A few months ago, a memo was “leaked” supposedly containing the budget and gross information on the fifth film in the “Harry Potter” series. According to those documents of unverifiable content, the film, which made nearly a billion theatrical dollars worldwide, lost over a hundred million. Studios are fishy when it comes to accounting, as they’ll gladly tell you about their opening weekend, and often they’ll be candid about a budget as well. But you won’t find out how much the advertising budget was, what money came from ancillaries and more importantly, what kind of profit everyone took home.
Which is to say there was probably some colorful accounting to make it look like that particular film in the series landed in the red. Studios will never confess to making a profit, since it means they now owe large sums to back-end profit participants. There’s usually some money being pushed around to make it look like everyone’s going home a little more broke. Regardless, whether you believe those documents or not, they do an excellent job highlighting how small the margin of error is with these blockbusters.
The latest “Harry Potter” did well, and should do close to a billion worldwide, because that’s what Warner Bros. expects. There is no news in breathlessly reporting how “Deathly Hallows Part One” did because those were expectations. While the lowest grossing (and last semi-interesting) “Potter” film, “The Prisoner of Azkaban” finished under $800 million worldwide, the DVDs for these films are consistently huge sellers, and will no doubt remain catalog hits for the studio for the next decade. So we’re talking a billion every time out, not including merch. No franchise has had this sort of financial stability, so it’s a credit to a devoted fan base of children and people who have failed to grow up.
Does this film have the juice to become a top earner for the series? Probably, but that has a lot to do with inflation more than anything else. In addition to most people knowing they’re being swindled into a two-movie package (“Part Two” arrives next summer), the film has a tedious, flabby midsection and ends anticlimactically, preventing too many repeat viewings. After the diehards went to “Half-Blood Prince,” the second weekend drop was hefty, and that should be the case again, since the normals are tuned out until the big finale - THAT one will be in 3D, and will probably need $1.5 billion or so to impress WB shareholders, provided the film isn’t unwatchably bad.
It’s a good time to remind people that these pictures are lovely children’s entertainment, but kids and families alone don’t goose an opening past $100 million. “Harry Potter” is a lovely fable about growing up and facing conflict for young people, but there’s very little to chew on for actual adults. Behind the bluster of special effects confrontations and needlessly busy narratives, the series still boils down to an entirely reactionary hero and a series of white hat-black hat battle sequences. There is literally nothing for a college-age adult to find worthy of perusal in these films, and yet, a huge bulk of this audience (and the audiences before it, for this year‘s “family” films like “Shrek” and “Alice In Wonderland”) are of a significant age. People would be wise to take their complaints about a lack of adult options at the theaters to the grown men and women gladly paying to sit in a cramped theater on opening weekend to watch a boy wizard learn to grow up by fighting other wizards.
Abandoned in second place was the kiddie flick “Megamind,” which lost a sizable chunk of its audience to the “Potter” gravy train. Those involved with the film should be grateful “Potter” wasn’t in 3D, though the boy wizard did have the biggest IMAX booking of all-time. If the audience drops continue, "Megamind" might be a tough play for more than $150m, but international should shore that up. Though, of course, Dreamworks was hoping for more when they joined Will Ferrell with Brad Pitt. As would we all.
The Denzel Washington V. train thriller “Unstoppable” took a medium-level second weekend tumble, though it should play for the next few weeks as one of the closest approximations of adult entertainment in the marketplace. Of course, the murmurs are, even after haggling with backend participants Washington and director Tony Scott, Fox spent way too much to get this thing onscreen.
“Due Date” continues a joyless march to $100 million, but the follow-up to “The Hangover” (at least marketing-wise) wasn’t exactly the zeitgeist-grabber they were hoping for. Again, the WB went weirdly all-in on Todd Phillips’ most expensive movie yet, but people didn’t respond. The cost suggests a profit won’t be too far away, but sticking the trailer on everything this summer wasn’t cheap.
Debuting at number five was, oh, look at that - counter programming. With the exception of “Walk The Line” a few years ago, nothing has ever opened successfully against a “Potter” film. Counterprogramming only works when there are enough theaters to accommodate everyone. “The Next Three Days” was pitched to audiences as a film for “adults,” but a lot of the greybeards knew that, with Potter-mania sweeping the country, a theater is the last place they’d want to be. It’s like having a Godard retrospective at Sesame Place. “Three Days” is too long and too dumb, so the returns in the next few weeks aren’t expected to be big, though Lionsgate is supposedly counting on Thanksgiving loners who don’t kowtow to kids but are willing to sample the latest Russell Crowe endeavor. His star has fluctuated over the years, but he’s still a big headliner abroad (“Body of Lies,“ “State of Play,“ “A Good Year“ and especially “Robin Hood“ did far superior business overseas), so he’ll continue to take the lead until another gigantic bomb, but this one hurts. As for Paul Haggis? No one treats his Oscar seriously, and this proves he can’t do the Andrew Davis-thing with an upscale actioner either. Perhaps back to script-doctoring for him, and maybe another directorial effort if it's under a $20 million budget.
Meekly completing its second weekend was “Morning Glory,” which didn’t suffer a giant plummet, but mostly because of its already-unremarkable first weekend. Right now everyone’s losing a pretty penny on this, so Paramount can only seek solace in this thing leapfrogging the dubious “Skyline.” The sci-fi pickup deflated embarrassingly in its second weekend, and it looks like Universal is going to cut bait and hope for robust DVD rentals from masochistic curiosity-seekers. Close behind is “Red,” which wraps up its run with a desperation reach for $90 million. Globally the film is performing strongly, and it will no doubt be a solid DVD hit - not certain if Summit has the home video rights, but they spent very little to acquire the film and are already reaping mighty benefits. Bruce Willis remains firm on the B+ list.
"For Colored Girls" is rounding out a so-so run, while, in limited release, there were decent enough numbers for “Fair Game” to get the film into the top ten on only 300+ screens, though it was easily declared DOA at the box office after the first weekend. A little more surprising is the lack of muscle shown by “127 Hours,” which hasn’t gotten the awards season heat that Danny Boyle’s last, “Slumdog Millionaire,” strongly benefited from. In slightly over 100 engagements, the film is going to do less than a million with a solid per-screen, which is almost enough to crawl into the top ten, but not nearly enough to suggest the arthouse blockbuster it's meant to be, before a wider expansion. Clearly, the Oscar win has not yet turned Danny Boyle into a marquee box office director yet.
Debuting on only three screens, Oscar hopeful "Made In Dagenham" performed wholly unremarkably, averaging a little over $13k per screen. Making a similar debut with a much lower profile was "White Material," the latest from Clare Denis, which used three screens to average $12k per, most of those hardcore Christopher Lambert fans, we'd say. Weaker news for "Today's Special," the week's best indie bow at $55k, but on a surprising 55 screens, meaning a lot of engagements and not a lot of eyeballs. "William S. Burroughs: A Man Within" premiered on one screen and grabbed $7k worth of fans for microindie distributor Oscilloscope. Support your local indie theaters, folks. We doubt there are any long lines.
1. Harry Potter Part One Of Seven, I Mean Part One Of Part Seven, Or Part Seven Out Of Eight (WB) - $125 million
2. Megamind 3D (Paramount) - $16.2 million ($109 mil.)
3. Unstoppable (Fox) - $13.1 million ($42 mil.)
4. Due Date (WB) - $9.1 million ($73 mil.)
5. The Next Three Days (Lionsgate) - $6.8 million
6. Morning Glory (Paramount) - $5.2 million ($20 mil.)
7. Skyline (Universal) - $3.4 million ($18 mil.)
8. Red (Summit) - $2.5 million ($84 mil.)
9. For Colored Girls (Lionsgate) - $2.4 million ($35 mil.)
10. Fair Game (Summit) - $1.5 million ($3.7 mil.)