Saturday, May 3, 2008

Curtain Raisers Versus mid-May monsters - how does Iron Man affect Indiana Jones IV? - a fun trip through box office time.

The next big question is how this effects the rest of the summer films. Let's start with the big one. In three weeks, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull opens in its effort to win the summer derby. Alas, history may be against it. More often than not, especially in the last several years, the May summer starter has often gone on to surprise and overtake the would-be Mid-May front runner, in terms of prestige, and often in terms of box office. To wit -

In 1996, 1998, 2001, 2000, 2002, and 2003, you had the big summer curtain raiser opening the first weekend in May, and then the alleged top-dog of summer coming out around Memorial Day weekend. In 1996, Twister opened to a then huge $42 million (oh, those were the days...). Two weeks later, Mission: Impossible opened to a then record $75 million over five days (ah, remember when $75 million over five days wasn't disappointing?). Alas, idiots who couldn't follow Mission: Impossible's complicated but coherent plot line (it's called paying attention, nimrods!) soon showered the movie with negative word of mouth, and the film ended up losing to Twister in the box office and audience kudos race ($242 million to $181 million).

Just two years later, Deep Impact opened to $42 million to kick off the summer. Two weeks later, Godzilla opened to an allegedly disappointing $75 million in five days (huh? but, wait a minute...!). Alas, Godzilla chose to open on a Wednesday (with the customary Tuesday sneaks), which is a strategy that should be reserved for movies that are 'GOOD'. Since Godzilla was not 'GOOD' but rather was 'BAD', poisonous word of mouth spread by Friday and the film's three-day number ($44 million) was considered disappointing to most. Remember, just a year earlier The Lost World had shattered every record in the book by pulling in $92 million in four days. And since both involved giant monsters eating people, Godzilla was obviously a sequel to The Lost World and was expected to perform accordingly (some things never change). The audiences' collected dry heave resulted in a pathetic second weekend take of $18 million (it was almost defeated by the Sandra Bullock/Harry Connick Jr romance Hope Floats). In the end, Deep Impact made $141 million on a $75 million budget, while Godzilla made $136 million at a cost of $130 million.

In 2000, Gladiator ended up eclipsing Mission: Impossible 2 in critical and audience acclaim as 'the summer movie of 2000', even while MI2 won a close box office race ($215 million to $183 million). In 2001, The Mummy Returns stunned everyone with a $69 million opening weekend (the second-biggest at the time), riding positive word of mouth to a just over $202 million finish. Alas, the alleged king of summer, Pearl Harbor rode mediocre word of mouth and terrible reviews from a 'disappointing' $75 million four-day take to just under $200 million. If you recall, rival studios swore up and down that this three hour film would do $100 million if four days, then laughed like mad when the media called Pearl Harbor a failure.

Random note - I bet Disney to this day wishes that they had released Pearl Harbor in November or December of 2001. Can you even imagine how much Pearl Harbor would have made riding a wave of post- 9/11 nationalism?

In 2002, Spider-Man shocked everyone by not only breaking every short-term box office record in the book, but completely stealing the thunder from Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones in all three categories (critical, commercial, and audience approval).

Finally, X2: X-Men United opened summer 2003 with $85 million and became the most popular 'event film' of the summer when Matrix Reloaded confounded audiences two weeks later. Matrix Reloaded made a lot more money ($292 million versus $215 million), but X2 was the popular favorite. Of course, six months later, The Matrix Revolutions violated the above Godzilla rule by opening on a Wednesday. Guess who was able to waltz into a Friday night Matrix Revolutions screening ten minutes before start time and buy a ticket and relax in a perfectly center seat? Whoops.

Will this brand of history repeat itself? Will Iron Man steal the thunder from Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull? It's possible and now Spielberg and Lucas face heightened expectations. In the same way that Attack Of The Clones 'disappointed' with a $110 million four-day opening weekend two weeks after Spider-Man's $114 million three day, will Indy 4 now have to equal or surpass Iron Man's take to be considered initially successful? I hope not, because it may not happen.

Iron Man benefited from three months of middling box office. There hasn't been a true 'event' since Cloverfield back in January. By the time Indiana Jones IV opens (like Star Wars II and III and The Matrix Reloaded, on a Thursday to match with the global release date and combat piracy), it'll have three event films to contend with: Iron Man, Speed Racer, and Prince Caspian. Even Star Wars II only had Spider-Man to worry about at this point.

Having said that, I'll be shocked if Indy 4 doesn't win the marathon against Iron Man, as even under appreciated Spielberg/Lucas event movies have legs that any other film would envy. Heck, even if Indy 4 only sells the same number of tickets as War Of The Worlds ($234 million in 2005), it'll surpass the box office gross of the previous Indiana Jones pictures (Indiana Jones films made, respectively, $242 million, $180 million, and $198 million). Point being, forgive the broken record, don't panic if Indiana Jones 'only' does $90 million over four days. Because there's a good chance it'll do another $50 million over the next weekend (though it sure as hell better top $69 million on its first Friday to Sunday, or risk being humiliated by being beaten by The Mummy Returns).

Still, another sobering footnote for Indiana Jones (last one, I promise). If Indiana Jones is perceived as a less than stellar film, history shows that even if it outgrosses Iron Man, there may well be another film later in the summer that takes the crown from both of them. Independence Day swooped in over July 4th weekend and won 1996's crown ($306 million). Saving Private Ryan beat Godzilla and Deep Impact for summer 1998 ($212 million). Shrek beat Pearl Harbor and Mummy Returns in 2001, and Finding Nemo exploited the general lack of popular movies in summer 2003 (other would-be contenders - Terminator 3, The Hulk, Bad Boys 2, Legally Blonde 2, Charlie's Angels 2) to gross over $330 million to win summer 2003 (the only other popular movie that summer was, of course Pirates Of The Caribbean, which rode word of mouth from a $75 million five day start to a $303 million total). History shows that only three summers (1999, 2000 and 2005) were ruled by the mid-May titans that were expected to be victorious (The Phantom Menace, Mission Impossible 2 and Revenge Of The Sith). Every other summer, the big winner (pre-ordained or not) opened somewhere else on the calender. So, if Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull is eclipsed by Iron Man and fails to win the summer, and then they both end up losing to The Dark Knight or Hancock, or something none of us see coming, don't be surprised. It's how it usually goes.

Scott Mendelson

1 comment:

Michael said...

Later I'd like to hear your thoughts on the Merry Marvel Movie strategy and whether or not one bomb could sink the eventual ship that is the Avengers movie.


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