a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lessons From the Weekend's Box Office

Every once and a while, it's good to take a close look at how the movies in the theaters are doing at the box office. Because the people who make the movies certainly are.

Weekend of August 11-13. All numbers are official estimates.

#1 TALLADEGA NIGHTS ($23 million; total of $92 million in 10 days). It dropped over half from the opening week, which indicates it probably won't hang around too long. But the numbers are very solid. LESSON: Make a fun movie, aimed at a wide audience, and people will come. Will Ferrell can still bring them in, too.

#2 STEP UP ($21 million, first 3 days). Very impressive, for a movie without stars, and with a rather bland title. LESSON: Some teen romantic formulas still work, if you make sure to add music and dance. Generally-poor reviews made no difference, either.

#3 WORLD TRADE CENTER ($19 million; $26 million, first 5 days). Solid, but since it cost $65 million and they are advertising the hell out of it, not really that great, particularly since one can't imagine foreign box office being huge. Still, box office could have been a lot worse, and generally-good reviews helped, while Nic Cage has to be relieved to be in a movie that's not seriously underperforming; he hasn't had many of those recently. LESSON: Tragedy mixed with heroism will bring people in; Oliver Stone making a mainstream movie that the conservatives love certainly didn't hurt.

#4 BARNYARD ($10 million; $34 million, first 10 days). The market is oversaturated with cartoons right now, while none of them has much wannasee factor for adults. And what's with the udders on the male cows? LESSON: If you want your animated movie to break out, it needs adult appeal, and good reviews would have helped too.

#5 PULSE ($8.5 million, first 3 days). Not bad, for a horror movie that is apparently so subpar that it wasn't screened for critics. Dimension did a good job making it seem scary. LESSON: Supernatural horror movies will make money, even if they suck.

#6 PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST ($7.2 million; $392 million, first 6 weeks). The only big budget movie with legs (it only dropped 34% from last weekend, despite losing 495 screens), and who ever would have thought that it would do over twice as much as Superman Returns? Despite the fact that Superman Returns (wrongly) got better reviews? LESSON: Sometimes audiences just want fun, adventure and spectacle. This movie had that. Superman, not so much.

#7 THE DESCENT ($4.6 million; $17.5 million, first 10 days). I'm a bit surprised that Pulse beat this for the weekend, but Pulse advertised a lot more, and by the end, The Descent will outgross it by a lot. LESSON: Actually making scary horror movies will make you more money than simply making generic ones.

#8 ZOOM (4.6 million, first 3 days). Huge flop. Not surprising, because they never figured out a way to make it look interesting; instead, it just looked like a bad version of Sky High, which wasn't all that great either. It wasn't screened for critics; the current Tomatometer reading is 0% for the 20 critics who have weighed in. LESSON: Just because you are making a family movie, you still have to make it good, or at least do a better job tricking people into thinking it might be.

#9 MIAMI VICE ($4.5 million; $55 million, first 3 weeks). Mediocre results at best. They just never found a real hook to interest most people in seeing it, while they didn't recapture enough from the show to give it much camp appeal either. LESSON: Have a better reason to make a movie out of a TV series than "People will probably come see it".

#10. MONSTER HOUSE ($3.3 million; $64 million in 4 weeks). This probably should have performed better; it got pretty good reviews. But the animation looked a bit underwhelming, while I just sort of felt, seeing the trailer, that I'd seen most of the movie. LESSON: Good mainstream animated movies don't automatically make $100 million any more; they need to have that little extra hook sometimes.

#11 JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE ($3.0 million; $36 million in 3 weeks). A solid performing movie with a good hook for teens. LESSON: High-concept teen comedies that can be made for $18 million will always have a place in theaters. But if they figured out how to give it adult appeal (as Mean Girls did), it would have done even better.

#12 LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE ($2.6 million; $5.6 million so far). It has still only expanded to 153 screens, so that number is impressive. It'll be interesting to see how wide it gets, and how it does. I've only heard good things though (except for the review in the ever-doubtful Entertainment Weekly), and I'll probably see it today. LESSON: Make a funny movie, and people will want to see it, even with funky character actor types in it.

#13 THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA ($1.9 million; $117 million, 7 weeks). An unqualified success, and still rolling along. And it cost only $35 million. LESSON: "Women's movies" can do fine, even without much of a hook, while the fact that this also didn't need a big-name young actress in the lead is a good sign as well.

#14 YOU, ME AND DUPREE ($1 9 million; $70 million so far). Not bad, considering the mediocre reviews. LESSON: Audiences will see "fun". But if they had made a great movie, think how much more money it would have made.

#15 THE ANT BULLY ($1.8 million; $22 million, 3 weeks). It got decent reviews, but the story didn't look all that interesting, and again there are a lot of animated movies out there. LESSON: Should have released it in a family-movie dead period.

#16 THE NIGHT LISTENER ($1.4 million; $6.3 million, 2 weeks). It got some good reviews, but they absolutely didn't find any way to sell this. LESSON: Summer counter-programming only works if people are aware of your movie.

#17 SUPERMAN RETURNS ($1.2 million; $192 million, 7 weeks). Again, imagine what it would have made if it had been really good. Or even dumb fun. LESSON: Next time, do better.

#18 LITTLE MAN ($1 million; $57 million, 5 weeks). Dumb movies exist because even when they get bad reviews, sometimes they make $57 million anyway. Though this movie cost an apparent $64 million (!) so it's not a home run. LESSON: I'm sure Little Man 2: Electric Boogaloo is right around the corner.

#19. SCOOP ($1 million; $8 million total). Match Point made $23 million, which I think is his highest gross in decades. But now he's back to having his characters talk like himself again. LESSON: Hard to think anyone thought it would do all that much better. You bankroll a Woody Allen movie, you pretty much know how it will perform.

#20. LADY IN THE WATER ($874,000; $41 million in 4 weeks). Sank like a stone, after making $41 million on ads and M. Night's rep alone. LESSON: That rep isn't going to be nearly enough to open one of his movies soon.


At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Tucker -

Could have appealed to adults if it had been set in a college and no WB stars in it.

Miami Vice -

The tv show was fun, upbeat. The movie looked like it was trying too hard to be slick. It forgot the fun factor. Plus, I think people don't really like Colin Farrell as much as Hollywood thinks they do.

Superman -

They didn't give it a hip, new edge. The movie looks dull.

Devil Wears Prada -

The only "woman's film" out there. Although I don't know why a film that appeals to women has to be segregated from other films. Is "women's films" a genre or something?

Pulse / The Descent -

It's horror. Make 'em cheap. The bucks will roll in.

Lady in the Water -

M. Night, PLEASE STOP WRITING! Seriously consider the Harry Potter offer.

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

TALLEDEGA NIGHTS: broad appeal for NASCAR fans of which there are many.

STEP UP: reached its target audience of teen girls and filled an underserved market.

WTC: a slow burner wich, like FLIGHT 93 will find its way into people's DVD collections and Netflix wishlists.

BARNYARD: Needed adult advertising to get people to see it.

PULSE: a movie designed to make money on the DVD. Kristen Bell is a draw for the VM crowd.

THE DESCENT: same model as above.

ZOOM: not enough good advertising to get the whole family to see it. It is based on a kids' book series.

MIAMI VICE: people were expecting one thing and got another. Decide first what you are going to do- then do that. This was not the tv show's "music video" motif, and it suffered for it.

JOHN TUCKER: same as STEP UP. Made for teen girls. Sold to teen girls. If this movie had been made in the sixties it would be called FRANKIE AVALON MUST DIE and would have starred Annette Funicello.

LADY IN THE WATER: M. Night Shyamalan is not a brand that gets people into the theater. It has to have something more. Big mistake releasing the book before the movie - big mistake. His ego has been rightfully taken out to the schoolyard and beaten. It's going to be a long recess for Night.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger Abe Burnett said...

The thing I kept thinking when reading your breakdown was: how much more money could the majority of these films have made if they were actually GOOD-GREAT, rather than the OKAY-GOOD they were.

Talladega Nights is a perfect example of this. It lacked heart much of the time, and seemed watered down for easier consumption (to the point of blandness), and the improv in numerous scenes was just weak.

The movies I've seen this year have--for the most part--disappointed me. They seem, across the board, much weaker than films of even just last year.

I wish studios would stop pasteurizing their films and start making movies that execute their concepts with class, intelligence, flair, and artistic integrity. They need to set out to make movies that'll get under someone's skin--positively and negatively.

Yes, the studio strength is that they have the beaucoup bucks to make mainstream media. But mainstream doesn't have to mean covering every demographic. Attempting to do so almost dooms your films to failure--unless you're Pixar.

Instead, they should focus on producing films that are strong in a single demographic. Age demographics are beginning to mean less and less these days anyway. Maybe this means that the whole idea of the "Four Quadrant" film is flawed. I don't know.

All I know is that it seems like we're getting more and more movies that are just so-so, uninspiring, unoriginal, warmed-over, trite, etc. Is this because Hollywood is afraid to offend anyone these days? Probably in part. It's probably that, and their determination to make as few films as possible for the widest possible audience. This attempt to please everyone leads to as much success as the farmer and his boy trying to take their donkey to market. The donkey ends up dead. If you haven't heard the story you can find a retelling of it here:
(search for "please everyone").

Hollywood would do well to remember that the movies which make money are the movies we care about--yes, even comedies (even "dumb" comedies can have heart, e.g., Dumb and Dumber).

At 4:41 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I just saw "Little Miss Sunshine". It's the first movie I've seen in theaters in months that I can recommend without reservations.

If you haven't seen it, go.

At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prada isn't out yet, but one thing that I noticed was that the trailer didn't give the whole movie away. Instead, it built up the draw- A great actress is a potentially wicked role. It was enough for Ann to pt it on our must-see list, and enough for me to decide that it would be worth risking a genre that wouldn't otherwise appeal to me.
-C dub

At 5:02 AM, Blogger The Gambino Crime Family said...

I'm sorry, sir, but I have to violently protest. Ok, it did have its broad comedic moments but as a TV show, Miami Vice wasn't "upbeat" or "camp." It started out pretty dark and got progressively grimmer. The movie, for all its sludge, was actually a little more optimistic than the series as a whole (and IMHO, about a tenth as well written and entertaining).

At 5:51 AM, Blogger Dante Kleinberg said...

Signing up for a Blockbuster Online membership really teaches a person how uncompelling the movie line-up is. I used to go see 50 to 60 movies a year, and now I haven't gone in six straight weeks. Nothing has come out since Pirates of the Caribbean that seemed like it couldn't wait six months for the DVD release. Feh.

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happened to ACCEPTED???

- Allen

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My bad, it comes out next week.

- Allen

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Man, imagine if MONSTER HOUSE had come out at Halloween. They'd be raking it in. I haven't seen it, so I can't speak to its quality, but if this had come out October 27th, I would've been there.

Wonder if they'll go for a re-release around H'ween.


Post a Comment

<< Home