— Billy Crystal as Mitch Robbins from City Slickers, 1991
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September 5, 2012
Kenny Sayz: Like the Stock Market, the Business of Summer Box Office had its Ups and Downs
— Posted by Kenny Miles
With Summer 2012, the Entertainment Industry was similar to the stock market rocked by the summer of the European Debt crisis, health care court decisions, corporate earning reports, and various economic data, it had its ups and down indeed! Okay, I’m influenced by CNBC because it was the only network that wasn’t covering the election I could workout. The economy is on many people’s minds and the business of movies is on my mind. There were weeks of hits and flops, but in the end the industry still made a lot of money from tent poll blockbusters to indie features. However, it was slightly down from last year. For every surprise hit like “Ted,” a sure fire hit like “Expendables 2” underperformed, and “Total Recall” flat out bombed.
Looking at the films I mention you notice a few trends. Superheroes movies and comedies do very well at the box office. As I preach, the most important success for Hollywood is big vision branding and niche marketing. If you connect a message with an audience, you have a hit (as long as the budget is modest to acceptable). One thing to keep in mind: if you notice all five box office winners (and some under the radar hits) struck a cord with certain audiences; action buffs, children, families, women, foreign country audiences. All five box office losers were movies that had low interest and didn’t have a specific target demographic. The Entertainment industry needs to understand this viable option for success or risk writing off more losses. In the age of Netflix and Red Box, they cannot afford to do this.
The Five Winners
Grossing nearly $620 million at the domestic box office, “The Avengers” was the champion of summer blockbusters. Combined with a talented filmmaker like Joss Whedon, the fan boy dream collaboration of the superheroes, and the lack of serious competition made “The Avengers” the ready made smash hit of 2012.
Though some would claim “The Dark Knight Rises” underperformed at the box office and maybe the tragic events in Aurora affected the outcome for some moviegoers, $431 million (and counting) domestic box office is no small task. And it’s performing strongly opening in Internationals markets, too.
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Not only did the $95 million dollar film successfully gross over $150 million domestically, that’s not the story. ‘Ice Age’ grossed a whopping $670 million from foreign countries reminding us all that the International markets are alive and well. This is yet again overlooked by most box office analysis.
Though divisive among women and movie fans, the love it or hate it reaction from the dark and arty “Magic Mike” was the movie event of the summer for groups of women. The dishonest ladies night out marketing paid off. The final gross of $113 million to a $7 million budget was a huge Return on Investment for Warner Brothers!
The shocking box office hit of Summer 2012 was Seth MacFarlene’s “Ted.” And it’s on par with grossing the first “Hangover.” One of the more interesting tidbits with this film’s International success is the ability for the filmmakers to change lines of Ted’s dialogue to include references for specific countries. A sequel is to be expected.
5 “So-So” Features
With lackluster grosses not toe mention the minor/major flaws in the re-boot, ‘Spider-man’ was anything but amazing at the box office. Sony has struggled with their major tent projects recently with this and ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ Unlike ‘Dragon,’ ‘Spider-man’ had a “director problem”. I recommend Sony find a director wanting to make a comic book film.
Despite the disappointments, Pixar did score significant box office grosses…just not what we expect from the brand. Merrida was a strong female character whom broke the glass ceiling for animated films. Yet, the movie itself could’ve inspired stronger support from audiences. The $185 million budget didn’t help either.
If the third Men in Black series in the franchise didn’t have a $300 million price tag, it could’ve been in the hit column. Likewise, expensive projects with out of control budgets are always risky can cause problems…even for a bankable star like Will Smith. This is a case example for why cost control is needed in Hollywood!
Though this last one exceeded opening weekend expectations and technically paid off its budget despite horrendous word of mouth, ‘Savages’ should’ve been released during the autumn. Very few moviegoers noticed Salma Hayek’s high-octane camp performance which was one of the only tolerable aspects in this mess of a film.
To Rome With Love
As inconsistent as Woody Allen is, he couldn’t make lightening strike twice back-to-back years. Not even changing the title from “Nero Fiddled” to a more palatable, even James Bond sounding title helped woo over audiences. Though, Rome paid off its budget, looking at an $18 million gross next to the $57 million of ‘Midnight’ is a let down.
Poor Talyor Kitsch. First “John Carter” and now “Battleship.” Grossing $65 million domestically was an abysmal failure. Thankfully, it’s not a total wash since the international numbers are a decent $268 million. Hasbro, the toy company should stick with making toys and movies without Brooklyn Decker and Rihanna.
The Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration was once a reliable brand, now wears thin among impatient moviegoers. The same old campy, creepy shtick wasn’t a hit with audiences, nor critics. The biggest problem was releasing a spooky film on Mothers Day weekend instead of the month of October.
Katy Perry: Part of Me
Considered a bomb by Deadline.com, ‘Katy Perry’ grossed $25 million at the box office. This is below the typical, profitable margin of other concert documentaries such as Michael Jackson and Justin Bieber. I thought this shouldn’t have been released in a crowded summer schedule since the two mentioned films weren’t.
Oogieloves In The BIG Balloon Adventure
Labor Day weekend usually reminds the industry its shortcomings. The unflattering box office story of Summer 2012 was the Oogie bomb, which grossed a painfully pathetic gross of just $206 in over 2100 locations. Why would we need an Oogie movie when few people know who they are?
Colin Farrell, fresh off his nostalgic “Fright Night” remake that tanked, followed up with an unnecessary and costly “Total Recall” remake, which bombed as well. The Arnold Schwarzenegger original was a cult classic not needed to be tampered with. A $57 million gross with a $125 budget clearly put the project in the red.
5 ‘Under-the-Radar’ Hits
2016 Obama’s America
Controversial political documentaries during an election year are a hot commodity. Add to the mix an underserved market (conservative Republicans) and a movie, and in this case ANY conspiracy theorist movie, can score at the box office. Considering the circumstances and the anti-Obama climate, I thought ‘2016’ would make more money. Maybe its only just beginning?
The Jack Black dark comedy had little PR, but had very solid word of mouth from audiences, which made “Bernie” a modest, but unrecognized, hit. Playing well in limited release from the big cities to small towns in Texas, the Richard Linklater crime caper featured real townspeople and was some of the funniest supporting cast.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
“Shakespeare in Love” director John Madden scored a big hit among the 55+ audiences with this lighthearted British, but not too pretentious, comedy ‘Marigold.’ Fitting because Hollywood ignores older people. The clash of cultures and generations was amusing to older audiences as was the talented all-star cast.
Out of nowhere, “The Intouchables” grossed $8 million playing at 200 locations. A delightful crowd-pleasing movie like this could have played in more locations and made a lot more money. As many summer movies dramatically lost audiences, ‘Intouchables’ increased business without adding locations an anomaly in the industry!
From a record breaking Memorial Day weekend in limited release, ‘Moonrise’ is still selling out art house shows in late August. The new Wes Anderson film had mainstream potential moving beyond urban hipster fanboys to older audiences and even families who enjoyed this unorthodox ‘children’ film. Good news for Focus Features!
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Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers (something most movie pundits lack) as a pollster for the market research company CinemaScore and working as floor staff/special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.
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