Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Box Office Blather: Spectacles, Star Vehicles, Subtitles and Easy $

Year in Review Pt 1 of Many
It's time to wrap up 2010. You'll have to have patience since The Film Experience likes to do this piecemeal... and often! Let's do it every day at 10 AM or 10 PM or both when we magically have free time. How about that? We'll start with the US box office.

Box office hits get much coverage in the media so let's just dispense that basic "smash hit" list quick-like and move on to more interesting less covered seat-filler topics. All figures on all lists are up until the December 18th. And please go easy on any errors as I am unskilled at math is not my strong suit.

US Top Dozen
  1. Toy Story 3 $415
  2. Eyesore in Wonderland $334
  3. Iron Man 2 $312
  4. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse $300
  5. Inception $292
  6. The Commercial For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2 $265
  7. Despicable Me $250
  8. Shrek Forever After $238
  9. How to Train Your Dragon $217
  10. The Karate Kid $176
  11. Clash of the Titans $163
  12. Grown-Ups $162
The list proves again - as in every year - that the American moviegoer has an extremely limited palette. There are only four types of films he/she will go to in droves: animated features, sequels/remakes (i.e. "franchises"), action/visual spectacles and broad comedies. It doesn't get more diverse until much further down the list. The only film in the year's top 25 that doesn't fit neatly into one of those four categories is Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. So well done, Marty. That is a true accomplishment.

Subtitled Features
(I've included worldwide figures too for the sake of provenance)

  1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo [Sweden]  $10 (worldwide: $104)
  2. The Girl Who Played With Fire [Sweden]  $7 (worldwide: $66)
  3. The Secret in Their Eyes [Argentina]  $6 (worldwide: $33)
  4. I Am Love [Italy] $5 (worldwide: $10)
  5. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest [Sweden]  $4 (worldwide: $40)
  6. My Name is Khan [India]  $4 (worldwide: $41)
  7. A Prophet [France] $2 (worldwide: $17)
  8. Dabangg [India] $2 (worldwide: $3)
  9. Kites [Miscellania] $1.6 (worldwide: $3)
  10. Raajneeti [India] $1.5 (worldwide: $12)
  11. MicMacs [France] $1.2 (worldwide: $16)
  12. Golmaal 3 [India] $1 (worldwide: $2)

Beyond interest in the Swedish "Millenium" trilogy -- which dropped steadily with each film here and elsewhere in equal percentages -- it was tough going for international fare yet again. It seems like a different world entirely than when we regularly had a couple of substantial breakout hits a year (as recently as the mid Aughts). The only steady market seems to be Bollywood features, which regularly gross about a million with barely any media coverage. Oscar nominees are a far less stable subcategory. Despite more media coverage their grosses tend to be all over the place, ranging anywhere from $10,000 (Peru's Milk of Sorrow) to just over half a million (Israel's Ajami) to the $2 million range (France's A Prophet and 2009 holdover Germany's White Ribbon) to $6 million (the winner, Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes). In other words it's a bit hard to imagine that the Oscar nomination does all that much more for the films than they could have managed on their own... unless they win. It's tough to quantify so it's aggravating that the studios seem to think that the first quarter is the only time to release the high profile foreign contenders. (It's like how the English language Oscar contenders all have to compete with each other for the same limited seasonal dollars from November through February. It's so weird.)

Well, I was going to do a list based purely on original material but the list was so depressing (it was basically original material that could easily be confused for a remake) that I screamed abort! abort! and changed course immediately. Let's try this. Which DRAMAS, i.e. the things audiences mostly only want to see on their TVs now, were hits with moviegoers?

Top 12 Dramas (reality based i.e. no supernatural, genre or primarily action-focused stuff)
  1. Shutter Island  $128 [debatable classification - remove it if you will]
  2. The Town $92 [an action movie in a sense but mostly a drama]
  3. The Social Network $91
  4. Eat Pray Love $80
  5. Dear John $80
  6. The Last Song $62
  7. Why Did I Get Married, Too $60
  8. Secretariat $58
  9. Letters to Juliet $53
  10. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps $52
  11. For Colored Girls $37
  12. The American $35
On this list we see that quality matters far less than having a star in your movie; just don't expect big returns on investment since big stars cost $10+ million. Also: Amanda Seyfried and Tyler Perry are good bets for non-gargantuan but sturdy profits. The Social Network, a film without any action sequence, gooey romance or crime-angle, is a true anomaly. It's only here because it's awesome and topical. But being awesome and topical will only get you to around $90-100. It's interesting that The Social Network's box office is so similar to Brokeback Mountain's, another anomaly that had quality as its chief selling point. (GASP. What a crazy thing to bank on!)

Best Return on Investment???
This list is haphazard / insufficient using only production budgets vs. US distribution returns from box office mojo. In other words it's not so accurate (merchandising, foreign markets, DVD sales and the potential windfall of sequels all contribute to insanely costly movies making a lot of money... eventually. While marketing costs subtract from that profit margin all the while.) But I think the following list is interesting as a very blurry snapshot as to what films are profitable even before you factor in these other things.
  1. Paranormal Activity 2 $84 gross = 28 times its budget.
  2. The Last Exorcism  $41 gross =22.7 times its budget.
  3. Easy A $58 gross  =7.25 times its budget.
  4. Jackass 3-D $116 gross = 5.8 times its budget.
  5. The Kids Are All Right $20 gross = 5 times its budget.
  6. Twilight Saga: Eclipse $300 gross = 4.4 times its budget.
  7. The Karate Kid $176 gross = 4.4 times its budget.
  8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid $64 gross  = 4.2 times its budget. 
  9. Despicable Me $250 gross = 3.6 times its budget. 
  10. Dear John $80 gross  = 3.2 times its budget.
Black Swan, budgeted at $13 million may well join this top ten since it's already earned $15 million and it's only just finished its first weekend of wide release and once it wears off its opening week energy, presumably it'll get that Oscar nominee boost to keep it going.

If you include worldwide revenues and franchise potential the numbers would change. How to Train Your Dragon, for example, which cost $165 million to make and grossed $217 million doesn't sound that profitable until you factor in the foreign gross (another $277 million) and the eventual sequels ordered up, which will come into the world market with the most cost efficent marketing tool possible: familiarity. And some movies are far more profitable overseas: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was budgeted at $13 million and has grossed $104 million worldwide, so only 10% of its gross is coming from America. But I was trying to make this as easy on myself as possible hence the US totals.

The year in box office. Crazy numbers. I'd be happy just making a really crappy "per screen average" figure this week. How 'bout you?

It would... oh never mind. This post is long enough. What's the last movie you paid to see? Did you get your money's worth?


    Mother Knows Best said...

    Last movie I paid to see was Tangled and HELLS YES, it was worth it.

    OtherRobert said...

    The last movie I paid to see was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I got my money's worth only because I wasn't horribly offended by all the new additions to the story (evil green mists! seven swords! living in America!) as many of my fellow purists were. All I needed, really, was a beautiful ending sequence at the edge of the world and I would have walked away happy.

    Cinesnatch said...

    What's scary is if you did the same thing for any given year in the 80's (or earlier), the results would be much different.

    Daniel Armour said...

    Tron: Legacy but I dosed off before the previews were over, so I missed the first half. Still, what I saw of it was pretty decent and I'll definitely see it again to give it a fair shake. I will NOT being seeing it again in IMAX 3D, however, as that was a $20 rip-off.

    Bryan said...

    The last movie I saw was Red. I would say I didn't get my money's worth, in part because the movie was pretty mediocre, but also because it's difficult for ANY film to be worth $10.50!

    Unknown said...

    You're comparison of The Social Network to Brokeback Mountain is an interesting one, but I feel that I have to point out the quality probably wasn't the TOP selling point for either film. I honestly don't believe that quality can be the top selling point for a film anymore. It has to be a secondary sell.

    I'd say the general popularity of Facebook and ingenious marketing capitalizing on Facebook's pop culture stranglehold was the number one box office pull for TSN.

    Brokeback Mountain's top pull was controversy. I bet more of that money can be attributed to it being a gay romance than a good romance. Sad in a way, but true.

    Stevee Taylor said...

    The last movie I paid to see was Easy A. It cost me NZ$30.70 to see it (that includes food), and I would say it was worth it. Or, Emma Stone was worth it.

    jbaker475 said...

    Last movie I paid to see was The Fighter, and while I didn't LOVE it, I really, really liked it and though Bale was phenomenal (not usually a big fan of his).

    Daniel Becker said...

    I last saw Black Swan for $7. It's worth way more than that. My brother paid more for Narnia, and only liked it because it didn't suck as bad as Caspian.

    Unknown said...

    Last movie I paid to see was Black Swan. And yes...it was worth every penny to see it. Repeat viewing is a must!

    Anonymous said...

    Last movie I paid to see was Black Swan and it was SO worth it! I know many movies don't live up to the hype but that one actually surpassed my (already high) expectations.

    /3rtfu11 said...

    The only film in the year's top 25 that doesn't fit neatly into one of those four categories is Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. So well done, Marty. That is a true accomplishment.

    Shutter Island is a genre picture. It contains elements of adventure, horror, and domestic melodrama.

    Walter L. Hollmann said...

    I paid 17 bucks for TRON: Legacy. While the 3D and the VFX and score were all great...that was a bit too much. Pretty, well-done, but dumb as a rock.

    Missy said...

    I only paid 6 bucks to see The Fighter.

    Rob T. said...

    Just saw Black Swan a few hours ago and was duly amazed. Not my favorite of the year, but definitely among the best. I almost watched TRON: Legacy immediately afterward because I was in the mood for outlandish fantasy, but decided to put it off because I had a late errand to run and because I'm sure it'll stick around local theaters for a while.

    Of the U.S. top dozen, I've seen the top three plus Inception and all the animated films. I've also seen the top five subtitled features plus A Prophet and Micmacs. One reason for the low grosses of some of the foreign Oscar nominees is light distribution; the two that grossed below $1 millon never even showed up in my hometown (Tulsa, OK).

    I've only seen three of the top dramas--the top three, as it happens. However, I'm a little puzzled by your classification of Shutter Island and The Town as "not genre films" because they struck me as two of the best crime/mystery films of the year. Guess it depends on what one means by "genre".

    Anonymous said...

    Saw Les amours imaginaires here in Sweden for about 9 USD. It was worth it even though it wasn´t a great movie, young Dolan has potential to become a great director but he´s not there yet.
    Awfully frustrating to read about Black Swan since it won´t come here until March next year...I KNOW that I´ll adore that one!

    Volvagia said...

    Dramas and indie films have become the domain of DVD. Solid movies that you can watch over and over again and not care if they look awesome or not. Don't believe me? All of you: Check how many holds your local library has on Happy-go-Lucky, Let the Right One In or A Prophet.

    NATHANIEL R said...

    anon -- agreed on Dolan. He's borrowing so heavily from famous filmmakers. But there's enough of a personality that eventually he'll find his own voice and it'll probably be very cool.

    NATHANIEL R said...

    volvag -- it's sad that people don't understand the importance of supporting serious cinema with their pocketbooks though.

    Bill_the_Bear said...

    Last movie I paid to see ($6 before noon at the AMC) was "L'Amour fou," which is a French documentary about the long (about 50 years) affair/partnership between Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Bergé did most of the narration. Quite interesting, and beautifully photographed (especially the art collection they built up together, and which Bergé auctioned off ater YSL's death), but I would have appreciated more about their backgrounds before they met.

    Anonymous said...

    Last film I paid to watch was Tron. Unfortunately.

    Nice post, by the way!

    adelutza said...

    I have payed for 53 films in 2010 ( without counting festivals, which would increase the list considerably, but that's another statistic).

    If I take a ticket at ,say , 8$ average ( I have seen a few for 5$ but mostly 7.5$ and 10$) that means I have spent 424$ just for the movies themselves, not mentioning transportation, popcorn, drinks before and/or after, etc. I think I do my share supporting the entertainment industry ;-)

    NATHANIEL R said...

    /3rtfull -- i appreciate the shutter island is a genre picture (but i was using the term strictly since all pictures are of one genre or another). But it's still, however you define it, the only film in the top 25 that's not

    a) animated
    b) an action/visual fx spectacle
    c) a broad comedy or...
    d) a sequel/remake

    so once again. Good on Marty EVEN THOUGH I DON'T LIKE THE MOVIE haha.

    Paul Outlaw said...

    I honestly cannot remember what the last movie I paid to see in the normal way was. But through my annual membership in SAG's film club I recently paid what amounts to a couple of dollars (including parking) to see Casino Jack.

    Tim said...

    I loved the last two films I've seen (The Fighter and Tangled) and think they were both definitely worth the $10 I paid to see them.

    I would say that one of the biggest reasons that the list looks it does is because these are the only films that are available to a large portion of the U. S. population. I live in South Dakota and go to college in the middle of Kansas. Trust me when I say that in order to see most of the films I want to see, I would have to go six hours away to do so, whether that be Denver or Kansas City. I don't know anyone that can afford that.

    I'm lucky that this week my theater in South Dakota is getting Black Swan and True Grit, both of which I'm dying to see. But, I also have no idea when I'll get the chance to see The King's Speech, 127 Hours, Blue Valentine, Another Year, and a whole host of other films that I really want to see.

    It looks like mainstream audiences will only embrace the four types of films you mentioned, but we'll never know if some of these other films are never even offered as an option.

    Cluster Funk said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Unknown said...

    I paid the equivalent of about $5 (as part of my Brattle Theater membership) to see "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench" and I'd say it was worth at least three times that amount. Such a wonderuflly alive and thrilling piece of cinema.

    Also this post brought back my continued shock that Focus Features was able to convince $35mil worth of people to see a slow, quiet arty film that features George Clooney making agun for a full 1/3 of it. Best con of the year - congrats Focus!

    Anonymous said...

    The last movie I paid to see was Patric Chiha's "Domaine", which I saw on Mubi for $2. I would have gladly paid a full theatrical admission price for it, and would certainly do it for every other movie I'm desperate to see RIGHT NOW. Many of them (like "Black Swan" and "127 Hours") won't be released here, in The Town That God Forgot, until February at the least (they want to make sure the movies are properly spoiled, watered down, and drained from all enthusiasm they might be able to muster in you by the dozens of reviews, articles and forum discussions we'll all have read by then), and many others (like "Another Year", "Inside Job" or "Meek's Cutoff") won't be released in theaters at all and will end up in video stores everywhere sometime mid-2012, but who the fuck goes to a video store anymore. I'd love to be given the chance to pay to see the movies I want to see, but most of the times downloading them is my only chance to see them.

    Kurtis O said...

    The last movie I paid to see, via a Blockbuster rental, was "Please Give," and it was so worth it. It was, however, tragic, too: it reminded how rare it is for me to genuinely laugh in a comedy without feeling guilty about it.

    Cluster Funk said...

    I paid $16.50 to see Tron: Legacy in IMAX 3-D, then chased it down with a $1 Redbox DVD, Easy A, which really washed away Tron's funky aftertaste.

    (Side note: It's amazing how a central performance can make [Emma Stone] or completely break [Garrett Hedlund] a movie-watching experience. Kudos to Miss Stone.)

    NATHANIEL R said...

    Kurtis O -- thefunniest line
    "blush doesn't cause cancer".
    ohmygod i guffawed.

    Anon and Tim -- i feel your pain. I once lived in Detroit and then Salt Lake and even though they're technically big markets it would sometimes be months and months before something came out. It was H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E. But Hollywood never thinks long term and they let things go all amok and now everyone just assumes "i'll see it on dvd" for everything and theatrical has become a blockbuster only thing.

    so sad.

    it can be so cool to see really great dramas or comedies, for example, with big enthusiastic crowds. (thank god for festivals!)

    AnthonyDC said...

    Are you considering "Inception" an FX spectacle? Kind of short-sells it compared to crap like "Clash of the Titans" and "Eyesore." I'd say that it's rare an original property makes that kind of money.

    NATHANIEL R said...

    Anthony -- i sure am. I'm not saying it wasn't a good one. But it was definitely sold as a huge spectacle. and it definitely is a visual spectacle.

    NATHANIEL R said...

    anthony -- and you're right. an original property (outside of Pixar) making that much is rare.

    adri said...

    The last movie I paid to see was The Tourist. I think it's rated PG. There's no swearing in it, no sex, no nudity (although Angelina looks great in her underwear - alone), and no violence from the major characters. I came out wondering if Angelina or Johnny even held a gun. I don't think they did. So what wasn't there felt odd. (Plus, the story was slight).

    But after I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful if that's one of the few movies that girls in repressed households get to see, because it's PG. And they come away thinking that Angelina Jolie is the way grown-up women are and that's what they're going to be like when they're older. Self-confident and not taking any flak from anyone. I hope for subversion.

    Anonymous said...

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    Anonymous said...

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