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Weekend Box Office: TRON: Legacy Scores Big, How Do You Know is Non-Starter

by Anthony D'Alessandro
December 19, 2010 4:43 AM
12 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

Disney scored a big, not boffo, opening with 3-D sequel TRON: Legacy, which delivers a level of 3-D VFX not seen since James Cameron's Avatar. Clearly, the wow factor still puts butts in seats, but the movie cost more than $150 million. Who knew Jeff Bridges would win an Oscar and become a star in his 60s? He plays two roles in TRON, including his digital younger self. Stumbling out of the starting gate is James L. Brooks' $110 million not-so-romantic comedy How Do You Know, which was savaged by critics. Anthony D'Alessandro does the numbers:

Fanboys took a trip into the virtual realm of Disney’s $150 million sci-fi reboot TRON: Legacy, but not at lightcycle speed, shelling out $43.6 million in quarters. Internet reaction has been somewhat jaded to TRON's B.O., given Disney's $130-million global marketing blitz that started at Comic-Con in 2008 and peaked on October 28 with a TRON Day complete with 23-minute IMAX sneak peek. 

TRON didn’t boast Disney's Alice in Wonderland four-quadrant opening ($116.1 million) nor Sorcerer’s Apprentice bad bow ($17.6 million).  Keep in mind that TRON is not a reboot of a beloved cinematic franchise, such as the recent Star Trek ($75.2 million) or even 2001’s Planet of the Apes ($68.5 million). Rather it's a long-awaited sequel to a 1982 cult dud that grossed $33 million.  It was essential for Disney to work overtime in its promotion in order to revive mass interest and maintain core fans. It's hard to tell if moviegoers reacted against all the PR, which included an abundance of game-gear/gadget and Japanese café tie-ins, year-long billboards and even a Playboy-inspired  spread. Holiday and midweek playability are the best power-boosts for TRON’s box office survival.

“You open at this number with nothing but holiday playability ahead,” says Disney domestic distribution chief Chuck Viane. “While we definitely opened to fanboys, as we approach the holidays, the crowd will become more balanced between young and old.”  Cinemascore was B+ and skewed 66% male with 82% from 3-D hubs. Critics remain divided on TRON at 49% rotten.
 
Overall, it was an uber-competitive weekend for TRON with any four-quadrant hope stolen by a pair of adult-pleasing award-season expansions: Paramount’s The Fighter went wide at $12.2 million and Fox Searchlight's Black Swan scored $8.3 million, basking in Golden Globe and SAG noms afterglow. Warner Bros. vied to chip away at family moviegoers with its big feature adaptation of Hanna-Barbera’s Yogi Bear, which snarled a soft $16.7 million, while auditoriums remained empty for James L. Brooks all-star rom-com How Do You Know with $7.6 million.

Business was off 3% from the $138 million generated over the same frame a year ago when Avatar ruled, largely due to a combo of “bad weather and Christmas shopping," says Warner Bros. senior vp domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein. "Rain is only good for the movie business when parents don’t have any looming priorities." Starting Monday, he adds, "60% of all schools are off, then that number jumps to 70%, then 80%. It’s all about the multiple." That bodes well for Yogi Bear's prospects: the film earned a B Cinemascore overall but an A- with the under-25 crowd, which repped 52% of attendees.

Given the competition, Paramount might have been smart to platform the awards-friendly The Fighter, given the task of keeping the film alive in the marketplace through Oscars. But one Paramount executive insists: “A film like this with two major stars and all the awards fanfare -- you gotta go wide with it. You can’t hold back.” The move paid off: Paramount was expecting guys (who gave it an A- Cinemascore) to turn out for Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, but gals also turned out for the family drama (repping 53% of the audience) and gave it an A. Given the film’s R-rating, the over-25 set dominated at 87%.  “Like college football, you can’t run the same play over and over again,” says Paramount distribution executive vp Don Harris about opting for a wide release on The Fighter. “In positioning this movie for the long haul we figured it was best to have people talk about it over Christmas dinner.” Critics graded the boxing film 88% Fresh.

Meanwhile the big question with How Do You Know is ‘How did this happen?’  First, James L. Brooks needs to have a sitdown with Garry Marshall on how to control the budget on an all-star comedy: Marshall only shelled out $52 million on Valentine’s Day ($110.5 million domestic B.O.) and that starred Julia Roberts. Brooks racked up $110 million, more than half of which was spent on the salaries of Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson.  The headliners couldn’t compensate for a lackluster, muddled script which critics loathed at 36% rotten. It’s plausible that Brooks’ tendency to edit late precluded the studio from preventing a disaster. Nonetheless, this is the lowest romantic comedy bow for Reese Witherspoon since 1998’s Pleasantville ($8.9 million).
 
Here's the Top Ten Chart:

1. Tron: Legacy (Disney): $43.6 million in its first weekend at 3,451 theaters.  $12,634 theater average. Domestic total: $43.6 million.
2. Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.): $16.7 million in its first weekend at 3,515 theaters.  $4,752 theater average. Domestic total: $16.7 million.
3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Fox/Walden Media): $12.4 million down 48% in its second weekend at 3,555 theaters.  $3,488 theater average.  Domestic total: $42.8 million.
4. The Fighter (Paramount): $12.2 million up 3967% in its second weekend up at 2,503 theaters.  $4,874 theater average.  Domestic total: $12.6 million.
5. The Tourist (Sony): $8.7 million down 47% in its second weekend at 2,756 theaters.  $3,157 theater average. Domestic total: $30.8 million.
6. Tangled (Disney): $8.676 million down 40% in its fourth weekend at 3,201 theaters.  $2,710 theater average. Domestic total: $127.8 million.
7. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight): $8.3 million up 152% in its third weekend at 959 theaters.  $8,655 theater average. Domestic total: $15.7 million.
8. How Do You Know (Sony): $7.6 million in its first weekend at 2,483 theaters.  $3,061 theater average. Domestic total: $7.6 million.
9.   9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (Warner Bros.): $4.8 million down 43% in its fifth weekend at 2,860 theaters.  $1,694 theater average. Domestic total: $265.5 million.
10. Unstoppable (Fox): $1.8 million down 51% in its sixth weekend at 1,874 theaters.  $961 theater average. Domestic total: $77.3 million.

12 Comments

  • Ken | December 20, 2010 2:52 AMReply

    It's funny how every single time a so-called "chick flick" underperforms, the entire media lashes out rudely. But there have been relatively few blogs that even mention the fact that Tron is off to a disappointing start, despite the relentless and noisy advertising campaign the past few months.

  • Ed Jones | December 19, 2010 8:37 AMReply

    Just did a quick look at the numbers at Boxofficemojo.com. Taking the 12 movies that have opened better than "Tron: Legacy" in December, the average multiple (the lifetime gross divided by the opening weekend) is 5.2. If you apply that to "Tron: Legacy," it comes out to a domestic lifetime gross of $226.7 million, which would be respectable but not massive or eye-popping by any means. That's assuming there's not a huge drop in the second weekend and that it ultimately performs more like a "Lord of the Rings" movie than "I Am Legend." Given how heavily male it's skewing, though, and that the "Lord of the Rings" films all saw a major increase from Friday to Saturday, not a drop, the multiple might be more in the 4.0 range. That seems more realistic. Speaking purely on a numerical basis. And money is, in the end, what motivates Disney. This is a really rudimentary look at the numbers, but no doubt the distribution finance team is already eyeing this opening week decay with some alarm. I'd imagine you'll see some last-minute on-air and online spends coming as they try to shore this up....

  • Walt Spins | December 19, 2010 8:06 AMReply

    I should correct myself: "Night at the Museum" and "Titanic" are the only movies to open lower than "Tron: Legacy" IN DECEMBER and still crack $200 million.

  • Walt Spins | December 19, 2010 8:05 AMReply

    Film Man -- I beg to differ. "Night at the Museum" (a broad family film) and "Titanic" (in 1997) are the ONLY movies to open lower than "Tron: Legacy" and still crack $200 million. Do your homework!

    http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/weekends/month/?mo=12&p=.htm

    Does the 46-year time lag between "The Wizard of Oz" and (ahem, Disney's) "Return to Oz" not count when you say "No studio has tried to do a sequel 28 years after the first film"? There was also the 28-year difference between the first and last "Star Wars" movies, but that's different.

    Can you please tell me how many movies have had the kind of pre-release marketing campaigns involving theme parks, consumer products and "traditional" marketing as "Tron" did? Name me three movies. Please. Try!

    And now you're blaming weather? The winter of 1997 was one of the wettest on record in California and that didn't hurt "Titanic" one whit. So, that argument is out.

    "There really wasn't any large drop off at all in the numbers over the 3 days," you write. The Saturday drop was 15.1%, the estimated Sunday drop is 30.5%. Which part of that is difficult to understand?

    I'm impressed that the fanboys are rushing to "Tron's" defense. But all the wishing in the world doesn't change the reality of the numbers and the decay that "Tron" is seeing. "Tangled" opened bigger, guys. Sorry. It did. "Horton Hears a Who" opened bigger. Sorry. It did. Other movies that opened bigger than "Tron: Legacy" include "Jackass 3-D," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Superman Returns," "Scary Movie 3," "The Longest Yard," "Hancock" and "The Village."

    Yeah. "The Village" had a bigger opening than "Tron: Legacy." So, there ya go.

  • Film Man | December 19, 2010 7:42 AMReply

    Walt Spins, you are so full of it. Go look at the history of December openings. There are plenty of films that opened LOWER than TRON did and went on to make well in excess of $200 million. I'm not predicting TRON will make that or not, but with a grade of B+ that means word of mouth will be more positive than the idiotic reviews that were expected from a bunch of elitist critics. And everyone talks about this media hype campaign as if this was something new. Sorry, but there have been plenty of other movies that have had just as big of marketing campaigns as TRON. No studio has ever tried to do a sequel 28 years after the first film and a film I might add that wasn't considered anywhere near a blockbuster status. And a film that could very easily been a turn-off to a large segment of the general audience due to its unique content. Disney had to go into overdrive on the marketing to overcome the numerous hurdles it was facing in choosing to make this film. Given that we are nearly drowning in LA right now, which Californians typically do not go out in the rain - let alone much of the country, I was expecting the numbers to be closer to $40 million or less. Weather also negatively impacts B.O. and TRON did pretty darn well in spite of the weather conditions here in California and elsewhere in our country. If you look at the daily numbers for the first weekend there really wasn't any large drop off at all in the numbers over the 3 days, if at all. Which already disproves your comparison t Watchmen.

  • Anne Thompson | December 19, 2010 7:33 AMReply

    Tron scored a respectable opening given what it is. Whether it makes back its production and marketing costs is a valid question, as I hear it cost more than the reported $150 million. My headline was too-positive, I scaled it back. Anthony got it right in the body of the story.

    As to Jeff Bridges, the guy is known for being one of the great actors who never opened a movie in his life on his marquee value. Now, it seems, he has more clout with moviegoers than he ever has---though it remains to be seen how True Grit fares at the box office. That will really tell that story.

  • Walt Spins | December 19, 2010 7:16 AMReply

    The first Pirates didn't have the 3-D and IMAX surcharge and had very low expectations. It definitely didn't have Tronorails and Tron dance clubs and Tron pop-up stores. It definitely didn't have the massive hype that had fanboys and media at Comic-Con prematurely anointing it a masterpiece. Given a double-digit Friday-to-Saturday drop and a projected drop of a whopping 30% to Sunday, things are just not looking good. These are numbers we're talking about, not judgments. Disney NEEDS "Tron" to do a minimum of $250 million domestically just to save face, and more to actually make a good profit. Even at a whopping five times opening multiple (which, given that decay, seems highly unlikely -- but let's give it the benefit of the doubt), it would get to $215 domestically, putting it behind "How to Train Your Dragon." I'm fairly sure that is not what Bob Iger, Rich Ross, Sean Bailey and MT Carney had in mind. If "Tron" really is as front-loaded as it seems and it does a 2.2 multiple like a "Potter" or "Iron Man" (also fanboy driven), that puts it at $95 million domestically. That's also unlikely, but I assure you it is the worst-case scenario that Disney's accountants are floating out there as a legitimate possibility. Already, the trajectory "Tron" is following looks suspiciously and ominously like "Watchmen," another movie that garnered huge buzz at Comic-Con and bombed. It opened to a $24 million Friday, fell 25% on Saturday and another 33% on Sunday, on its way to a $107 million domestic gross -- without 3-D or IMAX. Remember with "Tron," the number you're seeing is about 25% higher than it would have been without the IMAX and 3-D upcharges. Without them, the number might have looked more like $33 million. Either way, as laudable as your fanboy hope and defenses are, at this point, Disney has to be looking for a miracle with "Tron." Pure statistics say the odds of "Tron" coming even close to $250 domestically are almost zero. Almost. Miracles do happen.

  • Ryan | December 19, 2010 7:15 AMReply

    Yea...43 million for a film with that budget and that marketing campaign is not big. Its not awful, but a disappointment for the Mouse House.

  • Bob | December 19, 2010 7:12 AMReply

    Jeff Bridges did not become a star in his 60's, he just having a big come back. He's been a star since "The Last Picture Show". Idiot.

  • Anthony | December 19, 2010 6:34 AMReply

    Dear Walt Spins,
    The first Pirates made $38.8 million in its first three days at the box office. Let's see where Tron goes in the days ahead. Too early to tell. Let's evaluate Tron after New Year's. Green Hornet poses the biggest threat to Tron during MLK, but Little Fockers? Hmmm.

  • Sergio | December 19, 2010 6:20 AMReply

    As for How Do You Know?

    1) AWFUL title. What just does How Do You Know? mean? A bad title can drive away an audiience

    2) Bad advertsing because there was no real concept on what the film was about other that it was some rom-com. What's the hook? For all you could tell Witherspoon was sleeping with a lecherous Nicholson (who wants to see THAT?) while Rudd and Wilson just watched. What was the story? What was the relationship bewteen these characters? It was never explained in the ads so people stayed away

    It was sold as "from the director of As Good As it Gets" Yeah and so what?

    Whatever the film was it looked stale, old fashioned and boring

  • Walt Spins | December 19, 2010 6:15 AMReply

    "Soars off the grid"? "Big but not boffo"?

    It didnt even match the opening of "Tangled," much less "Clash of the Titans." Do a math exercise -- subtract 25% for the 3-D/IMAX surcharge. That number looks even worse, doesn't it? What a nightmare for Disney. Turns out they called this wrong from the greenlight onward. "Tron" will struggle to get to $300 worldwide. Add up the production costs and the ridiculous marketing costs and subtract the split with exhibitors and you have Disney facing a massive loss. Guess the fanboys aren't the reliable crowd they seem to be, huh? Lesson: Just because you buy a ton of outdoor along commuter routes for Disney execs in LA does not mean you have a hit.

    $43 million is a freakin' low, LOW three-day gross for any movie, much less a $175 million sci-fi reboot of a mediocre '80s film. Wonder what this means for that reboot of "The Black Hole" or the reboot of "20,000 Leagues," or the over-budgeted "Magic Kingdom"?

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