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Top 10 Takeaways: Memorial Day Previews Summer 2015, Why ‘Tomorrowland’ is like ‘The Lone Ranger’

Top 10 Takeaways: Memorial Day Previews Summer 2015, Why 'Tomorrowland' is like 'The Lone Ranger'

Plum release date Memorial Day Weekend launches the crucial summer season, with Independence Day in the middle and Labor Day wrapping it up. But this year, for a combination of reasons, the weekend fell way short. That doesn’t mean the whole season will be a disappointment. It follows three major successes in April and May and there are expected hits ahead. But weekend leader “Tomorrowland”‘s weak showing is not an encouraging sign.

The Top Ten
1. Tomorrowland (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire:; Metacritic; Est. production budget – $175 million
$32,159,000 in 3,972 theaters; PSA (per screen average); $8,096; Cumulative: $32,159,000

2. Pitch Perfect 2 (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$30,300,000 (-56%) in 3,560 theaters (+87); PSA: $8,511; Cumulative: $125,400,000

3. Mad Max – Fury Road (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$23,885,000 (-47%) in 3,722 theaters (+20); PSA: $6,417; Cumulative: $87,315,000

4. Poltergeist (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 47; est. budget $35 million
$23,000,000 in 3,240 theaters; PSA: $7,009; Cumulative: $23,000,000

5. Avengers: Age of Ultron (Buena Vista) – Week 4 – Last weekend #3
$20,895,000 (-46%) in 3,727 theaters (-549); PSA: $; Cumulative: $404,065,000

6. Hot Pursuit (Warner Bros.) – Week 3 – Last weekend #4
$3,475,000 (-39%) in 2,577 theaters (-460); PSA: $1,348; Cumulative: $28,920,000

7. Far from the Madding Crowd (Fox Searchlight) – Week 4 – Last weekend #10
$2,280,000 (+82%) in 865 theaters (+576); PSA: $2,636; Cumulative: $5,443,000

8. Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 (Sony) – Week 6 – Last weekend #7
$2,225,000 (-50%) in 1,878 theaters (-754); PSA: $935; Cumulative: $65,600,000

9. Furious 7 (Universal) – Week 8 – Last weekend #6
$2,100,000 (-42%) in 1,653 theaters (-585); PSA: $1,270; Cumulative: $347,500,000

10. Home (20th Century Fox) – Week 9 – Last weekend #8
$1,680,000 (-34%) in 1,444 theaters (-544); PSA: $1,163; Cumulative: $167,995,000

The Takeaways

Does the Weak Holiday Presage an Underperforming Summer?

The $144 million Top 10 gross is down 19% from last year, and in terms of total ticket sales, that’s far worse historically for Memorial Day. The lack of a blockbuster opening is the main reason. That there was no sequel/established franchise film opening is unusual. Going back the last 20 years (when the average top gross for the three day weekend, adjusted, has easily been over $80 million), Disney itself has twice previously broken that trend of originals not winning with two original Pixar films. But that magic didn’t extend to the costly “Tomorrowland” which, despite edging out the second weekend of “Pitch Perfect 2,” will face an uphill climb to get into profit.

There’s still a 5%-plus overall increase from 2014. But this weak weekend deepens the lag behind two of the other recent five years. Many touted titles are still to come (and Pixar’s “Inside Out” and the “Jurassic Park” sequel could be enormous, among other potential hits) but it is quite possible that we’ve seen the two biggest 2015 openers (“Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Furious 7,”), at least until the “Star Wars” reboot in December. And those two films among other early year successes have only led to a slight uptick.

Had Universal pushed either “Furious 7” or “Pitch Perfect” to this date, or Warners slotted “Mad Max: Fury Road” (let alone Disney with either “Ultron” or “Inside Out”), we’d be giving a different analysis. Studios may have figured that opening last week, and then getting a better second week with the holiday, made more sense. But this is another case where international considerations matter. This is an American holiday, and increasingly stand-alone domestic four-day weekends matter less in the big picture. To slate a juggernaut worldwide just because of its importance in the U.S. doesn’t seem as important as it used to be.

“Poltergeist” benefited from the extra heft of the holiday with a front-loaded $23 million and a rare case of a studio horror film doing better than expected. The PG13 rating might have helped. Like “Mad Max,” it’s a retread of a 20th century franchise (with “Jurassic,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Vacation” still ahead). With audiences getting older, perhaps nostalgia is going to be a boosting factor this summer.

Why “Tomorrowland” is Like “The Lone Ranger”:

No one at Disney wants to be reminded of “The Lone Ranger” and its $260 million worldwide total versus a $215 million budget plus marketing costs. But likely write-off “Tomorrowland,”  with some cost estimates close to $200 million, bears significant comparisons. These include:

1. A summer holiday weekend release.

“Ranger” straddled the Independence Day holiday, opening on July 3 (a Wednesday). Its first weekend did $29 million – after already haven taken in nearly $20 million. “Tomorrowland” has its holiday ahead, but its five day total will fall short of “Ranger” by $5 million or more.

2. Both films were directed by Disney all-stars with past huge hits.

Brad Bird has three $200 million-plus grossers, including two with Pixar (released by Disney) as well as a “Mission: Impossible” series entry. “Ranger”‘s Gore Verbinski soared with the “Pirates” series (three grossing over $300 million domestically) and two other $100 million plus films. Both have won Oscars (Bird twice) for Best Animated Feature. So the hit-making pedigree in both cases seemed to justify the risk.

3. Both starred A-list actors.  

“Lone Ranger” starred Johnny Depp, “Tomorrowland” George Clooney. Depp has been a much bigger draw (not only the “Pirates” films but three major Tim Burton-directed hits in his diverse line-up. Clooney has aways been more of an ensemble big player (“Gravity,” the “Oceans” series) or the lead in Oscar-bait specialty hits. Critics beat up Depp in “Ranger.” Clearly, Clooney was overestimated as a draw for “Tomorrowland.”

4. Foreign looks weak.

Western “Lone Ranger” took in $29 million its initial international weekends, compared to $27 million for “Tomorrowland.” But “Ranger” opened in 29% of territories, while “Tomorrowland” is already at 56%. So counting on the world to rescue this seems dubious.

5. Weak Cinemascores. 

“Ranger” had the better grade – B+ compared to B.

Could a domestic rebound happen? Not likely. “Tomorrowland” suffered from concept confusion and skewed young in appeal (not an issue for an animated feature). At this point, $100 million domestic might be an optimistic stretch, with maybe somewhat more worldwide, at best $250 million, just shy of “Ranger”‘s take. And if so, also a likely expensive flop. 

The Holdovers

These actually provide significant news and indications of where some films are headed above last week’s results.

“Pitch Perfect 2” and its 56% fall is at the high end for an enthusiastically received film on a holiday weekend (non-holiday it likely would have been over 60%), but considering its female/more suburban/younger appeal, its much bigger than expected initial figure and lower budget combine (along with much bigger international success) to reinforce that it is a significant success.

“Mad Max: Fury Road,” down 47%, is about as much a drop as it could sustain in its risky path to profit. Worldwide it is up to $212 million, adding another $38 million international this weekend. It might need to top $450 million to be safe, but it still has a much better chance of getting to black than “Tomorrowland.”

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” has passed $400 million, and today should surpass “Iron Man 3” as the biggest hit domestically since “Avengers” (which got to a much higher $623 million). The domestic shortfall now looks it might be the difference in keeping this from equaling the worldwide total for its predecessor.

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