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Top 10 Takeaways: Family Smash ‘Minions’ Continues Universal Box Office Surge

Top 10 Takeaways: Family Smash 'Minions' Continues Universal Box Office Surge

Though not the biggest animated opener ever or close to being in the top four for 2015 (three of which are from Universal), “Minions” is riding a summer box office wave. Why did “Minions” open better than “Inside Out”?  We dig into that below. 

Playing to the limited but loyal Indian-American audience, that country’s most expensive ($40 million over two films) production “Baahubali: The Beginning” (Blue Sky) pulled in nearly $3.6 million in only 236 theaters to take ninth place.

Read: Arthouse Audit: LBGT “Tangerine’ and ‘Do I Sound Gay?’ Score in Top Theaters

The Top Ten

1. Minions (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire; Metacritic:; Est. budget: $74 million
$115,200,000 in 4,301 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $26,784; Cumulative: $115,200,000
2. Jurassic World (Universal)  Week 5 – Last weekend #2
$18,100,000 (-38%) in 3,441 theaters (-296); PTA: $5,260; Cumulative: $590,638,000
3. Inside Out (Buena Vista) Week 4 – Last weekend #1
$17,108,000 (-42%) in 3,644 theaters (-514); PTA: $4,695; Cumulative: $283,638,000
4. Terminator: Genisys (Paramount)  Week 2 – Last weekend #3
$13,700,000 (-49%) in 3,783 theaters (+25); PTA: $3,621; Cumulative: $68,718,000
5. The Gallows (Warner Bros.)  NEW – Cinemascore: C; Criticwire; Metacritic:; Est. budget: $5 million
$10,015,000 in 2,720 theaters; PTA: $3,682; Cumulative: $10,105,000
6. Magic Mike XXL (Warner Bros)  Week 2 – Last weekend #4
$9,640,000 (-25%) in 3,376 theaters (+21); PTA: $2,855; Cumulative: $48,359,000
7. Ted 2 (Universal)  Week 3 – Last weekend #5
$5,600,000 (-50%) in 2,171 theaters (-1,277); PTA: $2,579,000; Cumulative: $71,619,000
8. Self/Less (Focus)  NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire; Metacritic:; Est. budget: $26 million
$5,379,000 in 2,353 theaters; PTA: $2,286; Cumulative: $5,379,000
9. Baahubali (Broken Sky) NEW
$3,575,000 in 236 theaters; PTA: $15,148; Cumulative: $3,375,000
10. Max (Warner Bros.)  Week 3 – Last weekend #6
$3,420,000 (-48%) in 2,088 theaters (-782); PTA: $2,008; Cumulative: $33,705,000

The Takeaways

The Hits Just Keep on Coming

In this week’s edition of “can you top this?” we measure recent box office achievements by comparing movie performance over the past four years. 

1. “Minions” is the fourth film to open to over $100 million in three days this year (three since May). 2014 had at most two (“Mockingjay” in November, a disputed just-barely “Transformers” in the summer, 2013 three over all, and 2012 four, two in the summer). With likely at least two more ahead (upcoming “Hunger Games” and “Star Wars”) and possibly more, this year’s high-end of performance could hardly be better.

2. This is the fifth weekend this year where the Top Ten surpassed $200 million–with huge openers leading the way, pending actuals Monday. 2014? Zero. 2013 had four by this point and five total, 2012 two. That signals a bottom line surge, however it has been achieved.

3. Year-to-date is now just under 8% ahead of 2014, and ahead of the preceding four years. Of the pre-2014 years, though, the increase is under 3%, meaning little to no growth in total audience attendance. It is only compared to the weak 2014 that things look great.

Why Did “Minions” Open So Much Bigger Than “Inside Out”?

Disney’s release of Pixar’s “Inside Out” has been a resounding success so far: $284 million domestic through four weekends, around $435 million total worldwide (“Minions”‘ earlier foreign release has cut into its returns). It likely sweeps year-end awards including the Animated Feature Oscar (and will be pushed for Best Picture). It came out of one of the very top brand names in entertainment, yet “Minions” managed to open nearly $25 million better, despite mixed reviews (if these even mattered). Why the bigger performance?

1. It helps to be a franchise. And “Minions” particularly resonates with audiences 10 and under. They’ve seen the “Despicable” films (often over and over), loved them and pushed to see this. “Inside Out,” Pixar or not, is an original, possible stand-alone film, so a harder sell.  

2. Pixar movies skew slightly older and more sophisticated, as opposed to general appeal animated features from Disney, Dream Works, Fox and Universal. Even so, “Inside Out” was high-end for their films. But it just didn’t have the throngs of younger folks to the same degree.

2. Universal’s marketing was relentless (and after two earlier films well-honed) with kids’ appeal partners like McDonalds and many other brands front and center. Pixar has great marketing, but tends to be a little more selective (and again “Inside Out” wasn’t as easily exploitable, unlike their “Toy Story” franchise.) Nearly every kid in America exposed to any media was aware of being the target of the ads and parallel PR.

2. It helped to open right after Universal’s “Jurassic World.” Timing is everything. In recent weeks, all showings of “Jurassic World” and most of “Inside Out,” combined maybe 70 million viewers, were exposed to the trailer. Had “Minions” opened first and “Inside” now, the numbers might have been reversed.

3. “Minions” lacked competition from new films. Although several other releases since “Jurassic” have failed to capitalize on the rebound, “Minions” was perfectly positioned to do so. The PG rating (same as “Inside,” more general audience than “Jurassic”) made it even more stand-alone.

4. “Minions” cost about half of “Inside Out” ($74 million). Similar to their relative thrift with “Jurassic World” ($150 million compared to $250 million for “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” “Furious 7” at $190 million. But it has grossed $1.5 billion worldwide, while “Jurassic” and “Minions” both could top $1 billion. Not only huge grossers, but hugely profitable.

Why “The Gallows” and “Self/Less” Are So Weak

The big weekday news was the announcement that second-biggest theater chain AMC had agreed to a post-third weekend VOD release for two Paramount younger-audience oriented films that they would still play at many of their theaters (possibly alone among the top national circuits, though likely many indie theaters will take advantage of the availability). Looking at the other two openers this weekend and their weak performance suggests that at least testing a new alternative model makes sense.

In normal studio distribution, even though it is the heart of the summer, going with a horror film (“The Gallows”) and a conventional if somewhat inventive sci-fi thriller (“Self/Less) held some logic. The big new release was kids-oriented. Previous and upcoming weeks have much broader and older appeal heavyweights set. So why not try to provide alternatives and hope for the best?

The problem is that even with lower-budgets (“The Gallows” coproduced by Blumhouse and Entertainment 360 most likely around $5 million, though “Self/Less” not cheap at $26 million), summer marketing expensive, and even at low end $15 million (and possibly higher) is automatic. And in a market where a lot of recent films have opened under expectations, even with pre-sold franchise interest, the bar is clearly higher to get intended audience’s attention.

Horror films have stopped being often automatic $20 million+ openers (even more when there’s been few in the market). But the even lower-budget “Unfriended” (also Blumhouse) managed $16 million in its mid-April opening. And even with its lower start, “The Gallows” fell 30% yesterday from Friday, compared to 12% for “Unfriended.” This kind of performance makes studios look for alternative ways of recouping.

“Self/Less” grossed only about half as much. But it’s more like the kind of mid-level release that is very vulnerable in the current reality. It is a FilmDistrict co-production, released under the new more commercial Gramercy label by Universal’s Focus Features, which acquired FD and much of its management in late 2013. At its cost, and earlier FD films (led by “Olympus Has Fallen”) doing well as inventive genre releases, it made sense to try a conventional route. But going forward, with the likely loss they’ll take on this film, they likely will take a look at the Paramount/AMC deal.

Holdovers

The holiday weekend had an awful Saturday and a less-than-expected Sunday, so normal comparisons aren’t really valid. That makes “Jurassic” and “Inside Out” dropping roughly 40% each a clearer sign of “Minions” draw as a competitor — both have been holding much better off of superior weekends. It also makes “Terminator: Genisys” and its just under 50% drop less impressive. “Ted 2” also dropping 50% from an unimpressive level isn’t positive (though in its defense it lost nearly 1,300 theaters in only the third week, a very high total, reflecting as well Universal’s other multiple-screen hits). “Max” also dropped 48% and likely loses most theaters soon, though perhaps Warners will make some deals with the second week of “The Gallows.”

Warners also has “Magic Mike XXL,” the best hold, only down 25% (though still a bigger Friday than Saturday film). It has earned a shot at third and some additional weeks, and now should manage something over $65 million, not bad starting from a $15 million budget. And kudos to Melissa McCarthy and “Spy.” It’s out of the Top Ten, but now has reached $103 million, likely ultimately coming in four times its opening weekend.

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