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Top 10 Takeaways: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ Struggle at Memorial Day Weekend Box Office

Top 10 Takeaways: 'X-Men: Apocalypse' and 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' Struggle at Memorial Day Weekend Box Office


This year’s Memorial Day films were projected to rebound from a terrible
holiday last year. The Top Ten total did exceed the poor returns of 2015. But two high-budget titles, “X-Men: Apocalypse” (20th Century Fox) and “Alice Through
the Looking Glass” (Buena Vista) fell far under expectations. Holdovers were also below
normal. It looks like Hollywood’s holiday offering were not up to par.

The Top Ten

1. X-Men: Apocalypse (20th Century Fox) – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 52; est. budget: $178 million

$65,000,000 in 4,150 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $15,633; Cumulative: $65,000,000

2. Alice Through the Looking Glass (Buena Vista) – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 34; est. budget: $170 million

$28,112,000 in 3,763 theaters; PTA: $7,471; Cumulative: $28,312,000

3. The Angry Birds Movie (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$18,700,000 (-51%) in 3,932 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,756; Cumulative: $66,353,000

4. Captain America: Civil War (Buena Vista)  Week 4; Last weekend #2

$15,135,000(-54%) in 3,395 theaters (-831); PTA: $4,458; Cumulative: $372,611,000

5. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (Universal)  Week 2; Last weekend #3

$9,100,000 (-58%) in 3,416 theaters (+32); PTA: $2,664; Cumulative: $38,337,000

6. The Jungle Book (Buena Vista)  Week 7; Last weekend #5

$6,967,000 (-36%) in 2,523 theaters (-937); PTA: $; Cumulative: $338,479,000

7. The Nice Guys (Warner Bros.)  Week 2; Last weekend #4

$6,370,000 (-43%) in 2,865 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,223; Cumulative: $21,734,000

8. Money Monster (Sony)  Week 3; Last weekend #6

$4,250,000 (-39%) in 2,315 theaters (-789); PTA: $1,836; Cumulative: $33,902,000

9. Love and Friendship (Roadside Attractions)  Week 3; Last weekend #14

$2,496,000 (+345%) in 493 theaters (+446); PTA: $5,063; Cumulative: $3,490,000

10. Zootopia (Buena Vista)  Week 13; Last weekend #8

$831,000 (-51%) in 572 theaters (-805); PTA: $1,453; Cumulative: $335,875,000

Worrisome Market Signs 

The total weekend numbers give little hope
that this summer will improve on a great 2015. The Top Ten total of $157
million is up $12 million (or about 8%) from the holiday weekend last year. And
for year-to-date numbers, it is $25 million better than the
calendar-equivalent date (which came a week after Memorial Day). That slightly
boosts the year to date numbers from the 2.5% it stood at on Thursday, which was a
low point after a high-flying five months in 2016 where YTD has been up as much
as 8%. Upcoming comparisons will be going against an incredible
June-August 2015, so it’s possible that 2016 may not keep pace.

The weekend marked a minor improvement over
a terrible holiday last year, when Disney’s “Tomorrowland” bombed (with $33
million for three days) and “Poltergeist” managed $22 million. But with two
expected top-end franchise entries with a combined production budget around
$350 million, just a little better is terrible news.

It’s unlikely that “Apocalypse” and “Alice” hurt each other. While there was some
minor overlap, they appealed to vastly different audiences, so that impact
was minor. Somehow in 2013, hardly ancient history, “Fast and Furious 6”
managed to gross $97 million, “The Hangover Part III” $41 million and “Epic” $33
million at the same time. That’s $171 million combined – with ticket price increases
since nearly double what this year’s two entries managed.

Were strong holdovers an issue? No. Last
year, holiday weekends of “Pitch Perfect 2,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Avengers:
Age of Ultron” all grossed over $21 million, for a total of $77 million. That
great 2013 Memorial Day weekend? “Star Trek Into Darkness” week two did $37
million, “Iron Man 3” managed $19 million. They also took money away from the
top grossing films.

So what’s the problem? Both openers disappointed, far below projections. “Alice” looks to struggle to break even and “Apocalypse,” though
in better shape, is still not the hoped for Marvel bonanza. They both seem to
have flunked the test that the year’s earlier hits mostly managed to pass. While they
share familiarity and audience-proven initial appeal, both offered little
originality or freshness to suggest a different experience, either in the multiple “X-Men” films or Disney’s recent reworkings of animated and other family classics. And both also faced higher
standards from such predecessors as Marvel’s “Deadpool” and “Captain
America: Civil War” and Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” With the added audience assumption that the holiday slot
is meant for superior films, both fell flat.

Studios tend to supply reliable staples and sequels to the summer season. But the first five months showed how creativity enhanced
audience response. Both “Apocalypse” and “Alice” seemed to play it safe, and
audiences responded with less interest. Mixed to bad reviews for both
hurt as well (most of the year’s hits have been boosted by critics).
Cinemascore – as always a less than reliable gauge of initial response – showed
both at A-, a strong grade. But it wasn’t enough.

Does “X” Still Mark the Spot?

Fox’s Sunday AM press release claims success. With $186 million in the till after two weekends of separate foreign grosses,
they aren’t dealing with a disaster. But the “X-Men” films, their entree into the
Marvel world (this is #7 in the series, #8 if the stand-alone “The Wolverine”
is added, some characters also appeared in “Deadpool”), has been a goldmine and
reliable performer. Adjusting for
inflation, this three-day opening is #6 of the seven with an “X-Men” title. And
with the Sunday gross elevating the total because of the holiday and higher
prices, it actually barely edged out the 2011 entry as well as “The Wolverine.”

The $65 million represents a 30% drop-off in actual results for “Days of
Future Past” two years ago (also this holiday). And this comes after “The
Jungle Book” and “Captain America: Civil War” both soared. The good news for Fox is the budget wasn’t the high-end
$200 million of the series, and while this won’t hit the last entry’s $750 million worldwide, a reasonable guess of $600 million total for “Apocalypse”
will keep this series profitable ultimately by a good margin.

But that said, this is a worrisome gross. A 23% Saturday drop from Friday,
compared to 17% two years ago doesn’t suggest any turnaround ahead.

This scored well among males, at least in terms of audience share (62%). But once
again, there aren’t enough of them in the younger quadrant still automatically
going to the films aimed at them, and with other recent hits, among them Marvel
and similar fantasy genre ones, scoring much better with women, the shortfall
becomes more logical.

Disney Proves It Is Human

Since the flop of “Tomorrowland” exactly a year ago (which grossed worldwide barely more than its $190 million pre-marketing cost), Disney’s films have grossed about $2.7 billion in domestic
returns. That is about $250 million better than Universal’s one calendar year
record set in 2015. Yes, about a third of that is from “Star Wars: A Force
Awakens.” But what makes it impressive is the total comes from only 11
films (that’s an average of a release a month, far below industry totals)
opening in 12 months before this weekend. And of those 11, five have grossed
over $300 million domestic, including four over the past six months.

As of Thursday, the studio’s share of total gross was 31.5% year to date,
staggeringly high. It also is probably their high water mark. Universal’s record year ended
up at just about 22% market share, way above normal for the top studio.

So just about everything they’ve touched has turned to gold. “Alice Through
the Looking Glass” is their first dud since “Tomorrowland.” But it’s disappointing for different reasons.

Since the breakout success of the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp “Alice in
Wonderland” in 2010, Disney has mined their animated library (plus “The Wizard
of Oz”) to create contemporary-feel, 3D and effects-driven fantasy films to
mostly huge success. “The Jungle Book” is the most recent, and with Japan and
Korea still to open, possibly the biggest among them.

But this “Alice” is the first of the series to have a sequel. It replicates
many of the first one’s elements (including cast), although Tim Burton gave up the directing reins. (Since Bryan Singer repeated in the underwhelming “Apocalypse” it’s hard to claim a different director was a problem here, more so when Burton’s
three films since grossed more than $200 million less in domestic take than his
“Alice.”) But he still played a producing role, and the whole film gave the
feel of treading on familiar ground and not wanting to rock the boat.

But its sequel status alone is a problem. It’s one thing to reinvent “Alice”
or “Cinderella” or “Jungle Book,” it’s entirely another to produce a retread of
what worked six years earlier and expect audiences to respond, particularly in the context of the creativity at work among a broad number of films of late. (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” comes to mind.)

Then there’s Johnny Depp. His stardom has waned since “Alice.” Give him
credit for taking chances (“Black Mask” worked, “Mordechai” didn’t). But he’s
likely gone down this path once too often. Disney had better hope not. They’ve
slate the first-in-six years “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel for, you guessed
it, Memorial Day next year.

As for Depp’s miserable tabloid breakup with Amber Heard, that was likely a minor factor with “Alice.” When sexual abuse allegations against Bryan Singer broke the same month as the last “X-Men” release, it didn’t hurt that film.

One other problem was awful reviews. Disney’s hits of late have all had,
along with their other bonafides, solid or better critical response. This one
was slaughtered. As with the somewhat better reviewed “Apocalypse,” the public
picks this up via social media. When a project has strong appeal
like “Batman v Superman,” this can be overcome, at least for the opening days.
When the interest isn’t there in the first place, it hurts badly.

Holdovers

Last year’s Memorial Day saw seven of the eight holdovers fall less than
50%. This year, four of the seven fell more. That includes two of last weekend’s
openers (“The Angry Birds,” at 51% more than most hit animated releases) and “Neighbors
2.” “Civil War” also shed 54%, but a new Marvel movie didn’t help. (“Zootopia,”
which lost a majority of its remaining theaters did slightly better than these
three.)

Adult-oriented “The Nice Guys” (-43% its second weekend) and “Money Monster”
(-39%) fared better, and joined newly expanded “Love & Friendship” (placing
ninth) and the just below the Top Ten “The Lobster” in presenting films for
older audiences. The reliable “Jungle Book” did best, dropping out at 36%.

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