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Box Office Top Ten Takeaways: ‘Furious 7’ Takes Series to New Highs as Easter Launches Summer Season

Box Office Top Ten Takeaways: 'Furious 7' Takes Series to New Highs as Easter Launches Summer Season

Universal’s huge $143 million opening figure for “Furious 7” ($384 million total worldwide) is an impressive major success even with a production and marketing cost of over $300 million. (“Fast and Furious 6” amassed nearly $800 million; this should surpass $1 billion theatrically). “Furious 7” marks the second biggest pre-May opening weekend, 50 per cent bigger than previous series best last time around, above the huge “Captain America: Winter Soldier” a year ago, already two thirds as big as the world totals for smashes “American Sniper” and “50 Shades of Grey,” only $22 million under “Cinderella,” currently the top domestic 2015 release in its first weekend. Clearly it has, no pun intended, universal appeal.

This franchise entry is a return to business as usual for the studios. This is the kind of film, despite the huge cost, that the industry is most comfortable with. It’s the first of its kind since “The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1” last November to so completely dominate the weekend, taking in six times as much as the $20 million-plus grossing second place film. And that is a bottom line result the ruling philosophy in the industry wants to bank on.

This is the best weekend since November 2013 (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”). Overall, the Top Ten, mainly because of “Furious,” came to $213 million, better than any in 2014 (below four 2013 pictures), and way up from $156 the same weekend last year (and $90 million better than the later Easter weekend). So it’s a great start. 

We dig into the “Furious” numbers below.

The Top Ten

1. Furious 7 (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 67; Est. budget: $190 million
$143,623,000 in 4,004 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $35,870; Cumulative: $143,623,000
2. Home (20th Century Fox) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$27,400,000 (-47%) in 3,801 theaters (+93); PSA: $7,209; Cumulative: $95,621,000
3. Get Hard (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$12,925,000 (-62%) in 3,212 theaters (+37); PSA: $4,024; Cumulative: $57,004,000
4. Cinderella (Buena Vista) Week 4 – Last weekend #4
$10,289,000 (-40%) in 3,404 theaters (-411); PSA: $3,023; Cumulative: $167,251,000
5. The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Lionsgate) Week 3 – Last weekend #3
$10,000,000 (-%) in 3,442 theaters (-433); PSA: $2,905; Cumulative: $103,385,000
6. It Follows (Radius/TWC) Week 4 – Last weekend #5
$2,465,000 (-35%) in 1,665 theaters (+437); PSA: $1,489; Cumulative: $8,541,000
7. Woman in Gold (Weinstein) NEW – Cinemascore:; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 50; Est. budget: $11 million
$2,004,000 in 258 theaters; PSA: $7,767; Cumulative: $2,100,000
8. Kingsman: The Secret Service (20th Century Fox) Week 8 – Last weekend #6
$1,700,000 (-43%) in 1,327 theaters (-458); PSA: $1,281; Cumulative: $122,260,000
9. Do You Believe? (PureFlix) Week 3 – Last weekend #7
$1,500,000 (-35%) in 1,218 theaters (-138); PSA: $1,232; Cumulative: $9,811,000
10. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Fox Searchlight) Week – Last weekend #9
$1,000,000 (-53%) in 1,060 theaters (-438); PSA: $943; Cumulative: $30,059,000

The Takeaways

The Empire Strikes Back – Does “Furious 7” Mean Happy Days Are Here Again?

It’s no exaggeration to say that the studios needed this kind of reaction to the familiar tried and true. Take a look at some of the top titles coming out between now and August: new entries in the Avengers, Mad Max, Pitch Perfect, Poltergeist, Jurassic Park, Ted, Magic Mike, Terminator, Mission: Impossible and Vacation series form a huge part of the mostly very pricey upcoming release schedule. On paper most look great. But there are a lot of them, along with other promising more original entries, and they could be fighting over an audience that isn’t expanding enough to adequately handle them all. So this weekend doesn’t guarantee a regular repeat of the same results.

The advance “projections” (as always, low-balled) were between $100-115 for “Furious.” In reality, the terrific $143 million result is in the range that should have been expected. Why? Timing for one. Virtually no competition for its audience (unlike “Fast 6” which on Memorial Day Weekend 2013 was one of three new openers). That weekend, the next three highest grossers took in $110 million, compared to $50 million this time. Also it had close to a record number of seats available at its 4,000+ theaters (and far more screens), and opened on a holiday period that boosted grosses Thursday night and especially Friday.

The biggest factors in this on-target result are the emotional outpouring of interest after Paul Walker’s tragic death, as well as the already high-level satisfaction and interest in this long-term franchise. Its success was not pre-ordained. The series and its diverse cast –who are sincerely invested in their “family” enterprise–has grown over its history as an organic, bottom-up fan supported phenomenon rather than a top-down studio marketing of an established brand. 

‘Furious 7″ ranks as the ninth biggest all-time opener (inflation unadjusted) and ahead of any 2014 release, though no better than sixth going back to 2012 (including two “Hunger Games” releases), none of which opened on a holiday weekend (and only one during summer vacation).

So again, this opening is very strong, but hardly a jaw-dropping game changer, at least not yet. We don’t know how this will hold. Tt=he 31 per drop yesterday from Thursday/Friday is far greater than the sub-20 per cent fall for the last three, though Good Friday is a big factor. It earned the same positive A Cinemascore as its recent predecessors. Their multiples have been between 2.2 and 2.4, which should get this easily to $300 million and possibly close to or above “American Sniper” as best calendar 2015 performer.

Universal’s audience details assert that the series has benefited from its racially diverse cast and its urban-life settings (though this one adds more international locales). The details make the gross in some ways more impressive, while at the same time again suggesting some areas of ongoing industry-wide curiosities. This is a male-oriented series, yet 49 per cent of the audience was female, consistent with recent trends. And only 25 per cent of attendees were non-minority (37 per cent Latino, 24 per cent African-American). That makes only 13 per cent — slightly more than one of eight — white male ticket buyers.

Finally, appealing to a wide range of the American public is a good thing. But this still reveals a weakness in the number of young males turning up to what should have been a huge draw. That might have kept this from grossing in the $160-170 million range.

How the Weinstein Company Scored with “Woman in Gold” 

This hasn’t been the best week in terms of press coverage for a certain TWC executive. But on the business side, the company faced another potential media concern which they defused. “Woman in Gold” offers the classic European adult appeal, upscale character story that they often favor (and produce for low costs — this reportedly came in at around $11 million pre-marketing). The film debuted as a high-end premiere at the Berlin Festival in February to lesser reviews and some predictions of difficulty in overcoming them. Yet it opened to a reported (though likely inflated) $2 million estimate for the three day weekend and in 238 theaters and a seventh place Top Ten position.

It’s a tough figure to easily compare, as a 200-300 first week break for an upscale, specialized-adjunct release is not normal. It is the pattern TWC chose for awards-chasing “My Week With Marilyn” around Thanksgiving 2012 (curiously Simon Curtis directed both films), and the result for a lower profile film is better: “Marilyn” grossed $1,750,000 in 244 theaters. Those reviews were mildly favorable if not ecstatic, the film had a high profile New York Film Festival premiere, and much more positive advance buzz.

So why did “Gold” open better? One factor was an advantage from the get-go. Lead actress Helen Mirren has the respect, awards and older-audience appeal of fellow acclaimed actresses Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. But curiously, since “The Queen,” she really hasn’t had a breakout wide-release upscale art-house genre hit like the others. No “Iron Lady,” “Philomena,” “Quartet,” or “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

While Mirren has been a powerful lead in a range of wider audience successes (recently “The Hundred Foot Journey” and the two “Red” films), she has been underutilized in the specialized world. TWC recognized this from the start and pushed her as the reason to see the film (mediocre reviews praised her as the sole reason to see the film.) Her current acclaim on Broadway and availability for publicity (a helium balloon Q & A with Jimmy Kimmel went viral) were effectively utilized.

TWC cannily selected a non-awards time of year with little competition, as well as a holiday weekend which, even better, had only one other new multi-city non-platform opener. And, recognizing that the reviews were going to be a problem, they opened last Wednesday in most of the biggest markets where critics might do damage, and to gain some alternative positive word of mouth (and run reviews emphasizing positive quotes ahead of negative Friday reviews, when older moviegoers are more likely to read the entertainment sections).

The net result gave the film a chance to grow, get the positive spin resulting from a Top Ten showing, make more rational-based judgments about marketing outlays and most importantly, if its audience does respond favorably initially, have their word of mouth become more important than the critics.

Curiously, this wasn’t the only British mid-budget film starring a past Best Actress winner film to open in over 200 theaters this weekend. “Effie Gray” wa released by Universal in the U.K., then ended up with Adopt in the U.S., got slightly better reviews (Metacritic 54 to 50 for “Gold”), but despite having Dakota Fanning and Emma Thompson among the leads, grossed an estimated $160,000 in 201 theaters, with a per screen average of less than one tenth. TWC of course spends more, but it takes more than just money. It takes having confidence is their product and the ability to maximize their positives aggressively, no matter what the press says.

“It Follows” Update

The most press, at least in the movie-business related media, among Weinstein Company 2015 releases has gone to Radius’ “It Follows” and its adjusted release platform plans. The grosses since it has widened rather than showing on scheduled VOD have gotten positive response, with claims by Radius execs that it is a significant success. This weekend clarifies matters considerably after its $3.8 million take in an expanded 1,218 theaters.

This weekend has an estimate gross of $2,465,000. That’s down 35 per cent: quite good for a horror genre film, perhaps slightly less given an added holiday factor. “Furious 7” gave the film strong competition for the younger audience. Radius added 437 theaters (1,655), and the PSA of $1,489 is down 52 per cent from last weekend. That’s not a sign of great word of mouth or catching on with the larger number of horror film fans. The genre has seen a big falloff of late, but still three routine low budget non-star driven entries managed to gross between $50-71 million last year (backed of course by much larger marketing campaigns).

It still comes down to the question so many distributors struggle with about VOD platforms. “It Follows,” barring further expansion and grosses not falling more, is going to end up with a theatrical gross of under $15 million, with a likely a little under 50 per cent going to Radius. Their acquisition cost was reported to be under $1 million, and the size of their break and utilization of social media means much lower than normal marketing (likely all told under $10 million). This always short of an expensive initial wide release was likely to be a profitable film. The question has been, how much?

Horror makes up a large part of VOD. IFC has a whole division (IFC Midnight) devoted to mainly horror film that always have early VOD. Perhaps it’s that overexposure that made the initial anticipated two-week theatrical exclusive so logical. But we don’t know how well that early availability might have done while the film was a hot topic. Now it looks like it will be out of most theaters by May, but not (based on usual distributor/exhibitor understandings, taken quite seriously by major circuits) available for VOD until mid-June, when this will no longer be fresh. And it will be competing with other much bigger films also now home released.

I don’t pretend to know what the right moves were. This remains uncharted territory where smart people are making decisions based on the best available evidence and importantly instinct. But to me this weekend shows that the theatrical choice, though it has placed the film high in the Top Ten for two weeks now, hasn’t been a major success either, despite claims by Radius and others about its success. If it indeed is going to go on to long-term profit, most of that is still going to need to come from non-theatrical platforms, and it is unclear if those will be as big as they might have been with an early VOD playoff.

Holdover Report

A mixed bag considering to extra bonus of a holiday for many on Friday. Last week’s two openers showed weakness. “Home” was down 47 per cent, more than usual for the second weekend of a strong but not huge animated opening. “Get Hard” was much worse, down 62 per cent. And “Insurgent” continues to lag behind “Divergent”‘s run with a third weekend drop of 54 per cent.

More impressive is “Cinderella,” off 40 per cents its fourth weekend, now up to $165 million and for a few days holding the title as top 2015 domestic release. (“Furious 7” will take over by next weekend). “Do You Believe” had the best hold in the Top Ten, down 35 per cent, but its gross is less than a fifth of what “God’s Not Dead” took in a year ago its third weekend. How weak have most recent releases been? “American Sniper” managed to jump a couple slots to rank #11.

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