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Top 10 Takeaways: Sequels Continue to Disappoint at the Summer Box Office

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" fails to offer enough new bells and whistles to outperform the 2014 reboot. "Me Before You" opens better than expected.

Neither the raw figures nor overall optics are good for this early summer weekend. The Top Ten total of $123 million – below expectations by some distance – is $2 million below the first June weekend last year (which featured openers “Insidious 3” and “Spy”) and $8 million lower than the earlier 2015 post-Memorial day weekend.

It’s a familiar problem of late – a formulaic sequel that made sense to accountants and heads of international distribution, but gave out a sense of unoriginal product rather than creative freshness. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” took in only slightly more than half the unexpectedly high gross of its August 2014 franchise reboot from Paramount. And thus was a $135 million production born. Big mistake.

Fox can take some solace in having opened their “X-Men: Apocalypse” sequel to much bigger numbers while keeping their steep second weekend drop of 66% to little more than the better performing “Days of Future Past” series entry two years ago. But domestically this marks a deep disappointment. China opened “Apocalypse” this weekend to a strong $59 million. Added to North America and earlier opening foreign dates, the cume is up to $400 million, so the problem remains more demanding American customers. Unlike “TMNT,” there’s still life in these Marvel characters.

Two other wide openers went in totally different directions. “Me Before You,” a Warner Bros. released co-produced with MGM, scored a much stronger than expected $18 million-plus. Warners smartly positioned this as counter-programming with at least two factors in its favor “Turtles” and other recent films have lacked.

“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” (Universal) did even worse than low-end expectations, tentatively ending up #8 (just below another disappointing Universal film, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”).

Grosses should go up next weekend with three new wide releases – “Warcraft” (Universal), a video game adaptation that has already grossed $80 million in initial overseas dates, “The Conjuring 2” (Warner Bros.), receiving much better than average advance word for a horror sequel, and “Now You See Me Now You Don’t 2.” But the disturbing recent trend of down-sliding grosses will escalate irrespective of how these films do – the same weekend last year saw the $208 million debut of “Jurassic World.” So we might start seeing year-to-date grosses start to lag big time compared to last year, ending a six month run of elevated success that made many hope that 2016 might outpace 2015. It will be a struggle, made trickier by too many derivative, formulaic films.

The Top Ten

1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 40; est. budget: $135 million

$35,250,000 in 4,071 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $8,659; Cumulative: $35,250,000

2. X-Men: Apocalypse (20th Century Fox) Week 2 – Last weekend #1

$22,325,000 (-66%) in 4,153 theaters (+3); PTA: $5,376; Cumulative: $116,498,000

3. Me Before You (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 51; est. budget: $20 million

$18,270,000 in 2,704 theaters; PTA: $6,757; Cumulative: $18,720,000

4. Alice Through the Looking Glass (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #2

$10,691,000 (-61%) in 3,763 theaters (no change); PTA: $,841; Cumulative: $50,773,000

5. The Angry Birds Movie (Sony) Week 3 – Last weekend #3

$9,775,000 (-48%) in 3,484 theaters (-448); PTA: $2,806; Cumulative: $86,678,000

6. Captain America: Civil War (Buena Vista) Week 5 – Last weekend #4

$7,591,000 (-51%) in 3,084 theaters (-311); PTA: $2,461; Cumulative: $388,946,000

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

$4,700,000 (-50%) in 2,417 theaters (-999); PTA: $1,945; Cumulative: $48,560,000

8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B Metacritic: 70; est. budget: $20 million

$4,630,000 in 2,311 theaters; PTA: $2,003; Cumulative: $4,630,000

9. The Jungle Book (Buena Vista) Week 8 – Last weekend #6

$4,247,000 (-40%) in 1,990 theaters (-533); PTA: $2,134; Cumulative: $347,470,000

10. The Nice Guys (Warner Bros.) Week 3 – Last weekend #7

$3,520,000 (-46%) in 1,888 theaters (-977); PTA: $1,864; Cumulative: $29,121,000
The Takeaways

Default Sequels – When to Say No

If Viacom hoped core entity Paramount could have a strong opening to take some attention off the ongoing Sumner Redstone drama, the “TMNT” grosses are even more disappointing.

A $35 million opener for a second time around gross in the franchise is not in itself bad news. But it cost $100 million more than the first, plus global marketing costs. This opened in much of the world to $34 million, and much closer to last time out. That could lead to a breakeven point ultimately if this can reach $350 million theatrically and then add to later revenues. So it’s not a disaster, at least not yet.

Paramount has had only one hit this year (“10 Cloverfield Lane,” which benefited from a perception of being clever and original) and does not have a lot of franchise depth at the moment. So trying to build “Turtles” into a repeat success made logical sense. But in approving the budget, someone forgot that the 2014 success came in part because there was an interest in revisiting a childhood favorite from those who had grown up, as well as present-time kids. The second time around, not so much. And its relentless male-focus is out of line with what works these days.

Paramount boasts a mid-July date for their next “Star Trek” entry, one of the many established series films ahead this summer, which with Justin Lin directing, could have the fresh feel that “Out of the Shadows” lacked.

me_before_you_emilia_clarke_sam_claflin-HD-1440x900
Why “Me Before You” Is a Rare Surprise

With pre-release guesses at best projecting $15 million for this British-made romantic novel adaptation led by “Game of Thrones” actress Emilia Clarke, its $18 million take marks one of the few mid-level surprise openings of the year. For Warner Bros., with unusually few releases to date this year, it’s their third-best opener of 2016 (and better than two-thirds of their 27 last year).

What makes it even sweeter is its reported $20 million budget along with smaller, more targeted marketing costs. Low budgets alone don’t make successes, as a whole range of sub-$15 million recent weekends have shown. This time, it looks like some real money could be made.

Two things helped buttress some familiarity with the novel: the female audience appeal, often lacking in summer films aimed more at a worldwide male demo, and the romance popped as something apart from the rest of the field. The latter seemed a bit of a challenge, with the romance between a nurse and a recently disabled man feeling similar to the Oscar-winning biofilm “The Theory of Everything.” But this delivered an all-cylinders burning soap opera that while it failed to click with critics provided ad material for tearjerker fans. And its A Cinemascore suggests it delivered.

Female-driven films often over-perform on their first Friday, and it’s not unusual for the second day to show a drop for them. Warners reports 81% of the audience was women – and it played older than many romantic films (median age low 30s overall). So that’s an underserved audience (most of the few wide release non-comedy romance genres films these days feature younger characters – specialized fare tend to portray more mature couples) and could portend a decent hold in weeks to come. That’s easier when it will find little competition.

This was a smartly-timed counter-programmer, even with risky elements and no major review support.

"Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"

“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”

“Popstar” – Satire Proves Hard Sell

Well-reviewed “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is comic Andy Samberg’s take on a Justin Bieber-like teen idol struggling as an adult to maintain interest.

But the subject proved a hard-sell for Universal which has been stumbling in 2016 after their banner record-breaking 2015. Samberg, who is best-known for his Saturday Night Live work and some indie efforts (his biggest films have been voice work in animated hits). This comedy came out of Judd Apatow’s stable, and luckily Universal made it for a a low $20-million budget.

But satire is rough to sell as a wide release. The genre – rock star comedies – will always have Rob Reiner’s “This Is Spinal Tap” as its comparison point. But that was three decades ago. More recent efforts like “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” or “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” either went limited or failed to connect in wide release.

With positive reviews, “Popstar” might have made sense to platform, although satire doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that kind of release. (Universal is not averse to platform – they had initial success with “Lone Survivor” and “Steve Jobs.”)

This is the sort of hybrid ‘tweener – too expensive for specialized films, too slight for normal studio play – that is even less likely to work in a crowded summer play period.

But Universal has scored of late taking chances, so this marks an honorable failure. Its 4% second day drop might be encouraging in other circumstances, but the gross is so small it’s hard to see this recovering. It’s one of those films that would make sense for immediate turnaround VOD rather than waiting three months. But perhaps it will be discovered there.

X-Men ApocalypseHoldovers

There are no standout holds this weekend, and apart from “X-Men,” another second week drop – “Alice Through the Looking Glass” at 60%, less than Fox’s Marvel films—will get little credit because kids’ films usually hold better than average and this one was weak to start with. Disney’s films of late have played for months. This one will be lucky to make it to a fourth week at most theaters.

Everything else fell in a small range of 40 to just over 50%. Summer requires higher grosses to hold, more so this year, with many weekends seeing three new films. So expect some of the longer term titles to end their runs.

One that will stick around for a while is “Captain America: Civil War,” still in sixth place, and at $389 million positioned to become the first (and possibly only) $400 million domestic gross of the year. It won’t equal the early May Disney Marvel release of last year (“Avengers: Age of Ultron,” $459 million,) But then it was never expected to get this close.

 

 

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