Sunday, March 8, 2009

Weekend numbers (final numbers) 03/08/09

Watchmen indeed played like a mid-range Marvel entry and opened to $55 million. The weekend multiplier ($55 million divided by the opening Friday $25 million) for this one is a dangerously low 2.2x. This puts it in the same territory as Friday The 13th, Twilight, and Sex & The City. In fact, when you factor in the money earned, as well as the gender neutral demographics, Watchmen comes off as a male version of Sex & The City. Both are R-rated 2.5 hour epics distributed by Warner Bros. Both were specifically tuned to the stereotypical desires of its gender. Both opened to about $25 million on Friday then closed with about $55 million. And both, according to eye witness accounts (ie - myself, my wife, and our daughter), had huge opening night lines with only a token representation of the other gender, none of whom seemed to be there by choice (my 18 month old pointed and laughed).

First off, let's take a moment to acknowledge that this opening weekend number, in and of itself, is terrific. Watchmen, based on a comic book that only the hardcore had even heard of, had a bigger three-day weekend than Superman Returns. It had a bigger three-day weekend than Batman Begins. Heck, Watchmen has the second biggest DC Comics three-day opening weekend of all time, behind (obviously) The Dark Knight. Any thoughts that this would equal or surpass the $70 million opening for 300 were ones not based on logic. Aside from a few token similarities (release date, director, and being based on a cult comic book), they were vastly different films and different properties.

300 was a 100 minute action adventure film with a clear and simple premise (that it was based on a comic book was pretty irrelevant to the marketing campaign). It promised (and delivered) fantastic visuals and ripped muscle men armed with sharp objects, slaughtering other muscle men with sharp objects in 480 BC for at least 2/3 of the running time. It was primed to be enjoyed by men and women as well as young and old. Watchmen was a 2.75 hour character drama with superheroes, whose complicated premise had to be explained, in detail, to the uninitiated. Plus, the marketing was severely male centric, and there was no stereotypical appeal for women. And, as we damn well know by this point, a superhero film with women in the audience gets you Iron Man. A superhero film just for guys gets you... well... Watchmen.

So, all told, a $55 million opening for this glorified cult film is a huge short term win for Warner Bros. It's a show of unparalleled marketing might and is a good omen for the upcoming DC properties (Jonah Hex, Green Lantern). My concern with the number is one of long term prospects, and the unexpected developments concerning the reactions to the movie. To put it bluntly, even the hardcore geeks are mixed to negative on this one. This means that Warner more or less needed a record opening to ensure profitability. At this point, the performance feels like, at best, a repeat of X-Men (57% first weekend drop, big drops afterward, opening with $54 million and closing with $157 million). Tragically, the more likely reference point is The Incredible Hulk, which opened to $55 million, dropped 60% in weekend two, then bottomed out at $134 million on a $150 million investment. And that's assuming that word of mouth isn't truly poisonous and it doesn't perform like Ang Lee's Hulk (which plummeted a shocking 70% in weekend two, ending up earning 47% of its $132 million in its opening weekend). Obviously, we'll know the final story by next Saturday morning. Again, if I'm wrong, and this thing displays Batman Begins-style legs, you'll hear it here first.

There were a few other developments this weekend. I'd argue that the angriest person on the planet right now is Henry Selick. His Coraline was doing great business for a few weeks, only to lose its 3D screens to Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience. Well, thanks but no thanks, as the 3D concert film dropped a whopping 77% in weekend two, going from a lousy $12.5 million opening weekend to a $2.7 million follow up. I'm curious if theaters are going to try to get Coraline back into those premium 3D screens, and I bloody well hope they do. Disney is not going to be able to justify holding onto that prime real estate until March 27th, when Dreamworks unleashes Monsters Vs. Aliens. Still, Coraline (easily the year's best film thus far) has already grossed $65 million on a $35 million investment, so it's a big hit no matter what happens now.

Madea Goes To Jail dropped a comparatively small 48% in its third weekend, bringing its total to $76 million. It's already $13 million ahead of Tyler Perry's previous record holder (Madea's Family Reunion) and it maybe, possibly, might make it to $100 million (if second run theaters were still a major player, it would most certainly make it). All in all, this has been an incredibly healthy box office season. Just looking at the list, you have four movies in the top 11 that have crossed $100 million (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Gran Torino, Taken, and Slumdog Millionaire), and Watchmen will surely join the club in the next one or two weeks. Of the four currently in the century club, absolute none of them were anything resembling preordained blockbusters. You can make your own theories about economic downturns or under served niches, but no matter how you look at it, this is a damn fine time to be releasing moderate to low budget popcorn entertainment.

Tune in next weekend when Escape To Witch Mountain attempts to be Blade as Watchmen is to The Avengers. Oh, and we'll find out if the best part of the new Last House On The Left is Victoria Bergsman's terrific cover of Guns N' Roses' 'Sweet Child O' Mine' that closes out the trailer.

Scott Mendelson


R.L. Shaffer said...

OK, I know we both mostly agree, but this opening was not good -- not considering a good $100 million was dropped these past two weeks in advertising from Warner.

Also considering Madea can open to $40 million, I think people are a bit starved for entertainment. I think it's telling that the film wasn't well received when awareness was high and advertising was massive and the film still didn't do serious bank.

$75 million would have been a major success. Hell even $65 would have been better. Studios can't put this much cash into advertising and call a $50 million opening a success. It's a bust since no one made money.

Anonymous said...

Gosh i hate trade sounding reviews - how much money made, whether the core geek audience likes it - fng boring!
there's so much cultural richness in the story - you don't even bother with it.

Anonymous said...

This wasn't a review of the film, idiot.

Anonymous said...

One peculiar thing about the NYC crowd on Friday night: it was possibly the most ethnically diverse audience I have ever seen, even allowing for it being in Times Square.

Not sure if this is significant, but I wouldn't write off the international appeal just yet.


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