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Six Lessons of Summer Box Office

by Anne Thompson
June 17, 2009 3:04 AM
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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

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