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Tops and Flops of 2012 Box Office - Lessons Learned

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
December 26, 2012 3:37 PM
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The Grey
The Grey

The French Newer Wave

It may be 20 years since France won the Foreign Language Film Oscar and 50 years since the French New Wave was at its height, but the importance of France in American -- and international -- film has never been greater. Three vastly different French-produced films grossed nearly $1 billion total worldwide, mostly during this year.

For Americans, "The Artist," the first French film ever to win the Best Picture Oscar, is the most familiar. And its worldwide gross of $133 million was phenomenal for a black and white, silent film irrespective of its origin. But it is impossible to imagine any American studio ponying up the $15 million production cost, much less for a relatively unknown director. That the money was raised in France reminds that for most films, outside-the-box financing ofen comes from overseas.

"Taken 2," from producer Luc Besson, is nearing $400 million worldwide, 50% better than the initial film. Made in English, most Americans didn't give a second thought to its origin. But the most phenomenal of them all was "The Intouchables," made by a pair of unknown directors. A major subtitled success in the U.S. ($10 million), it grossed over $400 million in the rest of the world, mostly this year, mainly before it was released here, with no ties at all to American studios. The Weinsteins had the sense to acquire it stateside.

Industries and governments around the world, from China to South Africa to Argentina, do appreciate that a variety of globally successful films are being made totally removed from any American production involvement.  That development may provide the biggest challenge to the American industry. (At year's end, Spanish production "The Impossible" received limited release ahead of a wider campaign by Lionsgate, which is pushing for a hoped-for nomination for lead Naomi Watts.)

Healthy market for mid-budget wide releases

Studio production has become increasingly divided between two tiers: hugely expensive would-be tentpoles and less expensive pictures, often aimed for awards season, that are stacked at the end of the year. Recently, the rest of the lower-to-mid-level films have been genre (often horror) or aimed at minority audiences (the latter having ittle market outside the U.S.). This year saw some successes in finding a market for mid-level budgeted mainstream films - $20-40 million in budget - that fall outside those parameters.

Some of these came from the new Open Road Distribution operation co-owned by the two largest exhibitors in the country, Regal and AMC. "The Grey" (which was #1 its opening week) grossed $51 million on a $25 million budget, and the $7 million "End of Watch" grossed $41 million. But the studios also had some real success - "The Vow" (Sony) - $125/$30, "Think Like a Man" (Sony) - $92/$12, "Flight" (Paramount) - $91/$31 million; "Act of Valor" (Relativity) - $70/$12; "Contraband" Universal - $66/$25. Notable also was Universal's "Pitch Perfect"  ($64/$17), which was launched with no certain audience quadrant, without huge review support, relying more on social media than traditional advertising. Released initially on 335 theaters, with a particular emphasis on college towns, it ended up as a profitable film and more importantly as a case study of how to match marketing to movie rather than making a movie based on a pre-set marketing model.

But the biggest success was "Magic Mike," developed by star Channing Tatum and made for $7 million with director Steven Soderbergh. The film was sold after completion to Warner Bros. for the U.S. It ended up grossing $113 million, $167 million world wide after being spurned by all studios while in development. These wins will make it easier for other indies to score financing outside the festival/prestige market- - which could yield a more varied range of strong commercial films in theaters. 

Box Office
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  • Hurdy | December 28, 2012 10:15 AMReply

    Django Uprising? -_-

  • Blake | December 27, 2012 9:20 AMReply

    Just a correction-- Magic Mike was not 'spurned by all studios while in development'
    Soderbergh and Channing financed the film 100% themselves. Started writing in April, then pre sold the foreign at Cannes in May. Shooting began in late July August. They never made an attempt to sell the US rights prior to filming because they wanted to make the film the way they wanted to make it (after all, THEY were paying for it) studios were invited to set to see some shooting when they decided to sell the US rights...there was interest from a couple of studios..but it was soderbergh's long relationship with Sue Kroll at Warner Bros and his believe that her team of people could sell the sh-t out of the film. Sue had to bend Robinov's arm to buy the US...and in the end, the film made a ton of money for the studio.

  • Lane | December 26, 2012 6:41 PMReply

    Sad to see the shoddy reporting here on Cloud Atlas. It has yet to open in the vast majority of its international markets. It still has a great chance to break even

  • lane | December 27, 2012 5:25 AM

    Thanks for the response. And i concede it probably won't break even, but i still take issue with you presenting its grosses as something finite. It still has a lot of money to make, as it is playing well enough in major markets outside of the US. The press is taking a mild lashing to its failed status. The healthier alternative would be to highlight what an incredible gamble it was, and that while it will not break even, it isn't 'a major global failure.' For a film of its nature it could have done much worse. We shouldn't be actively discouraging this sort of filmmaking. People complain about reboots, sequels, and giant-fighting-robots and then gripe about something like Cloud Atlas. Pick a side in funding philosophy. Economics is a belief system, after all

  • Tom Brueggemann | December 26, 2012 7:52 PM

    Lane -
    Cloud Atlas had a reported production budget of $100 million. Typically, the costs for marketing and distribution for that level of cost is at least $50 million. A fairly typical estimate of how much a movie must gross theatrically to get on the road to profit is around 1.5 times production and marketing costs.
    That would be $225 million worldwide. The distributors would get about half of that back in film rental - $112-3 million. Other revenues would accrue from cable, DVD and other sources.
    Cloud Atlas has grossed $27 million in the US, $38 million in countries it has opened. It would need to another $160 million in other major territories to break even - which seems extremely unlikely (it would be unprecedented).
    My figures are very rough guesses, but I believe are in the ballpark.

  • sergio | December 26, 2012 6:17 PMReply

    Another trend: Taylor Kitsch is not the next 'Hot" thing

  • Billy | December 26, 2012 4:49 PMReply

    One of the trends you missed was the burgeoning 'silver screening' demographic, exemplified by the success of 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' ($46m off a $10 m budget and $134 worldwide) and 'Hope Springs'. No doubt this group will help fuel the success of 'Les Mis'. With Dustin Hoffman's 'Quartet' and 'Song for Marion' coming soon this trend is set to continue.

  • Tom Brueggemann | December 26, 2012 7:58 PM

    Billy - that is a fair point. I am going to discuss this in more detail in a separate coverage of specialized box office for the year, although you are right that it has been a factor in wide-releases recently as well (this has been a big part of the reporting on box office for the last few weeks.)

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