Monday, April 5, 2010

Alice in Wonderland aside, if you want to cross $300 million, reserve your May release date NOW. The geography of the $300 million+ earner.

There has been much talk over the last few years about how release dates no longer matter, about how Hollywood is summer year-round, and how a movie will open however it will open no matter what the season. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland crossed the $300 million mark last Thursday, and it now sits at $309 million in the US alone. Whatever my issues are with the film's quality, this is a stunning achievement and puts the film is some very rare company. But just when is the best month for your film to have the strongest chance to reach super-blockbuster status?

As of last Thursday, Disney's tentpole became just the eighth film to cross $300 million that was not released in either May, June, or July. It's the 28th-highest grossing film of all time, and the 33rd film to cross $300 million since 1977 (Star Wars eventually did it with multiple releases). Of the fabled 'eight not in summer', five of them were released in December. They were Avatar ($742 million), Titanic ($600 million), The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King ($377 million), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ($341 million), and The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring ($314 million). The other two were The Passion of the Christ (February - $370 million) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (November - $317 million). For what it's worth, The Passion of the Christ is the only R-rated film to reach the mark, as the second-highest grossing R-rated film remains The Matrix Reloaded at $281 million.

So it presumes that if one wants their film to reach the $300 million mark, one should release them during prime summer months, no? Amazingly, only five such earners were released in June. They are E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial ($434 million with several releases, $359 million on original release), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($402 million), Spider-Man 2 ($373 million), Jurassic Park ($357 million), and The Lion King ($312 million on original release). Despite officially counting as 'summer', not a single film released in August has ever crossed the $300 million mark, with The Sixth Sense ($293 million) coming closest. So, despite the conventional wisdom of the superiority of the summer months, December has seen more $300 million+ earners than both June and August, albeit all five December champions could be considered anomalies.

That leaves twenty films out of thirty-three. That means every single one of the other twenty pictures have opened in either May or July. Well, shockingly enough, only seven films released in July have surpassed $300 million. They are... The Dark Knight ($533 million), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($421 million), Forrest Gump ($329 million), Transformers ($319 million), Independence Day ($306 million), Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ($301 million). We'll likely see another entry when the Harry Potter saga concludes in July 2011.

That leaves thirteen films, a whopping 39% of all such milestone films having been released in a single month, the month of May. They are... (deep breath now): Star Wars ($460 million with re-releases, $307 million on original release) Shrek 2 ($440 million), Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace ($435 million), Spider-Man ($403 million), Star Wars Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith ($380 million), Finding Nemo ($339 million), Spider-Man 3 ($336 million), Shrek the Third ($322 million), Iron Man ($318 million), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($317 million), Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones ($310 million), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($309 million), and (depending on your point of view) Return of the Jedi ($309 million with re-releases, $252 million on original release).

What does this all mean? Iron Man 2 will cross $300 million, as might Shrek Forever After and Toy Story 3, but Twilight Saga: Eclipse probably won't and neither will anything else unless Inception completely blows our collective mind and avoids a R-rating. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I will become the second $300 million blockbuster from November while Tron Legacy will do $280 million at best because it's not directed by James Cameron or a Lord of the Rings picture. Nothing we already didn't know, but now we have MATH! Well, that was fun...

Scott Mendelson

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