Yet another monster smash exceeded expectations this weekend, rendering a classic story fresh and attractive. It’s like global warming for theaters: summer arrives earlier all the time. “The Jungle Book” is the third best opener of the year, but also the third to open over $100 million, rare for any film before May.
The bad news is that the live-action-animation hybrid squashed everything in its path. Theaters don’t mind: how the customers divide their dollars is of less concern to them than to the studios whose grosses came up short.
But if the summer continues the year’s positive trends, the box office could outpace 2015’s record $11 billion showing. Nothing is guaranteed. But the best news is that the four-month spurt that began with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” shows no signs of slowing down.
The Top Ten
1. The Jungle Book (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 78; Est. budget: $175 million
2. Barbershop: The Next Cut (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: $66 million; Est. budget: $30 million
$20,210,000 in 2,661 theaters; PTA: $7,595; Cumulative: $20,210,000
3. The Boss (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #1
$10,170,000 (-%) in 3,495 theaters (+15); PTA: $2,910; Cumulative: $40,352,000
4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #2
$9,010,000 (-62%) in 3,505 theaters (-597); PTA: $2,571; Cumulative: $311,311,000
5. Zootopia (Buena Vista) Week 7; Last weekend #3
$8,235,000 (-43%) in 3,209 theaters (-235); PTA: $2,566; Cumulative: $307,479,000
6. Criminal (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 37; Est. budget: $31 million
$5,850,000 in 2,683 theaters; PTA: $2,180; Cumulative: $5,850,000
7. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (Universal) Week 3; Last weekend #4
$3,260,000 (-50%) in 2,297 theaters (-730); PTA: $1,419; Cumulative: $52,095,000
8. Miracles from Heaven (Sony) Week 5; Last weekend #6
$1,900,000 (-60%) in 2,082 theaters (-701); PTA: $913; Cumulative: $56,931,000
9. God’s Not Dead 2 (Pure Flix) Week 3; Last weekend #7
$1,712,000 (-60%) in 1,585 theaters (-769); PTA: $1,080; Cumulative: $16,956,000
10. Eye in the Sky (Bleecker Street) Week 6; Last weekend #10
$1,562,000(-46%) in 891 theaters (-198); PTA: $1,753; Cumulative: $13,122,000
“The Jungle Book” Crushes the Competition
The $103 million-plus weekend estimate is about 30% higher than our Friday preview’s $80 million number. This is the third release (following “The Dead Pool” and “Batman v Superman”) to open over $100 million. Before this year, even adjusting ticket prices, only three films— “The Hunger Games,” “Furious 7” and “Alice in Wonderland” —achieved this, and never more than one in any given year. And it appears that “The Jungle Book” could easily join “Zootopia” as the fourth $300 million-plus domestic grosser of the year, all opening before the May start of the summer season.
As great as 2015 was, only “Furious 7” achieved this (although late 2014 opener “American Sniper” took in over that amount when it went wide early in the year). And 2013 had only three $300 million-plus grossers over the entire year. So something special is going on. It appears more than ever that the relaunch of the “Star Wars” series and its huge success has managed to raise interest in top new releases.
But is it helping across the board? Certainly in total numbers the positive results are clear. The Top Ten this weekend did $164 million, up around 50% from last year. But take out the #1 film for last year (“Furious 7” in its third weekend did $29 million), and the rest of the Top Ten actually did a third less this year. The impact can be seen across the board on the rest of the films.
Year to date is up 8.3% through today from last year—2015 took off during the summer, the normal pattern—which is a terrific start. But the increase has come from the top tier films. Surprisingly, 2015 had five films that opened to over $50 million in the first four months, compared to four this year—the same ones likely to reach $300 million or more. The YTD uptick clearly shows a healthy industry. But it reasserts how dependent success is on the biggest (usually most expensive) films. They are on a roll now, with top filmmakers and real craft adding to a sense of originality and fresh takes on safe, audience-ready ideas. But there is no guarantee this will continue without interruption, particularly if studios try to replicate these hits with little added elements.
What Boosted “The Jungle Book”
Once again, updated elements in a familiar world (as well as a sense of fun) played a big role in this huge number. Disney has placed a big bet on making live action takes on classic children’s stories that they have done in the past. This is their fifth stab at this starting with “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010 (followed by “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” “Maleficent” and “Cinderella” in the last three years). This is the second best opener of the bunch (“Alice” raked in $116 million, which adjusted would be $127 million now). But that had Tim Burton and Johnny Depp at peak drawing power and the boost of a first time try at this concept.
Why did this pop?. First, this plays more like a male-targeted adventure than a girls’ fairy tale story. Second, “The Jungle Book,” best known among several film adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale of an Asian lad befriending talking animals from Disney’s 1967 animated version, crosses generations while not being quite as familiar or frequently adapted as its Disney live-action predecessors.
Third, it has a wider appeal to all ages and genders than some of its predecessors. Fourth, it also is a hybrid, with animated animal characters (with star voices like Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken and Bill Murray) within a live-action setting (setting it apart from the others), something moviegoers assume Disney will be creative with.
But it does have something most of the others did: a proven commercial director with credibility as being more creative than the more cookie-cutter producer-controlled helmers often assigned to expensive projects. Jon Favreau has two “Iron Man” films to his credit, but also most recently the low-cost sleeper “Chef.” His concern for characters and story as much as the FX and gimmicks is reflected in the bonus of upbeat reviews which added credibility to a high-end want-to-see movie.
Whatever the alchemy at work, it managed the feat (per Disney’s initial audience survey) of 53% 26 and older. It is much more than just a kids’ film.
One difference from the other four films that opened in March: they thrived on spring vacation timing. “The Jungle Book” follows three weeks after the huge opening but weak holds of “BvS,” so it has its own space to gobble up main moviegoer attention. But Disney was able to release “Zootopia” during that period and thrive as well, almost certainly with schools out for a week most places during the timeframe in early March. They took a gamble, and it has paid off double, reminding that nearly every weekend can be a gold mine. This might not mean the “summer” season is moved up, but it sure proves mid-April is prime time as well.
Worldwide “Jungle” (which opened strong in 15 territories a week before its domestic debut) is already at a combined $290 million. It’s just the beginning, if this holds as well as your average Disney animated family film.
A $20 million opening for a relatively inexpensive $30 million production is hardly terrible, but it is disappointing based on expectations, recent Ice Cube releases and two earlier “Barbershop” films. This will need to make nearly all its revenue from domestic sources, so even a healthy three time multiple (bringing it to $60 million) with marketing costs could mean a struggle to break even.
What happened? “The Jungle Book,” which cut across all quadrants and demographics, is likely the biggest reason. It isn’t hard to speculate that 5% or even more of those who chose Mowgli over Ice Cube might have gone to this without the competition. The date otherwise made sense. The last initially African-American centered comedy with high-end pedigree was “Ride Along 2” three months ago (though a couple lesser more independent ones came and went quickly, maybe somewhat dissipating the market).
This was an attempt to bring back the success of the two earlier 2002 and 2004 films (both starring Cedric the Entertainer as well). In adjusted numbers, both opened to over $30 million, 50% or more better than this time around. The second one added Queen Latifah to boost its fortunes. Somehow the new “Barber Shop” faces Common, Nicki Minaj and Regina Hall, while well-known, weren’t enough to draw attention. (There also was a TV adaptation about a decade back.)
“Ride Along 2” in January, which boasted Ice-Cube and Kevin Hart, managed a $35 million opening, 75% better even though it fell a bit from the original. This “Barber Shop” sequel wasn’t expected to reach that level. But it’s hard not to be disappointed in its performance, even if it had the bad luck to go up against a monster hit.
On the other hand, $20 million is not that much less than “The Boss” starring Melissa McCarthy last weekend., which was also less than hoped. Pure comedies need to step up their game rather than just wait for audiences in need of laughs.
“Criminal” Shows How Ordinary Doesn’t Work
Kevin Costner has sustained his career in recent years by mixing sports-related films (“McFarland USA”), supporting roles in franchise films (“BvS,” “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”), stand-alone dramas (“Black or White”) and bread-and-butter more internationally marketed action films playing off his name (“Three Days to Kill’). That last category is becoming deadly here at home. “Criminal” did a rock-bottom sub-$6 million gross despite Lionsgate’s efforts to elevate it against the other two openers.
After thriving with two massive franchises (“Twilight” and “The Hunger Games”), Lionsgate is showing some bleeding with the poor showing of the latest “Divergent” film “Allegiant.” They have always been adept at maximizing mid-level genre films across different audiences. There’s no reason to think they can’t continue. But they need to be something more than routine, and as capable an actor (and sometime draw) that Costner is, this sort of production has seen better days.
Holdovers Got Hit
The smallest drop in the Top Ten is 42%, normally at worst mid-range. “The Jungle Book” conquered all, and that drop —”Zooptopia” —came from a film that has had spectacular holds up to now. Figure Disney’s “Book” took a big piece of its pie. Still “Zootopia” could still wind up equaling “BvS,” based on its 61% drop. That would be extraordinary since “Zootopia” opened to less than half the gross. It now sits about $4 million behind. But this could be the last week it trails (less than a million this weekend) and should be around longer.
A big part of Melissa McCarthy’s success has been her films’ staying power. “The Boss” is the exception, dropping 57%. Her previous second weekend falls have ranged between the low 30s to mid 40s% on their way to a very impressive four times or about multiple. This time won’t make three. Again, “Jungle” hurt, but the mixed reaction to “The Boss” is also taking its toll.
The raucous McCarthy comedy at least fared better than Go-Pro actioner “Hardcore Henry” (STX), down a steep 71% and out of the Top Ten in its second weekend. The rest hovered in the 50-60% range, again, all above normal, and all losing out to the week’s reining king of the jungle.