Monday, March 29, 2010

Are Dragons Detrimental to Box Office? Or Is It Something Else?

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?

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this will alter anyones opinions about princess movies or movies directed at girls not performing up to expectation. It seems the same thing can happen with movies directed at boys. Although Dragons did better then Princess and the Frog did in it's opening weekend. It's interesting to view these two as they are two very different movies with one being targeted at boys and another at girls, however they both seem to have the same problem to solve. Why did they not perform up to expectations?

Though it may still be too early to tell with Dragons.

Anonymous said...

I think it might be their previous movie affecting them. Monsters Vs Aliens opened big, but it sucked.

Anonymous said...

i think it has a lot to do with the rise in 3d ticket prices i mean taking kids to the movies can be really expensive considering those tickets can cost almost 20$ a head, and since they are pushing 3d so much in the advertisements it makes ppl feel like they HAVE to see it in 3d or it wont be worth it, but i hope the movie does well in the coming weeks i would like to see more dreamworks films like that, or hell even better!

Anonymous said...

You mean the same USA Today who repeatedly called How To Train Your Dragon a Pixar movie? (even on the cover)

Yeah, let's listen to THEM...

Tim said...

And I remember that before Pirates of the Caribbean came out, the conventional wisdom was that pirate movies (Cutthroat Island, Treasure Planet, Pirates, Swashbuckler, etc) were box office poison. "Pirate movies haven't made money since Errol Flynn died!"

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with doing a dragon film. funny how they are pointing fingers already and the film just came out!!

Anonymous said...

So, if How To Train Your Dragon's allegedly underwhelming opening numbers are an indication of its' general performance (or lack thereof) I guess the Rules will be expanded to : NO Movies with Dragon in the title, along with no movies with Princess in the title ? (until of course there's a hit movie with a Princess or a Dragon, or both, and then everyone jumps on that bandwagon) .

Tim makes a good point about Pirate movies, and of course the same sort of " conventional wisdom" was in effect in the 70's which stated: "Sci-fi movies don't make money". (and then Star Wars happened)

Honestly, I think despite how it does in it's initial theatrical run , a solid movie like "How to Train Your Dragon", (along with "The Princess and the Frog") will have a long, long shelf life and will continue to delight audiences for years to come when other current films are forgotten.

Anonymous said...

I saw a couple of families leave the box office after finding out how much it would cost to take their whole family into the 3D version of the movie.

nosferatu said...

There's a 2d version of the movie being shown, is there??? So it's not like there's no options, right?

43.7 is damm good if you ask me. Plus it has terrific wourd-of-mouth.

Hell, I think I might just go and see it....

n

Anonymous said...

The movie I would kill to see:

"The Dragon Princess"

Anonymous said...

The theaters increased 3d ticket prices literally days before Dragon came out.
http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118016878.html?categoryid=1236&cs=1

unlucky timing on the part of the movie i think. dreamworks must be (rightly) pissed.

"If consumers absorb the price increases without issue, we believe it bodes well for the pricing power of the movie exhibition industry,"

i guess that the ability of consumers to absorb aint what it used to be.

Justin said...

"I wonder if this will alter anyones opinions about princess movies or movies directed at girls not performing up to expectation. It seems the same thing can happen with movies directed at boys."

How to Train Your Dragon is going to make twice as much as Princess and the Frog did.

Anonymous said...

Oh, good lord:
Was anyone around here reading these SAME headlines back during the summers of '02-'03, when third-party animateds were dropping like flies, and LA Times columnists were coming up with cockamamie sociological "reasons" that had absolutely nothing to do with the movie?
(One of the "reasons" for Sinbad's flop--also a DW film--was instrumental in Eisner shutting down the 2-D studios, so some of us survivors are still a little tetchy.)

Any money Dragons "didn't make", unquote--which as warned earlier, has a lot to do with expectations--didn't have to do with dragons (in fact, that was what the kid audience seeme to liked best). It had a LOT to do with promotion, marketing, just how much money a movie can make in March, and whether anyone, in fact, really HAD been waiting to see it: It's just possible that maybe Joe Public does notice when DW's name is on a movie and weren't, and like MvA, are going to have to be stubbornly convinced in the second week by good reviews and friends' word-of-mouth.

(And hate to be one of the Froggy defenders saying "We told you so", but how does it feel now to have to defend an innocent movie against industry superstition, prejudice and public hysteria for reasons beyond its control?) ;)

Anonymous said...

I think it's the "How to Train" part of the title that kept folks away from the movie. It implies some effort on their part and they don't go to movies to expend any effort. "How to Install Your Furnace Filter" would not be a box office smash. Neither would "How to Train Your Monsters to Fight Aliens" or "How to Turn Your Princess into a Frog". It also sounds a bit prepubescent. A simple Pixar-like one word title would have sufficed, like "Toothless".

Anonymous said...

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?


Because. Alvin. Came. Out. At. Freakin'. CHRISTMAS! That's why Fox put it there.
Steve, I know you want to use an Alvin punchline as Default Snark every time PaTF or Dragons doesn't make money, but can we please get past this point to recognize it? It would open up more of the discussions.

And at least feel better that Alvin 3-D, for some odd reasons of competition, moved itself OUT of Fox's jealously coveted Christmas slot into the week-before slot--probably assuming it worked for Avatar and Tron--not realizing that sci-fi epics can do that but family films can't...They'll be sor-ree! :)

Anonymous said...

The movie I would kill to see:
"The Dragon Princess"


(Actually, there IS a book by that title from the same author as "The Frog Princess", and...it's even worse than that original book.
Although if Disney throws just as much of it away in the script, it might have a chance.) :)

Anonymous said...

Here we go again with all the crazy theories on why a movie didn't do well. It was good, it wasn't good, it's the title, it's the price of tickets, it's because people don't expect much from dreamworks,

I know the real reason, and I shall tell you...
it's because of the curse of the animation pantaloon, these have been passed down between animation studio powerhouses for generations, each time they achieve the animation pantaloon the curse shall take over the studio. Beware all animators of the Animation Pantaloon and the curse it shall hold over you and your studios.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is writing this movie off because it didn't make insane numbers, and we haven't even seen the second weekends results. Slash and burn mentality of hollywood is so sickening. Lots of good films have suffered this fate, Frog is a recent one and everyone remembers Iron Giant's run.

Anonymous said...

Not only that, but the doomsaying immediately starts on Friday's numbers, which is inaccurate for a kids' animated film. (Given that there aren't as many crowds for a 9pm showing.)
Family movies make up for lost time with crowds for the Sat. afternoon show and final numbers by the end results--But the first headlines to hit are "Why didn't it make as much as we THOUGHT it would?"

(There's a story about how the press reacted to "Cars"'s second-week numbers, that would be amusing if it were funny.)

Anonymous said...

quote:

The theaters increased 3d ticket prices literally days before Dragon came out.
http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118016878.html?categoryid=1236&cs=1


It kind of sounds like the theater owners were firing off their own cannons in this pissing match (to mix a metaphor or two):

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/mar/17/business/la-fi-ct-dragons18-2010mar18

Paramount Pictures is telling theaters that if they don't show the upcoming DreamWorks-produced "Dragon," on a 3-D screen, then it will withhold from the theater a 2-D version of the movie to play instead, according to four theater industry executives, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal. Many multiplexes only have a single 3-D screen, so not having a conventional version of the highly anticipated DreamWorks family film to play on their other screens would severely affect ticket sales.

"The message is: If you have one 3-D screen available and you don't play ["Dragon"], they're not going to give you the version in 2-D," one California theater operator said. "It's an underhanded threat."

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone pay MORE for "3D?" Most of the upcoming 3D films weren't filmed in Stereo (Alice, Titans). And theaters won't give you a discount if you bring your own glasses.

Why would anyone pay MORE for the headache from eye strain 3D gives most people?

Anonymous said...

"Why would anyone pay MORE for "3D?"

Because most sheeple do what they are told and don't have an original thought in their head.

It must be better it's got an extra D in it, duh , right George? George, take me to see da movie wit da cute wittle bunnies ... in 3D , will ya , George, huh, will ya? I got to see 'dose bunnies in 3D.

Anonymous said...

headache from eye strain 3D gives most people?

Do you have a link to back this up? Ive never heard of this, and if its most people, I think I would have by now...

Anonymous said...

"Animation pantaloons? " "Curse?"

What the f*ck????

Anonymous said...

many people have complained that 3D is straining for them. I'm sure it depends on what vision strains you may already have.

Anonymous said...

"Do you have a link to back this up? Ive never heard of this, and if its most people, I think I would have by now..."

Talk to most people who try and watch 3D movies. Remember, 3D movies are 1/3 less bright than REAL movies. Hence the eye strain. Just a simple fact.

Anonymous said...

Little jeffrey katzemburg likes them because he always gets in for kids prices.

Anonymous said...

Two adult IMAX 3D movie tickets -- $38.

Two children tickets -- $32

A tub of popcorn -- $7.50

Two medium drinks -- $9

Staying home and finding a better way to spend $86.50 -- Priceless.

Anonymous said...

Okay. Great. Ive talked to everyone who saw Dragons this wekeend and no one complained of eye strain.

Care to provide that link where "most" people complain of eye strain, or are you going to keep claiming incidental, individual, personal examples as "most?"

Anonymous said...

*everyone I knew*

Anonymous said...

THankfully, it's a fad, and will be gone in a year or so.

Science Proves 3-D Movies Hurt Your Brain
We knew it: 3-D films are trying to kill you with migraines and crappy vision. A new study proves the relationship between 3-D and headaches. But will this stop Hollywood's slate of 32 (and counting) upcoming 3-D films?

A study at the University of California Berkeley found that 3-D movies can cause eyestrain along with headaches. Apparently, 3-D doesn't allow our eyes to "follow the rules" because we're busy focusing on things both far and near at the same time, hence the headaches and blurred vision. Professor Martin Banks explained this to VOA Health.

"You're taking that normal relationship which has been coupled in the brain for years and you're changing it. And what we showed is that can cause fatigue."
Not only that, 3-D is worse for your children and the youth of tomorrow, because younger viewers are far more susceptible to the ill effects of 3-D:

Anonymous said...

You still didnt provide a link, Short Bus.

Anonymous said...

Um, Steve, is it really so hard to monitor the comments & delete remarks from puerile posters who think stupid personal insults are worth posting on every thread?

PLEASE.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what total BS.
I have terrible vision and get migraines easily but 3D films have zero effect on me. Nor has anyone I know-and I know a lot of moveigoers-ever got a headache from 3D. Also, I saw Dragon at a run of the mill theater and the image was *bright* as far as I was concerned.

Quit beating that horse, haters.

Anonymous said...

Um, Steve, is it really so hard to monitor the comments & delete remarks from puerile posters who think stupid personal insults are worth posting on every thread?

Yes, can we please start by removing all posts that ask Steve to moderate posts they disagree with?

Hey, if that poster would either post a link, or just admit they are making up facts out of thin air, maybe I wouldnt call them Short Bus (which, you gotta admit, in the world of insults, Short Bus is definitely the cutest)

Anonymous said...

since everyone else was too lazy to do a simple google search...

Here is a paper from siggraph that should help explain the 3d eye strain problem that people have.

http://www.siggraph.org/publications/newsletter/volume/stereoscopic-3d-film-and-animationgetting-it-right


v

Short Bus said...

Except thats a technical paper discussing techniques on how to do 3D correctly so people wont get eye strain, not a report about how stereoscopic movies causes eye strain for most viewers.

I did a "simple google search" as well, and have found NOTHING about the headaches and eye strain most people "apparently" get from stereoscopic films.

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