Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Box Office Blather: Spectacles, Star Vehicles, Subtitles and Easy $

Year in Review Pt 1 of Many
It's time to wrap up 2010. You'll have to have patience since The Film Experience likes to do this piecemeal... and often! Let's do it every day at 10 AM or 10 PM or both when we magically have free time. How about that? We'll start with the US box office.

Box office hits get much coverage in the media so let's just dispense that basic "smash hit" list quick-like and move on to more interesting less covered seat-filler topics. All figures on all lists are up until the December 18th. And please go easy on any errors as I am unskilled at math is not my strong suit.

US Top Dozen
  1. Toy Story 3 $415
  2. Eyesore in Wonderland $334
  3. Iron Man 2 $312
  4. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse $300
  5. Inception $292
  6. The Commercial For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2 $265
  7. Despicable Me $250
  8. Shrek Forever After $238
  9. How to Train Your Dragon $217
  10. The Karate Kid $176
  11. Clash of the Titans $163
  12. Grown-Ups $162
The list proves again - as in every year - that the American moviegoer has an extremely limited palette. There are only four types of films he/she will go to in droves: animated features, sequels/remakes (i.e. "franchises"), action/visual spectacles and broad comedies. It doesn't get more diverse until much further down the list. The only film in the year's top 25 that doesn't fit neatly into one of those four categories is Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. So well done, Marty. That is a true accomplishment.

Subtitled Features
(I've included worldwide figures too for the sake of provenance)

  1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo [Sweden]  $10 (worldwide: $104)
  2. The Girl Who Played With Fire [Sweden]  $7 (worldwide: $66)
  3. The Secret in Their Eyes [Argentina]  $6 (worldwide: $33)
  4. I Am Love [Italy] $5 (worldwide: $10)
  5. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest [Sweden]  $4 (worldwide: $40)
  6. My Name is Khan [India]  $4 (worldwide: $41)
  7. A Prophet [France] $2 (worldwide: $17)
  8. Dabangg [India] $2 (worldwide: $3)
  9. Kites [Miscellania] $1.6 (worldwide: $3)
  10. Raajneeti [India] $1.5 (worldwide: $12)
  11. MicMacs [France] $1.2 (worldwide: $16)
  12. Golmaal 3 [India] $1 (worldwide: $2)

Beyond interest in the Swedish "Millenium" trilogy -- which dropped steadily with each film here and elsewhere in equal percentages -- it was tough going for international fare yet again. It seems like a different world entirely than when we regularly had a couple of substantial breakout hits a year (as recently as the mid Aughts). The only steady market seems to be Bollywood features, which regularly gross about a million with barely any media coverage. Oscar nominees are a far less stable subcategory. Despite more media coverage their grosses tend to be all over the place, ranging anywhere from $10,000 (Peru's Milk of Sorrow) to just over half a million (Israel's Ajami) to the $2 million range (France's A Prophet and 2009 holdover Germany's White Ribbon) to $6 million (the winner, Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes). In other words it's a bit hard to imagine that the Oscar nomination does all that much more for the films than they could have managed on their own... unless they win. It's tough to quantify so it's aggravating that the studios seem to think that the first quarter is the only time to release the high profile foreign contenders. (It's like how the English language Oscar contenders all have to compete with each other for the same limited seasonal dollars from November through February. It's so weird.)

Well, I was going to do a list based purely on original material but the list was so depressing (it was basically original material that could easily be confused for a remake) that I screamed abort! abort! and changed course immediately. Let's try this. Which DRAMAS, i.e. the things audiences mostly only want to see on their TVs now, were hits with moviegoers?

Top 12 Dramas (reality based i.e. no supernatural, genre or primarily action-focused stuff)
  1. Shutter Island  $128 [debatable classification - remove it if you will]
  2. The Town $92 [an action movie in a sense but mostly a drama]
  3. The Social Network $91
  4. Eat Pray Love $80
  5. Dear John $80
  6. The Last Song $62
  7. Why Did I Get Married, Too $60
  8. Secretariat $58
  9. Letters to Juliet $53
  10. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps $52
  11. For Colored Girls $37
  12. The American $35
On this list we see that quality matters far less than having a star in your movie; just don't expect big returns on investment since big stars cost $10+ million. Also: Amanda Seyfried and Tyler Perry are good bets for non-gargantuan but sturdy profits. The Social Network, a film without any action sequence, gooey romance or crime-angle, is a true anomaly. It's only here because it's awesome and topical. But being awesome and topical will only get you to around $90-100. It's interesting that The Social Network's box office is so similar to Brokeback Mountain's, another anomaly that had quality as its chief selling point. (GASP. What a crazy thing to bank on!)

Best Return on Investment???
This list is haphazard / insufficient using only production budgets vs. US distribution returns from box office mojo. In other words it's not so accurate (merchandising, foreign markets, DVD sales and the potential windfall of sequels all contribute to insanely costly movies making a lot of money... eventually. While marketing costs subtract from that profit margin all the while.) But I think the following list is interesting as a very blurry snapshot as to what films are profitable even before you factor in these other things.
  1. Paranormal Activity 2 $84 gross = 28 times its budget.
  2. The Last Exorcism  $41 gross =22.7 times its budget.
  3. Easy A $58 gross  =7.25 times its budget.
  4. Jackass 3-D $116 gross = 5.8 times its budget.
  5. The Kids Are All Right $20 gross = 5 times its budget.
  6. Twilight Saga: Eclipse $300 gross = 4.4 times its budget.
  7. The Karate Kid $176 gross = 4.4 times its budget.
  8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid $64 gross  = 4.2 times its budget. 
  9. Despicable Me $250 gross = 3.6 times its budget. 
  10. Dear John $80 gross  = 3.2 times its budget.
Black Swan, budgeted at $13 million may well join this top ten since it's already earned $15 million and it's only just finished its first weekend of wide release and once it wears off its opening week energy, presumably it'll get that Oscar nominee boost to keep it going.

If you include worldwide revenues and franchise potential the numbers would change. How to Train Your Dragon, for example, which cost $165 million to make and grossed $217 million doesn't sound that profitable until you factor in the foreign gross (another $277 million) and the eventual sequels ordered up, which will come into the world market with the most cost efficent marketing tool possible: familiarity. And some movies are far more profitable overseas: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was budgeted at $13 million and has grossed $104 million worldwide, so only 10% of its gross is coming from America. But I was trying to make this as easy on myself as possible hence the US totals.

The year in box office. Crazy numbers. I'd be happy just making a really crappy "per screen average" figure this week. How 'bout you?

It would... oh never mind. This post is long enough. What's the last movie you paid to see? Did you get your money's worth?

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