Sunday, March 24, 2013

Weekend Box Office (03/24/13) part I: The Croods isn't Dreamworks' comeback because they weren't in free-fall.

What a difference three years and an deflated expectations make.  Three years ago this weekend, Dreamworks had to eat a token amount of crow when How To Train Your Dragon opened with *just* $43 million.  Coming off the $59 million debut of Monsters vs. Aliens a year prior and elevated expectations due to the "new-found" popularity of 3D, the film was written off initially as a slight disappointment with the hopes that strong reviews and word-of-mouth would keep it alive.  Of course, the film had insane legs and eventually ended up with $217 million domestic, but that's another story.  Now, coming off the somewhat disappointing Rise of the Guardians ($303 million worldwide), a series of company lay-offs, and the delaying and/or cancellation of a few projects (like Me and My Shadow), Dreamworks is now trying to sell the (estimated as of this writing) $44 million debut of The Croods as a comeback and/or a massive win for the company.  But not only is this not a comeback, but I would argue that Dreamworks doesn't have anywhere to come back from and that the perception of their failing after a single disappointing film is indicative of the fall-out of our obsession with rise/fall narratives where they don't belong.

A debut lower A Shark Tale back in 2004 ($47 million), Megamind in 2010 ($46 million), and Madagascar in 2005 ($47 million, part of a $60 million Memorial Day weekend) is now a raging success and a sign of Dreamworks's comeback?  Right... Heck, adjusted for inflation (and not factoring in 3D prices), this is a lower debut than Bee Movie ($37 million in 2007).  What this means is that me thinks that Dreamworks really needs to stop being a publicly traded company.  They took a massive hit back in 2005 when Madagascar didn't open like Shrek 2 (shocker!) and even before Rise of the Guardians opened to just $23 million during the Fri-Sun portion of Thanksgiving, purely because it was expected that the film would disappoint (self-fulfilling prophecy?).  What we really have here is an animations studio whose last eight films have earned an average of $526 million worldwide on around $150 million a pop. Yes Rise of the Guardians and Megamind ($321 million) weren't mega-smashes but that's what the safety of can't-miss sequels like Kung Fu Panda 2 (also written off as a flop even after it grossed $665 million word wide) and Madagascar 3 ($742 million worldwide or more than any other Pixar film save Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo).

Rise of the Guardians allegedly lost $100 million, which is very bad, but Madagascar 3 earned them at least $200 million after production and marketing ($145m production, $145m marketing if not much less, gives you $452m divided by two = $226m) and before after-theatrical revenue.  The idea that Dreamworks needs to completely change how it does business and/or 'do soul searching' after a single somewhat disappointing title is frankly moronic.  Sure their sequels have done better than their originals of late, but that's pretty standard in the industry, and The Croods cost $135 million, or on the lower-end of what Dreamworks spends on these films.  This is the same 'one strike and your out' mentality that made everyone believe that Pixar somehow needs a 'comeback' after Cars 2 "only" made $559 million and Brave "only" made $535 million.  This will surely happen again when a Marvel film inevitably doesn't quite set the box office world on fire.  By the way, we talk about mere $500 million+ worldwide grosses while Marvel's biggest earner outside the Iron Man franchise and The Avengers is Thor with $449 million worldwide.  Even the Iron Man franchise has earned *just* $623 million worldwide and $585 million worldwide respectively, or about in line with an upper-end solid Dreamworks animated film. One whiff following a string of successes merely means that you can't hit a home run every time.

I'm disappointed that Dreamworks felt the need to lay off 350 of their 2,200 employees, and I think it was the wrong call in the long-term.  I was looking forward to seeing Me and My Shadow (which was to be a mix of computer animation and hand-drawn animation) and whatever might of become of the Peabody and Sherman film (which is still on calendar for March, 2014 for now).  But one relative box office disappointment, especially one that wasn't as parent-friendly as the likes of The Croods and was badly marketed to boot, should not bring a company to its knees after a string of highly profitable ventures. The Croods received an A from Cinemascore and a hearty 3.7x weekend multiplier.  It will surely have strong weekday business due to Spring Break and it's the only animated film in the marketplace until Fox's Epic on Memorial Day.  By the way, Fox is now the distributor for Dreamworks Animation, taking over from Paramount, so it's all-but-assured that the strong overseas numbers will continue unabated.  A domestic total of around $150 million and a global total of $450-$550 million isn't out of the question, at which point we'll all start wringing our hands over Turbo, their apparent "Cars with Slugs!" racing film due July 17, 2013.

Dreamworks has slowly built a solid slate of marketable characters which they have only just begun to monetize in the ways that Disney does as a matter of course.  When they have two expensive disappointments in a row, then we can all panic. When the next Madagascar film only grossed $400 million worldwide, then we can panic.  But for now stop with the doomsday predictions and for goodness sake, especially those who trade on Wall Street, take a moment to do some box office research before you initiate a fire-sale for a company whose two films in 2012 earned a total of $1.055  billion worldwide.

Scott Mendekson                  


Kenneth Chisholm said...

Thank you for your perspective, but I was concerned what would happen to DA if the Croods didn't deliver after RoTG underperformance. What DA needs is a more stable arrangement where they can whether the occassional flop which is bound to happen.

María Angeles said...

Nice to meet you for the first time! Very interesting fr me to know how stupids the producers can be. "How to train your dragon", (mostly) and "The rise of the guardians" made my children so happy and gave me the opportunity to talk with them about so deeps things and make them funny... but nobody seems to take this on account when talking about succes in...


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