MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Slow and Sure

Tropic Thunder executed the hat trick as its estimated $14.5 million holiday weekend tally emerged as the top viewing choice. As the season came to a close a quartet of new national releases sought some late breaking coin. The sci-fi opus Babylon A.D. was ranked second with $12.1 million while the spy thriller Traitor slipped into fifth position on a $9.6 million gross. The spoof Disaster Movie had a $7.2 million bow but there was scant hijinx for College that sputtered to a $2.6 million debut.

Niche and regional openers were also rife but largely commercially tepid. There was limited soccer fever for Goal! 2 of $191,000 from 102 scrums and just OK response for Bollywood entry Rock On of $152,000 from 47 mosh pits. Limited and exclusives fared better with Czech import I Served the King of England generating $58,300 from seven tables and Quebec drama Le Banquet serving up $42,800 in 13 exposures. Another Gay Sequel did $26,200 at three venues and the JapaneseSukiyaki Western Django scored $12,400 in a single Manhattan draw down.

Overall business experienced downturns with the three-day portion of the long weekend ebbing back 8% from seven days earlier. Box office was 17% behind Labor Day 2007 when the reincarnated Halloween led with a $30.6 million opening salvo.

Initial figures indicate a summer season finish of $4.15 billion that translates into a 3% decline from the 2007 session. There was an even sharper admissions decline of 9%.

However, closer examination reveals it was definitely a time of the haves and the have nots. The former was dominated by the six Hollywood majors whose pictures collectively accounted for a 6% improvement from the prior year. Still, their admissions were basically flat with the immediate prior summer session.

Four of the majors recorded double digit expansion including market share leader Warner Bros. with overall revenues in excess of $1 billion domestically. Warners received an assist from the shuttered New Line; incorporating that company’s Sex and the City and Journey to the Center of the Earthinto its release schedule.

Disney largely stayed out of the fray with just three releases over the four month span but Fox experienced a catastrophic case of the commercial yips that translated into a 43% plunge from its 2007 record. (full summer charts will be posted following actual reporting Tuesday).

The flip side of the season was experienced by studio specialized divisions and the legions of independent distributors. Their box office declined by approximately 56% and not all of the slippage to be credited to quality or commerciality. The relative potency of such films as The Visitor, Mongol and Brideshead Revisited wasn’t up to earlier summer standards in large part to a decrease in the number of accessible screens and the continuing dilemma of getting attention in a marketplace dominated by seasonal blockbusters.

Another significant factor was the competition from mainstream releases; particularly Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! that siphoned off viewers in search of alternative fare. The latter film received a boost this past weekend with the introduction of a sing-a-long edition that accounted for about 30% of its weekend box office from 16% of its current playdates.

– Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates – August 29 – September 1, 2008

Title Distributor Gross (avera % chan Theater Cume
Tropic Thunder Par 14.5 (4,170) -28% 3473 86.8
Babylon A.D. Fox 12.1 (3,580) 3390 12.1
The Dark Knight WB 10.9 (3,960) -18% 2750 504.6
The House Bunny Sony 10.4 (3,840) -43% 2714 30
Traitor Overture 9.6 (4,660) 2054 11.1
Death Race Uni 8.1 (3,180) -50% 2537 16.85
Disaster Movie Lions Gate 7.2 (2,720) 2642 7.2
Mamma Mia! Uni 5.7 (2,890) 1% 1968 132.8
Pinapple Express Sony 4.4 (2,140) -38% 2047 80.8
Star Wars: The Clone Wars WB 3.5 (1,450) -53% 2444 26.91
Vicky Christina Barcelona MGM 3.5 (5,010) 9% 692 13.3
Mirrors Fox 3.4 (1,860) -47% 1820 25.5
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Em Uni 3.4 (1,970) -38% 1713 98.6
The Longshots MGM 2.9 (1,380) -44% 2089 8
College MGM 2.6 (1,230) 2123 2.6
Journey to the Center of the Earth WB 2.3 (2,820) -20% 801 95.1
Hamlet 2 Focus 2.1 (1,340) 284% 1597 3.2
Fly Me to the Moon Summit 2.0 (3,160) 3% 630 6.7
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 WB 1.9 (1,540) -48% 1252 41.6
Step Brothers Sony 1.5 (1,490) -47% 1036 98.1
Wall-E BV 1.5 (1,310) 12% 1155 218.3
The Rocker Fox 1.2 (440) -65% 2784 5.9
Hancock Sony .83 (1,750) 6% 475 226.55
Elegy IDP .78 (5,610) 31% 139 0.93
Kung Fu Panda Par .71 (1,540) 1% 460 212.96
Bottle Shock FreeStyle .68 (2,310) -16% 295 1.91
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $117.70
% Change (Last Year) -17%
% Change (Last Week) -8%
Also debuting/expanding
Goal! 2 Peace Arch .19 (1,870) 102 0.19
Rock On Adlabs .15 (3,220) 47 0.15
I Served the King of England Sony Classi 58,300 (8,370) 7 0.06
Le Banquet Alliance 42,800 (3,290) 13 0.04
Ce qu’il fait pour vivre Seville 36,100 (2,580) 14 0.04
Another Gay Sequel TLA 26,200 (8,730) 3 0.03
Sukiyaki Western Django First Look 12,400 (12,400) 1 0.01
* % changes are 3-day to 3-day

Domestic Market Share – To August 28, 2008

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (20) 1401.6 20.70%
Paramount (13) 1191.9 17.60%
Universal (16) 914.6 13.50%
Sony (19) 904.6 13.40%
Fox (18) 745.9 11.00%
Buena Vista (11) 649.6 9.60%
Lions Gate (9) 204.3 3.00%
Fox Searchlight (5) 150.9 2.20%
Paramount Vantage (10) 72.8 1.10%
New Line (4) 61.8 0.90%
MGM (11) 61.4 0.90%
Focus (5) 61.1 0.90%
Miramax (6) 53.8 0.80%
Summit (3) 39.6 0.60%
Picturehouse (6) 36.1 0.50%
Other * (228) 213 3.10%
6763 100.00%

Top Domestic Releases – To August 28, 2008

Title Distributor Gross
The Dark Knight WB 493,671,047
Iron Man Par 317,570,520
Indiana Jones & Kingdom of the Cryst Par 315,337,154
Hancock Sony 226,547,044
Wall-E BV 216,798,080
Kung Fu Panda Par 212,958,340
Horton Hears a Who Fox 154,524,370
Sex and the City WB 152,440,062
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Cas BV 141,550,527
The Incredible Hulk Uni 134,425,930
Wanted Uni 133,822,865
Get Smart WB 128,293,818
Mamma Mia! Uni 127,090,680
Juno * Fox Searchlight 115,568,583
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan Sony 99,728,879
Step Brothers Sony 96,568,737
10,000 B.C. WB 94,819,450
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Em Uni 95,228,870
The Bucket List * WB 92,781,554
Journey to the Center of the Earth WB 92,779,260
* does not include 2007 box office
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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon