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Has the whole world lost its mind?


Box Office Comment
May-July 2013

The summer box office season has only a month left to it, and there are few winners and losers left to tally. Elysium, The Smurfs 2, Planes and 2 Guns are all likely to decent business during August, with a serious question mark over whether The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones can attract the teen crowd or will turn out as just the latest young adult fiction flop. So what of the summer so far?

My amateur punditry, the sort of thing Nikki Finke regularly rages at in her box office columns, has thrown up some fairly major howlers over the past three months. In my defence, I made my predictions at the start of the year so there was no opportunity to amend my thoughts as the wind on certain releases began to blow in different directions. The prosecution might attest that I gave movies a fairly wide margin for error by making estimates with upper and lower limits.

First up, Star Trek Into Darkness. In the US at least, this has performed disappointingly. It came in some $25m short of its predecessor, which was cheered as having broken out to a wider public than just the Trek fan base. That may reflect disappointment in movie that rested on its laurels, both in scope (where were all new worlds and civilisations to be sought out?) and wholesale raiding of the Star Trek II (an incredibly lazy thing to do). The promotion wasn’t much cop either. A comparison might be Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes sequel (which I thought was terrific). It failed to persuade the public that it was sufficiently different to the first film and took quite some time to scrape together a gross that just pipped the original worldwide.  If you look at the way many second installments have gone stratospheric thanks to the goodwill generated by the original, it’s doubly disappointing. STID didn’t come cheap either, costing close to $200m. Anything short of $500m worldwide is a stumble, and the movie is currently on $449m. The plus side is that internationally it grossed $100m more than Star Trek, meaning that the series has finally picked up away from the home turf. Star Trek took $386m all in, so Paramount must be trying to work out why it only improved by $65m. Either they’ll need to bring the cost down for Trek 3, or somehow rekindle the spark of the first film to get people interested again. My figures were $420-500m/$230-270m, so the low ends weren’t far off.

The Great Gatsby received quite a savaging from critics, but audiences weren’t deterred. I doubt that Baz Lurhmann’s gaudy 3D eye riot could have done much more than the $330m it took worldwide ($144m domestic, $186m foreign). Leo’s appeal is very much intact, and he’s proving a shrewd judge of material that has artistic potential and that people want to see. I seriously underestimated this one, betting tops of $200m worldwide and $80m US.

I was more on the ball for Epic, which will make Fox money; just nothing near Ice Age levels of lucre. It has taken $106m in the US (the upper end of my $70-120m estimate) and $243m globally (smack dab in the middle of my $190-300m). Fox probably never had high expectations for this; at least in part it must have been done to keep Chris Wedge sweet. But it’s also certain to have a very profitable home entertainment future ahead.

My prediction of a slight waning in appetite for Vin Diesel and his road hog franchise proved incorrect. Both on home turf and abroad Fast and Furious 6 was a monster sequel that continued to grow. At $237m it added nearly $30m to Fast Five’s US gross (my high end figure was $200m) and worldwide amassed a stonking $713m, some $90m+ more than Five (I pegged it at a measly $600m). It’s also only just opened in China, so could end up around $800m! Can Fast & Furious 7 do even better? I’m not betting against the bubble bursting any time soon, although rushing it out next year might be a little hasty.

Who would have guessed that The Hangover Part III wouldn’t be funny (I mean intentionally, rather than the jokes failing to connect)? The makers shot themselves in the foot by listening to the critics’ complaints over Part II being a reheat of the original. The result? A massive collapse in attendance, $230m less than Part II worldwide (down from $580m to $350m; and a good $100m shy of the first movie’s gross). It fared worst in the US, with $112m failing to approach half of Part II’s $254m. I fully expected it to be critic-proof and even my low-ends were $550m/$220m. Stick around, there are plenty more hideous errors to come.

After Earth wasn’t one of them, though. This reeked from a great distance, and was met with concordant disdain. Will Smith can’t make his son a star by dint of Willpower alone, and no one was buying that daddy showing up would sweeten the pill. It made even less ($60m) than my low-end guess of $70m in the US. I figured it wouldn’t go beyond $300m worldwide (Will’s appeal is universal, but he has to actually be the star of the show) and at $235m his only comparable failure is the 2008 turkey Seven Pounds ($168m WW), the last film before his four-year hiatus. With these kinds of choices, he seems to be actively trying to turn his fans off him right now.

I had an inkling Now You See Me might be a sleeper hit, but I didn’t predict how big. I guessed a maximum of $135m WW/$85m US. It’s taken $201m WW/$114m US to date. Lionsgate/Summit probably didn’t expect it do quite this well, although as an increasingly rare mid-range priced pic ($75m) it needed to make more than most predicted for it to break even. As it stands, it’s near the top of the heap for the studio (behind The Hunger Games, Twilight and Fahrenheit 9/11). The studio’s never been reluctant to milk a cash cow (Saw made it to six follow-ups, the last Twilight was split in half) so expect the announcement of Now You Don’t imminently.

Even Shawn Levy’s golden touch was unable to save Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s careers. Vaughn hasn’t had a hit since 2009 (and hasn’t starred in a decent film in considerably longer) and he must be particularly smarting as he shares a writing credit on The Internship. There have been slim pickings for Wilson too; aside from Midnight in Paris (a hit Woody Allen film rather than a hit Owen Wilson one) and some voice work on the Cars movies, it’s been five years in the desert. They no longer have youth appeal, as those kids have grown up, so they’re left looking for a niche. This is Levy’s first movie in 10 years not to make $100m WW ($72m), so he must be feeling it too. I thought it would make at least $130m globally, and a minimum of $70m in the US (where it took a mere $44m).

The Purge wasn’t on my radar, but it’s yet another dirt-cheap horror picture that opened and then plunged in subsequent weeks. Reviews were savage, but horror audiences will attend the opening of a bloodied envelope. Costing $3m, it has grossed $64m in the US (only an additional $14m internationally, however).

This Is the End wasn’t one I expected to do more than $30m; I wrote it off as starring the incredibly annoying Seth Rogen and James Franco and thus being this year’s apocalypse comedy to miss (the one to see, obviously, was the disappointing The World’s End). By most accounts it’s pretty funny, but I couldn’t bring myself to contribute to raising Franco’s profile any higher than it already is. This has performed typically-and-then-some of US comedies; it’s made $95m at home, but a mere $10m in the rest of the world. No one outside the States has any interest in seeing a bunch of only vaguely familiar actors playing themselves, quite understandably.

Man of Steel should have done the business I predicted for it. I foresaw $750m-1.1bn WW and $300-$475m US. There’s no doubt the $636m WW so far guarantees the franchise’s future (although squaring Supes of with the Caped Crusader seems foolishly premature; Warner Bros is very adept at stupid decisions for its comic book properties). But if it had fulfilled the promise of its trailers it might have contained an all-important heart as well as the barrage of special effects that assaulted audiences. Currently at $286m US, it doesn’t look like it will top $300m; at least that much must have seemed like a fait accompli at the start of the year. The crucial international market has guaranteed its future, but adjusted for inflation Zach Snyder’s reboot has made only $30m more than Superman Returns. If that film’s widely seen as a failure, it’s clear Warner shouldn’t be relaxing just yet (MoS has made $250m more than Returns WW, although that figure isn’t inflation adjusted).

Pixar continues to underwhelm creatively, but kids don’t care about that sort of thing. My doubts over the hit potential of a prequel to the 12-year old movie seem to have been confirmed, though. If there were really such a yearning for Monsters University, wouldn’t it have done Toy Story 3 numbers? I gave it $450-575m WW and $170-220m US. The actuals are currently $537m WW and $246m US, so not far off. When you consider that Monsters, Inc. took over $500m WW more than a decade ago, Pixar’s decision to strip mine its back catalogue looks increasingly dubious. If Finding Dory doesn’t do $1bn WW, the studio may need to start getting comfortable with only half a billion dollars a trip.

One bad-buzzed movie I felt fairly confident over was World War Z. It’s performed to the lower end of my expectations, but that’s still considerably better than most were predicting. At $460m WW (I had $450-570m) and $191 US (I had $200-230m) what once now looked an iffy prospect has become a franchise-starter. If Pitt wants to continue with it, that is. With all the grief involved in making the movie, he’d be forgiven for giving World War Z2 a wide berth. Still, never underestimate the importance of bankability. Pitt hasn’t starred in a hit close to this size since he teamed with Tarantino four years ago (Moneyball did great in the States, but as per all sports movies, no one was interested elsewhere). Paramount must be very relieved; all three of their summer pictures have performed, two of which underwent costly reshoots (this and G.I. Joe: Retaliation). They’re unlikely to have another serious contender until Jack Ryan opens in December, unless The Wolf of Wall Street gets the Leo fans out (Interstellar and Noah aside, their 2014 slate looks distinctly uninspiring; more Turtles and Transformers, and Brett Ratner).

It’s proving to be an unstoppable year for Melissa McCarthy. First Identity Thief, now The Heat. It remains to be seen if the latter can do better abroad (Thief took only $39m of its total $174m internationally) but it’s not looking too likely. Comedy doesn’t travel (much). So at $160m WW, $23m of that is rest of the world. It’s exceeded my higher estimate for the US ($120m) but will probably not be far from my WW maximum ($180m). I didn’t count on the movie doing well, though, as I didn’t remotely think Identity Thief would take off back at the start of the year.

White House Down pulled more of a Wyatt Earp than an Armageddon. As in, the second of two movies with a similar premise (Olympus Has Fallen, Tombstone and Deep Impact being the opposite numbers) takes a tumble, rather than pulling out in front. If we exclude Roland Emmerich’s passion project Anonymous, this is his first failure since he embraced the Hollywood machine. Ultimately, White House Down didn’t seem sufficiently distinct from Olympus to make the cinema visit worthwhile. It’s grossed only $70m domestic and $94m WW, so I was way out even with my more conservative guesses ($150m US/$275m WW)

From considerable over-estimation to considerable under-estimation. Despicable Me 2 is performing closer to a Shrek 2, when I expected Kung Fu Panda 2. I had it peaking at $550m WW/$220m US. It’s already on $604m WW/$295m US, so a final gross of $850m WW/$350m US might not be out of the question.

If World War Z’s bad press didn’t prevent it turning into a hit, The Lone Ranger was never able to grab any traction. I was whistling away, fingers in ears, as I thought the Depp factor would overcome all opposition, even to westerns not doing business internationally. This is the one of two movies where my guess is crazily out of whack; $650-900m WW and $220-300m domestic. The paltry $84m US and $151m WW is still $65m shy of the reported budget (and then there’s advertising on top of that). Even if it were to make another $100m internationally (it’s on its last legs at home) it would make less than a quarter of Depp and director Gore Verbinski’s biggest hit (Dead Man’s Chest). Disney is bloody lucky Iron Man Three flew, and that Oz didn’t tank. They’ve got several sure things coming up, including Cars spin-off Planes to round at their summer; Thor: The Dark World and Frozen should finish the year off nicely for the Mouse House, but the effect of Lone Ranger’s failure will be to take less and less risks.

I’m a bit surprised that Adam Sandler is actually exportable. I’d always seen him as the epitome of the home-grown comedian who doesn’t translate. But even as far back as 1999, Big Daddy made $70m internationally. That was something of a blip, though. It’s only been since 2006 and (weirdly) Click that Sandler has been regularly basking in $100m-ish of his returns coming from outside of the States. That includes You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Just Go With It and Jack and Jill (both of which made more abroad). Okay, That’s My Boy bombed, but it did so in the US too. Grown Ups grossed $162m there, then made another $109m in the rest of the world. Grown Ups 2 is on $93m US, heading for a likely $120m-ish total (it’s taken a sequel, something Sandler’s sworn off previously, to reignite his fortunes in the US but still to diminishing returns). If he plays to form, he’ll be looking at a total in the ballpark of $220m WW, which is the low-end of my guesswork ($200-250m WW, $130-150m US).

Pacific Rim may yet claw back some respect internationally, but it’s sunk in the US. My $70-135m estimate is in the range of its current tally of $79m; it may break $100m domestic but, as I suspected, this was never going to be a Transformers-sized hit. Do the public care about giant monsters, or is it only geeks? It doesn’t bode well for the Godzilla redo. Currently on $189m WW, it could scoop $300m+ when all’s told (I figured $175-300m).

Turbo’s failure must surely be a wrong place, wrong time. I can’t see why kids disfavoured this animated movie other than the market place was saturated by Monsters University and Despicable Me 2. Unless everyone hates Ryan Reynolds. Right now my $600-700m WW/$250-300m US is as deranged-looking as my picks for The Lone Ranger. It currently stands at $46m US/$68m WW. Maybe it gets to $80m domestic, but that’s a terrible result by almost any studio’s standard for an animated picture (the Weinsteins aside). It still has most jurisdictions to open in internationally, so it could stagger to $300m WW. After The Croods rekindled DreamWorks’ fortunes (and share price), this is a blow that makes Rise of the Guardians look respectable. The studio is on increasingly shaky ground; it wasn’t so long ago that Megamind underperformed. Original properties haven’t passed much muster lately.

The Conjuring, with $69m domestic and $72m worldwide, is set to be the rare horror movie that tops $100m at the US box office, so my $60-130m estimate was accurate if not much of a stretch. Horror movies can be guaranteed to open, but rarely have legs. This one cost $20m (relatively expensive for the genre, but peanuts by general standards) and will quite probably head towards the upper end of my $80-220m WW guestimate.

R.I.P.D. is a disaster for Universal. And for Ryan Reynolds fading hopes for a career. It cost $130m, opened to $13m, and is unlikely to amass more than $50m WW. Even less than my low-end prediction of $60m (US I had $40-80m; I was gloomy about its prospects, but clearly not gloomy enough!) Fortunately Universal has had a very good year to date, but they don’t want to make a habit of this. Unfortunately 47 Ronin, a hugely costly and troubled production, is out at the end of the year. Before that comes Rush; Formula One movies don’t exactly have a great success rate.

Red 2 appears to have got lost in the crowd. Dumb move by Lionsgate/Summit to open it in the summer, when the original found an audience in the frequently barren September. It’s unlikely to bank more than $50m domestic. If it’s lucky it can equal the $100m+ international of its predecessor, but that would mean it still falls well short of that movie’s $199m gross. A shame, as it’s supposed to be reasonably entertaining and so much more deserving of an audience than the A Good Day to Die Hard (which proved to be a hit in spite of itself).

So this weekend The Wolverine is set to take about $55m, meaning that there’s a fair bit of metal fatigue for the adamantine-clawed one thanks to his much-maligned first solo outing. That’s the same as the opening of First Class two years ago, but far short of the $85m Wolverine scored in 2009. So much for the idea that Jackman is crucial to the franchise. I had the movie down for $160-200m US and $350-400m WW. The latter is entirely feasible, but The Wolverine might have to settle for about $140m domestic. Fox has had a patchy year with underperformers (Epic) or bombs (The Internship, Broken City) only balanced by the successes of The Croods, The Heat and (internationally) A Good Day to Die Hard. Percy Jackson 2 is unlikely to outperform the rather middling success of the original in August, but they have a couple of interesting looking pictures later in the year; Ridley Scott’s The Counselor and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (directed by Ben Stiller).

August usually ends with a whimper, as studios dump unloved properties in the Labour Day weekend. Before that there’s The Smurfs 2, which should be dead cert for $500m+ WW. 2 Guns teams solid performers Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, so solid but unspectacular business should be guaranteed. I don’t expect much from sci-fi cheapie Europa Report and Percy Jackson seems like it will have the same trouble the Narnia sequels did in growing an audience. We’re the Millers might be funny but I’m doubtful that it will open well. Elysium should at least do what District 9 did. I don’t give I Give It a Year any hopes of success. Turbo would have been better off opening where Planes finds itself, and it ought to clear up for kids the way Elysium will for adults. Lee Daniels’ The Butler could do solid sleeper business for the Weinsteins; it depends if it’s any good (the trailer didn’t sell me). Kick-Ass 2 will be lucky to get anywhere near the original’s disappointing $50m US. And it looks a bit shit. I’m intrigued to see if Paranoia is halfway decent; a good cast, but Robert Luketic is no heavyweight. It could be effective counterprogramming, but I have a feeling audiences might stay way because they haven’t a clue what it’s about. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones might do better than The Host and Beautiful Creatures, but I’m not counting on it. It’s been a lame year for Sony so far, so if Smurfs 2 and Elysium are hits it will go some way to balancing things out. They are probably confident over Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (September), Captain Phillips (November) and Monuments Men (December) but the Carrie remake might prove a one-weekend wonder. The World’s End has little chance of emulating This Is The End, and may have to settle on the kind of gross Hot Fuzz amassed in 2007 ($25m-ish). You’re Next wasn’t in my hit list at the start of the year, but it could easily end up doing The Purge numbers (and unlike The Purge it has very good buzz surrounding it). Who knows, given the Scream comparisons it might go even bigger. Eric Bana’s set to prove once again that audiences don’t want to know in Closed Circuit; courtroom dramas can prove to be effective crowd-pleasers, but even the title of this is off-putting. Getaway has Courtney Solomon directing Ethan Hawke in what sounds like a trashy kidnap thriller. Hawke plays Brent Magna. I know. Finally, One Direction Concert Movie 3D is sure to delight someone. One Direction’s fan, most probably. 

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