Wednesday, August 27, 2008

15 Point Bump? About as likely as a $150 million 3-day weekend.

I've been saying this for years. In the last decade or so, the box office business has become more like politics in one very important way: The management of expectations. As weekend box office has become a mainstream sport, the studios have used alleged tracking and alleged punditry to attack the films of rival studios. Politics works the same way.

And sure enough, the GOP put out a memo last week proclaiming that Barack Obama would get a 15 point bounce from the Democratic Conventions this week. They compared Obama's candidacy to Bill Clinton, who got a record 16 point bump (at the time, Ross Perot had just dropped out, leaving a huge chunk of now undecided voters up for grabs right at the close of the convention). It's not gonna happen and the GOP knows damn well that Obama will be lucky to get a 7 point bump in this politically fractured time. But expect the pundits to crow all next week about how Obama didn't get those 15 points and thus isn't connecting with the American people.

I touched on this a little bit way back in April, dealing with the inflated expectations for the opening weekend of Iron Man. Point being, rival studios have made a habit of using columnists and bloggers to create often impossible expectations for the opening weekend of a given major film. The problem isn't for example when studios and writers claim that say, The Dark Knight could do $155 million on opening weekend. The problem is when the official line becomes that The Dark Knight will do $155 million and it becomes a failure when it does not meet up with arbitrary expectations more or less pulled out of the butts of writers who know nothing about box office or rival studios who want to create a stink of disappointment. Despite Warner's insistence that it was expecting $95 million, The Dark Knight would have had to fight off the stink of alleged failure had it 'only' opened to $125 million.

It sure wasn't Disney who was touting that Pearl Harbor would do $100 million in four days back in Memorial Day weekend, 2001. And of course, when it did a perfectly logical (and correctly predicted by me) $75 million four-day (basically, double Titanic's opening weekend, divide that by four, then toss a fourth of that onto Monday's gross), the rags were in a hissy about how the alleged monster of Summer 2001 had disappointed and was sure to be a disaster. For what it's worth, despite being terrible, it was actually quasi-leggy and limped to just under $200 million by the end of the summer before becoming huge on DVD because of post 9/11 nationalism. Of course, as I've said many times, had Pearl Harbor come out over Thanksgiving weekend of 2001, it would have beaten Titanic in the US. And Lionsgate certainly never expected Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 to open to $30 million over Halloween weekend in 2000 (yes because a quickie sequel to a pop-sensation that half the audience hated was going to open to MORE than the original's opening weekend). But rival studios and the like pumped up the alleged interest level than laughed like hyenas when it 'only' did $13 million.

And Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle was never going to open to $60 million or $69 million in the middle of June 2003. Expecting a sequel to a solid but not beloved original to do almost 70% better on its opening weekend was a fallacy. That, say, Box Office Prophets got it wrong isn't the issue (I get it wrong all the time). The problem was that those inflated estimates from Entertainment Weekly and the like became the official 'correct' amount. So when Charlie's Angels 2 only made $38 million (admittedly, a slight disappointment compared to the $40 million opening of the original), it was immediately labeled one of the biggest flops of the year, proof positive that women could not open action films (that it too was terrible didn't help its long term prospects, but that's irrelevant to opening weekend). Point being, don't believe Bill Kristol, Sean Hannity, and other pundits who condemn Obama's camp for only receiving a 5 or 6 point bump in the polls come Monday. And don't believe Nikki Finke or 'unnamed studio sources' when they swear up and down that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is certainly going to open to as much as X-Men: The Last Stand or that Terminator Salvation will do $100 million over the Memorial Day stretch. It's the same game in both arenas, with the same rules and the same goals. Don't play along.

Scott Mendelson

1 comment:

Kyle Leaman said...

The 15 point bump republican memo is hard politics, rightly analysed. However, 5-7 point bump is a bit low historically for a convention right? I've been hearing 10 point bump is expected from most of the news groups. Certainly, after this entire week of speeches including Obama's history making speech, he can expect the "average" convention bump right? I think that perhaps your 5-7 point bump is exactly the same strategy that the Republicans are using, setting unrealistic expectations, but too low on your side.


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