Wednesday, July 19, 2006
A few days ago I mentioned the successful Monster House sneaks on Saturday. I just saw another piece on those sneaks, along with this quote from Rory Bruer, Sony's president of distribution: "I think we'll open in the mid-$20 million range, hopefully." Hopefully?!? Now, I don't want to tell the man his business, but either Sony is expecting a huge disappointment, or they're trying to set expectations very low. . . Why do I say that? Wouldn't a $25 million dollar opening potentially be okay, given the strength of the competition (POTC 2 and a new M. Night Shyamalan movie)? Well, no, it wouldn't. But, you ask, what if the movie opens at $25 mill and has "legs?" In this case it still likely won't be enough. Given how much MH clearly cost, and that the buzz on the movie is good, Sony has to be expecting a hit (and I think it will be). But, in today's movie world, any film opening wide to $25 million is headed for a total domestic gross of $75-108 million. And for a big-budget, major release (especially a CG-animated one with Bobby Z. producing), that would be a turkey. I'm going to get into some box office economics that for some reason fascinates me. Maybe it's because I worked on some of those turkeys early in my career, and I know what it's like to show up at the studio on a Monday, having had "my" film underperform on it's opening weekend, and been in too many water-cooler conversations that start out, "Yeah, it sucks that the opening weekend was low, but maybe when word of mouth starts to spread, it'll pick up and turn into a hit." Unfortunately, that almost never happens, and as I've watched the way the box office has behaved in recent years, it's become clear that there's a mathematical precision to what one can expect after the opening weekend. Two simple formulas define a range: Total Domestic Gross = Opening Weekend x 3 (for a movie with no legs) TDG = OW x 4.3 (for a movie with great legs) Most films will fall neatly within the range of those two extremes. Exceptions over the last 10 years are unusual. Animated films tend to be on the high side of that range, so take an opening weekend and multiply it by, say, 3.8, and you'll likely be near the final tally. A multiplier closer to 3 is disappointing; a multiplier around 4 or better means the public dug the film. Films with multipliers much above 4.3 are either superstar performers or surprise breakout hits (or both). So, with all due respect to Mr. Bruer, I suspect Sony is really looking for an opening closer to $40 million (unless they think they can repeat the pattern of Polar Express two years ago -- but then, Monster House isn't a feel-good holiday release that will be free of serious competition after it opens). Just for fun, here are the opening week multipliers of most CG features: Polar Express -- 7.4 Toy Story -- 6.6 Shrek -- 6.3 Jimmy Neutron -- 5.8 Antz -- 5.3 A Bugs Life -- 4.9 Finding Nemo -- 4.3 Toy Story 2 -- 4.3 Madagascar-- 4.1 Shrek 2 -- 4.1 Monster's Inc. -- 4.1 Hoodwinked -- 4.1 Over the Hedge -- 4.0 Cars -- 4.0 The Wild -- 3.9 Ice Age -- 3.8 The Incredibles -- 3.7 Robots -- 3.6 Dinosaur -- 3.6 Shark Tale -- 3.4 Chicken Little -- 3.4 Valiant -- 3.3 Ice Age 2 -- 2.9 Final Fantasy -- 2.8 Doogal -- 2.1 Crunch the numbers for live action films in the last few years and the pattern is even clearer. Try it, it's fun! Use it impress your friends with your predictive powers at those Monday-morning water-cooler chats.
Posted by Kevin Koch at 8:49 AM