Monday, September 19, 2011

Weekend Box Office (09/18/11): What the massive opening of The Lion King 3D really means for 3D and the popularity of the theatrical experience.

In a slightly shocking result that has several notable meanings, Disney's 3D-converted re-release of The Lion King (essay) cruised into the number one spot over the weekend with a mighty $30.1 million.  Acting as both a two-week advertisement for the October 4th Blu Ray release and a test run for possibly reviving the old 'out of the vault and back into theaters' strategy of old, the film didn't just top the box office but very nearly set a record for the Mouse House.  In the realm of Disney cartoons that are NOT Pixar releases, The Lion King 3D is actually fifth on the opening weekend list, behind Tarzan ($34 million), Chicken Little ($40 million), The Lion King ($40.8 million), and Tangled ($48 million).  It is the fifth-biggest September opening in history and came within $600,000 of besting the $30.7 million domestic gross of Disney's Toy Story/Toy Story 2 double-feature 3D re-release October, 2009.  That re-release, which was both an advertisement for the Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Blu Ray releases as well as the upcoming Toy Story 3, opened with $12.4 million despite Disney offering two shows for the price of one (IE - half the show times in a given day).  So simply taking the Toy Story 3D opening weekend and doubling it gives you around $25 million, meaning that this weekend's result was not quite as unexpected as its being reported.

If The Lion King 3D matches the 2.4x weekend-to-total multiplier of the Toy Story double-feature, then we're looking at $71 million.  That accomplishes three goals.  First of all, it's already surpassed the $339 million domestic gross of Finding Nemo, which means that The Lion King is now the biggest-grossing non-sequel cartoon of all-time.  Second of all, a $73 million total will be JUST enough to get The Lion King over the $400 million mark, which just looks prettier.  And finally, with $12 million in overseas added to the new domestic total of $357 million, the worldwide gross for The Lion King now sits at $825 million (Up yours, Shrek the Third!).  If this re-release does $73 million in America and $32 million overseas (a reasonable guess), then ends with $890 million and leapfrogs over Finding Nemo ($867 million) and most importantly Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs ($886 million).  The $919 million worldwide total of Shrek 2 is the one Disney really wants to surpass (as it would mean that The Lion King and Toy Story 3 are the two biggest cartoons of all-time), but that seems unlikely, especially if this release does indeed close out after two weeks (doubtful...).

On its face, this big opening tells us two very important things.  First of all, despite what everyone wants to tell you, 3D is not dead (they are WRONG and WRONG!).  As always, it's the movie not the format.  There was a genuine interest for families to see The Lion King (arguably the most beloved of the Era-of-Katzenberg cartoons), and the 3D conversion was just a cherry on top.  Second of all, it does refute the notion that 'audiences don't want to see movies in theaters anymore'.  We had a $30 million opening for a 17-year old cartoon that most of the paying consumers probably own on a terrific-looking DVD that will look just fine on their 50" televisions.  This does bode well for the upcoming 3D converted releases of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace and Titanic, as well as the threatened 3D conversions for Top Gun and Ghostbusters (better than Ghostbusters III, I suppose).  We can argue that it's not necessarily a good thing that audiences seem willing to see popular older movies in a theater over newer films (why remake everything when you can just turn the originals into 3D and re-release them?!), but people ARE willing to head out to the theaters if the product is there.

Also of note is that this opening may-well see the revival of Disney's abandoned practice of re-releasing their 'classics' into theaters on a somewhat regular basis.  That practice was stopped after the re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1993, as widespread availability of these titles on VHS negated the 'see it now or wait!' factor (also, the growing popularity of Disney's new cartoons negated the financial need for these re-releases).  Yes, Disney re-released The Little Mermaid in November of 1997, but that was more about kneecapping the opening weekend of Fox's Anastasia one week later (and, as a bonus, getting The Little Mermaid over the $100 million mark).  As long as Disney keeps their expectations in check (IE - Hercules 3D is not going to open to $30 million), there is no reason they can't revive the re-release patterns of old.  The audience is clearly there and willing.

There were three other releases this weekend, but there is little news value.  The obscenely overrated thriller Drive parlayed good reviews to a solid $11.3 million opening.  The $13 million Film District release is another solid win for the new studio, as well as a decent bell-weather for Ryan Gosling's eventual future as an 'open it by yourself' movie star.  I kinda hated the film (review of course), but I have no qualms with an R-rated adult-driven genre picture opening well enough to be profitable.  Opening less well was Screen Gems' release of Straw Dogs (review), which pulled in just $5.1 million.  It played 51% female and 54% over-25.  The Rod Lurie-directed remake of the 1971 Sam Peckinpah thriller received mixed reviews (I'm on the mixed-positive side), but was hurt by direct-demo competition with Drive, and audience disinterest.  Those who actually have heard of the Peckinpah film were mostly turned off by the idea of a remake, let alone one that was sold as something resembling a Platinum Dunes revamp.  And the vast majority of the movie-going populace were possibly turned off by the symbolic title, the lack of real star-power (I adore James Marsden, but he's not an opener), and the ironic fact that the film did (accurately) look a bit more intelligent and cerebral than your usual Screen Gems horror-film remake.  It was clearly a damned-if you do, damned-if you don't situation.

The final new release was the Sarah Jessica Parker working-mother comedy I Don't Know How She Does It?.  The film pulled in just $4.4 million, which is not the least bit surprising.  First of all, the concept (a busy working mother struggles to juggle work and family) was probably pretty novel in 1981, but it feels almost insulting that this movie is being made in 2011 (or sad that so little has changed).  Second of all, the title IS probably pretty insulting to any number of working mothers who 'do it' without any fanfare.  Third of all, even if we argue that the film does appeal to its demographic (professional women with families), it is just this very target group that would probably be too busy to schedule a movie night on opening weekend (this is also, ironically, what hurt Sex and the City 2, which stupidly opened over the family-centered Memorial Day holiday in 2010).  Finally, Sarah Jessica Parker is not, and has never been an 'open it by herself' movie star.  I don't mean that as an insult.  Before she joined Sex and the City in 1998, she was trying to parlay her cult popularity into genuine movie stardom.  Sure, I fell in lust with her after LA Story in 1991, but she was unknown by most, only beloved by well, me, Rosie O'Donnell, David Letterman, and eventually Matthew Broderick.  After the show ended in 2003, she found success in The Family Stone (a moving ensemble piece that slowly found its audience over Christmas 2005) and Failure To Launch (a 2006 romcom with Matthew McConaughy).  Other than those two hits, only the Sex and the City films have brought box office glory.  She may be a pop-culture icon and a better actress than she's sometimes given credit for, but she's not a face-on-the-poster movie star.

In holdover news, Contagion (review) fell 35% in weekend two, which means that the Soderbergh pandemic drama is 'catching on' with older viewers and possibly bleeding into younger audiences.  The $60 million film has $44.2 million in ten days, having grossed $14.5 million in weekend two.  It's so far just trailing the respective numbers put up by The Town (review) and The Social Network this time last year.  Both of those films topped $90 million, so an $80-85 million total for Contagion is not out of the question.  Despite rave reviews and Oscar buzz, Lionsgate's Warrior (review) still sits at $10 million after ten days.  Alas... Crazy, Stupid Love (13 reasons I hate this one with a mighty passion) crossed the $80 million mark this weekend, and The Help is nearing $150 million. The Smurfs now sits at $482 million worldwide, meaning that a sequel is all-but guaranteed (here's an idea... set the whole film in Smurf Village!!!).  Rise of the Planet of the Apes has $171 million domestic and $391 million worldwide, meaning it has surpassed worldwide grosses of franchise re-starters Star Trek ($385 million) and Batman Begins ($371 million) and has cleared the $358 million (and counting) worldwide takes of Captain America ($358 million thus far) and X-Men: First Class ($352 million).

That's it for this weekend.  Join us next weekend when Brad Pitt's Moneyball (review on Wednesday) squares off against Taylor Lautner's Abduction (why I want to see it anyway...) and the Jason Statham/Robert De Niro/Clive Own romantic comedy The Killer Elite.  Also opening is A Dolphin Tale.                        

Scott Mendelson


Leslie Byron Pitt said...

Good article. However I must say for a blog that strives to be do like calling other people idiots. I don't think it helps the cause ;-)

Scott Mendelson said...

Hmm... While I do find the constant 'EEEK! 3D is dead! panic articles idiotic, your point is not without merit. Noted and slightly changed. Thanks.


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