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Box Office Takeaways: ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Hits Core Moviegoers, TV Reboots Have Their Limits

Box Office Takeaways: 'Straight Outta Compton' Hits Core Moviegoers, TV Reboots Have Their Limits

The surprise reaction to “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal) opening as strongly as it did just goes to show the disconnect between mainstream media and the moviegoing public. It’s indeed a strong late summer entry, but there are good reasons why it opened as well as “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” and double “Fantastic Four,” both films projected by many to do much better than the story of N.W.A. and their core role in the rap music scene.

The disconnect between those who greenlight movies and the public taste is evident in the unsurprising flop of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (Warner Bros.), not exactly a reboot the public was clamoring for. Yet the people who make these decisions decided it made sense to spend nearly three times less on “Compton.” International appeal only goes so far in explaining this.

The Top Ten

1. Straight Outta Compton (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 72; Est. budget: $28 million
$56,100,000 in 2,757 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $20,348; Cumulative: $56,100,000
2. Mission: Impossible (Paramount) Week 3; Last weekend #1
$17,300,000 (-39%) in 3,700 theaters (-288); PTA: $4,676; Cumulative: $138,437,000
3. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Warner Bros.)  NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 54; Est. budget: $80 million
$13,535,000 in 3,638 theaters: PTA: $3,720; Cumulative: $13,535,000
4. Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox)  Week 2; Last weekend #2
$8,000,000 (-69%) in 4,004 theaters (+9); PTA $1,998:; Cumulative: $41,961,000
5. The Gift (STX)  Week 2; Last weekend #3
$6,500,000 (-%) in 2,503 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,597; Cumulative: $23,577,000
6. Ant-Man (Buena Vista)  Week 5; Last weekend #5
$5,517,000 (-30%) in 2,306 theaters (-604); PTA: $2,392; Cumulative: $157,568,000
7. Vacation (Warner Bros.)  Week 3; Last weekend #4
$5,330,000 (-40%) in 3,088 theaters (-342); PTA: $1,726; Cumulative: $46,852,000
8. Minions (Universal)  Week 6 ; Last weekend #
$5,200,000 (-%) in 2,604 theaters (); PTA: $1,970; Cumulative: $312,969,000
9. Ricki and the Flash (Sony)  Week 2; Last weekend #7
$4,570,000 (-31%) in 2,064 theaters (+461); PTA: $2,214; Cumulative: $14,656,000
10. Trainwreck  Week 5; Last weekend #8
$3,800,000 (-38%) in 1,998 theaters (-527); PTA: $1,902; Cumulative: $97,919,000

The Takeaways

“Compton” Stands Out, But Mixed Bag Otherwise

“Straight Outta Compton” is not only a breakout success, it also saved an otherwise spotty weekend. The $129 million Top Ten total is up slightly over the same time last year, reversing last week’s big falloff. The mid-August weekend in 2014 saw three typical late summer releases – “Let’s Be Cops,” “The Expendables 3” and “The Giver” open in the $12-18 million range, but the two top spots went to holdovers (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”) that outpaced any longer run film this year. The other new wide release, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” struggled to do $13.5 million even though it played on at least 400 more screens than any of last year’s first week offerings.

As the strong new Fall releases start rolling out, “Compton” could be the last film to open even as good as $20 million until mid-September (and with a strong season in 2014 to try to improve upon.) It has clearly been a strong summer, but increasingly uneven as it winds down. And without Universal and its multiple and varied hits, capped off by “Compton,” it wouldn’t have looked nearly as successful.

Straight Out of Box Office 101: “Compton” Is a Mainstream Release for Today’s Audiences

Reports have indicated surprise at the strong performance “Compton” achieved (here’s Variety, for example) but the reality is that with great marketing, above-average reviews and lack of much late summer competition, the number actually isn’t so much above its potential. Let’s be clear – it’s a terrific gross, credit to all involved on the creative, distribution and marketing sides. But it really hits so many prime audiences (some of which have not been well served despite all the big success this summer) that this is more of a case of reaching potential levels than exceeding them.

As studios chase international grosses with franchise films, particularly in the summer, projects with mainly domestic audiences have been getting short shrift. As African-Americans and Latinos make up around a third of year round audiences — closer to 40-percent among frequent ones — while skewing younger than the rest of ticket buyers, they have less offered directly to them than other groups.

Per Universal’s initial statistics, “Compton”‘s audience was 46-percent African American, 21-percent Latino (and still about a quarter white). A big-scale, well-publicized music-oriented film, and one directly appealing to core fans, had the base to achieve this gross. The added draw of more white viewers and also a strong mix of younger and older helped as well. (“Ride Along” opened to $41 million in January, 2014, with 80-percent African-American and Latino; it also had slightly less male appeal). 

Rap-related movies have scored before, led by the Eminem film “8 Mile” with an even better inflation adjusted opening of $71 million in 2002. Music bios have been an ongoing staple, though more single-act focused (Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Ike & Tina Turner, among the bigger hits, all with Oscar acting nominations to note). On a much different scale, this summer saw older audiences responding to “Love and Mercy,” a specialized success at $12 million. But “Compton” appeals again to a much larger core of audiences wanting to go see movies in theaters. 

Did it thrive in part because there is less competition and a longer time since a similar appeal film, or could it have been even bigger on an even stronger date? Even if it might have been (and that’s debatable), it would have been unlikely. With most top releases aimed at parallel international playtime, and “Compton” not conforming to the one-size-fits-the-world formula studios favor these days for wide releases, it ends up in the same period where “The Help” and “The Butler” thrived in previous years.

Originality & Guaranteed Franchise Pay Off For Universal

Through last weekend, Universal had a nearly 28-percent share of 2015’s domestic box office. To put that in context, no studio this century (and possibly further back) has had as much as a 20-percent full-year share. Can they keep up this pace? Even with a strong last third of the year ahead, their success – which includes six films to have at least one weekend at number one, and eight titles that have or will top $100 million – indicates unprecedented domination.

In a summer heavy with sequels and franchise-oriented films, Universal has managed to have four of the five biggest grossing ones (“Jurassic World,” “Furious 7,” “Minions” and “Pitch Perfect 2”. It’s easy to credit them after the fact, but these all had a higher aura of freshness and built-up interest than some other films that did less or outright stumbled. (Their only in-house disappointment was “Ted 2.”)

They have also been on the cutting edge of the surging female audience: “50 Shades of Grey,” “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Trainwreck” all hit their targets strongly and initially, contrary to the industry expectation that women sometimes take longer to show up. And they have mixed in originals (in some cases projected franchises) like “Grey,” “Trainwreck,” “Compton” or late last year’s “Unbroken” and four other films topping $90 million domestic in 2014. All were originals. They also have not forgotten minorities (a major part of “Furious 7″‘s success as well as “Compton”).

Universal has been hitting on all cylinders with recent and revitalized franchises. But it is the wide variety of their slate, hitting multiple audiences, in some cases appealing widely, but in others maximizing the core appeal, that has come together to amass such a huge total. I doubt we’ll ever see anything quite like it again unless one or more studios drop out of the race.

Crying U.N.C.L.E. & What Sets the M:I Series Apart

Someone looking mighty good this month is Tom Cruise, both as an actor and producer. While “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – the fifth go-round for this 1960s action TV series reboot – thrives, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” an equally successful show from the era found little traction.

Why so little interest? At this point, the “Mission: Impossible” series is established because of film legitimacy, not its TV legacy. And it’s 50 years since “U.N.C.L.E.”‘s TV debut. “Mission” started closer in memory (about three decades later, and much heavier ongoing syndication shows as well as a second TV show). And from the start, it had a major movie star, who in 1997 was near the top of his game.

“U.N.C.L.E.” falls into the riskier category of similar attempts like “The Avengers” (the British spy series, not the Marvel characters), “I Spy” and “The Mod Squad,” all flops and with bigger-draw casts. (One sort of exception was “The Saint,” which had international appeal, and with a hot director of the time, Philip Noyce, and star Val Kilmer, then a big name with his recent Batman stint). “U.N.C.L.E.” has the once edgy Guy Ritchie at the helm and Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer – both capable but uncertain draws outside of a certain range of films, and overall feels much more aimed at international audiences. Early results are decent in some countries, but this looks like it will struggle to amass enough to justify the $80 million budget.

But the biggest issue, at least for Americans, is that unlike the terrifically cast “Jump Street” movie redux, this reboot never provided answers for two questions: Why, and why now? In a season when the public has a lot of choices and an increasing wariness to stale-sounding projects, this one never seemed compelling.

Holdovers

The extremes in public reaction to recent tentpoles can be seen in two films. “Rogue Nation” is in second place its third weekend, down 39-percent (compared to the third week drop of 54-percent for the last non-Christmas period “Mission” release and looks to approach $200 million domestic along with strong international results. “Fantastic Four” skidded from its weak start by a staggering 68-percent and looks like its entire domestic take (maybe $60 million) will be below the opening weeks of most Marvel character films in the last decade. Whether this is a temporary glitch or a sign of too much Marvel will have to remain to be seen, though the second “Avengers” has failed to come close to the initial one despite its big gross and “Ant-Men” isn’t going to be the big profit center many of them have been.

Last weekend’s low-budget initial entry for STX, “The Gift,” dropped 45-percent, a bit disappointing but still on track to be a credible first time out for the studio. “Ricki and the Flash” dropped 31-percent, helped by adding 461 theaters. Its PTA though dropped about 47-percent, with it looking to struggle to get much beyond a weak $25 million.

“Amt-Man” and “Minions,” perhaps getting a late summer rush from families, both only dropped 30-percent despite sizable drops in total theaters. “Train Wreck” fells 38-percent with losing about a fifth of its screens, and will be at about $100 million by next weekend.

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