Friday, May 1, 2009

I just don't know!! Random mumbling about the opening weekend of X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Good thing I don't do as much 'Box Office Bingo' as I used to, cause I would be at a loss this weekend. Too many variables, too much left to chance...

The first X-Men opened to $54 million nine years ago. I'd think Fox would want an at least comparable number. While it's not being treated as a direct sequel, it was at least more expensive than the first two X-Men pictures.

There are too many variables this weekend to make any estimate that I'd put money on. Hell, if another American or two suddenly dies from swine flu in the next 24 hours, that changes things too. Not saying it makes sense, but I'd gather many moviegoers remember everyone's favorite scene from Outbreak. So, we have to factor in the bootleg's effect, with corresponding negative word of mouth, we have to factor in possible panic via alleged flu outbreak, plus the fact that Star Trek is the movie with momentum right now. Plus the fact that the project just doesn't have the excitement of Iron Man, Spider-Man, or any of the X-Men pictures (it feels like Van Helsing... it's big because it's the first film of summer and that's all). I may be wrong, but this just doesn't feel like a $70 million+ weekend. Come what may, nothing will stop Fox from blaming the bootleg and the flu news no matter what happens (if it opens huge, it could have been even bigger!).

$55 million is the minimum opening that Fox can theoretically be comfortable with, but even that will cause concern. Since the film isn't very good and Star Trek is coming next week, Fox is now in the same situation as WB was with Watchmen. Since the film probably won't have legs, even a normally fine $55 million+ opening weekend will be dangerous as the film will likely collapse rather quickly. Normally a $55 million opening would lead to a $140-160 million final take (think the Hulk and Fantastic Four pictures), but it could very well collapse like Watchmen and struggle to get to $110 million. Of course, if it opens to $70-80 million, then ignore all of that.

But the situation is still very reminiscent of Batman & Robin. That was a movie that, removing all negative variables should have opened to about $60 million. The big question was whether the terrible reviews, bad word of mouth, and declarations of war amongst fan boys (including myself at age 17... boy am I embarrassed by some of the childish stuff I wrote that summer) would have an effect on the box office. They apparently did, so a great, but under-expectations debut of $43 million resulted (followed by a then-stunning 64% drop in weekend two). So yeah, in this case - if the bad stuff actually hurts Wolverine, then $50 million... if it doesn't then $75 million. I wouldn't bet on either one.

Come what may, Fox now has two perfect excuses if this thing genuinely under performs. And rest assured, every studio in town is waiting on baited breath. If this opens under expectations this weekend, everybody in town panics. Be it fears of piracy or fears of the continuing 'we're all gonna die of swine flu' stories, this could have a real impact on how the rest of the summer unfolds. For the first time in a long time, the opening day of a major movie is big, BIG news for the industry as a whole. I can't wait to see how it plays out.

Well, there will be more to discuss when the numbers actually come in. Expect a full analysis on Monday or Tuesday (I'll be out of town until Monday).

Scott Mendelson

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