The Top Ten box office totals fell around 57% this weekend compared to the same weekend in 2015. But it’s not a collapse in the box office, but a calendar fluke: there’s an extra April weekend. All will be made up next week when Disney’s box office streak continues with the summer-season launch of “Captain America: Civil War,” which has already amassed $200 million through its second weekend in 15 territories (now up to just under two-thirds of territory), just about even with “Avengers: Age of Ultron” last year.
While the high end of the business is strong, led by massive hit “The Jungle Book,” which dominated again this weekend, the moviegoing gains in recent weeks are due to a handful of hits; the wealth is not spreading around. Three new openers this week all performed under expectations despite modest goals by their distributors. This feast or famine landscape, as we approach the summer” season at hand, reveals a continued gap between top films and the rest of the field and could become a problem for studios, even those with big hits. Meanwhile theaters are flush with the overall results.
“The Jungle Book,” Then Everything Else
On its third weekend Disney’s latest juggernaut managed to gross more than the next six highest-grossing films combined. It took in $19 million more than the three new wide releases. The third weekend total is the best ever for the first four months of a year (beating recent record-holder “Zootopia” by $5 million). It alone makes up 44% of the Top Ten.
Do these lagging numbers for fresh product suggest weakness ahead for the summer, which should see more films like “Captain America: Civil War” in the ultimate $300 million-plus range, but also solid $100-300 million entries? Or will widening gaps persist?
Actually, for the first third of 2016 the initial four monster hits (“Deadpool,” “Zootopia,” “Batman v Superman” and “The Jungle Book” plus 2015 holdover “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) actually aren’t the sole factors in the 7 percent box office uptick to date. Through Thursday, those five film constituted 43% of total grosses for all films. For the same period in 2015, of the five biggest films, only two topped $300 million during the period (“American Sniper” and “Furious 7,” the only two over $200 million)=, making up 41% of the total. So that gap isn’t great.
The problem is that the gap is growing, with more gross spread to mid-level films from January through March than in April, when the toll on lesser films (in part because of more top end product than earlier) was greater. Still, the overall numbers shown so far this year. are amazing And the strategy to release so many strong films so early only means that they beat up their weaker competition more handily. Summer results will reveal whether the film business is truly growing: matching last year’s strong summer results will be a challenge.
Clearly, “Stars Wars” pushed audiences back into theaters with satisfying results, sparking more than a temporary surge, which is great news for the industry. But the worrisome signs among lesser films continue.
Let’s Do “The Jungle Book” Numbers
Films that open over $100 million often, because they do so much business early on, struggle to get to a three-time multiple. “Jungle Book” is approaching 2.5 times domestic in only 17 days. The gross third time out is about 40% of its opening. That’s three times better than “Batman v Suoerman,” which dropped like a rock and only managed a 13% total of its much bigger start. It’s also better than “Deadpool” (25% of opening weekend), with “Jungle” grossing more than $11 million more its third stanza. That’s some strong hold.
Worldwide, “Jungle” is up to $685 million, with Japan and Korea (opening in June and August respectively) still to come. Expect this to approach or top $1 billion worldwide, joining “Zootopia” (now at $931 million, fully open) and besting both “BvS” and “Deadpool,” neither of which will reach that mark.
Though younger males returned to theaters in droves as part of the multi-level success of “Jungle,” the continued difficulty in reaching that fickle demo shows up again in the disappointing returns for two of the openers. “Keanu” had a real shot: Comedy Central favorites Key & Peele heading a movie for the first time, unusually positive reviews, strong social media marketing, and not much competition. The result? An unexpected best showing among the new films. Also credit it with a pickup Saturday (7%, actually more because it’s compared to Friday numbers that include the Thursday preview).
But the demographic numbers show attendees as 53% male. That suggests that while there was appeal to women, the drug dealing caper should have drawn far more men, to yield a bigger $11-12 million total.
Video games have always been a mostly male domain, and indeed, the animated Sony PlayStation game adaptation “Ratchet and Clank” (released as a service deal under Focus’ wide genre release Gramercy banner) boasted a 61% boy audience. The high point for animated adaptations of games came last century with the first “Pokemon” movie (in 1999, adjusted total gross $145 million). This one didn’t even have a decent matinee Saturday uptick: only up 34% over Friday (“Zootopia” was up 100%).
The video game world presents so much more interactivity, second nature to its fans, that a movie recreation no longer seems to make sense. Someone made the wrong gamble.
This has been a stellar year for indie distributor Open Road with their Best Picture win for “Spotlight” and its decent (if not spectacular) box office showing (now up to $45 million, duplicating last year’s “Birdman” and then some). But the dubious showing for “Mother’s Day,” despite all their strong marketing efforts ,shows how tricky is repeat their initial wide release success.
Open Road is jointly owned by the two largest exhibitors (Regal and AMC), which gives them access to screens across North America unequaled by any independent distributor. But the landscape has changed since early 2012, when they started off strong with “The Grey” as a January release, scoring a $51 million total. (Only the later “The Nut Job” did better, still their biggest opener at $19.7 million.)
What happened? The studios have changed their release behavior, giving the big chains what they want: amore even-spread of top product throughout the year. The two exhibitors stated when they launched Open Road that they meant to supplement the schedule more than compete at prime times, finding playable product for acquisition with top marketing (and less expensive with elevated in-house theater support). Now their off-season release dates have more competition.
And others are trying to repeat the model. STX is now a rival for acquiring stand-alone, mostly edgy/lower budget usually genre films, while the studios continue to push their lower-cost units and sometimes pick up finished films. The explosion of direct to VOD films (with vastly smaller marketing costs; Lionsgate in particular chooses this route these days) clutters the market.
The result, getting around to the weak showing of “Mother’s Day,” is that this $8.3 million opening it is their best since “Nightcrawler” 18 months ago. But that still isn’t good. Garry Marshall’s film on paper, with a female-friendly cast led by Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston (a combination a decade ago might have been huge) came in far behind the director’s earlier holiday-oriented comedies “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve.” Both were studio-backed and overseen. This was independently produced, and at a low-end $10 million, quite economical. Yet elements alone don’t cut it when theaters are crowded with a wide range of adult-appeal films. And getting the worst reviews of any new wide film this year is lethal when going after adults.
Perhaps competing for the higher-end market is Open Road’s future. They have Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” primed for September festival play and possible awards contention ahead. But being run by smart, industry-savvy execs doesn’t guarantee success when the original model no longer guarantees success.
The weakness of the new films helped older films do better than normal. Yet again, “Zootopia” led the way with a 24% drop, actually ahead of the new animated opener “Ratchet and Clank” (ouch). In a bit of a surprise, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” dropped “only” 52% and in a mild upset ended up ranked second despite grossing under $10 million. It will still be lucky to gross half its $115 million budget in domestic take.
Both “Batman v Superman” and “The Boss” have stabilized, off a bit over 30%. While neither will reach expectations, the two films didn’t collapse either. “Barbershop: The Next Cut” with a 41% drop could still get to a $60 million total gross: given its low cost, that’s not bad at all.
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