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David Poland

By David Poland

Friday Estimates by Retro Lion Klady

How do I know I’m back in LA? Doing Saturday morning box office…

Disney shows real smarts by programming The Lion King – even in unnecessary 3D – in this slot. It’s be over a month and a half since a real kids movie was launched into the marketplace (Smurfs) and September has been a good launching pad for animation, particularly Sony Animation (Cloudy/Open Season), which is diving right into the holiday season with Arthur Christmas this year.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs opened on Sept 18, 2009 to a $8.1m Friday, leading to a $30.3m weekend. Lion King has a good chance at beating that and becoming not only the biggest September animation opening ever, but the #3 or #2 September opening of all-time (behind the top September launcher, Disney’s 2002 entry, Sweet Home Alabama, with a $35.6m launch).

As smart as Lion King squatting in market devoid of family product, it couldn’t be much stupider to be throwing two retro thrillers up against each other. Drive, the non-remake (officially), is winning the war at the moment, doubling (by estimate) the opening day of Straw Dogs

Normally, I would discount the media – and specifically the critics – influence on an opening weekend. But in this case, the numbers are small enough that I do think we are seeing some influence asserted.

The picture at Rotten Tomatoes is interesting. On the overall Tomato Rating (dear GOD… just writing that makes me blush), Drive has got a rating almost 2.5-1 better than Straw Dogs. Digging a little deeper, one finds that Drive, pushed aggressively on the fest and screening circuit, has 139 ratings to just 71 for Straw Dogs. Look at the “Top Critics” group and you’ll find that Dog still has 23 ratings to Drive’s 37. Interestingly, when you flip from everyone to “top,” Drive’s percentage drops 7% while Dogs’ rises 10%,

Aside from all that… I would say that the level of enthusiasm from those who LOVE Drive , critics and other media, is much more of an influencer than criticism. Also, Gosling is coming off of hits and Albert Brooks brings some over-40 attention that might not have shown up. With Dogs, the biggest celebrity draw right now is True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard, the third lead.

Still, I think both films suffered from being in the same movie food group and being released on the same date. Obviously, if you combine both films’ opening day gross, it’s still not winning this weekend. But another million on Friday for Drive could means an $11m weekend becomes a $15m weekend, which over the course of the run could be a $10m difference (or more) in the final domestic total.

Screen Gems has released 9 films in September. Six of them grossed over $50m domestic. Straw Dogs will not be one of those and could end up with the worst Screen Gems September opening ever. Why? The competition with Drive was made even more of a problem by Screen Gems’ effort to sell this as an action movie… while still clinging to it being a remake of one of Peckinpah’s most emotionally complex movies. The studio also kept the film under wraps until late in the game and avoided festivals, where a passionate conversation may have occurred. That conversation hasn’t really occurred, while the discussion of whether Drive is fresh and exciting or the same old Tangerine Dream is going on, hot and heavy, months after the film start bouncing from festival to festival.

I’m not reviewing Lurie’s Straw Dogs, but at least on the marketing level, someone like Mark Ruffalo or Joseph Gordon Levitt, while just as attractive as James Marsden to many, speak to the ideas of the film without having to educate potential ticket buyers. Kate Bosworth is terrific in the film, but are genre ticket buyers drawn to her the way they are Screen Gems regulars Becknisale and Jovavich?

These are all chemistry experiments and in many cases, there are two goals being aimed at in the same experiment. Lurie wanted make a subtly political, shocking tale of a man who is disconnected from reality, but who finds a darkness that may not serve him well when dragged out of his intellectual hiding place. Screen Gems wanted to sell a movie that maximized sexual objectification of Ms Bosworh and was hung on a True-Blood-like mano-a-mano showdown between the physical brutality of Skarsgard and the brainy emotional Marsden that leads to the audience-identifiable “Get off of my lawn” with a steel trap and a chainsaw.

But Screen Gems forgot something. Their 6 big September successes – and none of the 3 relative flops – were driven in no small part by the female audience. Underworld and Resident Evil are action movies, but with strong female leads that drew a grrrl audience (as Asian horror used to). Emily Rose and Easy A too. The only thing for women in this movie was the eye candy element – on view weekly on HBO – and topped by Gosling. Worse, the film may well be beat by still holding The Help and right behind it, a new, weak Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle… but eating some of what might have been Screen Gems’ box office as well.

There were many ways to go with this film. Festivals were an option, but the conversation might be too thoughtful – or negative – for the big action sell. But if you’re doing this as an action sell, it belonged back in August or maybe in mid-October.

You can’t say the movie isn’t part of the problem, given the reviews, although a number of key critics were positive about the film. But the box office problem… that’s on the studio this time. Screen Gems is one of the smartest operations in the business. But they just got stuck in the middle, between two different ideas of what this film is. And audiences, which have no way of knowing what they are going to see in that theater, were confused just enough to stay away.

What can one say about I Don’t Know Why Anyone Would Pay To See Her Do That?

I wish restless had a better launch. It’s a small, quirky piece. But it stays with me. The more times it pops into my head, the more I fall in love with it. I don’t much about the marketing effort, especially missing the last week of it while at TIFF. Reviews probably scared Sony Classics a bit. But I think this is one of those films we’ll see become the streaming/DVD equivalent of a midnight movie classic. If there was a kind of a film where Sony Classics would be well-served by a VOD arm, this would be it.

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39 Responses to “Friday Estimates by Retro Lion Klady”

  1. spassky says:

    that’s rough for straw dogs.

  2. Gustavo says:

    That’s terrible for RESTLESS!

  3. Gus says:

    Ditto on both of those comments.

    I watched the original Straw Dogs for the first time last night and it is a truly phenomenal piece of work. One of the best psychological thrillers I have ever seen. Bleeds into outright horror, which is the way to go with these things IMO. Made me want to see the remake to be honest.

  4. tc says:

    Some sites are reporting that “Drive” has a C- Cinemascore, others say it’s got a B-. Do you know which one’s right?

  5. David Poland says:

    Cinemascore is utter bullshit. I don’t care what their numbers are… ever.

  6. Proman says:

    “that’s rough for straw dogs.”

    Don’t you mean ruff?

  7. Proman says:

    “Cinemascore is utter bullshit. I don’t care what their numbers are… ever.”

    That’s funny because that’s how I feel about your “analysis”.
    This being a primary reason why. People disregard Cinemascope grades primarily because if a movie gets less than A- it’s already seen as a warning sign. There is very little space in between. That said, you can’t look at a greade as low as B- and not wonder if the low scores are coming from the non-core (non-hipster?) audience that somehow exected something closer to F&F.

  8. EthanG says:

    It’s the same thing they did with “The American.” Drive was mis-marketed as a action thriller when it is more of a minimalist, brooding piece, and this is the result. It’s like promising Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer, and instead delivering “The Conspirator.” Of course the scores will be low.

  9. Proman says:

    “I don’t know how she does it” is not a bad film and deserved a lot better. A lot better.

    Same goes for Bucky Larson, though it isn’t nearly as good. Not that I’ve seen it, mind.

  10. Joe Leydon says:

    Proman: I think you’re barking up the wrong tree there, sport.

  11. Krillian says:

    I am stunned that no other studio thought about an animated movie in September. Seemed obvious.

    I really don’t know how much Straw Dogs subtracted from Drive’s audience because Straw Dogs has been poorly marketed. Then again I thought Warrior had a decent campaign (even if it emphasizes the climax in the preview; how dramatic is it to watch a tournament when you solidly know who the final two are? What’s that? Did you cough or did you mumble Karate Kid?)

    But with Straw Dogs, I am in the small minority of being acutely aware of coming-soon dates (i.e. many of us here). There was no awareness or build-up for it. I see a lot of movies and I never saw its trailer. (Never bothered to see it online.) I thought James Marsden had found his niche with comedy. (Hairspray, Enchanted, Death at a Funeral, etc.)

  12. anghus says:

    The audience I saw Drive with laughed at a lot at scenes that were supposed to be “intense”. As I was walking out I heard people talking about how bad it was. One yokel exclaimed “the best part is when it was over”

    I dont think audiences are loving this as much as critics.

  13. Proman says:

    Joe, go play fetch with yourself.

  14. David Poland says:

    Proman… 1. Please feel free to stop reading it. Happy to contribute to your mental health.

    2. Cinemascore is very, very narrow statistical read and only a fool takes a survey that is done as consistently as that one is and then chooses when it’s valid and when it’s not.

    On opening night/weekend, which is when these exit polls are taken, there are many variables… none of which are accounted for by Cinemascore.

    EthanG offers one valid issue. Locations of the polling cinemas is another. The size of the audience is another. And on and on.

    Do you need Cinemascore to tell you that Twilight audiences will love the film… and that it will still have short legs?

    Cinemasscore is for suckers… which is why, it seems, they have stopped publishing their rankings themselves.

    I found a site with the scores from the first 2 months of the summer. (

    A Films (inc A-… no A+s): Transformers 4, Monte Carlo, Mr Popper’s Penguins, Hangover II, Kung Fu Panda 2, Jumping The Broom.

    B (inc B- and B+) Films: Larry Crowne, Judy Moody, Pirates 4, Super 8, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern, Bridemaids, Thor, and Something Borrowed.

    C Films: Bad Teacher, Priest

    So tell me, genius, how do you parse that out into making any sense?

    With due respect to Pam McClintock, who should know better, they went out touting their “win” with The Help getting an A+, claiming to be important, but then look at their list of the rare A+ movie and you’ll find Soul Surfer and Music of the Heart and Finding Forrester and Iron Will and Dreamer and Akeelah and the Bee… and please, tell me how prescient this poll is? There are only 2 of these A+s a year…

    If you get an “F,” yeah… not good. So have you ever heard of a film getting lower than a C that you didn’t know was a bomb already?

    Remember, they are polling people who have CHOSEN to PAY for these movies (mostly) on opening day. They are a unique subset.

    but you can correlate neither total gross nor legs from this survey. it is another con job that someone convinced studios they needed and that once became ensconced was cheap enough that no one wanted to be the first studio to stop buying it.

    Purely a monkey stat… if they get a number they feel good about, they tell the press so the press can tell everyone else how much people like their movie. And if not, not.

    Outpolling can be of some value – still very narrow – if you connect specific theaters and show times with specific results. Generally, distributors can do that without Cinemascore after years of experience. They look at each market and divine how it’s playing by the numbers.

    I can tell you, for instance, that DreamWorks knew what they had in The Help before it opened. But no one figured it would be THIS big. And that A+ from Cinemascore didn’t clarify shit. They knew they had an audience film.

    I don’t know who you are, Proman, but your comments often sound like someone who reads a lot of Entertainment Weekly and thinks this makes you informed about how the business works. EW is a fun read. But it makes for a shitty textbook.

  15. David Poland says:

    Adding this chart…

    First number is the summer rank for legs, 1 being best. Second column is the CinemaScore.

  16. chris says:

    Marsden is problematic and not just from a marketing standpoint. He doesn’t convey the, for lack of a better phrase, “effete intellectual,” quality the movie needs (and that Hoffman nailed in the original). I also thought of Levitt as a better choice but I think you totally hit it out of the park with Ruffalo, who could have been amazing in it.

  17. berg says:

    that’s funny because I always say to people when they ask … “Rotten Tomaters is utter bullshit. I don’t care what their numbers are … ever.”

    I also say: ” It’s like promising The Conspirator, and instead delivering The Conspirator.”

    just got out of second viewing of Drive … was trying to look up this Riz Ortolani song used in the movie … it’s from a 1971 film called Goodbye Uncle Tom, an Italian film about two documentary filmmakers who go back to the Civil War to film slavery. Has anybody ever seen this film?

  18. Foamy Squirrel says:

    I don’t know if “Cinemascore didn’t clarify shit”, although it’s certainly true that the methodology and application is a bit wonky.

    My interpretation is that Cinemascore is being (badly) promoted as a “multiplier predictor” – that is, you take opening weekend, look at the cinemascore, and from there you can get a 95% confidence interval for the final domestic cume (no tool is 100% accurate, but as my old stats teacher used to say “95% is good enough to bet your money, 99% is good enough to bet your health”).

    In terms of applicability, what it *should* be used for is for maintenance of post-release marketing. It’s not a word-of-mouth predictor (that would be Net Promoter Score), nor is it an audience sizer (i.e. whether there’s a large target audience who haven’t coughed up their money yet). Probably the most applicable information it should tell you is if the marketing matched the content – if the marketing did its job properly, people who would enjoy that movie buy tickets, and correspondingly give a good review. Of course, this assumes the film isn’t a complete stinker. More cynically, it allows the opportunity to do a quick recut of the ads to pull in weaker segments (if you think it’s worth “saving”), or to cut your losses and ditch promotion and screens entirely (if you think it isn’t).

    Possibly this ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy – films with an A Cinemascore gets the execs to double down, ensuring the higher multiplier, while Cs get pulled ensuring they don’t. But… yeah… it doesn’t really tell you if it’s a “good” movie, but it does give a better-than-chance indication as to whether it will have legs.

  19. Gus says:

    Foamy, did you look at DP’s chart? Not a correlation to be found there re: legs.

  20. Gus says:

    There are 18 movies on the list. The top 6 have 3 As, 2 Bs, 1 C. The middle 6 have 3 As, 3 Bs. The bottom 6 have 1 A, 4 Bs, 1 C.

    That doesn’t look better than chance to me, especially if you add to it that one of the only two solid As is in the bottom third.

  21. JKill says:

    DP, I’m really glad you just did that analysis rebutting the importance of Cinemascore because that’s probably the flat out most annoying and besides the point statistic that “box office analysts”, both professional and otherwise, trot out. It’s obvious that anytime a movie does something different or ends on a downer note that the audience, with zero time to reflect on what they’ve watched, are going to give a lower grade. Last weekend people were proclaiming that CONTAGION’S B minus score was some kind of death knell, when the movie’s Friday drop is comparable to fellow WB hit and adult drama THE TOWN. Cinemascore is basically a way to champion a self fulfilling anti-intellectualism and anti-art viewpoint, and fails to say anything remotely meaningful about the financial element as well.

    Lurie’s STRAW DOGS is a very interesting movie, and one that I think is very, very good and verging upon greatness. Marsden, regardless of how different he seems to be from how most of us would’ve cast our own new takes, is pretty brilliant in the role, totally immersed and believable during his transformation throughout the film. Bosworth is very affecting and raw, and the entire movie kind of hinges on her. It’s a handsome movie, visually Lurie’s best by a good deal, and the bloodlust element is pretty expertly built up to and staged. For me, it was an intellectually stimulating and viscerally provoking movie. I feel the same way about it that I did with LET ME IN, in that while it doesn’t trump the original, it does its own spin, one that can stand alone but is also interesting when contrasted and compared to the original work.

    DRIVE f***ing rules, and I don’t know why we should care what yahoos say coming out of the movie. It’s the type of thing that has serious replay and reconsideration value, not something that was meant to be product on display for the weekend, and considering that, I don’t know how this is not a good opening. I would also quibble with the idea that the movie was mis-sold because the trailer, especially the red band one, was pretty explicitly what the movie ended up being, from the existential vibe to the extreme violence to the utter cool to the quirky music cues. I haven’t felt that purely drunk on cinema in a while, and I was and am intensely in love with this movie. It’s a big, wet kiss for film geeks and those who are willing to give themselves over to it, not to mention that it’s just badass and white knuckle exciting.

  22. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Sure there’s a correlation. There’s 18 movies – if I had to pick whether a movie would be in the top 50% or bottom 50% based on cinemascore, and I took A- and up for the top 50%, I’d be wrong four times out of eighteen.

    I don’t know if that’s how Cinemscore themselves grade it, but that’s better than chance.

  23. David Poland says:

    But Foamy… there is no proof in that pudding, love or hate Cinemascore.

    The demographic info is more valuable than the rating for marketers. They are well served to have some idea of who went, which tells them whether their marketing hit their target… a bit.

    But Cinemascore would tell you to “double-down” on Monte Carlo instead of Bridesmaids… Larry Crown instead of Bad Teacher.

    Having some surveying of audiences the first weekend makes some sense for studio marketing departments. But like tracking, these numbers are worthless for public consumption, except as cynical marketing tools. And media embarrasses itself when it pretends they are important stats. Any statistic that is only important when it ends up being proven “right” and that only happens a small percentage of the time is nothing something journalists should be treating with respect.

    Even the demographic info… more valuable than the rating… but still, such a tiny survey that it’s really borderline as a factual offering.

  24. Drew McWeeny says:

    I’ve seen it. Theatrically, even. It’s every inch as offensive and insane as it sounds, Berg. It’s the same two guys who created the “Mondo Cane” series, and it came out as part of a box set with those.

  25. David Poland says:

    That film – and the box set it came in on – actually sounds interesting.

  26. JKill says:

    Here’s the trailer for ‘Uncle Tom’. It has a kind of exploitation lore about it so I was aware of it, but I’ve never had the opportunity to see it.

  27. David Poland says:

    Foamy – 4 times out of 18.

    Yes, technically, better than “chance.”

    But look how you have to bend yourself into a pretzel to get to find something more than chance in this stat?

    More importantly, it’s a stat based on a self-selecting group that is not reflective of the people who are not attending the movie. And it’s not a complex enough piece of information to do much serious ad targeting.

    All information has value. Yes. But some stats are shite… like who wins the weekend. Does $30m+ indicate a great launch of a re-release for Disney? Yes. But if there was another movie in the marketplace that did better, would it make that opening any less great? Of course not.

    Subjective stats only have value in very specific context. It doesn’t mean they are “wrong” a lot of the time. But their “rightness” is relative. And journalists don’t bother to make that distinction and are doing a massive disservice to their readers.

    Tracking, by the way, is also in that realm. It’s a good stat for determining how your marketing is doing, as it was designed. It is a shite stat – even when read well – for knowing how movies are going to open with precision.

    Reduce it to “flop” or “hit” and tracking will work for you the vast majority of the time. You want to know $18m or $25m, you’re whistling in the dark.

  28. Gus says:

    JKill that trailer is literally unbelievable.

    Where do people get exploitation movies? Seriously, all these movies that inspire Tarantino and the Grindhouse set – where do people even find them? I have no idea where I would go to buy or rent or ever hear about movies like this.

  29. Foamy Squirrel says:

    “But Cinemascore would tell you to “double-down” on Monte Carlo instead of Bridesmaids… Larry Crown instead of Bad Teacher.”

    There are 153 possible pairings on that chart. For each pairing, if I made the decision to reinvest based on the Cinemscore I’d make the correct decision 79 times, the wrong decision 41 times, and no decision (equal score) 33 times. That’s a pretty reasonable run if I were a gambling man. If I started with $100 and bet half my money each time, I’d walk away with $3700 in my pocket.

    As I explicitly said, however, that’s not the applicable usage of Cinemascore. I’d also argue that demo information isn’t that useful – you may want 18-35s to turn up, but if your film appeals more to the 45-60s and that’s who turns up you may still get an “A” because the marketing and content are matching. Segmentation via psychographics is much more useful than demographics.

  30. JoeLeydon'sPersonalPornStar says:

    Still doing my post-Toronto laundry. Does the excitement never end?

  31. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Depends if you mix your colours and whites.

  32. cadavra says:

    Seems to me that Screen Gems trumps Lurie as far as marketing goes, and since they have a reputation for schlock, it’s quite probable that people–especially those aware of the original–skipped STRAW DOGS thinking it was a typically cheap quickie with a C-list cast that wouldn’t deliver much in the way of thrills. Opinions?

  33. Christian says:

    Startling low gross for Tom Tykwer’s “3.” How’d this one play with the critics? I saw it on the festival circuit and thought it had some strong performances, but very uncomfortable subject matter. I was curious to know if it would play well with arthouse audiences. Guess not.

  34. JS Partisan says:

    1) Jkill, have you seen the original Straw Dogs?

    2) Gus:

    3) The Lion King still having enough pull to open number 1 years later is rather righteous.

  35. Gus says:

    I watched the straw dogs remake this evening and was pretty disappointed, especially with how sloppy things got in the third act. Honestly I thought the transposition of the story to Louisiana was not at all a bad idea, but the region for whatever it’s worth did not feel lived in at all. Very generic take on the area.

    And for a movie that was so meticulous in its introductions it really fell into arbitrary compositions and copied moves from the original by the end.

    But really what it comes down to is the movie hinges on an act of graphic violence and they simply didn’t bring it all in the set up or the actual act of violence, and from there the emotional component was lost.

  36. JKill says:

    JSP, yeah I’ve seen the original STRAW DOGS, and I love Peckinpah. I just think the new movie is respectful to the original but does its own thing enough to be justified. I’m curious as to the reactions of people who’ve never seen the original, though, because I think it might be more of a visceral kick for them because they’re not going to know where it’s headed.

  37. hcat says:

    I don’t know if it would be as much of a visceral kick for people who have not seen the original. The original still packs a wallop today in terms of violence but I doubt it has the same kick as it did when it was released.

    Before Straw Dogs what was seen as the most crazy unnerving violent film? Psycho? Forty years later after hundreds of slasher movies and an influx of foreign horror the same story is not going to have the same impact. Some of the audience may have even thought it was a tamer version of The Strangers.

  38. Desslar says:

    Don’t place much faith in the accuracy of the Rotten Tomatoes score, and never really looked at Cinemascore.

    I find IMDB to be a pretty solid yardstick of quality, although it doesn’t indicate anything about box office potential. After all, many people flock to horrible movies.

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