Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Box Office Blues (And Golden Browns)

I almost never cover box office here for these reasons:
  • It's covered so extensively elsewhere you'd think it was the most important thing about movies. It's not.
  • $$$ has zero correlation to quality. And sometimes even not that much correlation to perceived quality (Witness how many people flock to sequels of films they didn't love, expecting not much at all. I'm guilty here, too... I've dubbed it The Blockbuster Loop)
  • Covering it only adds to the problem of 'the tipping factor', wherein something that is successful becomes even more successful (even if total crap) merely because people see the success and intuit that they're supposed to be into it (Twilight, anyone?).
  • I find it nearly impossible to manipulate the masses to my way of thinking. Curses! They wear deflector shields to ward off my psychic will. If I ever find a chink in those shields, suddenly everyone will be buying tickets to films about women (yay), films with auteurial points of view (respect!) and films that get more thrills from acting, costumes, art direction and cinematography than from lazy CGI (yes) and, ummm, musicals (doo-wah).
But despite all this I do look at the box office tallies every other week or so and am genuinely curious about how TFE readers feel about the whole matter of box office / success / failure. I do feel it's important to check in once in awhile with ticket sales. So here we go. Let's discuss the weekend's top 20.

01 Where the Wild Things Are new $32.6
It wasn't just the cinematography that was golden. This opening take made JA feel groovy, got people talking crazy, and as the Big Picture notes, the latest from Spike Jonze didn't even have to lie about what sort of movie it was. Truth in advertising. What a concept! It cost $100ish million to make though so it's going to be a long road to actual profit. Still, wasn't it great to see actual puppets again as opposed to weightless CGI? That in and of itself was pretty thrilling. I loved those shots of Max burying his face in the brown ratty-looking puppet hair, so tactile and inviting -- like a stuffed animal you've dragged with you everywhere. You can't let go of it even after it's germ laden and smelly from your play time adventures.

02 Law Abiding Citizen new $21
Gerard Butler, King of Bad Movies

03 Paranormal Activity $19.6 for a total of $33
Previously covered by JA here. Even though I'm not into horror I'm curious because I loved The Blair Witch Project to which this is often compared.

04 Couples Retreat $17.2 for a total of $62.6
Or nearly double what (500) Days of Summer has made in its entire run. Honestly, American peoples... WHY?!?

05 The Stepfather new $11.5
Is any audience more faithful than the slasher audience on opening weekend? I'd guess no.

06 Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs $8 for a total of $108.2
It's holding very well which leads me to believe it has a real shot at the animated Oscar nomination. It's currently the #20 film of the year but still behind four other animated titles as 2009 money grabbing goes... including G Force. Weird, right?

07 Zombieland $7.6 for a total of $60
Did you know that this is the highest grossing zombie film of all time? That totally surprised me. Given the amount of zombie films we've seen this decade you would think there was some gargantuan blockbuster take in recent years that every studio was hoping to recreate.

08 Toy Story (double feature in 3D) $3 for a total of $28.5
It's all gravy. The first two Toy Story films had already earned $847 worldwide + the a few pennies from merchandise I suspect. I love the movies so why aren't I more exciting about #3? Oh, yes. Third Films = Quality Drop. It's a movie rule.

09 Surrogates $1.9 for a total of $36.3
10 The Invention of Lying $1.9 for a total of $15

"We're number two! We're number two!!!"

11 Whip It $1.5 for a total of $11.3
Actually Hurl Scouts, you're #11 in your third week because people hate fun movies that are not based on comic books, other movies or tv shows. The masses also (supposedly) don't like films about women unless they're romcoms with bankable A listers or films starring the Queen of the Universe Meryl Streep. Nothing wrong with romcoms (unless they're bad) and definitely nothing wrong with the Streep... but women make up more than 50% of the population so there has to be more to female driven cinema than that. I still can't quite figure the standoffishness that greeted this film. You can do -- and people do do -- much worse for an evening's entertainment when you hit the multiplex. Maybe Joe Reid is right. Maybe it should have been a television series instead?

12 Capitalism A Love Story $1.4 for a total of $11.6
Michael Moore continues to be the only documentarian who can guarantee a sizeable gross. His films make up 50% of the top grossing political docs ever. His box office pulls seems to be waning these days but still... Documentaries rarely gross in the 7 figures let alone the 8s.

13 The Informant $.9 for a total of $31.7
For some reason I was under the impression that this Soderbergh / Matt Damon comedy had flopped. $31 is respectable for smart laughs, I think. It surely helps that Soderbergh doesn't often overspend on his movies.

14 Fame $.9 for a total of $21.7
I assume this is not the kind of gross they were hoping for a franchise reboot. I enjoy musical performance films that aren't musicals as much as your average citizen (probably) but maybe reality competition shows have oversupplied for this very particular demand. Plus, there's GLEE which is JOY for free on your telly.

15 A Serious Man $.8 for a total of $1.8
Great per screen averages for this Coen Bros film (still in less than a 100 theaters) and Focus is obviously being careful with it. But aren't the Coens, who have been championed for many years by movie fanatics, at least kind of well known in the mainstream now after the consecutive relatively big grosses of Burn After Reading and No Country For Old Men and the ongoing obsessive fandom from their earlier work? It would have been interesting to see how well this could have done --even without movie stars -- if it had opened wider (if not wide).

16 Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself $.5 for a total of $51.3
Perry is such a consistent force. You have to give him that. It's probably easy to raise your production budget when you can safely expect a $40-$60 style gross for each outing.

17 Love Happens $.5 for a total of $22.4
Or... twice as much as Whip It has made. I bet you anything that Jennifer Aniston fans don't remember this movie in two years while Whip It will be in thrice as many DVD collections.

18 GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra $.4 for a total of $149.6
19 Good Hair $.3 for a total of $1.7

20 Bright Star $.3 for a total of $3.5
There will be those who claim that the new distributor Apparition should have waited to release this fine romantic drama closer to Oscar season but those people can never seem to grasp that not every movie can or should arrive in December with every other movie. There aren't enough theaters and there also aren't enough pages and blogs and television programs to give 75 Oscar contending films their due all in the same month. At least this way it got some attention. And a $3.5 take (so far) for a quiet period piece without any "names" is not a bad tally at all in this day and age. Well done Apparition. The question now is: can they keep it open for awhile longer to gird up for that Oscar campaign?



Paxton Hernandez said...

While visiting Salt Lake, I got the chance of watching Whip It.

It is so sad that a film so great as this, is a terrible flop at the box office. So sad.


Unknown said...

You're so right about the "tipping factor." I'm sure 90% of moviegoers see crap, not because they're excited about it, but because they don't give much thought about the movies in general and are vaguely satisfied, which is how all of us approach most things not high on our priority list.

But that also means studio execs should realize they have some power over what people think they want to see, and aren't slave to the cycle of comic book-cartoon-romcom.

Anonymous said...

not sure how A SERIOUS MAN would do if they opened it wide (i'm guessing not that well?), but right now it seems like it's flying way under the radar. apart from my movie nerd friends, nobody i know was even aware of this movie existing, let alone playing in theaters right now, until i mentioned that i was seeing it this past weekend.

Jim T said...

I know it's early but would it be accurate to say that Swank's chances look really bad?


Jim T... i'm not sure one can count out Swank. It's in no way a worthy performance but

a) real life figure
b) biopic
c) swank
d) tears
e) ennobling character

which are all big pluses.

Max said...

So... this is unrelated to the post but I was thinking today: if this is a seriously possible Best Actress line-up -- Cornish, Mulligan, Ronan, Sidibe, Streep -- that means Streep would be the only actress over 30 (Cornish is 27, the oldest of the other four) and the median age of these actresses is ... 30. Half Meryl Streep's age.

Iggy said...

I had to check out on IMDB what a movie called "Good Hair" could be about (my first thought being that it should be an Anniston movie). Which I guess it summarizes the way I see American Box Office, most of the titles sound as if it was a list in Chinese to me.

I don't even know who Tyler Perry is or even Mo'nique for that matter (someone asked some time ago if he/she was the only one who didn't know Mo'nique, so here is the other one who doesn't know her).

Andrew K. said...

Nathaniel, is it wrong that I screamed in glee when I saw your grade of Amelia? Even though it has the underrated-desperately-in-need-of-work-good-actor Ewan McGregor?

The things Hilary Swank makes me do...

Janice said...

What Mr McGregor needs is to care a little more about his film career and a little less about his feakin' motorcycle trips, IMHO.

adelutza said...

Honestly I don't understand what it is to be gained if a movie runs limited instead of wide. It gets great per screen average , so what? Financially speaking, if the film does not make the invested money back, who cares it makes 90,000$ on 2 screens every weekend?
If there's a thing i hate more than idiotic movies, it's that i can't see the good ones because the studio is "cautious".

Alex Constantin said...

we need a quick short review on why amelia sucked... the grade shocked me also. :)


review of Amelia tomorrow

Nick M. said...

I bought a ticket for Whip It when I sneaked into a sold-out screening of Where the Wild Things Are. That counts for something, right?

Anonymous said...

honestly, Whip it deserves to flop. If anything it wanted to. The marketing for that movie pissed me off. I've only seen five commercials of that movie. It was pretty much Drew Barrymore talking about her film for, like, 40 seconds. I never saw a poster. I'd honestly be surprised if 5 people in my school even knew about the existence of this movie. I checked on the internet when it was coming to my theater and it said it'd be like a week. I checked again six days later and it suddenly wasn't even planned on coming anymore. I'm pretty sure it only came on about 1,700 theaters which really isn't a lot. And the whole time Zombieland is being heavily promoted on my tv, I come to find out its the highest grossing zombie movie ever. WTF! I really wanted to see Whip it, I loved all the actors involved and I believe it could have been so much more successful. But not that I realize the lack of care that went in the marketing for this movie I can honestly say F_CK YOU, WHIP IT! You deserve it.

Rebecca said...

I loved 'A Serious Man,' so did my theater-going companions, and it seemed like the audience did, too. That might be a fairly self-selecting group, however.

I'm sad to see 'The Informant!' being forgotten. Matt Damon was great, and I loved Hamlisch's score.

Gwen said...

Although Whip It did not deserve to flop at all (it was a GREAT movie!!), I have to agree that the movie was marketed poorly. Fox Searchlight should have promoted it like they did with 500 Days or Juno,start with a few select theaters, then open the movie up in more theaters across the country. After it's success at TIFF, they should have started to gradually build buzz. I also think they had too many free screenings, and a poor release date (Early November away from the Horror Movies).

Ellen Page did not promote this film very much. It was all about Drew, which isn't a problem b/c it's her directorial debut,but it would have been great for Ellen Page and the other actors to have promoted the film more. They could have gone on Oprah!! I mean a story about Drew and how she went from an addict to being very successful I think would have definitely helped the movie.

Gwen said...

(I made a correction from the previous post, sorry)

Although Whip It did not deserve to flop at all (it was a GREAT movie!!), I have to agree that the movie was marketed poorly. Fox Searchlight should have promoted it like they did with 500 Days or Juno,start with a few select theaters, then open the movie up in more theaters across the country. After it's success at TIFF, they should have started to gradually build buzz. I also think they had too many free screenings, and a poor release date (It should have been Early November away from all the Horror/Scary Movies).

Ellen Page did not promote this film as much as she should have. It was all about Drew, which isn't a problem b/c it's her directorial debut,but it would have been great for Ellen Page and the other actors to have promoted the film more. They all could have gone on Oprah!! I mean a story about Drew and how she went from an addict to being very successful I think would have definitely helped the movie.

Carl said...

Regarding comment by Nataniel on #8 -

"I love the movies so why aren't I more exciting about #3? Oh, yes. Third Films = Quality Drop. It's a movie rule."

May I respectfully cite "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban" as the exception that proves the rule?

Ashley said...

It's sad about Whip It. :( I hope it gets some type of recognition. Whip It is being screened at the Stockholm Film Festival in the Competition category along with Up In The Air, Precious, and Amreeka,while An Education and Fantastic Mr Fox are in the Open category. I wonder why??

Ryan Ray said...

Let's summarize here.

Couple's Retreat, The Stepfather, Surrogates, Fame, Love Happens, and GI Joe will all make more than Whip It?

I'm sure Nathaniel doesn't mean ALL third outings are terrible. Azkaban was my favorite Harry Potter film (even though that isn't saying much...), and Return of the King was obviously well done. Also, even if you didn't like them, you have to admit the third Star Wars prequel was the best of the 3. Of course you always have the embarrassing Shrek 3, X Men 3, Spiderman 3, Terminator 3, Batman 3, Blade 3...

My post depresses me.


arlo and carl it's true. not all third movies suck. But usually by that point they've said all they had to say and they're just repeating themselves. This is the problem with so many of them.

#1 and #2 were successful. Let's do it again! Rather than #1 and #2 were successful. What more is there to explore ... should we make a #3?

The Pretentious Know it All said...

Nathaniel, I'm right there with you. Unfortunately, movies like everything else are a business. If they think a third "Toy Story" film is going to make money, which it totally will, then they're going to make it. Whether it's necessary or not is another story (hello, aren't we up to Saw 17 or something?).

It's audiences fault as well. I hear from everyone I talk to that "movies suck nowadays," an argument I tend not to participate in wholly because it simplifies the issue. But all these people who think that "movies suck nowadays" can't be avoiding "Law Abiding Citizen" and "Couples Retreat." Some of them are causing these movies to make money. It seems like audiences say that movies suck, but they're unwilling to seek out quality. It's especially frustrating to hear from people who only go to the movies once or twice a year complaining that movies suck. Well, yes if you don't actually see movies, then by sheer odds, most of the ones you see are going to be bad. Especially if you choose "Law Abiding Citizens" as your bi-annual outing. If people were simply more discerning about what they see, then studios would be more attuned to their supposedly refined tastes. If you go see a movie that looks like it's going to suck and it sucks, they still have your money. Rant over.

Glenn Dunks said...

adelutza, the problem is that if you open wide instantly then your per cinema average will be far lower (especially for a Coen Bros film such as A Serious Man, which will be popular in some places and like poison in others) and so cinemas will stop showing it. If you open in limites and get a big per screen average then other cinemas are more likely to show it and big per screen averages get people thinking "wow, it must be decent" and so they go see it. If a movie opens wide and makes $2000 then people think it's a flop and stay away.

kin said...

Two questions:

1. Have you seen Capitalism: A Love Story? I am curious about your thoughts as you seem to one of the few bloggers (on either side) that doesn't hate Moore.

2. Have you seen the Toy Story 3 trailer? I like the direction they are going with.

Chris Na Taraja said...

Nat, I bow to your brilliance. Great article. Although, i don't know what an autuerial point of view is. I want to love it really. Please tell us what that means!

mB said...

Nat: have you seen the Toy Story 3 trailer? Cause I don't see any signs of franchise fatigue in it. AT. ALL.

Also: Whip it people! Whip it good!


chris i mean auteurial as in an author's point of view. coulda phrased it better. in other words: a film by a director who has something to say.

kin i haven't seen it. I don't automatically love Moore's movies or automatically hate them. Frankly i think the instant reactions he garners either way are supremely lazy. sicko for example i thought had some substantial problems (even though it was still good) and people loved it, largely because (I assume) they agreed with the message. but agreeing with the message isn't everything. I'm a total leftie so i'm naturally OK with Moore's ideas. But I still want the film to be good.

the know nothing that is SO true. don't get me started. Every time someone tells me "movies suck" i think 'you suck! you're obviously not seeing the right movies.'

Andrea said...

Bright Star is currently playing in only 3 theaters in NYC and will probably be out before I have a chance to see it for a second time (weeps). It's such a pity. I always see the best movies more than once, since it's awesome and I feel like I've really helped its gross with my twenty/thirty bucks. Speaking of which, NR, your next question should be: What is the most times you've seen a movie in the theater?

Alex Constantin said...

How about that Amelia Q&A

Q: Why Did Amelia Earhart disappear in 1937?
A: To avoid being embarrassed by the movie about her 72 years later.

Q: Can three horrible fake accents equal one irredeemable movie?
A: You bet ya.

Q: What’s the difference between Amelia and two hours of uninterrupted sleep?
A: The latter is uninterrupted.

:)) it's official. everybody hates it. But... how about a Best Cinematography nom?... :/

steolicious said...

"Gerard Butler, King of Bad Movies
" - thats so true!

Henry said...

Anyone look at the "average per screen" take for each film in the top ten? I think that's a better indicator of how well the movie did. I guarantee you that the "Top 10 Weekend Box Office" list would generate more interest from the public (rather than generally dismissing it as part of the movie news cycle) if analysis was offered like in this post. Certainly got my attention and interest! :)