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David Poland

By David Poland

Friday Estimates by Excelslinger Klady

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This is a crazy weekend.

First, The Dark Tower. With due respect to everyone who wants to kick the guy, this is why Tom Rothman survives and thrives (with thriving at Sony to come). He took a Stephen King book that the King Cult loves and he looked at the numbers. The Green Mile is the massive anomaly. It grossed more than double any other Stephen King-based film ever worldwide. 1408 is the second biggest hit, although it was sold more like a traditional horror/thriller than a Stephen King adaptation. Aside from those two, no other Stephen King-based film has grossed over $62 million domestic or $50 million international (and 1408 “only” did $133m worldwide).

So… would a $150 million effects spectacular based on a Stephen King book have been a smart bet for Sony?

The real question will be international. Can the film do $100 million or more elsewhere? If so, it’s a hero. But even if it does $50 million, the budget on this film keeps Sony safe from significant loss. And if you are harboring a fantasy that they could Mummy it, which is to say, have Tom Cruise draw $300 million-plus internationally… well… Passengers.

The punchline is that this opening suggests that Tom Rothman will survive The Dark Tower and while it will not make him super-hot, it will get him to Jumanji after a summer with two hits, a breakeven or better (TDT), and a small loser (Rough Night).

And when It opens to this number or worse, watch it get celebrated as succeeding over its head. (Truth is, It should open better than this… but we’ll see.)

Kidnap is a direct-to-video movie if ever there was one. Yet here it is, David Dinerstein’s Aviron Picture’s first theatrical release, opening to around $10 million and likely to gross at least $25 million domestic on minimal marketing spend. This follows Entertainment Studio’s 47 Meters Down, which somehow grossed $43 million domestic.

With A24 and the launch of Neon getting all the (deserved) media love, there is a new strain of distributor emerging. (Worth noting that four of the six $10m+ domestic grossers for A24 were genre films.)


Another new distributor, as Annapurna puts it out there. Great team of industry veterans. Strong movie. Strong reviews. Dud opening.

If the rest of the weekend goes well, they will open to about the same as Girls Night.

Some have argued that the date is wrong. I would agree that was a miscalculation if they thought they could be the Hell or High Water of this summer. However, World Trade Center ($19m), The Butler ($25m), and a lot of black-audience-targeted movies suggest the opportunity is there. But the argument, which I consider absurd, that Kathryn Bigelow was an inappropriate director for this film because she is white, held back any momentum in selling to the black audience, without enough time for more than a few selected mea culpas by Bigelow. And I think the marketing was ambivalent about race as a focus in the sell of this movie.

Detroit – which was never going to be an easy sell, released to huge numbers – needed a longer runway. The excitement of “Kathryn Bigelow’s next movie” isn’t that of Christopher Nolan… but it does exist in a very real way. And that is what carried anticipation through the summer. It was seen as The Closer.

First problem… the movie turned out not be about the riots. Team Annapurna knew this. Like any other audience, critics don’t like to think they know what they are getting and then being surprised. And although the Rotten Tomatoes scores suggest otherwise, many writers I spoke to said the film gave them whiplash.

Second problem… when the actual movie came into focus, it was hard as nails. You have to let people – even professionals, if not especially professionals – know that this is coming. Moreover, you need to set the table for the emotional response. Non-horror movies do not do well when the word-of-mouth is, “It’s painful to watch.” You need to turn that to, “It hurts because we are still going through this today in America and across the globe.” That takes time.

Third problem… the “white writer, white director problem” is one I hadn’t anticipated. (Maybe that is a reflection of white privilege, but while I understand that some stories are so steeped in black culture as to make a white reflection of them off-putting, this doesn’t seem to be one of those stories.) But as it started to show, the film needed champions in the black culture… champions who should have been lined up for months, even before the issue was brought up in the press. Kathryn Bigelow has been an earnest supporter of more diversity in the directing ranks for years. Where were the people who she fought for when she needed some support? And if they were signaling a problem a month ago, the team should have taken very different, more transparent actions to save the commercial release of the film.

Fourth problem… what the hell was up with that last second exclusive release last weekend? I’m sure there were plenty of good arguments for it, but it was almost assured to fail because it wasn’t really marketed and the 50,000 people who saw the film aren’t enough to create the kind of word of mouth that will push wide release numbers. What it does is muddy the waters. I would have felt a lot better about them pushing the wide by two weeks, to go to 100 screens this weekend, then 200 next weekend, then wide, rather than to throw a tiny amount of chum in the water early that won’t attract a big fish.

Fifth problem… the movie and its public face. I love the movie. But who did the opening animation? I bet it was a black artist. Perhaps a prominent black artist. Why don’t I know that? Why doesn’t everyone know that? And if it is am imitation of some black artists, Bigelow screwed up. It draws attention to itself as ethnic art… so either do it right and talk about it openly or don’t do it.

I’m glad the marketing shifted to “What happened at The Algiers” 10 days ago… but that was 10 days ago. Until then, you would have thought it was a series of stories taking place during the frenzy of the riot.

It is one of the most basic ideas of movie marketing that you need to have a clear sell. I have seen very few campaigns over these last 20 years that switch focus or tone and work out well.

And the truth is, we will never know if the movie would have opened or done better if the push was clearer and more aggressive, as I have suggested here. Hindsight isn’t really 20/20. We all just want to believe that something is 20/20.

But Detroit deserved better than an $8 million opening.

Nice limited per-screens for Wind River and Columbus.

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32 Responses to “Friday Estimates by Excelslinger Klady”

  1. Spacesheik says:

    THE DARK TOWER is 90 minutes?!
    No thanks, I’ll pass.

  2. jspartisan says:

    It’s 90 minutes, because they were planning on an 8-hour TV series, that would fill out everything. Seeing as that may still happen. They should just make that show, then make the rest of the Dark Tower a FUCKING TV SHOW!

  3. Hcat says:

    Congrats to Sony!!! By the end of Saturday they will have THE highest grossing supernatural western origin to an aborted franchise that has been whittled down to 90 minutes simply for the mercy of the audience. In your Face Jonah Hex!

  4. Ray Pride says:

    The Detroit title animation is based on the work of painter Jacob Lawrence. “Lawrence became a nationally known figure virtually overnight when his ‘The Migration Series’ was shown at New York’s Downtown Gallery in 1941. The twenty-four year old artist became the first African-American to be represented by a New York gallery. Fortune magazine published a lengthy article on the series that reproduced twenty-six of series’ sixty panels, and the entire series was purchased jointly by the Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Collection.”

  5. Joe Leydon says:

    To be honest, I’m amazed that the white filmmaker/black subject matter controversy didn’t erupt the moment Bigelow announced she was making this movie. Please don’t misunderstand: I am not arguing whether or not she had the “right” to make Detroit. I am saying that I’m surprised it took this long for significant numbers of people to start complaining. See, I can remember what happened when Norman Jewison announced he wanted to film The Confessions of Nat Turner. I half-expected this project to be un-greenlit before filming started.

  6. djiggs says:

    Norman Jewison stepped aside so Spike Lee could direct Malcolm X. Also, Annapurna had a previous model that they could have used for Detroit: 12 Years A Slave.
    Regarding Stephen King movies, I would thought that The Shining earned over $62 million especially since Kubrick thought The Shining made up for the domestic failure for Barry Lyndon.. But, boxofficemojo shows $44 million domestic ($145 million in 2017 $).

    From my impressions of It’s marketing/tone of the piece, I think It becomes the highest grossing Stephen King movie & possibly highest box office for a film to open in September. To me, the ad campaign has just been brilliant specifically “You’ll float too” spot. I find the kid actors so spot-on that I do not believe that the sequel with adult characters is going to be as successful as this 1st movie.

  7. GWJ says:

    Detroit totally bombed. Imagine that: White people are tired of being villified and black people don’t want to watch themselves being tortured for over two hours.

  8. EtGuild2 says:

    Soooo….I might have been a little too optimistic on this year being -5%. It may be -4% by Tuesday and looking at -10% headed into November. -7% seems quite possible by Dec 31st.

  9. TrackerBacker says:

    “And when It opens to this number or worse, watch it get celebrated as succeeding over its head. (Truth is, It should open better than this… but we’ll see.)”

    It will have an opening that is multiple times Dark Tower‘s.

  10. GdB says:

    As a white male, I have no problem seeing white people villified. Especially with the uptick in alt-right fueled passive and blatant bigotry.

    If you’re a white person upset at white people being villified in historical based (or even fictional) content, then recognize and acknowledgd white, patriarchial, privilege exists; stop others from pretending it doesn’t and practice some emotional intelligence instead of narcisscistic fueled false victimization.

    Until all white people get woke, villify away (especially when based on a true story)..

    Those who choose to be sensitive about it and stay in denial about what is really going on with white privilege, please enjoy this nice warm glass of shut the fuck up. I’m sick of apologizing to the rest of the world for you assholes just because we share the same pigmentation and gender.

  11. EtGuild2 says:

    Yeah, IT seems like a $40 million opener.

    Nice post GdB

  12. Eric says:

    Is anybody else wondering why Fox did not move War for the Apes or Kingsman: The Golden Circle to this weekend? The former got sandwiched in between Spidey and Dunkirk and I fear the later is going to get all its buzz swamped by IT. Now it possible that Apes was just to dark for mainstream audiences in these Trumpian times we live in and would have underperformed anywhere it was and Kingsman will be another franchise that mainstream audiences have no desire to see past the first one no matter where it is scheduled.

  13. Sideshow Bill says:

    EtGuild2 beat me to it but $40 million is the number I had in mind for IT, too. It should do very well for itself, providing it’s good.

    I haven’t seen DETROIT yet so maybe I shouldn’t comment on it but the criticism that Bigelow is getting bothers me. I understand it would be better if there were more black filmmakers getting a chance to tell these stories, but it’s not like this is Brett Ratner or some other hack. This is someone with pedigree and someone who has dealt with her own form of inequality. I’m saying that of course as a white person, so my perception is not the same. I’m not saying that there isn’t an argument to be made but she deserves a bit more consideration I think. Tough subject. I may feel differently after I see what she’s done with the material but as of right now. I’m in her corner.

  14. LynchVanSant says:

    Judging by the other movies on that top 10 list, the minimum opening weekend for “It” would be $46 million garnered by Fifty Shades Darker. Of course, the dampener on It will be the weekend after Labor Day weekend which is usually one of the worst for box office during the year. This will be a test of “if it’s a product that people want to see, you can open it any time of the year and they will come”.

  15. Triple Option says:

    Did It get greenlit based on all the number of creepy clown spottings last year? I’m not a horror guy, not in the camp of knowing what horror flick is heavily anticipated but 30-secs into the It trailer I could tell it’d blow up. Of course that remains to be seen but I’d place it with Girls Night as films to make an opening w/e statement.

    I do think a national political climate stunted whatever potential Detroit had. For a few years there’s been a rising level of comfort and acceptability in being able to resent others. It’s not enough to just not give a crap about who lies outside your bubble but now ill will and contempt are strewn out to anyone seeking better representation. Detroit is too close to Kaep vs PD for much of America to appear to climb on board and support.

    While it’s hard to know the reason why someone won’t go to see a movie, I think there can be a difference between boycotting a film or show, like the proposed Confederate show about what if the South won the civil war project, verses a community not getting behind someone, like hip hop and R&B quietly telling Miley Cyrus “we’re good, thanks!” Bigelow may have a big heart for the project and the people but if she hasn’t built up any street cred from backing even small Black projects in the past, it’s no surprise to me that the community that came out for Girls Night and Tupac opening w/e would pass on Detroit.

    David, what was the second hit for Sony besides Spiderman?

  16. Stella's Boy says:

    I think Detroit would have worked better as a limited series. It’s a very good movie but there’s so much more story to tell. Some of the criticism I’ve read is spot on. It’s a little disjointed and could use more context (especially in the beginning). The characters are too thin. But it’s pretty damn riveting and I felt shaken and stirred when the end credits rolled. The acting is exceptional and does a lot to make up for thin characters. Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore broke my heart. They’re revelatory. Boyega is excellent. Will Poulter is quite good too. Kind of can’t believe that’s the nerdy kid from We’re the Millers. This is important and relevant history. If a white person (which I am) is so sensitive they can’t handle seeing something like this that’s just sad and pathetic. I didn’t know much about what happened at the Algiers and I’m grateful for this movie. It’s flawed but when it works it really works.

  17. LynchVanSant says:

    “David, what was the second hit for Sony besides Spiderman?”

    Baby Driver from TriStar will get over $100 million.

  18. WesCraveMore says:

    Detroit likely bombed because although based on approval ratings, most people aren’t happy with Trump, he did give more of a voice to people, whites especially, who feel they are dumped on by the rest of society because of their supposed “privilege” when I’m guessing these people don’t feel privileged at all from where they stand. So when a movie comes out that they believe dumps on them, they have no problem giving a proverbial “F you” to that movie, no matter the reviews or what have you because they also feel that Hollywood doesn’t speak to them with most movies.

  19. leahnz says:

    this thread is getting creepy as fuck
    (odds that GWJ and the dipshit above are the same person. really hope so anyway)

  20. leahnz says:

    also, the comparisons of ‘detroit’ (still haven’t seen it so going by trailers/opinions of people i know who’ve seen it/reading reviews) to ’12 year AS’ as the ‘right’ way to tackle the subject of black oppression are curious and seem a bit off, given the serious difference in context. 12yrs is:
    1) sadistic as fuck, 2) but also has the brad pitt ‘nice white man!’ character to provide comfort (not to mention pitt as producer and ‘awards campaigner’ before/behind the scenes for the production), and 3) tackles familiar stereotypical subject matter of enslaved black people, with which Caucasian people are fairly unchallenged and comfortable in their view of ‘white slave owners were cruel’, as well as 4) after the horror of it all it has a ‘happy ending’ of sorts.
    from what i gather ‘detroit’ is way outside that ‘slavery is bad’ comfort zone and a far grimmer tale about black rebellion in the face of relentless systemic abuse of white power, which ends as bad as it can for the three murdered men, also denied any sort of justice to add insult to injury

  21. Ray Pride says:

    The two posts are from the same.

  22. Pete B says:

    ^ It would have been far more entertaining if GWJ & GdB were the same poster because then we’d have a split personality worthy of Shyamalan.

  23. leahnz says:

    ray pride just said they are the same poster (same IP addy i assume)

    also how is this fuckery ‘entertaining’?
    seems like this is they type of thing that people find ‘entertaining’ when they have a lot less to lose under a moronic right wing white christian extremist autocracy of crims and traitors

  24. Pete B says:

    Pay attention: Ray said GWJ and WesCraveMore were the same poster. GdB was someone else.

  25. leahnz says:

    er ok

  26. Pete B says:

    Leah, I give you props on your astute observation that the same person posted twice under different names.

    My failed attempt at levity was: what if the “down with white privilege” poster and the “go white power” poster were the same person.

  27. palmtree says:

    Wow, this blog is getting really good at identifying trolls. No rabbit holes were descended here. A proud achievement if you ask me.

  28. Movieman says:

    Interesting that the complaints about a white director making a slice of black history like “Detroit” have inadvertently sidelined an examination of the film’s very real flaws.
    For example, the fact that the performances by the black actors are infinitely superior to the white performers’.
    Could that have been intentional?
    I adore Jennifer Ehle, but her unbilled cameo was downright embarrassing.
    And why so many British actors? Was this secretly filmed on a London soundstage? I’m puzzled by the praise Will Poulter has received. I can think of at least 25 young American actors who could have done a better job (and wouldn’t have had to torture themselves w/ the whole accent thing).
    Plus, even though the character is purportedly based on an actual person, John Boyega’s role didn’t make a lick of sense as written/played. How/why does this security guard pop up at key moments as frequently as Zelig or Forrest Gump? The fact that he doesn’t really have any sizable impact on the overarching narrative made me think the character should have been written (or edited) out.
    And don’t even get me started on the comically overdone period smoking (or the difficulty most cast members’–e.g., Poulter–had making their incessant smoking look remotely convincing).
    Bigelow brings her usual propulsive energy to the script, and I wasn’t bored for a second. (It also has considerably more emotional impact than, say, “Dunkirk.”)
    Yet the film I was most reminded of was…Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall” (which I actually thought was a tad underrated).
    Despite my mixed reaction, I still find it inordinately depressing that a stale piece of cheese like “Kidnap” outgrossed it this weekend.
    So sad.

  29. Stella's Boy says:

    I don’t think he pops up so much as he’s there the whole time and is trying to do whatever he can to diffuse the situation while also staying alive. I didn’t have a problem with that. I was impressed by Poulter. Can’t believe it’s the We’re the Millers kid. He fully convinced me. But yeah the standouts are Smith, Latimore, and Boyega.

  30. PJ says:

    “the film needed champions in the black culture… champions who should have been lined up for months, even before the issue was brought up in the press.”

    This is excellent point. They had Michael Eric Dyson at the premiere but I never saw him do any press. Joy Reid also featured actors on her show. But that was on the opening weekend. They could have easily have avoided this by sending out early screeners to people like Coates and the like. Especially when they are going around saying they wanted to start a conversation. Thier actions only say to me that they wanted it to be a one way conversation.

  31. Movieman says:

    If the complaints about a white director making a “black film” weren’t a big enough nail in its awards-hopeful basket, the b.o. failure of “Detroit” should effectively revoke its year-end dance card.
    Didn’t see that coming.
    I’m wondering if Annapurna’s distribution/marketing inexperience showed in “Detroit”‘s inability to find a theatrical audience. Megan Ellison is one of the industry’s biggest, bravest angels. Hope she corrects course soon because we need her more than ever.

  32. Stella's Boy says:

    I think Dyson consulted on Detroit. I’ve heard him on NPR a lot recently (including an entire hour of On Point devoted to his most recent book) so it’s odd that he wasn’t out there doing press.

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