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Six Lessons of Summer Box Office

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 17, 2009 at 3:04AM

First the media touted the uptick in 2009 theatrical business, now they're pointing to a downturn compared to last summer's b.o., a few big flops and the absence of blockbusters. "Through Sunday, summer B.O. revs stood at $1.46 billion, compared to $1.47 billion last year," reports Variety.
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First the media touted the uptick in 2009 theatrical business, now they're pointing to a downturn compared to last summer's b.o., a few big flops and the absence of blockbusters. "Through Sunday, summer B.O. revs stood at $1.46 billion, compared to $1.47 billion last year," reports Variety.

Hold on folks, it's early days yet. Everyone knows what the blockbusters will be (besides Up): Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Disney's pairing of Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal should yield strong returns with the femme demo. But word is that neither Universal's Bruno nor Public Enemies will break out huge. And Sony's Year One and Paramount's G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (which had a disastrous preview) look soft indeed.

Here are some summer lessons:

1. Originals sell. The very thing that the majors are most afraid of is what makes Pixar King of the Mountain, every single time: originality. While everyone else looks for easy-sell labels, Pixar relies on a very old-fashioned idea: make it good and they will come. Up scored not via marketing prowess, but through great word-of-mouth. Gross to date: $191 million and going strong. Heck yeah!

2. Origin myths sell. Star Trek skipped behind the other ten movies and went back to the beginning. Director J.J. Abrams found the right balance for Trekkies and newbies alike. Gross to date: $233 million so far.

3. Smart R-rated dumb male comedies sell. Always have, always will. The Hangover is the summer's sleeper hit, grossing more than $110 million in its first two weeks. The best news for Warner Bros: no talent profit participants. The bad news: they have to share with partner Legendary Pictures.

4. R-rated dumb male comedians don't sell in family movies. Universal miscalculated by starring Will Ferrell in $100-million remake Land of the Lost. The studio pulled the second weekend print ads on the picture, an unusual move. Gross to date: $36 million.

5. Eddie Murphy without makeup doesn't sell. I rest my case with Imagine That. Put Murphy under pounds of makeup playing a character, and they show up. Give him a role playing someone close to himself and audiences stay away in droves.

6. Lackluster sequels sell--but don't break out big. The key with these tentpole franchises is keeping up the quality.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which cost $150 million, opened huge and dropped off drastically. That means Fox's massive marketing budget pulled the core comics fanbase, but the movie failed to broaden. Gross to date: $176 million domestic, $353 million worldwide.

The sequel to The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, also scored big overseas ($415 million) but did middling business stateside ($124 million). To my mind Ron Howard delivered a better E-ride this time. But the book and the movie lacked the compelling Christian scandale that the first one had. This movie was (expensive) standard-issue.

Despite McG's $200-million budget, Terminator Salvation failed to improve on its predecessors and seemed oddly retro. The highlights were not Christian Bale, who seemed to be channeling Batman, growl and all, but supporting performers Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin. Gross to date: $115 million, plus $100 million overseas.

originally posted on Variety.com

This article is related to: Franchises, Genres, Box Office, Transformers, Harry Potter, Comics, comedy, Animation


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.