Friday, September 14, 2012

Why did no studio move their upcoming action films to September 7th after The Gangster Squad split?

Yes yes, last weekend's box office was the worst since after the 9/11 attacks.  Normally cumulative weekend box office doesn't mean a damn thing, but this weekend deserves study as a prime example of missed opportunities.  The actual reasons for this are interesting for two reasons.  A) Just like 9/11, the six degrees-of-separation reason is once again rooted in an act of mass violence.  Had the Aurora shootings not occurred on July 20th or had Warner Bros. shown a token amount of backbone, The Gangster Squad would have been the big opener of the weekend and surely would have delivered a better debut than The Words, which turned out to be the sole truly wide release.  Moreover, the weekend shows us how much we've become accustomed to weekly blockbuster opening weekends each and every frame.  But the real question of last weekend is why didn't any studio bother to move a token major action release onto the September 7th slot.  Yes, I know Lionsgate randomly dumped The Cold Light of Day onto 1,500 screens with next-to-no advertising, but considering the coming storm of major genre fare over just the next three weeks, you have to wonder why a studio, any studio, didn't think to jump into the near-vacant slot and avoid the coming storm.

There are four major studio releases opening next weekend, plus the nationwide expansion of The Master.  Warner Bros. is the one who vacated the slot in the first place, so they'd have been a likely contender to shift  the Clint Eastwood/Amy Adams baseball drama Trouble With the Curve, although the film arguably qualifies as adult counter-programming against the pure genre fare.  The House At the End of the Street feels like a complete loser, with last-minute press screenings and absolutely no buzz other than the fact that Jennifer Lawrence apparently shot it back when she had less on her plate.  But we also see two hard-R action pictures opening directly against each other, with Lionsgate's Dredd 3D squaring off against the found-footage cop drama End of Watch from Open Road.  The next two weekends see two major action entries opening one after another, with the allegedly fantastic Looper (seeing it on the 24th) opening against the animated Hotel Transylvania (which my daughter wants to see) and the 'school vouchers are *awesome*!' propaganda Won't Back Down.   The next week sees the black-and-white claymation Tim Burton remake Frankenweenie (which my daughter does not want to see) squaring off against a movie that would have dominated last weekend, Liam Neeson's Taken 2.  That's ten (10!) major studio releases in just three weekends, while September 7th was occupied only by The Words and uh... The Cold Light of Day (which isn't that bad, so check out the DVD in a few months).

Look, I know there is money and complication that comes with moving release dates.  But surely someone should have released that releasing a bunch of commercially iffy B-movie action pictures all on top of each other is a smart idea?  As they say in the restaurant business, it's all about 'location, location, location'.  And Warner Bros.' um... not-so-brave choice to reshoot and reschedule The Gangster Squad left a major movie going weekend (because there really are only a few "bad" weekends at this point) and not a single studio jumped at it.  And now, at the very least, Looper, Dredd, End of Watch, and Taken 2 will surely leave money on the table, especially the first three (Taken 2 has the advantage of being last and being a sequel to a popular original).  The irony of this is that studios were possibly afraid of positioning a violent guns-and-blood picture on a weekend affected by a mass shooting.  Yet absent a guns-and-blood action picture on last weekend's slate, the total weekend box office (which is usually an irrelevant stat) plummeted to record low levels.

As always, it's the movies, the individual films that perform in an individual result.  But when you don't have *any* movies on a given weekend, you have to expect low overall moviegoing as a result.  And when you have three weeks with too many variations on the same product, you're going to have to expect all respective action pictures to suffer.  Hollywood had a chance to prevent both scenarios yet chose not to.  

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