The Hot Blog Archive for May, 2016
Well… it’s not a happy weekend in Movieland. The new X-Men is off almost 30% from last time… Alice 2 is off more than 75% (though in many ways, this is the better of two not-great movies)… Nothing but The Jungle Book is holding well, not even a terrific movie like The Nice Guys which didn’t have much to hold…
If we were basing it only on domestic box office, these two $200m+ budget films would be on their way to eight-figure writedowns (or more). But international could save one or both that ignominy.
But for everyone assuming that mega-budget movies were a monolith from which there is no escape… think again.
This brings the count (not including kids’ animation) to two hits, three misses, and Deadpool for the year, with five more to come this summer. And next year, investments already made, offers the chance for even more potential carnage.
Marvel is still doing great. Wouldn’t bet against Star Wars. There will be other “can’t-miss” franchise films. But as the standard by which the industry operates, we are a few more bloody noses away from a lot more caution about mega-movies.
No significant variations from the Friday estimates. Angry Birds rule the roost. Neighbors 2 opens to about 45% of the original. And The Nice Guys finish last amongst the newcomers. Strong per-screen numbers in limited/exclusive runs by The Lobster, Love & Friendship, Weiner, Maggie’s Plan and Ma Ma.
The first summer weekend loaded with multiple movies is going to disappoint. It’s not a disaster, but it’s not a thriller.
The Angry Birds Movie will open as the #2 franchise for Sony Animation, between Cloudy and Transylvania. But not a big step closer to DreamWorks or any step at all towards Disney or Pixar. This movie will be a success. But there is a difference between succeeding and finding a spot at the cash trough.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a tough beat. $8.7m opening day vs a $19.6m open just 2 years ago. What went wrong? I don’t think it was the movie. If you really liked the first one, you can be expected to like this sequel. Of course, opening weekend is about marketing. My take is that Universal didn’t sell the kink of the film. Broad strokes (no pun intended) only. You have a strong “girl power” theme in the film with the Moretz character leading the charge to change the way women are treated in Greek life. Not in the ads… not an appeal to women. (The first film also had an unsold feminist streak.) Then you have Zac Efron pushing back against type as he sees his value drop in the world in his post-frat life. Not in the marketing mix.
Now… Universal may well have tested these ideas and has them rejected or test less well than the pitch for the first film, which they kinda stuck to closely. So instead of a trio of diverse young women pushing back against the objectification culture of frats by starting their own in their own way, we get bikinied-boob-car-wash.
In some ways, this feels like the same misstep as Magic Mike XXL. It is not easy to look at a big hit and say, “The movie went a different direction… we should go there with the marketing too.” Much more the norm to stick with selling the same movie again with some added elements. If you, as a marketer, got this same result after changing up the marketing, no doubt that some bosses would then question your choice and say it was a mistake, where as rolling out the same campaign and the film dropping by more than half would surely seem to be the fault of whatever made the first movie blow up just falling out of the zeitgeist. I don’t think it would be true… but it is the safer play.
The Nice Guys is the heartbreaker of the weekend. WB went for it. All the way. More side marketing/publicity for this movie than you ever, ever see… maybe once every couple years, from the entire studio system. They threw everything and the kitchen sink at this one.
And to be fair, this one will do more business in the first 36 hours than Kiss Kiss Bang Bang did overall (a year ago). But… a $10m-ish opening weekend is not a great pay-off. As George S. Kaufman said, “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.” And really, this film is a 70s-style satire, in the spirit of Michael Ritchie, Altman, and Colin Higgins.
The Friday gross is just a bit lower than The Coens’ Hail, Caesar!, so they are in good company in their disappointment.
Honestly, as a film lover, it makes me angry at the audience. But it also makes me want to flip the bird at the “they could never make a film like this in 2016″ crowd too. They did make the film. A major released it. They released Hail, Caesar!. They released Money Monster and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which are imperfect films, but were not going to find a bigger audience either way.
Then you have a film like Where to Invade Next, which is, by far, Drafthouse’s biggest release…. by also, by far, Michael Moore’s lowest grosser with a release over 55 screens.
Very frustrating. But at the same time, it is too simplistic to simply blame comic book movies and studio greed for this. The studios are businesses and they do react to the market. And when films like The Good Guys, which got a hardworking release don’t take off at all, everyone notices. It’s easy to second guess the details of marketing campaigns for a lot of movies this year… but not this one. So…
What is remarkable about this weekend isn’t the grosses, but the Disney holds. 59% for Captain America: Civil War is exceptional. The Jungle Book dropping just 28% screams repeat viewing. And even Zootopia was off only 15%. On the arthouse side, The Lobster (from the hipsters at A24) and Love & Friendship (from that veteran distributor, Amazon Studios) were on four screens each and both managed over $30k per screen… not earth-shattering, but a solid sample for indie… now word of mouth…
CA:CW held, according to estimate, just 2% less than Deadpool, which was by all accounts loved by its audiences. The Jungle Book isn’t holding quite as well as Zootopia in Weekend 6, but still, that’s a comparison to one of the strongest surprise holders of recent years. By the way, Zootopia is now at $970 million worldwide. The downside, as though there is one for this kind of success, is that about a quarter of that gross is from China, cutting the rental dollars returned to Disney on that money at about 40% of what it gets from the rest of the world, making a $120 million return into just under $50 million. Maybe MPAA should hire Donald Trump to negotiate the exhibition agreement with China after he loses the run for the presidency.
In other news… Money Monster was a meh opener, but not a disaster in context. It is Jodie Foster’s first wide release movie as a director and did better per-screen than any of the other three films. It opened better than Clooney’s The American, which was considered a success (in part, because it was so unexpected). Another Clooney hit, Monuments Men, opened a bit better, but was an all-star romp. In other words, if this holds fairly well and does $50 million domestic… it will be fine. And it will be fascinating to see if it plays at all overseas.
For inexplicable reasons (taxes/avoiding obligations of the parent company?), small distributor, FilmDistrict, launched an arm called High-Top, which this weekend released its second horror film in two years (The Darkness) and… didn’t work out. The first film, The Green Inferno, had a lot of publicity from the media. Still only did only $7.2 million… so this is an improvement. Doesn’t feel like much of one.
On the indie side, it was all The Lobster and Love & Friendship. Big per-screen openings. And whatever these films do, it will be almost completely on marketing and word-of-mouth, as the talent hasn’t done a lot of promotion for either.
The dichotomy of covering a movie like Captain America: Civil Wars is that it’s the #5 opening of all time… and the #4 opening of the last year, one of 8 $100m openings in the last 365 days (leaving out the 5/2 Avengers 2 opening).
History Lesson: Before 2005, there were two $100m openings in movie history. None before 2002. In 2005 & 2006, there were two each year. 2007, three. Back to two each in 2008 & 2009. Then, four in 2010 and 2012. Back to two in 2013 & 2014. Last year (2015)… SIX. This year? Four already.
Along with this movement, there was a movement to much more spending. $200 million – $300 million budgets have become the norm in this category. When films like Deadpool or Minions come along, they are the exception to the rule. This is also why Twilight and The Hunger Games were so valuable… because they could be done for much less than the CG events (although they also have a glass ceiling that doesn’t inhibit some of the other franchises).
I do not subscribe to the idea that these mega-movies replace space that would otherwise be used for smaller ($15m – $60m) films. I see them as a new category within the business. Two-thirds of studio releases are still in that “smaller” category. Disney is the only studio that is currently mega-movie dominant with its slate. And it’s going great right now. But look at the franchises they have… Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Disney Animation, and Disney Classics. Other studios can compete with Disney Classics and if Warner Bros could ever get out of its own way, DC could compete with Marvel. But there is no other Star Wars (we’ll see what Jim Cameron delivers with Avatar 2-5). Pixar is in a perfect position of having less pressure to deliver more than one film a year, which is how they built greatness. And Disney Animation, finally firing on all cylinders, has some competition in DreamWorks Animation, but also has the Pixar advantage of being able to stick to (or stop chasing more than) one film a year.
Keep in mind, the three outside franchises cost Disney about $13 billion. That is a huge investment, which has not been paid off in real dollars yet. But it’s going great. Comcast is the only other studio that has made a billion dollar-plus investment in its own growth. Paramount or Fox could have made the deal for Lucasfilm and it would have made sense, library-wise and moving forward. Didn’t. No one was really taking Marvel seriously when Disney made their deal.
Add to this the fact that Disney’s production group spends more than $2 billion a year on production. The norm used to be roughly half of that for an active studio. Very roughly estimated (and not accounting for financial partnerships), Fox and Warner Bros are each in for about $1.2 billion this year. Universal is just under $1 billion. Paramount is around $800 million. Sony is in for less than $700 million.
Picking winners is obviously important. And Disney has built a lot of can’t-miss into their system. But they have made the huge investments and taken the huge risks when no other studio has.
Finally, another big-picture point. Marketing costs have not subsided. The giant films with the giant budgets cost more to make than to sell, even with bigger spends. But a $10 million movie at a major costs – with a full wide release – as much to push out as a $50 million movie. (Genre is an exception, which is why you see so much of it and why Jason Blum is worth his weight in gold.)
Disney has nine franchise movies this year… and three “smaller” films. They already lost big money (relatively) on The Finest Hours. They have two more coming… both dumped into the “iffy zone” of September.
Disney can afford to get out of the middle movie business completely. The only reason for them to stay in is ego and self-amusement. No matter how successful by the standards of those films – and they have not been for years, even with some really good movies – they mean nothing to the bottom line of a company working with the investment numbers they are working with. On the other hand, they can’t be hurt much by these films either.
Everyone else though… they need to be in the same movie business that the industry has been seen the decline of DVD… with the occasional mega-movie landing. They really have no choice. Universal bought DWA and continues to try to figure out how to reboot their monster franchises. And they had success last year and will in the future. But things are not set up for that to be the whole pie. So calm down a little. The sky is still there.
As for the rest of the weekend… meh.
Marvel has the only wide opener. Jungle Book is holding well. The Huntsman is now a dead franchise. Etc.
On the other hand, the indie business, which has been whining a lot lately, has had a pretty good 2016 so far. Aside from the religious films (Miracles from Heaven leads all of them so far with $60 million), there are nine indies over $15 million so far. One is Divergent 3, which bombed domestically, one of five Lionsgate movies in this group. But STX, A24, OpenRoad and Bleecker Street all have solid successes. Neither IFC or Magnolia have had a $1m movie, much less a $15m one. They are in a third category now, thanks to short-window VOD. Searchlight and IFC are the per-screen limited release stars of the weekend. The question, as always, is what comes next.
The Jungle Book does 4x any other film in the market. The ball of green string toys with Keanu. Mother’s Day gets treated like Trump treats women. Ratchet & Clank clanks. And The Family Fang magically reports 4x their Friday number on 1 screen to push ahead of The Man Who Knew Infinity‘s 3.2x Friday on 4 screens to be the top per=screen film in limited release… which could be achieved with the purchase of about 100 tickets. Hmmm…