Despite summer 2015 showing a nice jump over weak results last year, only five titles have opened to over $60 million. Last summer, eight openers passed the $60 million mark; two came in August. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” made a more than respectable domestic debut (and even better foreign), but fell short of $60 million. Only “Fantastic Four” next week seems to have a remote chance to make this threshold.
The Top Ten
1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 75; est. budget: $150 million
$56,000,000 in 3,956 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $14,156; Cumulative: $56,000,000
2. Vacation (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 33; est. budget: $30 million
$14,850,000 in 3,411 theaters; PTA: $4,354; Cumulative: $21,172,000
3. Ant-Man (Buena Vista) Week 3; Last weekend #1
$12,619,000 (-49%) in 3,322 theaters (-546); PTA: $3,799; Cumulative: $132,148,000
4. Minions (Universal) Week 4; Last weekend #3
$12,200,000 (-47%) in 3,575 theaters(-491); PTA: $3,413; Cumulative: $287,391,000
5. Pixels (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #2
$10,400,000 (-57%) in 3,723 theaters (no change); PTA: $; Cumulative: $45,611,000
6. Trainwreck (Universal) Week 3; Last weekend #4
$9,700,000 (-44%) in 2,960 theaters (-211); PTA: $3,277; Cumulative: $79,709,000
7. Southpaw (Weinstein) Week 2; Last weekend #5
$7,529,000 (-55%) in 2,772 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,712; Cumulative: $31,577,000
8. Paper Towns (20th Century Fox) Week 2; Last weekend #6
$4,600,000 (-64%) in 3,031 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,518; Cumulative: $23,816,000
9. Inside Out (Buena Vista) Week 7; Last weekend #7
$4,517,000 (-39%) in 1,904 theaters (-813); PTA: $2,372; Cumulative: $329,594,000
10. Jurassic World (Universal) Week 8; Last weekend #8
$3,800,000 (-47%) in 1,912 theaters (-733); PTA: $1,987; Cumulative: $631,500,000
It’s tough to compete year to year when the comparison for the previous one is the weekend that featured a late summer release of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the second best opener of that season ($97 million). Even though “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” outperformed expectations (and could boast potentially long legs, particularly overseas), the other new film, National Lampoon sequel “Vacation,” fell short. More problematic is the steep falls for all three of last week’s releases, with “Southpaw” in particular showing a surprising lack of playability.
The result is a Top Ten gross totaling $133 million, down 20% from last year and the third biggest comp shortfall this summer. The year remains strong, though off its top mark. Year to date is up about 8% and indeed ahead of all recent years (at least in unadjusted numbers).
Unusually, next week four new releases cast a wide net: the latest franchise reboot “Fantastic Four” (a staggering sixth since May), Meryl Streep vehicle “Ricki and the Flash” for older women, the thriller “The Gift” from new distributor STX, and “Shaun the Sheep Movie” for kids. Whether the holdover of “Mission: Impossible” can do what “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” plus “Guardians” did in their second week– increase grosses over the previous week, which was way ahead of this year — remains to be seen. But expect a decent but not spectacular rest of the month, particularly compared to the big uptick earlier this summer.
Why 30-Year Vet Tom Cruise is Like Cary Grant
Older males drove “Rogue Nation” (81% of the audience was over 25 and 62% were men). This marks a solid performer in the 19-year span of the “Mission: Impossible” series, all starring and significantly shaped by producer Tom Cruise. One reality check: adjusting the gross for inflation, this one ranks fourth among M:I opening weekends, with “Ghost Protocol” not in the mix because it opened initially in only 425 IMAX theaters.
This series, coming every four years or so, has kept Cruise among the top draws of his long tenure as a mega-star. In the last 20 years, only “War of the Worlds” has grossed domestically in their league. But what a steady career it has been, with perhaps only Leonardo Di Caprio in this era managing to maintain success at a similar level after tasting huge success in his early 20s (Di Caprio has reached higher levels of success and is clearly the bigger star). Cruise has (again adjusted) 21 $100 million or higher domestic hits until now, more than any other actor (with only Harrison Ford close, and like Di Caprio, also with bigger hits). But among Cruise’s peers, he has paid the most attention to “branding” and closely controlling his image (high-end, technically smart action films mixed in with the occasional romance and/or comedy).
The branding is crucial, and without making qualitative comparisons (it’s tougher to make great films now than it was in the studio era) to the likes of Golden Era greats John Wayne and Cary Grant, huge immortals who controlled their on-screen personas (in both cases very different from their real selves), Cruise’s other contemporary rival is Clint Eastwood. Grant sustained a 34-year-career, 31 as a lead (and nearly always top billed). Wayne endured a decade-long struggle in B pictures before mentor John Ford resumed him, and reined as a top star for 36 years. Both men maintained their position at the top of their game, and at or near the top of the industry, the whole time.
Cruise is 53, amazingly, four years older than Wayne was when he made “The Searchers,” two years younger than Grant when he did “North by Northwest.” The latter film comes to mind watching “Rogue Nation.” Many people cite the series as being the closest to the Bond, but “North by Northwest” in many ways was a strong influence on the 007 series, particularly the early ones (spy story, lots of stunts, multiple famous locations, suave sexy hero). Roger Thornhill in the Hitchcock film was a more romantic “every man” character than Cruise’s persona. But one can imagine Cruise playing the role more readily than most of his contemporaries. And like Grant, Cruise on screen has a self-awareness that shapes his films and immediately projects audience involvement.
In this post-studio era, Cruise every bit as smart as his predecessors, and exercises more control. He has served as producer on many of his films (James Stewart, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster did this too), including the “M.I.” series. He knows his comfort zone–and what his audience expects–and chases down top directors who will deliver new thrills (and stunts for him to perform). Chris McQuarrie puts him front and center in “Rogue Nation,” yet the most entertaining moments don’t always center on Ethan Hunt. A range of distinctive actors help to drive a complex and involving the plot. There are lots of reasons to see the movie besides Tom Cruise.
Despite Cruise’s oft-ridiculed public persona, the “M.I.” series still thrives because he delivers what audiences expect — a combination of sophistication and fun, action and a story. And he has cared about quality – the series has gotten consistent reviews that while not quite at the level of recent Bonds still are closer than other long time series.
Before getting carried away, a bit of a reality check. “San Andreas” opened a little lower and the “Furious” series (all featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is much bigger, both domestically and worldwide. Cruise’s current dilemma is what his next act will be. Like a lot of smart stars, he could be trapped by his persona. But at least this time around he has shown he’s still in control.
Paramount Muddles Along
Driving through the Paramount lot for the LA screening for “Rogue Nation,” their standard issue billboards promoting their films and TV (a standard visual) in mid-summer 2015 are stuck in the past: “Interstellar,” “Selma,” “The Gambler,” “The SpongeBob Movie,” all long gone from theaters and already late in their DVD/VOD runs.
“Rogue Nation” is a boost for the studio, which for some time has managed to stay afloat with fewer releases (by far) than their counterparts because most have done well enough internationally (last year’s “Transformers” was the top 2014 hit worldwide). This is only the studio’s fifth release of the year, and two–“Project Almanac” and “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” –were unlikely to be highlighted on their billboards.
“Rogue Nation” like “Terminator: Genisys” is their second expensive summer franchise film, and looks have a clearer shot at profit than the robot reboot. Both are co-productions (the rights for the Terminator franchise were bought by Skydance, who co-financed; “Rogue Nation” also has Skydance and the Chinese Alibaba group among its many partners. That keeps the risk down, but the films have come a long way since 1996 when the studio partnered directly with Cruise. That means their profit potential is lowered.
The big news this summer has been their push to get top exhibitors to agree to a short window for a couple upcoming low-budget films. The company is in tune with the ongoing digital evolution. But studio chief Brad Grey seems to be in a holding pattern with an ongoing lack of high-end productions.
“Vacation” – What Makes a Retread Work (or Not)
“Vacation” follows “Poltergeist,” “Mad Max – Fury Road,” “Jurassic World” and “Terminator – Genisys” as a franchise reboot. Reboots can be trickier than sequels, but as “Jurassic” showed, when the elements come together, an beloved franchise can be welcomed back with enthusiasm.
“Vacation” wasn’t. More than sequels, audiences regard reboots with more suspicion. “Jurassic” and “Max” both benefited from a decent critical response, while the other four got much less respect at every stage. And being a male-driven comedy seems to no longer be an asset. For all of Leslie Mann’s and Christina Applegate’s prior popularity, usually in supporting roles, they do not boast remotely the appeal commanded by Melissa McCarthy or Amy Schumer, whose comedies will both pass $100 million-plus this summer. And while Ed Helms fits the role, the ensemble player has never been a marquee draw on the level of series star Chevy Chase in his day.
This movie feels calculated to fill out a studio slate more than an original take on a classic. And again: female stars are increasingly a central part of getting audiences interested in comedies. “Vacation” just didn’t fit the bill.
Adam Sandler’s films usually drop a bit more than 50% their second weekend. “Pixels” is at the high end (57%), and combined with the film’s lower than expected start and its $88 million budget, is now at a level where more than ever it will need foreign to break even. To date, the worldwide total is $112 million, with important territories still to open. But it likely needs to double that total to get into the black.
The bottom fell out of “Paper Towns,” reinforcing the idea that Fox rushed out another John Green adaptation way too quickly after their smash “The Fault in Our Stars” last year. It dropped 64% and will struggle to hit $30 million domestic. On the plus side is its $12 million cost.
The mystery is “Southpaw.” Weinstein seemed to have done everything right in opening: the date, the marketing, the solid gross, a strong Cinemascore. This weekend? A surprising 55% drop. “Rogue Nation” could have cut off its male audience, but this had strong female (and minority) support and looked like it had room to sustain a decent run.
All three could be affected by late summer (some schools start up soon, vacation plans) that can make August a less vital summer month. But that doesn’t fully explain these drops.
The rest of the holdovers were between 40-50% (normal for later in runs), with the exception of “Inside Out,” which only fell 39% despite losing about 40% of its remaining theaters. At this point, despite opening lower, expect this to beat out “Minions” as the top grossing domestic animated film this summer.