Box Office Archive for December, 2010

2010: The Year In Box Office (Part 1)

The tickets sold game… such clap trap.

The stat we do know is overall sales. The cost per ticket is estimated by NATO on a quarterly basis. How accurate is it? Unknown. How accurate is it when you are looking for any specificity or cause-and-effect? Worthless.

Simple logic tells us that a $400 million domestic gross for Toy Story 3 vs a similar gross for Transformers 2 means more tickets sold for TS3. Why? More tickets priced for kids. Of course, it’s possible that the 3D bump balances out or more than balances out the numbers of tickets sold at a lower price. But the truth is… we don’t know.

We do know that Tickets Sold is The New Black in media coverage and that the ultimate self-promoting (and most often way off track) analyst, Rich Greenfield, will just keep beating that drum in order to be quoted. He’s quite literally making numbers up… based on broad stats that cannot be reduced down into the kind of detailed claims he frivolously makes. And his claim that studios have jumped into the 3D business to pump up the number of people going to the movies is simply wrong. It’s a cash business, not a tickets sold business. Domestically, Inception clearly sold fewer tickets than Harry Potter 7.0. But that’s the dream! Make a movie for adults and make more money from less tickets sold.

Anyway… back to earth…

If you want to know the big difference between 2009, the highest grossing year every, and 2010, start with this stat; Thirty-two $100 million domestic grossers in 2009… Twenty-five in 2010.

And is wasn’t like this led to a bunch of films grossing between $50m and $100m that just happened to fall short of the mark. There was a much bigger “middle class” in that gross range… but mostly in the 70s, well short of nine-figures.

In terms of gross, things are worse than they might seem, as the $10.5 billion figure being thrown around includes films released in 2009 that played into 2010… which includes $470 million of Avatar‘s $750m domestic gross, giving 2010 a near $200m bonus over last year on that film alone. 2011 won’t get that benefit. It will have a similar amount of holdover business aside from Avatar, but nothing to come close to matching Avatar.

But as I have always said, “It’s the movies, stupid.”

The audience shows up when they want to show up. They aren’t avoiding the theaters. It’s not that kind of proposition.

There were four $300m+ domestic releases this year, compared to three last year. But there were more $200m-$300m films last year.

There were ten $450 million grossing films worldwide both this year and last.

But there is no December title this year that’s going to get close to $200 million domestic… or, most likely, $400m worldwide. Last year, there were three.

The only November title to get there this year will be Potter… last year, there were two.

But what does this mean? Chicken Littles will scream that the screen is falling. But there is no logical indication of that. It’s the movies.

Was there a potential The Blind Side in the last couple of months that I didn’t notice? I don’t think so. Was there an Avatar that didn’t quite take off? Even reducing expectations significantly from Avatar to Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Tron 2 and Narnia 3 didn’t get there… but would have really been a surprise had they gotten there.

And for me, this is the lesson. It’s not about quality… it’s about popularity. We can argue all day about how the two things match up or do not. But in the end, Inception can be a 100x better movie than 2012, but at the box office, Inception did only 6% better. Obviously, given a choice, every studio would prefer to have Inception (now that it proved to be a mega-grosser). But every studio would also want a 2012 on their schedule every November, no matter how embarrassing as a movie.

If you look at the movies at the top of the charts, you’ll see that it was adults, not kids, who seemed to show up less at the movies this year. Was it the recession or what it too many movies aimed at kids? Impossible to know. But last year, I see four of the Top Ten aimed at adults (The Hangover, Star Trek, The Blind Side, Sherlock Holmes) and this year, only Inception. (Pixar is age neutral… and obviously I am using a broad brush as to what “aimed at adults” means.)

The great irony of box office coverage at this time of year is that it echoes the ideals of Wall Street, not movie fans… that somehow, hitting the target of beating the grosses of the year before is the goal. It’s not. Max profitability is the goal… as ever. Critics often pay lip service to the idea of quality and how studios would be well served to embrace it. The meme of recent years was All Blockbusters and Little Hits. 2010’s answer to that was, Blockbusters, lots of mid-range box office ($40m – $100m), and most under $40m wide releases being seen as disappointing, even if they were profitable. But it’s not like audiences are trying to hit a number at the box office. Bigger numbers are coming for nichier product. And the things that don’t catch fire are deader than ever. Adam Sandler up, Never Let Me Go down. And the box office for movies that writers want to beat up, like The A-Team, is fine… they just spent too damn much on the picture.

There is nothing broken about the box office. There is no reason to panic. But the studios, which are always smarter than the media understands, need to continue to find ways to make it work at a price. There is plenty of audience for everyone… and for every delivery format.

Part Two: The Studios


True Grit Watch

Now that True Grit has muscled its way into the frontrunner slot to win Best Picture – more in a 20 Weeks column coming up later today – watching the film’s box office, a major influencer, becomes more interesting.

The best comparison I can find is Benjamin Button, which didn’t win Best Picture, but actually came to the table with higher expectations than Grit. They had slightly different points of entry, as Grit opened on the 22nd while Button stuck to the Christmas Day release. And with one extra day, Grit’s 7-day is only about a million dollars up on Button’s 6-day, putting both on even footing on the Tuesday after Christmas.

However, while Button blew out of the gates more strongly, Grit is the film that’s accelerating post-opening faster, grossing $2.1 million more than Button on the comparative Monday and $1.4 million more on Tuesday. Projecting a modest (using Mon/Tue as a guide) 30% increase onto Button’s run from yesterday (Wed) to the end of the upcoming holiday weekend, which was $31 million, you’re looking at True Grit closing the holidays at just around $90 million domestic, passing The Social Network as the highest grosser other than Toy Story 3 and Inception in the field by midweek, maybe Jan 4 or 5.


Box Office Year & Originality

I don’t understand what Brooks Barnes smokes before writing up his pieces on the film industry. Today’s bit of absurdity is about how a wave of originality is taking over Hollywood because of this year’s box office.

My sides are hurting from laughing.

I’ll keep the response simple.

There were twenty-two $250 million worldwide grossers in 2010 (counting Tangled, which is just short of the figure and will be there this week).

Ten of them were sequels or direct remakes.
Three of the “originals” were children’s cartoons.
One was based on a videogame. One was based on a children’s TV series. One is an standard-issue Adam Sandler comedy. One is an action movie based quite overtly on the premise of going to the movie to watch a parade of action stars from the last 3 decades, including Governor Schwarzenegger. Robin Hood was a new version of a classic story.

We’re up to 18 of 22. What’s left?

Knight & Day, explicitly noted as the movie Hollywood won’t be making anymore.
Salt, a terrific return to Angelina Jolie kicking ass… a three-times successful franchise.
Shutter Island, a truly terrific, original piece by Scorsese.
Inception, a hat tip to The Nolans doing more Batmans that ended up being a huge (and expensive) success.

How many of these Top 22 grossers have rankings of 80% or better on Rotten Tomatoes? 3.

How many 70% – 80%? Another 2.

The cut-off for Rotten is 60%.

And don’t get me started on the complete lack of (recent) historical perspective when it comes to such claims that hiring “edgy” directors to do seemingly mainstream properties is a new phenomenon. This is an article that calls out Chris Nolan for originality. Has anyone at the Times heard of Bryan Singer?

If Disney’s model for success is Burton doing Alice, great… just make sure the combination of the director and the classic, completely familiar source material make people go, “Of course,” when they hear the combination. I love Guillermo del Toro, but only a small percentage of the audience knows him by name or is clamoring for a Haunted Mansion movie. (I’m sure it will be great and the marketing will, as it must, sell it.)

Sony bet on Sam Raimi for the first Spider-Man film. Great choice. And I hope Webb is one too. But the Spider-Man movies remain Raimi’s only $100m worldwide grossers in his career. (500) Days of Summer did a terrific $33 million… terrific for what it is. A blind monkey with all the movie channels on his satellite could open the next Spider-Man to $100 million. The success of the franchise will not prove the value of an edge director. Marc Foster made the worst Bond movie in many years… but it still beat Casino Royale domestically (not worldwide), made by second-time Bond director Martin Campbell. I am rooting for Webb. I LOVE Andrew Garfield for this job. Tobey Maguire is one of the great characters actors of his generation. Garfield is heading that way and can be a bigger movie star than Tobey is ever likely to be. He’s got that gear. Great! But it proves little.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller are great guys and Cloudy was absurdly brilliant… but the “daring choice” is to remake a 80s TV show. Wow. Edgy. (Don’t even get me started on Sony dumping Soderbergh on Moneyball… though I am very much looking forward to Bennett Miller’s version of the project.)

“Animation is not as infallible as it has been.” A record FOUR animated $200 million domestic grossers in one year… doubling the previous top of two. Huh?

The audience most certainly has NOT pushed back. The “rejected” Tom Cruise and Sex and the City 2, each to the tune of over $250 million worldwide. Julia Roberts was rejected to the tune of $203 million. Nice rejection. Disappointing vs expectations? Absolutely. But a little sane perspective please.

Whipping Boy The A-Team grossed $15 million less than The Social Network. It also cost more. But again, perspective. Paranormal Activity 2, Jackass 3D, and The Other Guys are all modestly reviewed retreads that will be more profitable than The Social Network.

God bless The Social Network. Huzzah. Really. But you can’t take the odd man and try to claim it’s a trend. That goes for Inception as well, a movie that could have been delivered by ONE filmmaker and only one… from his (and his brother’s) mind… and it would never have been greenlit ANYWHERE if it weren’t for the success of The Dark Knight. The success of Batman Begins would not have gotten that film greenlit. Great… but not a standard that any studio can work under.

I am all for originality. It is my belief that the biggest successes come out of the unexpected. Twilight was dumped by Paramount. Slumdog MIllionaire dumped by Warner Bros. Fox sold off 60% of Avatar with less than a year to go before release. Due Date and Shutter Island are great examples of films that were not expected to do as well on paper… any by the way, were director and star driven. There are plenty of good stories.

I love Pixar… very original… yet, a franchise with a history of quality that people follow closely. DWA is out there working it too.

But let’s not delude ourselves. The only original thing about Alice in Wonderland was Burton’s visuals… and they were, in many ways, expected and anticipated, which made the film such a massive hit. But not a great film. Iron Man 2 is a terrible film. The Twilight series is famously horrible (except to the obsessed fans, 50 million strong). Clash of the Titans? Prince of Persia? Resident Evil: Afterlife, the fourth in the series? The horror… the horror…

You know what’s original? Making the right choices and having it all work out. The Karate Kid… fifth in the franchise… but from that first trailer, you knew they made the right choices… the kid is great… Jackie Chan as an old guy… make it international so the alienation is real and not just teen angst… all great choices. Is it the best movie of the year? No. But it really, really works for its audience.

And the same is true of The Social Network, which is pretty much a perfect film within the boundaries of the script Aaron Sorkin wrote. And yeah, $192 million is great for a straight drama. It’s not the best gross in that niche this year. And the film that did better for Sony but got killed as a disappointment? Eat Pray Love… a bad movie that did really strong business worldwide… but still not seen as enough.

Trend. Stories. Suck.

(Edit, 12/27, 1:27p – There were four previous Karate Kid films, not three.)


Weekend Estimates by Little Gulliver Klady

Little Fockers is off, 5 days in, about 32% from Meet The Fockers. Size does matter.

Meanwhile, True Grit opened about 34% better than any other Coen Bros 3-day before and could well be past $75 million domestic by the end of next weekend which would mean a new domestic box office record for the brothers in 12 days or less. (No Country is at $74.3m domestic.) This pretty much guarantees a domestic total of over $100 million, probably before Oscar nominations are even announced.

It’s worth noting that for all the shrying about Westerns as a dead genre, the last two unironic westerns that grossed over $100 million – actually, there are only two – both won Best Picture. It’s been 18 years. Hmmm…

Tron Legacy is kicking along and will have passed $100 million at some point next weekend, if not on Thursday. $130m-$150m is looking like a viable domestic total for the film. Looking back at Tron‘s 1982 gross, it was #22 for the year with $34 million. This year, #22 is at $103 million as of right now… may end up being $110m or $115m. So Tron Legacy with be, on paper, an improvement on the success level of the first film. International numbers are a different conversation, in which Tron Legacy will surely beat Tron by a whole lot… a very different box office field overseas 28 years later.

Narnia: Dawn Trader’s Christmas Day dream of Christians audiences coming to the film’s rescue didn’t happen. There was a bump, but not a jump. Walden Media started the campaign to blame Fox for even the existence of the film via willing web sites on opening day. I can’t say that I know what the deal between the two companies really is on this movie and who will lose what amount of money. All I do know is that Fox Marketing didn’t turn the trick here at all – and it does make Oren Aviv’s campaigns for the first and second film look rather good – AND Walden Media is successful about 20% of the time as a production company. They are smartly retreating to the Benji-level of the business, where they can make profit on most titles and may even hit on out of the park by surprise now and again.

Speaking of a Fox flop, Gulliver’s Travels is a classic car wreck, which the studio saw coming month ago and just had to go through the paces to release. Greatness is getting some extra mustard on that hot dog. Not here.

As ever, the conversation is “Wither Fox?” And 2011 looks more like 2009 than 2010, with 5 strong-looking sequels/prequels (X-Men, Wimpy Kid, Big Momma, Apes & Chipmunks), what should be two strong family films (Rio, Popper’s Penguins), a couple of silly comedies, a trio of chick flicks, and returns from Andrew Niccol and Cameron Crowe. The only big ticket items are the sequels. Obviously, there is no Avatar or any hope of Avatar there. But neither do there seem to be fatty A-Team/Knight & Day/Wall Street 2 kinds of titles that bring massive expectations and tough profitability pictures if they don’t work just right.

But I digress…

The Fighter came back stronger over the weekend, but it is a second wide weekend and even throwing another $1 million on top of the gross to make up for Christmas Eve day, the drop was still about 21%, which would be solid, but not especially strong for this grouping of films. Expect $45m-$50m by the end of the holiday. Looking for a comparable number, the one from Wahlberg’s history that jumps out at me is Three Kings. Go figure. Similar release, similar 2nd weekend drop. I like the film to do slightly better business and much better at the Academy Awards… but interesting to consider (and debate) the O. Russell reflection.

Tangled passed Megamind as the #5 animated title at the domestic box office released this year. The next tier is HTTYDragon’s $217m… which isn’t at all likely.

But let’s take a look at the remarkable year in animation. I would say it was a little overcrowded, but still.. four $200m domestic grossing animated films in one year. And if you want to look at the one area where 3D really is working for the box office, it’s here. All four $200m domestic grossers were in 3D, as were all four of the other wide-release animated films this year (no counting Yogi Bear). It’s ironic that the place where price point would seem most significantly altered – increases on kids tickets and more group movie visits with kids – is the place with the least price resistance. Even with too many films in that marketplace, it is a closed eco-system.

Speaking of 3D, as we go into the year of the most titles scheduled in 3D and the year I have predicted will kill off the trend for live-action 3D releases, Gulliver’s Travels will be the first true 3D disaster for a major… the first to not cover the cost of a relatively cheap conversion with the 3D bump to ticket sales. More on this in another entry.


Christmas Eve Estimates by Grinch Klady

Again, the theme I see here is more movies doing better without the massive hit(s) eating the marketplace.

This is what The Industry must confront, on some level. Lower overall numbers but more films able to get to profitability based on a lower price tag… or chasing the big gold ring of $500m+ grosses. It’s a double-edged sword, as we saw into the studio foray into the indie business. The lower the potential profit, even with success, the less motivated the big corporations are to keep funding the effort. (As in, “Wouldn’t this $200 million a year generate more money if it were used in the microwave division?”) But it’s the chase of The Big Movie that has made the film business the vast wasteland that some allege it to be.

It’s all too easy to get bogged down on the individual performances of these movies… even more so by obsessing on domestic box office first and last. A massive hit or a number of 8-figure losing bombs can change the dynamic for a studio, but mostly, it’s a portfolio business. There’s time enough for counting when the dealing’s (or the quarter’s) done.

True Grit is much more important to Paramount’s bottom line, since they financed it (and yeah, brought in a partner), than is The Fighter, on which they are in an output deal. But the distribution deals on Paramount’s spread sheet have been, in recent years, a more important business for the studio than their produced product. Grit will have a direct effect on the bottom line, but Fighter can prove to producers that you can bring a challenging movie to Paramount and do better with it there than at other studios.

Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain… unless you are interested in what the real bottom line is.

Ho ho ho.

(And though it’s a lump of coal in the stocking… Little Fockers has to feel like a holiday dagger as Comcast gets closer to taking over at NBC/U. The marketing was horrible. Showing clips from the old movies as your main push is like telling people they should stay home and watch their old DVDs of the first 2 films. But a marketing department has to work with what they have and you have to wonder just how bad a mess the movie is – I haven’t seen it – that the only bits worth bringing to the pitch are the Very Old “I have my eyes on you” and fake period pictures of Old Fockers. “The Godfocker?” Really? So what that would signal to a new boss might be, “Production can’t even milk a smash hit for a few new gags that can make a great trailer and TV spots.” There is nothing easy about a third film in a series… everyone is in charge and no one wants to be caught pandering even though every single person is doing it for the check. But if you’re a company under duress and you decide to greenlight another overpriced film, you at least have to be willing to fail… or you will most surely fail. Ya?)


Box Office A Ho Ho

As I continue to try to pump out some more weighty year-end stuff, box office caught my eye this morning.

With a $32.2m Top Ten gross, the day before Christmas Eve is down by $13.5 million in the Top Ten this year from last… but considering the lack of a single mega-hit, like Avatar or Alvin & The Chipmunks 2, the box office did rather well, really.

Those two films – and Alvin beat Avatar that day last year – represented $35.2 million of the $45.7m total gross for the day, 77% of the gross. Those were the only two films in the marketplace with a daily gross of over $2 million. Yesterday, there were six such films.

We are also less reliant on the 3D bump this year, with 3D films representing about 26% of the gross yesterday and about 44% last year. If you figure the 3D bump at 25% of ticket prices for those films, that was $11m added to last years day-before coffers and $3.8m this year. That alone makes up more than half the difference from last year.

Yet, my guess is that you will read a lot of stories about the box office being down that use it to bolster the false claim that bad things are happening in exhibition. And the ultimate irony of this is that the argument will be used – incorrectly – to talk about the “broken” system… when in fact, the spread of better box office for more movies and a lack of a mega-movie is exactly what all the doom sayers say that they want, more balance.

Other points of interest…

Little Fockers is off 40% from the last one and is yet another reminder of going to the well too many times, slightly less of a drop than Sex & The City 2’s 47% opening day fall, but not pretty.

Tron Legacy is only a few million behind King Kong‘s 7-day number, though it’s also significantly behind Kong’s day-before-Christmas-Eve gross… so hard to read… $200 million is still realistic, but it’s getting a little more distant each day.

Hard to get a read on True Grit‘s opening so far. Not bad. Not sensational. But enough to get word-of-mouth rolling.

Black Swan passed The Fighter in daily gross the last two days, in spite of 42% fewer screens. More importantly, Swan finds itself at almost double the gross of Up In The Air after the day-before-Christmas-Eve after very similar slow December release strategies. Those who have argued that Swan isn’t capable of finding a mainstream audience might be forced to reconsider.

Tangled is already at $137 million and still running a little hotter than The Princess & The Frog was last year. Look for the domestic total to pass $175 million by the end of the holidays, which would make it the #3 non-Pixar Disney animation title of all-time. Yes, 3D… yes, ticket prices… but still, after years of slumber, even at the stupid price tag, you have to be impressed (especially since the big production cost isn’t an on-screen stunt… it’s just a good animated movie doing very good business compared to recent Disney history.


Weekend Estimates by Yogi Klady

Is there anything much more to say about the weekend? The visual effects sell opened Tron Legacy and history tells us that it will get to $200m domestic off of this opening. If that happens, it will be only the 17th time in history that a December opener hit $200m domestic. The only film that has been positioned as less than A Hit coming off of that number is Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

At $16.m projected, Yogi Bear has a shot at $100m+… or not. Not much competition in the niche.

Nice number for The Fighter, though it can’t be leaving Paramount too comfy, as it may just be a Wahlberg number. Films of his that had none of the hoopla around them – Shooter, Invincible, Four Brothers – all opened to more on the populist star’s shoulders.

The juxtaposition of Fighter and Black Swan fascinates me. After a small word-of-mouth release, Paramount pushed Fighter out like a commercial movie. Searchlight is doing a relatively slow burn on Swan, in spite of some strong early indicators that the film was a big buzz film outside of the industry-heavy markets. Looks to me like the two films could end up around the same domestic number, getting there in completely different ways. Or not. Fighter could gain heat, though it’s not actually a feel good movie. And Swan could take off, especially with teen girls, but it also may have shot its wad o’ heat. No one actually can know how these films will play out as we work through awards season, until it actually happens.

Strong numbers for The King’s Speech. But who knows there either? Will anyone under 50 ever go see this film? They can probably get to $80 million or more without a tween in sight. And127 Hours treads water weakly, hoping for awards help.

Red is the biggest grosser for Summit that isn’t a teen vampire movie. As fall phenoms go, it’s right there with The Social Network domestically, though, interestingly, TSN beat Red by a significant margin overseas.

Unstoppable turned out to be a strong Denzel Washington title, but not one of his rare breakouts. It seems that the movie is too simple to be explained in the marketing… and that simplicity is really the reason the film is so good.

Due Date is heading to pass $100m… which isn’t The Hangover, but is really quite remarkable for a 2-man show that is so happily centered on a relentlessly nasty character.

How Do You Know, a romantic comedy shot mostly in rooms, could become the single biggest financial flop of 2010. I’m sure commenters will be quick to offer lists. But with a total worldwide gross that may be less than $50 million and a cost said to be well over $100 million, Sony could be eating $50m – $75m on this one, which as best as I can tell, they funded on their own. That makes Green Zone and The Wolfman look, well, horrible, but not as horrible.


Friday Estimates by Klady Legacy

There have been twelve $40 million openings in December, ever. Only seven $50 million openings. Tron Legacy will be one of those. Once again, whether people want to crap all over MT Carney or not… and many do… but she/her team/whomever you want to credit has/have now opened two Disney movies in a row about as well as possible. You want to talk about the price tag on the marketing campaigns, fine. You want to talk about the price of the movies, fine. But opening a movie and making a movie are two very different activities with two very different sets of goals and the first part, opening Tangled and Tron Legacy domestically have gone well.

No film opening to over $40 million in December has ever grossed less than $200m domestic. A simple fact. And what is also interesting is that the next plateau, a $50m+ opening in December, has not historically meant much more than $40m. There are $50m+ Dec openings with $209m grosses and there are $40m – $50m Dec openers with over $300m in domestic.

Yogi Bear looks like a $14m – $15m starter, no Chipmunk he. $100m domestic is still possible, but a bit of a longshot. Time will tell. Word of mouth will mean a lot and with only Gulliver’s Travels, which looks horrible in the ads, coming in as kid fodder in opposition, Yogi could end up as default choice. If I were Disney, I’d be relaunching Tangled… or even Toy Story 3 in a hurry. Hungry marketplace for family films and the cupboard is bare (or is that “bear?”). Tron is not going to get 8-year-olds, sorry.

The Fighter opened about where I would have guessed. $10 – $11.5m is completely respectable… and not a world beater.

Narnia is crashing. The Tourist is at baggage claim, waiting on its luggage. And Potter 7 is #3 in the series after the end of the fifth Friday. Hard to project the international biz to the end, but the $1b dream for the film doesn’t look in any way sure right now. Completely solid Potter showing, but not an accelerant.

How Do You Know is a car wreck… and that’s above and beyond the sad limp thing that the movie is. Why does a 70-year-old man make a movie about romance amongst 30somethings? I don’t know. Maybe it was Garry Marshall’s fault, having a big hit with a new version of Love American Style. Jim Brooks is one of the best ever. His last two films are destroying that legacy. Time to write novels or something.

And Black Swan can’t be thrilled with 10x the screens and 2.5x the box office. But it’s still pretty strong. Still $7000 – $8000k per screen over the weekend. The question remains, will Swan get the big hit off of Oscar nominations, like Slumdog, or not? If not, it may be going out a little slow. If so, it may be going out a little fast. Searchlight is trying to manage this issue and have very little history to work with, as most films in this position have gone one way or the other, for better and for worse…


Weekend Estimates by Chronic Klady

So… The Narnia opening still sucks, the Tourist opening is bad, considering that you have to go back to From Hell to find an opening as weak for Depp (Sweeney Todd opened to less, but on less than half the screens) and even for Jolie, you’re kinda looking at Alexander as a comparable start, taking size into account. Yes, it will do business overseas and they may find a way to not lose a ton… or they may lose a ton. We’ll see in time.

Tangled has now past the past two Disney Animation Thanksgiving releases. Mulan goes down this week, then Pocahontas and Lilo & Stitch. Tarzan‘s $171m is far away, but not impossible. It really depends on how much of the under-12 market Yogi Bear eats through the holiday.

Strong numbers for Black Swan, The Fighter, and The King’s Speech, pretty much in that order. Someone wrote me to ask whether I thought something new was happening with these big per-screens and whether it had anything to do with digital projection. No and no. Interlocking projectors to show a movie on addition screens at a theater to meet need is a decades old occurrence. But The Fighter, for instance, is currently playing on four screens at the Arclight Hollywood, including the Cinerama Dome, 2 screens at Lincoln Square in NY, 3 screens at Boston Common, and I can’t find a fourth theater or city. Maybe they are counting The Dome as a fourth house. (ADD, 1:53p Reader Rob writes, “The fourth location for The Fighter is Showcase Cinemas in Lowell, Mass.”) Black Swan is, for instance, in 3 theaters at various venues in NYC.

This launch for The Fighter is almost identical to The King’s Speech‘s launch a couple of weeks ago. But there are very different strategies to follow, with The King’s Speech waiting on awards, still in 19 venues on this, its third weekend and Fighter going to at least 2200 screens next weekend. Fighter will be looking for a weekend of at least $17 million before duking it out in the rich holiday period. You kinda get the feeling that this weekend’s 4-screen release was only a hat tip to the many critics groups voting this week, comforting them in their possible votes while asking them to embrace True Grit, for instance, is still asking them to embrace a commercial unknown.

The Black Swan numbers are stronger than Brokeback Mountain‘s, though that seems to be the best box office comparison so far. In an interview with the WSJ, Searchlight said that they would be going to 1000 screens on the 22nd. Interesting. I would probably try to push that to next weekend, avoiding True Grit… but then again, The Fighter may be stronger commercially, at least at first. I just think they can probably beat The Fighter on half the screens… and can probably do the same against True Grit. So why not maximize the season?

It’s a good problem for Steve Gilula to have… how to maximize a hit that they weren’t 100% sure was such a hit outside of the arthouse world.

No such problem for Disney and The Tempest.


Friday Estimates by Klady

So now The Fighter is out in exclusive release to take on Black Swan. A strong start… but not really Swannie.

Fighter did $25k per screen on 4 yesterday, heading to what will most likely be about $75k per screen for the weekend on 4. As a matter of fact, this is almost exactly the I Heart Huckabees number. I expect Fighter to do a multiple of what Huckabees did ($12.8m domestic), but it is a striking stat. More directly, the Fighter launch is about 15% better than 127 Hours, which also started on 4 screens a month and 5 days ago. 127 has been in a bit of a holding pattern, perhaps waiting for some critics awards love. But they may have overstayed their box office welcome, expanding but still dropping slightly last weekend.

On the other webbed hand, Black Swan did $80k per screen on 18 screens last weekend. So what does Searchlight do with such a buzzy movie? Well, they jumped to 90 screens this weekend, 5x last weekend, and the results are still quite strong. Per-screen yesterday was about $11k per, projecting to $33k or so on 90 screens. Historically, there isn’t a lot to compare it to because it’s a lingering number of screens, which is not usually where films with these kinds of numbers hang out. Juno was not as strong, doing a similar per-screen on half the screens on “this weekend” in 2007. Precious was stronger, registering a similar per-screen on twice as many screens on its second weekend. And Slumdog Millionaire did about half-the per-screen on a 78-theater count in the first week of December two years ago.

So which will Swannie be? Precious, which never really played well after it got past 600 screens? Or a $140m-plus hit like Juno or Slumdog, which expanded to 100 and 600 screens, respectively, by the New Year and had $50m and $30m in the bank before Oscar ballots started getting sent in right after the holiday? Or will it be somewhere in between the two?

I am also put in mind of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a movie that wasn’t supposed to be able to play in Middle America and triumphantly did, but didn’t really ever trend down at all until it hit $80 million… and then, with Oscar’s help, took another $50 million into the domestic box office. Of course that year, a decade ago now, was one of the great Oscar seasons of modern times, with Soderbergh dueling against himself with two great films, a foreign language nominee, an epic, and a Harvey Weinstein bon bon. There were so many stories inside of that group of films that The Academy defaulted to “The Big One.” Not a shock, really. I’d say that it happened again – though I love this film and only like Gladiator – with The Departed a few years ago. Too many interesting choices often lead to The Big One.

But there is no Big One this year. The odds of either Toy Story 3 or Inception, both likely nominees, winning Best Picture are infinitesimal. Out of the rest of the pack, The Social Network is the commercial muscle right now with $91 million. Will one of these other films, from King’s Speech to Fighter to Swannie, challenge that number? If so, that is when the phenomenology that won Best Picture for Slumdog kicks in. If not, we’re still looking for the turn that the season will take.

After the first day of Potter 7’s fourth weekend, the film is now behind 2 previous Potter films day-by-day and it delivered the lowest-grossing fourth Friday of the series. Front loading’s a bitch. (No offense, ma’am.) There is nothing bad to report here. It’s going to do a “Harry Potter number” and will be the 6th in the series to gross over $800m worldwide, the 27th film in history to do so. Think of that… 27 total and Potter represents 6 of them. Amazing.

Walden and Fox can’t be happy with Narnia 3’s launch… less than half of what either of the first two films opened at. Even if it gets stronger over the weekend and cracks $30m, it’s way off of either of the first two films… and people saw #2 as a major disappointment.

And Sony, oddly, can’t be too unhappy about The Tourist, given that they’ve treated the film like an ugly stepchild the whole way… because it’s massively disappointing, given the stars. Knight & Day opened to almost the same Friday number, but Fox, which believed in that film, had already siphoned off $7 million with a Wednesday opening. The two films should have a very similar 3-day start, though with the head start and a better film, K&D should outgross The Tourist domestically by $15 million or more (perhaps $20 million more). But as with K&D, with these stars, even with a flop here, the money is overseas. Cruise and Diaz did $185m overseas. And while I expect Tourist to also scale down from that overseas, they could end up with $100m+ international to bolster the bottom line of a weak domestic run.


Weekend Estimates by Holdover Klady

Not much to say about the weekend, except that the today’s estimates vs the friday estimates are oddly robust. It’s not surprising with the kids films, but 3 of the next few titles that are not kids films are estimating over 3x Friday for the weekend. Hmmm… should make tomorrow’s “finals” interesting.

The story of the weekend is – for a change, reasonably – an “exclusive” launch. I am not a believer in getting too excited about 2-4 screens in LA or NY as representative of anything much, aside from NY and LA’s hardcore art house crowd being served. But 18 screens… that’s beginning to be a real toe in the water. Black Swan‘s opening is clearly the strongest not-wide opening of the year.

Here is a list, via Mojo, of the best per-screen weekends in domestic history for 10-20 non-IMAX screens. 10 of these 15 titles were Oscar nominees and 2 won Best Picture. You might also notice that except for the films that did half or less of what Black Swan is estimated to have done this weekend, the box office low is Precious, with $47.6m domestic and 7 of the 9 films in this elite group have grossed over $80m. (Note: Dances With Wolves is listed twice because this is all weekends, not just opening weekends, because I didn’t want to limit this list to any more of the vagaries of release plans than need be.)


Friday Estimates by Klady

Beware the first weekend of December… oooohhh… scary!!!

It’s one of those weekends that is seen as a dead zone, though there hasn’t been enough serious experimentation by distributors in the last decade or so to really prove anything. Unless you want to the weekends that start on Dec 7-8-9 as “first weekend,” the best opening on the first weekend in December history is The Last Samurai with $24.3 million on Dec 5, ending up with 4.6x opening, all domestic. If you do want to count 7-8-9, tops is Narnia: Lion, Witch, Wardrobe with a $65.6m start, followed by Ocean’s Eleven with $38.1m, and Golden Compass‘ $25.8m, and then you get to Samurai again.

The widest new release this weekend is Relativity Media/Rogue’s The Warrior’s Way on 1622 screens and with little commercial firepower.

I think we have learned that with the right bait, every weekend of the year is a good box office weekend.

The big fri-to-fri drops look ugly, but it’s worth noting that even though they are worse than we’ve seen in the last couple of years in this slot, November Potters Sorcerer’s Stone and Goblet of Fire had similar drops in their years. Tangled might be a little more nervous, with this being only their second weekend. Disney took the film out on Thanksgiving weekend instead of the weekend before and it may cost them some dollars. Still, the film will be about $10m ahead of their last Thanksgiving animated release, Bolt, after the post-Thanksgiving weekend.

This is Disney Animation’s biggest hit in a long time. Ironically, the group is begging off of fairy tales… which is, in my opinion, just stupid. It’s not the genre, it’s the execution. And when people use Transformers and Iron Man as the example of what kids want, they conveniently forget the parade of other films very closely aligned with that style of film that have bombed.

What’s INSANE is the idea that Tangled cost $260 million or more. It just can’t make money with that kind of budget. If that is really the number before marketing, you’re looking at about $400 million worldwide to make up before you’re at breakeven, which means that it would lose money doing Iron Man business and only make a minor profit if grossing what Transformers grossed.

Black Swan is looking at the best exclusive release numbers of 2010 with what looks to be an over $70k per screen for the weekend in 14 screens. The number is very similar to the launch of Up In The Air last year… the biggest difference being that $84m domestic was a bit of a disappointment for the Clooney movie and would be an epic success for this low budget psycho thriller. (Headline suggestion for indieWIRE…. “Psycho Thriller, Qu’est-ce que c’est!!!”) When you look at this month, Black Swan could be the Juno of the season for Searchlight, meaning that it could become the must-see movie for girls in a market that is light of fare for them.


Box Office Hell, Tangled vs Potter


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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

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon