USA Today, before How to Train Your Dragon was released, cautioned about the profitability of dragon movies:
Even the most dedicated fantasy-film fan would have to admit that movies with dragons all too often turn out to be a drag.
Cinematic serpents may date to the silent era, when filmmaker Fritz Lang had his hero slay a 60-foot-long mechanical puppet in 1924's Die Nibelungen: Siegfried. [And Doug Fairbanks gutted a dragon in The Thief of Baghdad -- also 1924.] But most recent big-screen outings, such as Eragon, Reign of Fire and Beowulf, that center on the slithery beasts have not exactly inflamed the box office or the audience's imagination ....
Another possibility is that Viking movies are the problem. Outside of Kirk Douglas's (and Richard Fleischer's) 1958 epic, how many blockbuster Norse movies have you seen?
I thought so.
Then again, a feature's box office performance might have to do with the setting, (though Cressida Cowell, author of the Dragon books, thinks the movie's depiction of her novel's far-north island is fabulous.) As Kevin Koch writes:
Pete Emslie made an interesting point in the comments section on a recent post:
“I particularly believe that films set in exotic locales like South America have a great deal of appeal . . .”
This is consistent with what most of us believe — Variety is the spice of life. We consciously crave variety — at least we think we do. Most of us long to visit exotic places when we’re daydreaming, but when vacation time comes, we’re usually happier to just chill out in our back yards, or travel an hour away to the beach or a favorite resort community. The relatively new field of Happiness Research bears this out. Research shows that more variety doesn’t make us happy, and that we’re actually happiest with what is familiar ...
Put another way, we want variety, but in a much narrower range than most people realize. Someone who loves hamburgers is always on the lookout for a great new hamburger joint; they might talk about investigating that dim sum place in Chinatown, but when their belly is growling, they’ll find themselves steering the car to Bob’s Big Boy.
I think the same thing happens with our taste in movies, especially animated movies. As much as good animated films appeal to the entire audience, if we lose the childrens’ market, we’re facing an uphill battle for success. And any parent knows that children are far less variety-seeking than adults. Ask a child if they want to sit home and watch Ice Age 3 for the 17th time, or go see a new animated movie that just arrived from Netflix, and you’re likely to be watching Ice Age 3 for the 18th time ...
Lastly, there is the biggest elephant in the room: story. If the story doesn't engage and enthrall, then box office bets are off. But I'll go out on a limb here. A weak story is the least of Dragon's problems. As a veteran Disney story artist said to me today:
"My kid and I loved this film. It cooks. He's telling his friends to go see it, and I'm telling people around here to take it in. I think, with the word-of-mouth and Spring vacation, it should do well straight through next week ..."
I have no idea how Dragon does next week, or next month. Frankly, I'm befuddled why it didn't perform more strongly in its debut weekend. (Setting? Characters? Story? Lack of zany, pratfall humor? Resistance of audiences to three dee ticket prices? What?)
You can choose you own questions. But the ones that play in my head on an endless loop are these:
Why did Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel open with $48.9 million?
Why did How to Train Your Dragon earn $43.7 million?