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Top 10 Takeaways: ‘San Andreas’ Opens Big But Box Office Continues to Sag

Top 10 Takeaways: 'San Andreas' Opens Big But Box Office Continues to Sag

As we conclude the fifth weekend of May, the month ends on a familiar note: one strong opening (“San Andreas”), one dud (sixth-place “Aloha”) and a mixed bag of holdovers. The final result: another shortfall in the Top Ten total (down around 20% from the same weekend last year).

June should be much improved. But the optimism in advance of the summer season is not a strong as it was just a few weeks ago.

The Top Ten

1. San Andreas (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 43; Est. budget: $110 million
$53,215,000 in 3,777 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $14,089; Cumulative: $53,215,000

2. Pitch Perfect 2 (Universal) Week 3; Last weekend #2
$14,381,000 (-53%) in 3,660 theaters (+100); PSA: $3,929; Cumulative: $147,540,000

3. Tomorrowland (Buena Vista) Week 2; Last weekend #1
$13,803,000 (-58%) in 3,972 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $3,475; Cumulative: $63,188,000

4. Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros.) Week 3; Last weekend #3
$13,625,000 (-45%) in 3,255 theaters (-467); PSA: $4,186; Cumulative: $115,915,000

5. Avengers: Age of Ultron (Buena Vista) Week 5; Last weekend #5
$10,920,000 (-50%) in 3,288 theaters (-499); PSA: $3,383; Cumulative: $427,070,000

6. Aloha (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 40; Est. budget: $37 million
$10,000,000 in 2,815 theaters; PSA: $3,552; Cumulative: $10,000,000

7. Poltergeist (20th Century Fox)  Week 2; Last weekend #4
$7,800,000 (-65%) in 3,242 theaters (+2); PSA: $2,406; Cumulative: $38,267,000

8. Far from the Madding Crowd (Fox Searchlight)  Week 5; Last weekend #7
$1,420,000 (-38%) in 902 theaters (+37); PSA: $1,574; Cumulative: $8,362,000

9. Hot Pursuit (Warner Bros.)  Week 4; Last weekend #6
$1,370,000 (-62%) in 1,446 theaters (-1,131); PSA: $947; Cumulative: $32,351,000

10. Home (20th Century Fox)  Week 10; Last weekend #10
$1,150,000 (-34%) in 1,088 theaters (-356); PSA: $1,057; Cumulative: $170,409,000

The Takeaways

Are we heading for a weaker summer than projected?

2014 had one of the weakest domestic summers in recent years (in terms of attendance, decades). Its total gross of a little over $4 billion came in lowest since 2006. So that the first month of what is considered the strongest season looks to come in about 13% below last year would normally be considered a bad sign. Three releases have passed the $100 million mark, led by “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (far bigger than any May 2014 entry), and “San Andreas” will join them (compared to five last year), so the month hasn’t been bereft of successes. But the overall drop is a concern.

Over the last five years, May has constituted 27% of the summer gross. Using this May’s number, that would come to a little about $3.96 billion, below even last year. That’s a shocker. The near-unanimous expectation has been that this could be one of the best grossing summers ever that will easily top weak 2014.

Last year, the World Cup in June depressed box office. So the rest of the summer still has a chance of besting last year’s and other totals. We’ll know soon. Last year distorted distribution plans and pushed significant releases dependent on foreign interest into May and June. So this year, at least four upcoming films: “Spy” (June 5), “Jurassic World” (June 12), “Inside Out” (June 19) and “Ted 2” (June 26) should easily pass $100 million, with far higher totals possible for all. Last June saw four as well, but only one (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”) passed $200 million. Expect a much better result this year. So one off summer month doesn’t necessarily mean doom and gloom.

But remember that while Marvel’s “Ultron” is a dominating success (it looks to end up somewhere around $460 million or better), that would place it 25% or more below what 2012’s “Avengers” took in. Yet internationally, the sequel is now above what the earlier film did. Foreign, particularly China, is still growing, but generally the current film is doing much better overseas than at home. “Ultron” is likely the top domestic grosser of the summer, and the best since 2012. But its drop, and its failure to keep pace with elsewhere isn’t great news.

The other statistic deep in the numbers is scary. The average second week drop for wide release films this May (per Box Office Mojo) was 60%. That’s the single biggest average drop for any month going back three decades. Perhaps an excuse can be that several films opened better than expected. But what it really hints at is that the movie going population continues to fall, with the result that each new popular film cannibalizes previous ones. June is going to be a big test of this, but it is a worrisome note.

Solid like a rock?

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is an even bigger star overseas than at home (he was proclaimed biggest international star of 2013 when he had four films), but particularly in the “Furious” series, Johnson has established himself as a domestic force as well. “San Andreas” is his biggest opener as a leading man. It needed to be, since it is an expensive $110 million production.

Is he the main marquee draw? Certainly he helped to add to the project’s appeal. But the stats provided by Warners this morning belie any assumptions that he helped to lure younger males. Once again, that group is under-performing. 51% of surveyed attendees were female, and 70% over 25. It does suggest that the spectacle and event aspects of the movie also pulled in moviegoers. 

To compare “San Andreas” with Johnson’s first big film, “The Scorpion King” in 2002, adjusted to 2015 grosses, that film opened to the equivalent of $50 million, and did so without the aid of 3D and/or IMAX boosts (3D tickets accounted for 44% of sales). So even after the “Furious” franchise and the rest of his success, he’s basically the same draw as he was at the start of his career. That’s mostly, domestically at least, a factor of the decline in movie attendance since he started.

Still, one can’t ignore that his film’s opening weekend grossed as much as those of A-listers George Clooney (“Tomorrowland”) and Bradley Cooper (“Aloha”) combined, and even more impressively in the action/spectacle world, about $8 million better than the acclaimed (and more expensive) “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Do “Aloha” and “Tomorrowland” hurt originals with the studios?

“Aloha” is Cameron Crowe’s first film since his modesty successful “We Bought a Zoo” (Christmas 2011) and looks to replicate the failure of “Elizabethtown,” his similarly original screenplay about a distinct community (here, military folks in Hawaii). Crowe as a writer has flourished with such hit originals as “Almost Famous,” “Jerry Maguire, and “Say Anything.” But although “Aloha” reeled in a top-drawer cast, besides Bradley Cooper there’s Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams and Bill Murray, it failed to click.

In this case, poor reviews and a lack of marketing hook combined to doom its fate. But coming on top of the weak performance of “Tomorrowland,” analysts are already decrying these disappointments as a reason to discount non-franchise, non-presold ventures.

That seems misplaced. If by “original” one means a film either totally new or based on material that is not already well-known, then the concept remains vital to box office success. Of the 18 releases so far this year to gross over $50 million, 11 are film-created successes (including sequels like “Furious 7” that started fresh, and “Pitch Perfect 2,” which began as a little-read non-fiction book). They accounted for about a third of last year’s $100 million+ hits. The expected strength of June includes originals “Spy,” “Inside Out” and “Ted 2.”

The proliferation of sequels and franchises seems to bury the reality that much original material still thrives. That these two films didn’t achieve the hoped-for results seems to lie much more within specific factors related to them –particularly poor marketing–than any particularly disinterest in originality.

Read: 5 Reasons to See Cameron Crowe’s ‘Aloha’ Despite the Critical Pile-On 

Holdovers

Not a great picture this week, once again, despite this following a disappointing Memorial Day weekend. Here’s how the top grossing ones did:

— “Tomorrowland” dropping 58% seals its fate as a dud (compared to expense) unless China decides it’s a major event. Domestic likely falls short of $100 million.

— “Pitch Perfect 2” managed to hold a bit better, but still down 53%, with the strong female appeal of “San Andreas” doing some damage. No biggie — this inexpensive film should outgross “Fifty Shades of Grey,” two bookends among the first half of 2015 for women’s films.

— “Mad Max: Fury Road” shed a better by comparison 44%. Still, its worldwide $280 million so far has a long way to go to make this justify the expense, even if it is an aesthetic triumph.

— “Avengers: Age of Ultron” dropped 50%, not bad considering the drumbeat of competition.

— “Poltergeist” opened better than expected, but 65% down even for a horror film is weak. It will barely double its initial weekend, with many theaters likely dropping after one more week.

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