here… but it’s not a Walter White or Don Draper kind of showy role. He is dry as a martini with a drop of Vermouth. Over the course of the 7 episodes I have seen, he is the show’s rock and shines, but without trying (or being written) to outshine others.
André Holland becomes a household name (or at least a Hollywood household name) from this show. The writing and the performance challenge him and his character to stay within the truth of that period while also pushing as hard as he can. The waves of frustration and relief are a dramatic joy to experience.
Eve Hewson, Juliet Rylance, and Maya Kazan each carries the baggage of famous families with them (I’ll let you look them up, if you care), but you wouldn’t know from the work. Three very different roles and performances. Each about as dead on – and unexpected in many ways – as you could seek. The further along you get in the series, the more complex and less expected each becomes.
And it’s great to see a vet like Cara Seymour get a great role to play.
I don’t want to make a forever-ling list of other great performances, but Danny Hoch, Michael Angarano, Matt Frewer… and Chris Sullivan, who is going to work FOREVER off of this show. How much range does he have as an actor? No idea. But if he’s a good guy – in real life – he will soon be one of the most popular guys to add to movie ensemble after movie ensemble.
Okay… so let me lay it out. People are going to have a hard time for the first 4 episodes. Soderbergh and the writers take their time laying out their corner of the universe. The frustrations of the situation will frustrate many viewers… because they are not cleanly resolved. And truth be told, I’d probably be happiest watching the first 4 back-to-back-to-back. There are moments of true delight along the way. But there is a lot of status quo establishing. But after that, things start really happening. And you will be hooked, week by week.
I know I am. Can’t wait for the last few episodes… and really, I am already excited about next season.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t posted any of this on the blog…
It then struck me that it is ironic that I am posting this on the blog, as I know many of you feel that the time I spend on DP/30 kinda killed the blog.
In any case, here is the latest.
Jeff Sneider asked me to write something up on this after I noted that there are a lot of silly/shitty stories out there on the subject that are basking in the “who blinked?” thing. So I have.
If you look at the last 8 summers, each has launched with a Marvel-based superhero movie. 5 of the 8 films have been #1 or #2 for the summer.
The only ones that were not were X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first Thor, and this summer’s Amazing Spider-Man 2. All three of those films come with a fairly reasonable excuse. Wolverine was a reboot of sorts. Thor was the first attempt by the current Marvel regime, following Iron Man. And ASM2? Well, it didn’t really have a chance to start the big movie season. Captain America 2 took that honor.
Wolverine also got overshadowed by a big movie one weekend into release, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Wolverine opened to $10 million more… but lost the battle of the legs by over $75 million domestically.
Thor came in #6 for the summer of 2011… but while close, did beat the first Captain America in both opening and domestic gross. It also beat X-Men: First Class by a more sizable margin and crushed Green Lantern in the first four-comic-book-movie summer ever.
There are a lot of factors about which films end up where, domestically, for the whole of its summer run. So let’s take a look at opening numbers as a basis for analysis…
In the 7 summers in a row with comic book openings until this one, the “opening day” film was the #1 opening 5 times in the ultra-competitive month of May.
In 2 of those cases, all May films were ultimately out-opened later in the summer by a Transformers movie, and in the 3rd, The Dark Knight. But that speaks to the power of those films more than a show of weakness for opening day. (And of course, Transformers 4 had the top opening this summer too.)
Spider-Man 3 outdid both of the other threequels in domestic gross – Shrek and Pirates – and was the #1 opening by $30 million.
Iron Man was the #2 opening of the summer, but by having more “open space” on the schedule, ended up out-grossing the #1 opener that summer, Indiana Jones 4.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine dropped like a stone, but was the #2 opening of that summer, out-opened only by Transformers 2.
Iron Man 2 was the #1 opening of the summer, though it was ultimately outgrossed by Toy Story 3.
Thor did well, but not Top 5 in opening or gross.. though it did top both other comic books movies. And there is this… Fast Five opened the weekend before Thor and outopened the official summer launch by $20 million.
Avengers. #1 opening by $46 million and won the whole summer. #1 grosser in the domestic box office.
Iron Man 3 was #1 opening by $57m and won the summer.
I don’t think anyone is out there arguing the power of that opening day summer slot. It doesn’t guarantee anything – a fact even more apparent before the CG comic book onslaught – but it is the best May launching pad and tends only to be matched by the weekend before July 4 or the weekend after. (The second weekend of July slot was opened by Pirates and then, Batman)
But this year, we saw something different. A big sequel dated one month before May’s official-ish opening day. And the results spoke for themselves. Cap had the best opening of the year, as of that time, by a 36% margin.
In 2013, the leap by the summer opener over all other opening days that year was $95 million (120%).
2012 – 36%
2011 – (neg) -31%
2010 – 10%
2009 – 21%
2008 – 107%
2007 – 114%
Only one exception, as you see… the year Fast Five jumped ahead of summer’s opening day.
That is, until this year, when Captain America 2 jumped opening day. As things went, it opened only 4% ahead of Amazing Spider-Man 2. But it flipped the script. And by having the proverbial “free space” earned the top domestic gross of the year to date.
So… Which is the real, best “opening day” slot? The first weekend of May or before that?
The answer appears to be self-evident. Of course, the movies involved carry no small amount of importance in this equation, especially in total domestic gross. But being first is a clear, undeniable advantage. And if you have a big enough movie, the launch of the summer clearly can move.
Batman vs Superman is certainly a big enough movie. Moving five weeks before Captain America 3 is an advantage on paper. The gamesmanship of “who blinked?” is nothing but silliness. Both films represent investments of more than $350 million with worldwide marketing… perhaps more than $400 million.
What was the best business move? Going first.
But there is more!
This summer, both Captain America 2 and Amazing Spider-Man 2 went out to international markets two weeks earlier than domestic. The World Cup was an issue, but these were not the first cases of international leading domestic.
So if in 2016, Warner Bros does what it tends to do, releasing the film worldwide on the same date, what would happen if Captain America 3 decided to go out 2 weeks early again? It could crowd Batman vs Superman after just three weekends. By going out the weekend before April 1, Warner Bros keeps their spacing clean and actually discourages Cap 3 from stepping on its heels.
Warner Bros wins again.
Of course, there is other stuff floating out there. Zack Snyder has had 4 of his 6 films open in March. On the other hand, only one has opened at the end of March… and it (Sucker Punch) bombed. Moreover, Snyder’s only opening over $71m million was in June. The issue is not March or Snyder’s history… it is, again, a business decision on a very big piece of business.
Anyway… that’s it. Not too complex.
I am about to turn 50. I have lived through the days of wonder in the film business, much as my father lived through them in the real world as he saw the car become mass produced, the Depression in the US, war across the globe, man walk on the moon, and ultimately, cellular phones and the dawn of the internet.
People in their 60s have lived long enough to remember the end of the studio system era, the flailing of the late 60s and early 70s (which didn’t just glitch businesswise to create the opportunity to make great films, but was also connected to political turmoil that influenced the work), the corporatization of the studios, the birth and explosion of wide release, VHS, DVD, and now streaming.
Of course, you would have to be in your 70s or 80s to really remember the one big delivery shift in the first 70 years of “filmed entertainment”… the birth of television.
As I screened Into The Storm, I was thinking of Twister, which was the first studio DVD… released less than 18 years ago. That’s not a short time, but given the ubiquity of the DVD and now, the hasty retreat of the form as catalog content moves to streaming, it’s remarkable.
The Great Train Robbery premiered in 1903. Sound didn’t break through until 1927. Color started showing up in the mid-30s. We went through about 40 years until the next big things… cable TV (and HBO with it) and VHS. In the 40 or so years since that, we have been through paradigm shift after paradigm shift, making progress both in delivery systems and in the technology of film (or what we still tend to call “film”).
Historically, most of the big changes in the movie industry have taken place because of failure. For instance, Warner Bros was in trouble financially and thus, The Jazz Singer… Fox was having a bad run and released 3 of its biggest hits on the burgeoning VHS platform… and digital projection has been driven by studios looking to cut distribution costs.
But I sense a major shift in the film business lately that isn’t so easy to turn into a snappy news headline. As the corporate parents of the major studios seek to turn the film business into a commodity, less vulnerable to the ups and down of success and/or quality filmmaking, they have also sought to turn media coverage of the film business into a commodity as well.
Of course, publicists have always wanted to control media. And media has always flexed muscles of independence.
But we have a different media landscape in 2014 than in the past. The “freedom” of the internet has led to a much lower bar for independence in journalism. And the financials on “Old Media” have become so bad that the standards for not only independence, but for what qualifies as News amongst the legacy outlets have been considerably lowered.
The following clip was clearly intended to be funny… but as a professional journalist, the laughs make me sick because they are so reflective of the reality. Internet didn’t kill the newspaper star… the newspaper star is willingly cutting the throat of journalism in the name of instant, short-lived popularity…
And as long as I am showing you video, here is another hilarious/horrible piece that aired after I started writing this entry…
I started thinking about all this a lot in recent months, but particularly after seeing Guardians of The Galaxy, a mediocrity of a movie and a likely hit. (Ed Note: I wrote this before the release of the film… and it is, indeed, a Top 5 summer hit.)
This is the point when some of you start mumbling that I hate Marvel or comic book movies in general, so my opinion doesn’t matter. And on some level that is fine. But mostly, it’s not. It is a symptom of a disease that is not just about me or you or Marvel or any other specific film or genre or franchise.
Forget about the idea that critics no longer matter. We don’t. At least not in the major studio release universe. There is a real and measurable influence on indies, particularly on a city-by-city basis. But against the onslaught of advertising dollars, critics can make neither Shinola nor shit. People are inundated with the materials and they make their choices.
But what I find truly scary is the machinery that clouds the minds of even some of the most intelligent people I know and read about how film is approached. (The cabal is even smaller and more authoritarian in TV… but that’s a different conversation in many ways.) Media is being managed like… well… the audience. Marketed to within an inch of its life. Abused and manipulated. Pre-sold becoming preordained.
Journalists are human beings, after all. The same way that film marketers convince ticket buyers who care about opening weekend to commit to going to Movie X on opening weekend regardless of reviews or even early word-of-mouth, studios are now convincing the media. And once that commitment is made, like most human beings, journalists don’t want to change their minds.
I have witnessed the phenomenon on Broadway for years now. People pay $100+ for tickets and suddenly, every show deserves a standing ovation every night. This devalues those shows that really deserve spontaneous passion from the audience. But, as people will argue, there are great performances and good moments in pretty much every Broadway show or it would not have gotten to Broadway. Or there is an actor that we, as an audience, really really love. So what’s the harm in showing appreciation to hard working actors and crew for doing their job for our pleasure?
“Harm” is a relative thing. We are talking about movies (and/or theater). Can there really be any harm? No one gets ill from being disappointed at a movie. No one dies from having a hyper-inflated experience at a movie caused by their determination to not be disappointed after investing emotionally.
But more and more, my sense is that media is not only a part of the packaging of a film, but is expected to be a part of the packaging for the film. A junket, which used to be about spreading the word to cities that were not located within the natural geographic sphere of the film industry, is now – in an era in which every print interview and every piece of video tends to end up online – about density of message.
And no outlet is above it.
The most effective lie is one that is mostly true. And the best manipulation is one in which the subject does not think they are being manipulated at all… to the degree to which they will fight anyone who even suggests that there is a problem worth considering.
I guess that what scares me the most is that outlets that would consider themselves journalistic no longer feel compelled to actually be trusted by the reader. They have stopped taking that responsibility. Nowadays, they are just conduits of information, not arbiters of it.
I am not saying that every journalist is a suck-up or is a shill. But (almost) everyone seems to be hanging on by their fingertips to such a degree that the sin of omission or self-imposed. blindness is just a few Hail Marys, Our Fathers, and a couple of “everyone is doing it… can’t be avoided”s from absolution.
I am not pure. No one is pure. I expect no one to be pure. But there is a big space between virginal innocence and giving it all up.
Film marketers, who are much smarter than most of you understand, have figured out how to maximize every element they have in selling their products. They fail, too. But their ability to turn out the media instead of answer to it is… just breathtaking.
And it doesn’t matter whether I like The Product or not. Don’t lean on that to absolve yourself of thought about this issue. It’s not about the product. It’s about the end game for journalism. It’s not about fireworks, it’s about the constant flow of solid, clean journalism on a daily basis.
It’s about the authoritative voice and whether it will ever come back in force. The only way it can is for journalists to hold themselves accountable to the degree to which they can earn authority and maintain it.
And it gets harder – for all of us… for any of us – every single day.
Perhaps this is something to think about the next time some form of advertising is positioned and embraced as content. Because if ads are content, than content can be wholly about manipulation and not about truth. And as soon as we lose the ability or will to distinguish the two, we are finished as a meaningful culture. And if our culture is lost, our nation (you know… the serious shit) will soon follow.
What can one say about an estimated $93.2m opening for Guardians of the Galaxy? Well done, Disney.
The estimate is being rounded up by the studio and some outlets so that it is bigger than Godzilla, the #2 opening of the summer and #3 for the year. And indeed, it may be bigger. It may also be smaller. In the rush to write, it seems that now nearly all outlets have chosen to acknowledge that no one actually knows what will happen on the day we project into 3-day estimates each late Saturday night/early Sunday… Sunday. The bigger the gross, the less trustworthy the estimate. And given that Disney is estimating a bigger Sunday for Guardians than for Cap 2 or Godzilla and slightly smaller than the $100m-opening Transformers 4, we really, really don’t know. But estimates are not estimates anymore… they are marketing. And so, “94m!” Definitively above Godzilla… until it is or is not actually that.
Guardians is – regardless of whether it is a little higher or a little lower – the #1 opening in August by about a 35% margin. It is either the #3 or #4 opening of the year and #2 or #3 of the summer. It gives Marvel-based films four of the six top openings in 2014 with Avengers 2 due up to launch next summer. If it has the same trajectory as Cap 2, it will gross about $255m domestically. But as is now the norm, because of the price tag, the international is where the real revenue question lives. That larger front got off to a good start this weekend with about $66m in roughly half the rest of the world.
Get On Up opened to around $14m, and 42 opened to around $27m. They are saying that there was a Saturday bump, so that is a good sign, box office-wise… not about word-of-mouth, but about the kind of audience that is going to see the film. Better chance of stronger legs.
Lucy held up pretty well against the Guardians onslaught and this weekend suggests, as much as anything, that whomever at Universal decided to move the movie into an earlier summer slot was very, very smart. The film should hit $100m domestic in the next 10 days.
Roadside Attractions has had a good history with summer dramas and that continues with their handling of A Most Wanted Man, which expanded nicely this weekend. It should become the distributor’s #3 all-time grosser next weekend and is sure to be their #2, though whether it can topple their #1, Mud, and its $21.6 million is a question. But worth noting… it’s not a VOD movie on top of theatrical.
IFC also has a summer hit in Boyhood, which is currently IFC’s #3 all-time. There is a giant anomaly in IFC’s history… My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It is an outlier in virtually every way. But in the rest of IFC history, Boyhood is now their widest release ever and has remained solid in a slow expansion. How much wider will it go and how quickly? We’ll find out one week at a time. Maybe IFC is not pushing their story as hard as the Weinsteins were pushing theirs… but no coincidence that none of IFC’s Top 3 pictures were scheduled for VOD on top of theatrical.
The Woody Allen, Magic in the Moonlight, is kicking along with a strong $11,440 per screen on 65 screens. But the real questions will start to be answered as the film expands further. SPC has been a little more aggressive on the theater counts with this release so far, so it will be interesting to see if they go wider than 800 screens or not… and what the gross is.
Fox Searchlight opened Calvary on 4 screens to very strong numbers. It will be interesting on this one to see if the religious groups show up before it’s over in theatrical. But indie movie lovers should come out.
So… a very strong opening for Guardians of the Galaxy. Not the best of the summer, but right in the sweet spot between Transformers 4/Godzilla and X-Men/Spiderman. And a few hundred thousand above April’s Cap 2.
We are in a period in which Marvel can do no wrong.
Truth is, comic book movies have been pretty unbeatable for more than a couple of decades now. There have been few outright flops. And plenty of just-over-breakeven “winners,” mostly because the costs are so outrageous.
Historically, every movie trend ends. And when this one ends, it will likely be for the marginal titles, not for the “classic characters,” though even Batman, Superman, and Hulk have seen some soft-vs-costs numbers over their runs and reboots.
We are also in an age where the media has joined the sales team for selected franchises and have become a big part of the marketing effort to open certain movies. And I say marketing instead of publicity quite intentionally. I am not pointing fingers at film critics. We are not much relevant to the marketing effort or to opening weekend. (I will say, however, that harshness and generosity is now often influenced by outside forces, especially the hype machine, in a lot of criticism.) But the relentless machinery towards opening weekend is assisted for or months and often years now by a willing media that seems to be happy substituting marketing for journalism. Like so many things right now, a small dose was fine (like classic geek set visits), but when it becomes the standard, we all end up choking on it.
So, another big opening of $170m+ production that is unlikely to lead to more than $250m domestic. It should tip the scales amongst the 5 big openings towards a generous critical view of the summer as the third of the 5 top summer films not to suck in overall American perception. No one actually knows what this weekend will bring, much less next weekend. But I expect pretty positive word of mouth and the same 60% and change drop next weekend, when the media will obsess on the “battle” between The “summer saving” Guardians and the return of Michael Bay’s Ninja Turtles.
The irony of domestic media’s rollover for marketing departments is that the effort is now really as much about opening domestically as it is to convince international ticket buyers that they should line up. Guardians is yet another summer mega-movie that will need $150m-$200m internationally before it hits break-even on paper. Based on the history of these films, that should be no problem.
Also opening this weekend, Get On Up should put a damper the late summer “black history for white people” late summer slot. Nothing wrong with what may be a $13.5 million opening for a biopic in the summer. But it will probably be half of what what 42 launched with… or The Help opened to… or The Butler. Maybe if they had gotten Oprah to play Aretha it would have opened stronger. I haven’t actually seen the film and the critical response seems to be between “good and better than expected” to “not so good, but better than expected.” The good news for the film is that it could well do 3x opening, as did Jersey Boys and Blended. So not a big hit, but not necessarily a loser.
Lucy is taking on some water under on the weight of Guardians and August doesn’t get any easier for genre films. It should have been a milk run to $100m domestic. And it still should get there… but it won’t be as easy as a $44m launch suggested.
Worth noting about this summer… not a single film that didn’t open to $40m-plus has hit $100m as of this writing. Edge of Tomorrow is the only one in range. Not good.
Nice opening number for Calvary on 4 screens, doing about $14k per. I am more impressed with this than I am with some of the other limited launches of note this summer, as it is a brutal movie to market. It’s very hard to explain and it has some serious stuff going on. (I explained it to a group of people thusly: ”It opens with a confession. The man on the other side of the box explains that he was molested by a priest and his way of making his point in response will be to kill a good priest who is guilty of nothing. He gives the priest a week to sort out his details. The movie is that week.” I think everyone I was selling it to will be going this weekend. But they aren’t looking for Taken or Phonebooth. They will be happy to watch a beautifully-acted and directed film with an internal, human sorting out.)
Brendan Gleeson is an acting deity for me… but I don’t imagine you could say his name to many people and get a response. (Show them a picture and they will smile instantly.) John Michael McDonagh is a terrific writer and director and his last collaboration with Gleeson, The Guard, did just over $5m domestically for Sony Classics, but it was comedy. This is not. And indeed, it opened on 4 to around double what this one is opening to on 4. It’s a challenge, commercially.
Roadside Attractions is doing a very nice job on A Most Wanted Man. Not great reviews. But it feels adult and of some size, people want to see Phil Hoffman work, and summer is rough on grown ups.