While “Hotel Transylvania 2” (Sony) is the new best September opener ever, overall the box office is a combination of individual elements, not just a single big success. The animated sequel, returning Sony to the winner’s circle, did what it should have done but is not a bellwether. The strength comes from a series of films and release decisions made by studios relating both to creative choices and distribution patterns that are paying off.
Luckily for Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno,” which premiered at Toronto 2013 and was originally set to be released by Open Road last year, a $6 budget (plus marketing) mitigates a weak opening. A lot of hands were involved in the marketing and release: distributor Focus and Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, which is now heavily attached to parent company Universal and created BH Tilt, a new horror label set up for hard-core genre films. With overseas home video revenue ahead, this might end up breaking even. But it shows once again the need to reinvent horror films, no longer a reliable easy way to make money.
The Top Ten
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1. Hotel Transylvania 2 (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire:; Metacritic:; Est. budget: $80 million
$47,500,000 in 3,754 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $12,653,000; Cumulative: $47,500,000
2. The Intern (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 51; Est. budget: $40 million
$18,225,000 in 3,305 theaters; PTA: $5,514; Cumulative: $18,225,000
3. Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (20th Century Fox) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$14,000,000 (-54%) in 3,792 theaters (+1); PTA: $3,692; Cumulative: $51,686,000
4. Everest (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #5
$13,090,000 (+81%) in 3,006 theaters (+2,461); PTA: $4,355; Cumulative: $23,130,000
5. Black Mass (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$11,510,000 (-49%) in 3,188 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,610; Cumulative: $42,608,000
6. The Visit (Universal) Week 3 – Last weekend #3
$6,750,000 (-42%) in 2,967 theaters (-181); PTA: $2,275; Cumulative: $52,261,000
7. The Perfect Guy (Sony) Week 3- Last weekend #4
$4,750,000 (-51%) in 1,889 theaters (-341); PTA: $2,515; Cumulative: $48,871,000
8. War Room (Sony) Week 5 – Last weekend #6
$4,275,000 (-31%) in 1,920 theaters (-25); PTA: $2,227; Cumulative: $56,000,000
9. The Green Inferno (Focus/BH Tilt/High Top) NEW – Cinemascore: C-; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 39; Est. budget: $6 million
$3,494,000 in 1,540 theaters; PTA $2,269; Cumulative: $3,494,000
10. Sicario (Lionsgate) Week 2 – Last weekend #25
$1,770,000 (+341%) in 59 theaters (+53); PTA: $30,000; Cumulative: $2,351,000
This September Song Is Happy
The $125 million Top Ten total is the best ever (at least unadjusted, possibly ever) for the month. It’s way up from last year’s $96 million total, and continues the strong uptick this month that solidifies the decent 6% year to date increase from 2014 (the jump is less over other recent years, with three of them having equal or high ticket sales in the same period).
“Hotel Transylvania 2” (Sony) was the biggest but not sole contributor. “The Intern,” though hardly a breakout, passed its trial period with above expected results, with a range of films appealing to female, older, minority and other diverse audiences adding to kids’ interest to bolster the overall take. “Hotel Transylvania” set a new record for a September opener, though the month remains the only one with no $50 million-plus openings (October, with “Gravity” at $55 million currently holding the record, is the only other month with such a relatively low number; all others have had $80 million or better debuts).
The strength of the month has been broad from a range of primarily lower budget films (tent poles rarely are released this month). It appears no release will top $100 million domestically (two, the first “Maze Runner” and “The Equalizer,” just made it last year). This year it appears only “Hotel Transylvania 2” will quite make it (though “Scorch Trials” should hit $90 million). Last year only “No Good Deed” managed to reach ever $50 million. This year there could be at least eight to surpass that, again in many cases more niche audience and domestic-oriented films. Not all will be big moneymakers, but overall this is a sign of health that is both a part of the month’s success but also an indication that the one-size-fits-all model of franchise movie making is not the only way to thrive.
Multiple Target Audiences Continue to Help
“Hotel Transylvania 2” had an uptick over its 2012 predecessor ($2 million in adjusted grosses). That’s not unusual; second entries in the “Despicable Me” and “How to Train Your Dragon” boasted slightly better increases.
The good reaction to its predecessor (though a three time multiple is low-end for animated hits, with the fall release a factor depressing the number a little) is key of course, as well as the timing for the month-long lead in to Halloween.
But the biggest factor could be the lack of similar animated releases of late. It has been two and a half months since “Minions” (which came out right on top of “Inside Out”). That’s a long gap between dates and with not much prime kids’ fare of late brought built-up demand. With schools starting as early as August and September normally not prime time, Sony has staked this time period with both their two “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” films and now “Transylvania.” This is another case where a studio decided to throw caution to the winds and try something new and succeeded nicely.
What “Hotel” shared with other recent bigger than expected successes is not only pleasing its intended audience (judging from CinemaScore results), but also filling demand. Over the last two months timing can make a popular film do better: aiming at horror fans “The Visit”), African-Americans (“Straight Outta Harlem”), faith-based audiences (“War Room”), upscale seniors (“A Walk in the Woods”). And this reinforces that originality counts. With kids at least, the tried, true and familiar face far less resistance.
Nancy Meyers & Women Directors
Nancy Meyers has been one of the most commercially successful female directors ever, with her six films grossing nearly $800 million domestically (led by “What Women Want”). That puts her nearly three times ahead of the more acclaimed Kathryn Bigelow, more than double Catherine Harwicke (mainly from “Twilight”), Penelope Spheeris (“Wayne’s World”), way ahead of Amy Heckerling (“Fast Times at Ridgmont High”) to cite most of her peers in recent decades.
Sad to say, despite the clear commercial success they and others have had in wide releases, this is only the fifth studio wide release this year to be directed by a woman. Sadder to say, it’s an improvement over last yea (“Endless Love,” “Unbroken” and “Selma”). There are more Eastern European born male directors hired by studios than women from anywhere, despite improvements.
Of the four earlier ones, two, “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Fifth Shades of Gray,” both were $165 million-plus mashes. “McFarlane” came in at $44 million on a lower budget, with only “Hot Pursuit” at $34 million a likely flop (and it still grossed nearly as much as its lead Reese Witherspoon’s “Wild.”) This is a strong track record.
“The Intern” is at best middling among Meyers’ successes, but it still feels like an overachiever. It is typical in some ways. She has never made particularly well-reviewed films (only “Something’s Gotta Give” landed overall favorable reviews). This one is a star-driven comedy with mainstream appeal. It marks the biggest opening for Robert De Niro in the lead since the “Fockers” series (an ensemble cast) and the best for Anne Hathaway since “Valentine’s Day.”
Meyers has delivered a commercial, glossy studio film that did better than most.
Follow Up on Last Week’s Risks
Briefly, last week we analyzed the different strategies for three ultimate wide releases and made tentative assessments of whether the right decisions were made. We have more information now, but it still is too early to say for sure what the results will be.
“Black Mass” fell 49% this weekend, perhaps a bit better than appeared likely after last weekend’s stalled results (with no Saturday uptick). The film showed weekday strength, suggesting that adults were finding it. Saturday this week was up a more normal 40% from Friday. As appeared initially, going wide and taking chances on the public finding its maximum potential worked.
“Sicario” won’t go wide until next week, but its $30,000 PTA in 59 theaters (good enough to make the Top Ten) is impressive (the best among similar second week releases this year). Next week will tell much more, but what looked like potentially a big risk, so far, is doing well.
“Everest” is the trickiest one. Going wide after a decent initial IMAX exclusive run, this did $13 million, good for fourth place. But the ten day total is $23 million. There is little question the initial week should have provided good word of mouth for the film, and if there is any weakness in this number, perhaps Universal (on top of its game all year) helped the film. Industry reaction seems to be positive on this gross, but let’s face facts. If it had done $23 million two weeks ago on a wide release, it would have been third behind “The Perfect Guy” and “The Visitor.” It would have been tied for second with “Black Mass” last week. “San Andreas,” somewhat comparable (including IMAX/3D bonus) opened to $54 million. This is going to have to hold very well and more importantly continue its strong initial performance overseas (already $75 million) to become a success. This might be just one studio release (hardly unique) which because of subject matter and less domestic oriented star power just was always going to be a struggle here. That it faces “The Martian” on Friday is not going to help.
The “Maze Runner” sequel not unusually fell more than the first (53 compared to 47%) after opening a bit below. “The Visit,” down 41%, continues to do better than most horror films. The stand out again is “The War Room,” down only 31% and now looking to blow way past “God’s Not Dead” among faith-based successes. The worst among longer run films is “The Perfect Guy,” down 51%, not all that bad.