Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Box Office Predictions (Jan 1 - 3)

Movie Predicted Gross (m) Change
1. Avatar 65.3 -13.6%
2. Sherlock Holmes 39.5 -36.7%
3. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel 35.9 -26.3%
4. It's Complicated 17.5 -20.8%
5. The Blind Side 10.8 -6.1%
6. The Princess and the Frog 9.6 +6.7%
7. Up in the Air 9.2 -18.6%
8. Did You Hear About the Morgans? 3.9 -22.0%
9. Nine 3.9 -28.4%
10. Invictus 3.4 -15.9%

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (12/21 - 12/27)

Weekly Gross (yuan/dollar)
Total (yuan/dollar)
1. Bodyguards and Assassins (十月围城)
110m ($16.11m)
184.8m ($27.06m)
2. A Simple Noodle Story (三枪拍案惊奇)
44m ($6.44m)
221m ($32.37m)
3. The Treasure Hunter (刺陵)
8.4m ($1.23m)
59m ($8.64m)
4. The Storm Riders 2 (风云2)
7.5m ($1.10m)
52.5m ($7.69m)
5. Poker King (扑克王)
7.4m ($1.08m)
7.4m ($1.08m)
6. Midnight Taxi (午夜出租车)
6.6m ($0.97m)
6.6m ($0.97m)
7. 2012
4.8m ($0.70m)
460.6m ($67.49m)

(Source, 1 chinese yuan == $0.14645)

A quiet week where we saw only a few smaller local releases, although each performed fine with respect to their budget and size. Instead, the week belonged to Bodyguards and Assassins, which soared 47% with its excellent word-of-mouth and should pass A Simple Noodle Story in total sometime this week. With Avatar moved out of the New Year weekend, it will have another full week by itself, so 400m yuan is within reach.

On a side note, I always thought Transformers 2's total was 430m yuan, but it turned out the unreported gross from its late run pushed the total to 454m yuan in the end, still not enough to keep 2012 from setting the new record a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Avatar Daily Predictions (Dec 28 - Jan 3)

After studying the daily patterns of 1998, the last time Christmas and New Year fell on Friday, I am thinking we could see the following numbers this week:

$19.5m (-19.6%)
$20.0m (+2.6%)
$17.8m (-11%)
$16.0m (-10%)
$25.0m (+56%)
$23.5m (-6%)
$16.0m (-32%)

That would give it a 3rd weekend of $64.5m (-15%) and a 17-day total of $350m. A 4.0 multiplier from there, which could very well be conservative, would yield a $543m total. Folks, we don't get many opportunities to witness something like this, even fewer in December, where holidays make dailies even more interesting to track, so let's enjoy THE box office event of 2009, a fitting way to conclude as well as extend the most eventful box office year in recent memory.

NOTE: I originally didn't realize there was a massive snowstorm happened on the 1999 New Year weekend, so after comparing with the dailies from the more recent years, I'm upping the Saturday and Sunday predictions respectively.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Weekend Box Office Predictions

Movie Predicted Gross (m) Change
1. Avatar 65.0 -15.6%
2. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel 50.0 $13,680 PTA
3. Sherlock Holmes 40.0 $11,030 PTA
4. It's Complicated 12.5 $4,330 PTA
5. Up in the Air 12.5 $6,600 PTA
6. The Princess and the Frog 11.0 -9.8%
7. The Blind Side 9.0 -10.0%
8. Nine 7.5 $5,310 PTA
9. Did You Hear About the Morgans? 5.5 -16.7%
10. The Twilight Saga: New Moon 2.7 -38.6%

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (12/14 - 20): Bodyguards and Assassins, the last big film of 2009

Weekly Gross (yuan/dollar)
Total (yuan/dollar)
1. A Simple Noodle Story (三枪拍案惊奇)
76m ($11.13m)
177.32m ($25.97m)
2. Bodyguards and Assassins (十月围城)
74.8m ($10.95m)
74.8m ($10.95m)
3. The Treasure Hunter (刺陵)
16.5m ($2.42m)
50.5m ($7.40m)
4. The Storm Riders 2 (风云2)
15m ($2.20m)
45m ($6.59m)
5. 2012
8.8m ($1.29m)
455.8m ($66.79m)
6. Mulan (花木兰)
0.9m ($0.13m)
83.2m ($12.19m)
7. G-Force (豚鼠特工队)
0.75m ($0.11m)
26.5m ($3.88m)
(Source, 1 chinese yuan == $0.14645)

The crowded market is showing its full effect. Mulan, The Storm Riders 2, The Treasure Hunter were all considered strong (or almost shoe-in) contenders for 100m yuan, but it appears none of them will make the benchmark. A Simple Noodle Story is not going to challenge the initial target of 400m yuan either; however, that has more to do with its polarized word-of-mouth. Bodyguards and Assassins, on the other hand, is carrying excellent WOM and could conceivably surpass A Simple Noodle Story in total gross. This week will provide a brief breathing window, and then all eyes will be on the highly anticipated arrival of Avatar on Jan 2nd.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Dec 18 - 20)

Predicted Gross (m)
1. Avatar
$22,000 average
2. The Princess and the Frog
3. The Blind Side
4. Invictus
5. A Christmas Carol
6. Did You Hear About the Morgans?
$1,730 average
7. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
8. Up in the Air
9. 2012
10. Old Dogs

Avatar, Avatar, Avatar. We first heard it is supposed to be revolutionary. Then we read it is supposed to be very good. Now we will see if it is going to be record breaking. From the very beginning, the buzz for the film had been almost exclusively online driven, from fans who have been religiously following Cameron's decade-long endeavor, until the first trailer was shown on the big screen. General public started to murmur, but most were unsure what to make of all the blue characters and the plot. A month later a longer trailer came out, and media coverage began to rise; more people were converted. Still, except for the segments some had the early opportunity to watch, mystery remained on how the final product would look. Finally the full version was screened to critics a couple of weeks, but with an embargo on publishing reviews, making one wonder if Fox was concerned about the quality. Then last Thursday came the sudden decision of lifting the embargo, and the buzz has simply skyrocketed exponentially. The movie has always had a core audience that would have allowed it to open in the $40-50m range regardless with all the IMAX and 3D screen it plans to occupy, but now with phrases of "revolutionizing the medium", "breathtakingly futuristic", and "a landmark film" being thrown around by critics from major publications, with Best Picture and Best Director nominations from Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics Association, it is reaching a much broader audience. Young males will still represent its biggest audience, at least initially, but female and older demographics are becoming interested as well. The word-of-mouth, by all acounts, is going to be splendid, not just because of its technical virtuoso, but because it appears to have a story that could make people's heart weep, and we all know how far that combination propelled Titanic to. Not saying Avatar will reach that far, but I will be surprised stunned if it does not have at least a 4.0 multiplier. In fact, 4.5+ seems very realistic. However, first things first, the present question is if it could break I Am Legend's December opening weekend record of $77m. I'd give it close to a 50/50 chance of doing just that.

Sony intended Did You Hear About the Morgans? to be the counter-programming choice opposite of Avatar, but as the release is approaching, the film has generated no buzz even with its two well-known leads, Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. It began on the wrong foot right off the bat this week when Major Theater Chain tracking puts its opening number at $6m on Monday, and by today, both # of tweets and Box Office Mojo polls also showed alarming similarity to what Everybody's Fine and Love Happens had on the week of their releases. Another major issue for Morgans is females over 25, their key demographics, could be busy shopping for Christmas and are more willing to wait before catching up on films they are interested. It will also not benefit from spillover business from Avatar as the male audience will choose 2012 or a number of other films over it as their second choice. Combining all those factors paints a terribly gloomy picture, even though it might feel inconceivable for such a movie to open below $5m.

Over the years, the performance of holdovers on this equivalent weekend has fluctuated greatly. In 2007 when I Am Legend opened, the top 5 holdovers dropped an average of 50%, but they also had to face another $44m opener in Alvin & Chipmunks. If we go back two years further, we would see that the top 5 holdovers dropped an average of 42% when facing King Kong, while two more years back, the average decline was even smaller at 28% even though Return of the King and Mona Lisa Smile accounted for $84m total. Normally when only one blockbuster opens, regardless how big it could get, it is more likely to be beneficial to the overall market by generating interests in going to theaters and creating spillover business; it only becomes more negative to the existing films when there are two or more major releases on the same week which could cover a much wider range of population. So for this weekend, I expect most holdovers to stabilize quite nicely, especially we are closer to Christmas this time than the past few years. The ones to get hurt the most will be the male-oriented, R-rated films, e.g. Brothers and Ninja Assassin.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (12/07 - 13): a gigantic weekend

Weekly Gross (yuan/dollar)
Total (yuan/dollar)
1. A Simple Noodle Story (三枪拍案惊奇)
101.32m ($14.84m)
101.32m ($14.84m)
2. The Treasure Hunter (刺陵)
34m ($4.98m)
34m ($4.98m)
3. The Storm Riders 2 (风云2)
30m ($4.39m)
30m ($4.39m)
4. 2012
23m ($3.37m)
447m ($65.5m)
5. Mulan (花木兰)
9.8m ($1.44m)
82.3m ($12.06m)
6. G-Force (豚鼠特工队)
2.5m ($0.37m)
26m ($3.81m)
7. Twilight (暮光之城)
1.3m ($0.19m)
11.5m ($1.68m)
8. District 9 (第九区)
1.3m ($0.19m)
12.7m ($1.86m)
(1 chinese yuan == $0.14646)

This is the week everybody had been looking forward to ever since the announcement of Avatar joining the crowded winter schedule, the most lucrative time of the year for box office in China, by placing its opening date on January 2nd. It forced the studio to move A Simple Noodle Story, Zhang Yimou's latest and a loose remake of Coen Brothers' debut film Blood Simple, from its original schedule of Dec 18th up a week, creating a logjam of three high-profile domestic films. The Treasure Hunter and The Storm Riders 2 suffered as a result, but both still posted solid results. Combined, the three openers were able to push the box office to a new height, where for the first time ever, the weekly total broke 200m yuan ($29m).

A Simple Noodle Story had a better opening than last December's blockbuster, If You Are the One, but its word-of-mouth is much more mixed, so I highly doubt it will be able to challenge 400m yuan, especially with another major holiday contender, Bodyguards and Assassins, coming up right around the corner.

2012 suffered a big decline as expected. Nonetheless, it finally broke Transformers 2's all-time record and will be first film to cross 450m yuan. Also even though 68.5% looks huge, the drop was still the best among all holdovers in the top 8, another indication of its staying power.

Friday, December 11, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (11/30 - 12/06)

Weekly Gross (yuan/dollar)
Total (yuan/dollar)
1. 2012
73m ($10.69m)
424m ($62.1m)
2. Mulan(花木兰)
42m ($6.15m)
72.5m ($10.62m)
3. G-Force(豚鼠特工队)
9.5m ($1.39m)
23.5m ($3.44m)
4. District 9(第九区)
6.0m ($0.88m)
11.4m ($1.67m)
5. Twilight(暮光之城:暮色)
5.2m ($0.76m)
10.2m ($1.49m)
6. Panda Express(熊猫大侠)
2.2m ($0.73m)
19.7m ($2.89m)
7. Mars Baby(火星没事)
1.0m ($0.15m)
9.3m ($1.36m)

Without any new films entering the market, 2012 continued to hold strong and has set the new all-time record in China some time this week. A phenomenal feat considering the previous record holder Transformer 2 had many built-in advantages over the film. And just in time too since three major, I mean really major, local releases are coming this week between 10th and 11th, and they will take over 90% of the available screens. That shows a current problem where the number of screens are still relatively small comparing to the population. An expansion of 30-50% is expected for 2010, so hopefully films could stay longer than the average run of 3 to 4 weeks.

Mulan rebounded well the second week, but unfortunately it was the only breathing period it has. Doesn't look like it will get past much over 100m.

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Dec 11 - 13)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. The Princess and the Frog24.0$7,000 average
2. The Blind Side12.6-37%
3. Invictus10.5$4,940 average
4. The Twilight Saga: New Moon6.5-58%
5. A Christmas Carol6.0-23%
6. Brothers4.5-53%
7. Old Dogs3.9-43%
8. 20123.4-50%
9. Armored2.9-55%
10. Ninja Assassin2.4-52%

The Princess and the Frog has grossed $2.8m total in 14 days while being in just two theaters. It is no question a terrific feat, but we need to keep in mind that such phenomenon is not uncommon for a Disney release (see chart). It does not tell us how the film may perform when expanding beyond Disney's exclusive El Capitan theater. If we look at the other films on that all-time per-theater-average chart, we would see Hercules made $21.5m when expanded to 2,621 theaters, Pocahontas made $29.5m in 2,569, and Brother Bear, released outside the summer, got $19.4m in 3,030. Expect somewhere in between those numbers for The Princess and the Frog. Mid-$20m might not appear that impressive at first, but such a number is in fact very good for a traditional 2D feature, and given this is December, it could easily make to $140m total with that result.

By comparison, The other wide opener Invictus is a more difficult film to gauge. On one hand, Clint Eastwood just had his biggest financial success at the beginning of this year when Gran Torino grossed $29.5m when expanded nationwide before enjoying a terrific leggy run to finish with $148m total. Adding the star power of Freeman and Damon, along with Warner Bros' efficient marketing, Invictus appears to have the right ingredients for at least a high-teen opening. Nonetheless, on the other hand, December-released, adult-oriented films with Oscar aspiration are not going for any big opening numbers, but rather the legs. A multiplier over 6 could be expected for such movie, but the initial return tends to be depressed. As an example, The Blood Diamond, even with DiCaprio starring, director Edward Zwick coming off the success of The Last Samurai, and strong poll numbers at Box Office Mojo, opened to a meek $8.6m in 2006, which would adjust to $10m today. Invictus also has to confront the competition of the red-hot The Blind Side, so witnessing an opening in the low-teen instead would not be a surprise either.

Examining the equivalent frames from the past three years, we see that the holdovers generally had a lower Friday increase than the previous week, leading to a harsher weekend decline when comparing to the midweek numbers. On average, the weekend hold had been 7 percentage points worse than the preceding Wednesday-to-Wednesday hold. However, there is one factor to pay attention: snowstorm. The widespread snowstorm caused lower-than-usual Friday jump last week and has continued to depress the box office since. If the weather improves, we could see some better recoveries this time, although people could just as easily decide to wait further until the holiday.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Dec 4 - 6)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. The Blind Side20.0-50.1%
2. The Twilight Saga: New Moon19.5-55%
3. A Christmas Carol8.5-46%
4. Brothers8.0$3,830 average
5. 20127.0-60%
6. Armored6.5$3,400 average
7. Old Dogs6.5-62%
8. Ninja Assassin5.7-57%
9. Everybody's Fine4.0$1,880 average
10. Planet 513.8-63%
-. Up in the Air1.1$73,300 average
-. Translymania0.3$284 average

The general assumption is that the public would be in recovery mode post-Thanksgiving, both physically and mentally from all the shopping and traveling, so movie studios by and large have avoided releasing anything major this weekend. Such strategy creates a downward cycle where the depressed frame caused studios to think they are correct in avoiding it, and that in turn depresses the same weekends in the future further, even though in 2003, by making $37m combined, The Last Samurai and Honey demonstrated, as many other occasions have before and after, that viewers can and will turn up regardless of the season if they deem the product is worth spending for. During the five years since then, the best an individual film has done is $12.7m from Aeon Flux, and on average a film has opened to a paltry $5.3m. The scenario does not figure to change this year, as none of the four new wide releases are expected to break double digits.

Among them, Brothers looks to be in best shape with reasonable online interests and appearance on the top 5 advance ticket sales list. It possesses the most star power with Maguire, Portman, and Gyllenhaal, and director Jim Sheridan could bring in some additional fans of his as well. Look for it to reach high single digit. Armored will be competing for the young male crowd and does have the rating advantage, but the trailer has not generated much curiosity. A $2-2.5m Friday is likely for a $6-7m weekend. Going into the week, people appeared to have the highest hope on Everybody's Fine given its genre and cast, but such hope is fading fast. The tracking numbers are indicating a sub $5m weekend, and the signs so far are confirming a similar outcome. Even though the film appeals to an older audience, not registering anywhere either online or in advance sales is troublesome. A mere $4m weekend would not be surprising. If a question is asked about if one was aware of what the film Translymania, our final wide release of the week, is before this week, I doubt we would see many hands raised. In fact, even now few know of its existence. The distributor Full Circle Releasing is the new kid on the block, although a more experienced studio would still find headache promoting this one. At least Full Circle Releasing somehow convinced 1,055 theater owners to show the film, but the per-theater-average could challenge the all-time low for a movie released in over 1,000 locations, currently held by Delgo with its $237 average. Nobel Son, which grossed $333,912 in 893 theaters, could be a good comparison.

With wide releases taking a rest, the weekend gives films with limited engagement an opportunity to shine, and this time it is no other than Up in the Air. Long regarded as one of the frontrunners for the year-end awards including the Oscar and fresh off winning NBR, the film has all the momentum to make a long and prosperous box office run. Its ceiling may not be as high as Juno's due to the more restricted R-rating and a more adult-oriented theme, but that will not affect this weekend when it is only released in 15 theaters. The per-theater-average is unlikely to be as high as Precious' $100K since the latter was more strategically placed with more screens per theater, but exceeding Juno's $59K in 7 should be easily within reach. It will gradually expand the next couple of weeks before going nationwide on Christmas weekend.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (11/23 - 29): 2012 on track for the all-time record

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)ChangeTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. 2012118m ($17.29m)-19.2%351m ($51.4m)
2. Mulan(花木兰)30m ($4.40m)New30m ($4.40m)
3. G-Force(豚鼠特工队)14m ($2.05m)New14m ($2.05m)
4. Panda Express(熊猫大侠)7.2m ($1.05m)-30.1%17.5m ($2.56m)
5. District 9(第九区)5.4m ($0.79m)New5.4m ($0.79m)
6. Twilight(暮光之城:暮色)5.0m ($0.73m)New5.0m ($0.73m)
7. Mars Baby(火星没事)3.7m ($0.54m)-19.6%8.3m ($1.22m)
8. The Robbers (我的唐朝兄弟)0.9m ($0.13m)-1.8m ($0.26m)

(Using exchange rate of 1 yuan = $0.14650)

2012 has simply been nothing short of amazing. Four new releases, one highly-anticipated domestic production with three well-known foreign films, were unable to put much a dent in slowing its momentum down. 2012 dropped less than 20% and had the highest third weekend ever. It is now only 80m yuan away from breaking Transformers 2's record for the overall gross and could conceivably achieve it this week as no major release is scheduled until Dec 9th.

Mulan had a fine but not spectacular debut. With fierce upcoming competition looming, reaching 100m yuan may be difficult even though it has good word-of-mouth. G-Force was released on Tuesday, so a 14m yuan opening week could only be considered average, but at least it fared better than the other two Hollywood films. Twilight finally reached the other side of Pacific a year after its domestic release, and with such a delay, the result was pretty much expected. District 9 had a shorter delay by comparison, but it targets more of an Internet audience, many of whom would go and find a pirate copy as soon as it became available. Having 2012 still dominating the headline and screens does not help either. 20m yuan will be a good total after its opening.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (11/16 - 11/22): 2012 was unstoppable

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)ChangeTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. 2012146m ($21.38m)+67.8%233m ($34.13m)
2. Panda Express (熊猫大侠)10m ($1.46m)New10m ($1.46m)
3. Mars Baby (火星没事)4.6m ($0.67m)New4.6m ($0.67m)
4. Michael Jackson's This Is It (就是这样)1.8m ($0.26m)-71.0%48.0m ($7.03m)
5. Astro Boy (阿童木)1.15m ($0.17m)-67.1%45.5m ($6.66m)
6. The Robbers (我的唐朝兄弟)1.0m ($0.15m)New1.0m ($0.15m)
7. Knowing (神秘代码)0.9m ($0.13m)-86.4%31.9m ($4.67m)

(Using exchange rate of 1 yuan = $0.14647)

I expected 2012 to show an increase for the full week since the opening week contained only 3 days with a Friday release, but a jump of 68% indicates some excellent word-of-mouth among Chinese viewers, and reaching $50m is now all but a certainty. I'm seeing a $55m finish with a possibility to become only the second Hollywood movie ever (after Transformers 2) to reach 400m yuan, or $58.6m.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Nov 27 - 29)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. The Twilight Saga: New Moon49.0-65.7%
2. The Blind Side27.5-19.4%
3. Old Dogs24.5$7,150 average
4. 201217.7-33.0%
5. Ninja Assassin14.5$5,790 average
6. A Christmas Carol13.5+10.0%
7. Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire11.5+5.7%
8. Planet 5110.5-14.6%
9. The Fantastic Mr. Fox10.5$5,160 average
10. The Men Who Stare at Goats1.3-54.1%

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Nov 20 - 22)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. The Twilight Saga: New Moon105.0$26,000 average
2. 201227.0-59%
3. The Blind Side18.3$5,900 average
4. A Christmas Carol14.2-36%
5. Planet 5111.5$3,800 average
6. Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire9.0+53%
7. The Men Who Stare at Goats3.0-49%
8. Michael Jackson's This Is It1.9-63%
9. Paranormal Activity1.8-55%
10. Couples Retreat1.8-57%

As we enter one of the most exciting November weekends in recent memory, a number of records, both positive and negative, are poised to be broken, almost all thanks to New Moon. The unstoppable latest Twilight installment has been selling out shows left and right, from coast to coast (and internationally), since the tickets became available three months ago. Even though we are no longer in the summer, the midnight record of $22m established by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix just 4 months ago looks as good as gone. The question now is if it could have a strong enough showing for the rest of Friday to challenge The Dark Knight's opening day record of $67m. My feeling is the matinee business, while no doubt robust, will not be as spectacular as The Dark Knight was given it is November. A breakdown of $25m midnight + $37m the rest of the day is more likely. That would give it a $62m total for the second biggest and biggest non-summer Friday ever.

Not counting midnight, the first Twilight dropped 27% on Saturday from its opening day. New Moon could see a somewhat softer loss due to more spillover business from Friday, but sub-20% remains unrealistic. A 25% decline would give it a $28m Saturday and 55% drop overall from Friday, a record for a Saturday drop when it does not fall on Christmas Eve. That would put it on track for a $105m weekend, the biggest ever for November and an increase of 50% over its predecessor.

Was going to write more about this unique weekend which overall will be the busiest November weekend ever, but the very annoying toothache is taking away most of my concentration, and I'll have to take care of that first. Apologize here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (11/09 - 11/15): 2012 Annihilated Competition

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)ChangeTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. 201287m ($12.74m)New87m ($12.74m)
2. Knowing (神秘代码)6.6m ($0.97m)-54.5%31m ($4.54m)
3. Michael Jackson's This Is It (就是这样)6.2m ($0.91m)-61.2%46.2m ($6.77m)
4. Astro Boy (阿童木)3.5m ($0.51m)-55.1%44.3m ($6.49m)
5. My Airhostess Roommate (恋爱前规则)2.7m ($0.40m)-41.3%7.3m ($1.07m)
6. The Message (风声)2.6m ($0.38m)-63.9%216.6m ($31.73m)
7. Radish Warrior (倔强萝卜)2.5m ($0.37m)-48.5%21.5m ($3.15m)
8. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (地铁惊魂)1.7m ($0.25m)-60.5%30m ($4.39m)
9. Visitors from the Sui Dynasty (隋朝来客)1.65m ($0.24m)+3%3.2m ($0.47m)

(Using exchange rate of 1 yuan = $0.14648)

With all the promotions and plot connection, 2012 was expected to big in China, but the real numbers are still jaw-dropping. The opening is the biggest for November by far, and although it only ranked 4th for the year (a testament on how much the market is growing), the other three - Transformers 2, The Founding of a Republic, and Red Cliff Part II - all had extra days for the first week. More impressively, Sunday was actually its biggest day with 33m yuan, 20% better than Saturday's take. With the rest of November empty, look for some strong holds the next couple of weeks. It's definitely on a trajectory to a $40m+ total, and even $50m could be possible too.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Nov 13 - 15)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. 201268.0$20,000 average
2. A Christmas Carol19.5-35%
3. The Men Who Stare at Goats6.6-48%
4. Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire6.0+220%
5. Michael Jackson's This Is It5.0-62%
6. The Fourth Kind5.0-59%
7. Paranormal Activity4.0-52%
8. Couples Retreat3.9-36%
9. Law Abiding Citizen3.7-38%
10. Pirate Radio3.3$3,700 average
11. The Box3.2-58%

1. All the elements look perfect for 2012. The market is quite empty, as for only the second time in the past six years, we did not have a $40m opener on the first weekend of November. Director Emmerich has a consistent track record box office wise, especially when come to disaster movies. Sony moved the tentpole out of July to make it stand out, and other studios scrambled out of the way accordingly. The poll numbers and interests level, as well as the equivalent deduction from early strong oversea returns, are all pointing to a minimum of $60m start. Could it become the highest non-Harry Potter opener in November, currently held by The Incredibles ($70.5m)? Definitely, although it is somewhat surprising to see a theater count of only 3,404, low for a blockbuster of this size in today's standard.

2. Originally released as The Boat That Rocked in U.K. and elsewhere, Pirate Radio is finally coming to the states more than half a year later. Focus Feature asserted it will be a good counter programming to 2012, but the argument does not hold much water considering the film is rated R, and 2012 covers most of the audience it appeals to. To Focus' credit, they have given it a good marketing push by attaching the trailer to a lot of movies, but that only got Taking Woodstock, a film of many resemblance, to a $3.5m opening. Expect a similar gross here.

3. We knew Precious was going to have a gigantic per-theater-average last weekend, but few thought $100K was possible with 18 theaters. Now its buzz is really taking off, Lionsgate is pouncing on it by accelerating the speed of expansion to 174 locations on Friday. Although two completely different films, it starts to remind me of Paranormal Activity. Lionsgate is carefully picking the initial set of markets, and the screen allocations per theater is astounding. In the San Francisco area, it is receiving 3-4 screens on average, on par with what Paranormal Activity got when it expanded to over 100 locations for the first time. It gives confidence that the average per theater will remain high. It may not challenge PA's insane $49K average in 160, but maintaining over $30K should be achievable, if not likely.

4. After a subdued opening of $30m, A Christmas Carol really took advantage of Veterans Day and showed its run will be more akin to The Polar Express than Where The Wide Things Are, the dark theme notwithstanding. A 35% drop will push its total to $60m and make it on a trajectory to $150m. With its quirky humor, The Men Who Stare at Goats is receiving a reaction similar to The Informant's and should follow similar path as well, although 2012 could eat away a bigger portion of the audience this weekend.

5. The other two openers from last weekend will likely retreat at a much larger pace with 2012 looming and their own mediocre word-of-mouth. In fact, "mediocre" would be a kind understatement for The Box, as it earned a CinemaScore of F to join a small list of films which included The Bug, Wolf Creek, and Solaris remake. On the other side, The Fourth Kind exhibited its frontloadedness with a opening Fri-to-Sat decline. Veterans Day also helped to push some of their remaining gross forward by a couple of days. Look for both to drop close to 60%.

6. Although few observers ever believed This Is It was going to be a strictly two-week engagement, the film will suffer the similar syndrome that Toy Story 3D and Hannah Montana's concert movie experienced when they extended beyond the original schedules: a harsh drop right after. Hannah Montana saw little Friday increase and nosedived 67%, while Toy Story 3D, with better conditions and daily numbers, failed to escape from a 60%+ decline as well. The one advantage This Is It has is a much higher degree of theater saturation (still in over 3,000 screens), so more people could have an opportunity to realize it is remaining in theaters. On the other hand, it also has to face a much bigger and direct competition in 2012. The two could balance each other out, leaving it to have a drop of the same magnitude.

7. After a magnificent month-long run that pushed it to the brink of $100m, Paranormal Activity has begun to slow down, but it could have enough left to make a run at $120m, while Couples Retreat and Law Abiding Citizen, two of the leggiest films of the recent weeks, should continue their stay in the top 10.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (11/02 - 11/08)

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)ChangeTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. Michael Jackson's This Is It (就是这样)16m ($2.34m)-33.3%40m ($5.86m)
2. Knowing (神秘代码)14.5m ($2.12m)+46%24.4m ($3.57m)
3. Astro Boy (阿童木)7.8m ($1.14m)-48%40.8m ($5.98m)
4. The Message (风声)7.2m ($1.05m)-44.6%214m ($31.35m)
5. Radish Warrior (倔强萝卜)4.85m ($0.71m)-40.9%19m ($2.78m)
6. My Airhostess Roommate (恋爱前规则)4.6m ($0.67m)New4.6m ($0.67m)
7. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (地铁惊魂)4.3m ($0.63m)-49.4%28.3m ($4.15m)
8. Visitors from the Sui Dynasty (隋朝来客)1.6m ($0.23m)New1.6m ($0.23m)
9. Rogue (逃出鳄鱼岛)1.1m ($0.16m)-68.6%22.6m ($3.31m)

(Using exchange rate of 1 yuan = $0.1465)

This Is It repeated on a quiet weekend, as theaters are taking a breather before 2012 invades this week. Not a great hold for TII considering it's 7-day total this time comparing to 5 days the opening week. Look like it will top out at 60m yuan. Astro Boy has done fine, but it was expected due to the character's popularity in China. The domestic breakout of the fall, The Message, became one of the rare Chinese films released outside the busy seasons of winter and summer to cross 200m yuan. The Founding of a Republic, the other domestic notable of the past couple of months, finally dropped out of the chart to finish with 420m yuan, unable to surpass Transformers 2's record of 430m.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Nov 6 - 8)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. A Christmas Carol44.0$12,000 average
2. The Men Who Stare at Goats14.0$5,700 average
3. Michael Jackson's This Is It12.0-48%
4. The Fourth Kind10.0$3,950 average
5. Paranormal Activity9.0-45%
6. The Box7.0$2,650 average
7. Law Abiding Citizen4.6-38%
8. Couples Retreat4.4-32%
9. Where the Wild Things Are3.0-49%
10. Saw VI2.1-60%
-. Precious1.1$60,000 average

1. It appears that Christmas-themed movies are getting released earlier and earlier. This time A Christmas Carol is moving the calendar all the way up to the first weekend of November. Studio is not banking on huge openings for such films, but rather looking to take advantage of the persistent holiday spirit from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. The Polar Express, also directed by Robert Zemeckis, is one of the most successful examples by making over $160m total in its initial run after grossing only $30.6m in its first five days. Zemeckis' follow-up, Beowulf, did not possess the same appeal and was unable to repeat the same success. A Christmas Carol, by comparison, has advantages over both: a classic source material, over 2,000 3D screens plus 181 IMAX auditoriums, and an utter lack of competition in the market. Having Jim Carrey is just an icing on the cake. A $35m+ opening is all but assured, with breaking $40m a highly likely proposition.

2. George Clooney carried two films into Toronto International Film Festival and was one of its biggest stars. This week we will get to see one of the efforts, albeit the lesser-reviewed one. The Men Who Stare at Goats may not have the title to attract the viewers, but it does boast a strong lineup of male stars that should bring in plenty of older audience. It won't reach the height of Burn After Reading, which also had Brad Pitt with Coens at the helm, but outgrossing The Informant should not be a problem.

3. The other two new wide releases of the week will be competing for the similar demographics. Neither is expected to challenge the No. 2 position, but between them, Milla Jovovich's The Fourth Kind, being a more straight forward thriller with a more identifiable star for its demo, appears be in a better position. The Box, on the other hand, could have been better suited to stay at its original slot of the Halloween weekend, although the online signs are not terrible. Look for the former to make around $10m while the latter gets stuck in the high single digit.

4. The general audience will have plenty of options to choose from this weekend, but for Oscar watchers, the eyes will be squarely focusing on one film, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire. The darling of the early festival season has practically locked up a Best Picture nomination, and this will be many's first opportunity to see why. With only 18 theaters, a $60K per-theater-average is a reasonable expectation.

5. Most thought Michael Jackson's This Is It would start strong and die off quickly, but the film is exhibiting the exact opposite pattern. The Wednesday-to-weekend multiplier of 3.1 is quite good, especially considering Saturday was depressed by Halloween. It will still show some frontloadedness, and there is a chance that its Friday increase this week will not be as good, but it will definitely not crash the way Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers' respective concert movies did. In fact, it could very well avoid a 50% drop.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This Is It's First Week in China

24m yuan in the first five days, or $3.5m. One factor to consider is that H1N1 flu broke out in several major cities in China. Not only some schools were shut down, entertainment venues were also affected as people still remember SARS quite vividly. If the external environment improves, along with excellent word-of-mouth, This Is It could see some healthy legs and break $10m.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Oct 30 - Nov 1)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. This Is It19.5$5,600 average
2. Paranormal Activity15.0-29%
3. Law Abiding Citizen7.1-43%
4. Where the Wild Things Are6.5-54%
5. Couples Retreat5.9-44%
6. Saw VI4.4-69%
7. Astro Boy3.7-45%
8. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs3.3-37%
9. The Stepfather3.0-52%
10. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant2.9-54%

1. For the first time this decade, Halloween is falling on a Saturday, and that is scary news to studios. The last couple of times when the scenario occurred (in 1998 and 1992), the box office shrunk 27% and 24% respectively from the previous session and was one of the lowest grossing weekends of that year, as people organized plenty of other activities for the holiday. However, the buzz was high on Michael Jackson's This Is It. It appeared the film was very much capable of breaking the spell and making at least $50m in its first five days. In fact, the average prediction was around $70m, driven by early reports on advance ticket sales as well as available tracking numbers. Then Wednesday came around and stunned almost everyone, when we saw This Is It grossed "just" $7.4m, including $2.2m from late Tuesday night, although it still set the record for the biggest October Wednesday ever. While a $50m opening week is no longer possible, the question of where it will go from here remains.

This Is It in China

Report on the first day is in, and it earned 5m yuan, or $0.73m. A good start, but like everywhere else, not earth shattering by any means considering Michael Jackson's fanbase in China is undeniably huge. Should be looking at a $3m opening week.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Oct 23 - 25)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. Paranormal Activity25.3+29%
2. Saw VI21.3$7,000 average
3. Where the Wild Things Are17.3-47%
4. Law Abiding Citizen11.8-44%
5. Couples Retreat9.5-45%
6. Astro Boy7.5$2,500 average
7. Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant5.8$2,100 average

8. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs5.6-30%
9. The Stepfather4.8-59%
10. Zombieland3.9-49%
11. Amelia3.4$4,200 average

1. After seeing the biggest October weekend ever, we have another exciting frame to follow, featuring Saw VI, the biggest horror franchise of the decade, vs. Paranormal Activity, one of the decade's biggest grassroots phenomenon. Two R-rated films, one epic battle at hand.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Oct 16 - 18)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. Where the Wild Things Are33.6$9,000 average
2. Paranormal Activity19.6$26,000 average
3. Couples Retreat16.5-52%
4. Law Abiding Citizen13.0$4,500 average
5. Zombieland8.4-43%
6. The Stepfather7.1$2,600 average
7. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs6.8-41%
8. Toy Story / Toy Story 23.7-52%
9. Surrogates2.3-46%
10. Whip It1.6-43%

1. Based on the popular picture book and having Spike Jonze as the director, Where the Wild Things Are is generating significantly more buzz online than a typical family film. How much additional cash it could translate into remains to be seen, but there is no denying that the 4,300 tweets a day and 36% Opening Weekend interest at Box Office Mojo are impressive. The mixed reviews could affect its long-term prospect but not the opening. An excellent weekend over $30m looks very much likely. The only concern is such strong early buzz normally means a frontloaded Friday and a weak internal multiplier comparing to its peers.

2. The sensation of the month is trying to turn itself into the sensation of the year. The expectation for Paranormal Activity was already high last weekend given its otherworldly performance while having only post-10pm showings in its first two weeks of limited release, and it blew every single prediction away by making close to $50K a theater over the three days. It is hard to say whether it or The Blair Witch Project had more jaw-dropping performance, and I'd argue it is unfair to compare the two, but in this day and age of Internet ubiquity, consumers are much more fickle and having shorter attention span, so seeing such a grass-root phenomenon is a privilege. The Blair Witch Project dropped 58.4% in per-theater-average when expanding from 31 to 1101 theaters; with a smaller expansion percentage wise, Paranormal Activity should see a better hold, in the 45% range. That will lead to a weekend close to $20m and set up a show down with Saw VI next week.

3. The other two new wide releases of the week look a lot more generic when comparing to the above two. Law Abiding Citizen is basically indistinguishable from past October R-rated thrillers, and as we saw with Body of Lies and We Own the Night, the opening range for such a film is limited. The Stepfather will have the unfortunate honor of competing with Paranormal Activity and should be looking at a sub-$3,000 average.

5. After surprising many of us with its $34.3m start, Couples Retreat is in a great position to join the $100m club. However, mediocre word-of-mouth, serious competition for the male audience, and no holiday help until Thanksgiving could still prevent it from reaching the mark. A sub-50% drop will be a good start, but such prospect is murky at best with four new wide releases cannibalizing the screens. On the other hand, strong WOM propelled Zombieland to dropped just 40% on its sophomore weekend, excellent for the genre. It will face more direct competition this week around with Paranormal Activity and, to a smaller degree, The Stepfather, but the former will be in fewer than 800 theaters while the latter is looking at a single-digit opening, so look for it to continue the good ride and become the biggest zombie film of all time by Sunday.

6. Two other films in the top 10 remain worth paying attention to. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs saw a lot of its 3D screens taken away when Toy Story was re-released, but was able to limit its decline to 37%. It will not survive as well this weekend with the loss of IMAX theaters to Where the Wild Things Are, an film with $30m+ opening potential. Nonetheless, it won't lose close to half of its audience given the superb midweek numbers. Not expectedly, Disney decided to extend Toy Story's run after two weeks of positive returns. However, since they had been advertising it as an exclusive two-week engagement until now, it pushed more demand to those first 14 days, and the lack of awareness could lead to small Thursday-to-Friday increase. Disney went through similar experiment with Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Concert Tour, except that was originally for one week only, and it received no Thurs-to-Friday jump at all as a result. Toy Story increased 222% last Friday; look for the number to get cut in half this time around.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Oct 9 - 11)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. Couples Retreat24.9$8,300 average
2. Zombieland14.0-43.5%
3. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs13.1-17%
4. Toy Story / Toy Story 2 (3D)10.0-20%
5. Paranormal Activity4.8$30,000 average
6. Surrogates4.3-41%
7. The Invention of Lying4.1-42%
8. Whip It3.1-34%
9. Capitalism: A Love Story3.0-33%
10. Fame2.8-40%

1. Oddly enough, after all the shuffling triggered by Shutter Island's unexpected delay, the only wide release left to open this week is Vince Vaughn's latest film Couples Retreat, a PG-13 comedy that does not appear to have much overachieving potential. However, whether it is due to wise choices or his own star power, his films have been consistent box office performers, with none opening lower than $18.5m since 2005 when releasing in over 1,000 theaters. This one looks to be no different, but despite all the advantages, there is little sign, polls or tweets wise, that it could break out to a $30m+ weekend either.

2. For holdovers, they could not have asked for a better weekend, with little new competition and a Monday holiday in both U.S. (Columbus Day) and Canada (Thanksgiving). Family oriented films are set to benefit the most as a lot of schools will have Monday off, while many working adults, at least in the U.S., will not have such luxury. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has exhibited sensational legs so far, dropping only 37% last weekend even though it lost a big chunk of 3D screens to Toy Story, and it will now have some time to relax before Where the Wild Things Are joins the party on Oct 16th. It should have a Friday increase much closer to the first Thurs-to-Friday jump of 372% instead of the 271% it had last week, and with a better Sunday hold, its internal multiplier will be higher as well, in the vicinity of 4.5. Combining the two factors, it could easily shrink the 29% Wed-to-Wed drop to sub-20% for the weekend.

3. Toy Story 3D is also seeing some excellent dailies so far. The initial 69% Saturday increase indicates the potential frontloadedness generated from its fanbase rushing out was not really there, and the 3-hour runtime should result in a weekend surge as fewer families could find time to see the double-feature during the weekdays. Conservatively speaking, it is looking at a 300% Friday jump and 4.1 IM, which would already put it at $9.5m, so a sub-20% drop is similarly within reach.

4. Last weekend's champion, Zombieland, reminds me of District 9 and Inglourious Basterds. Like those two R-rated films, Zombieland broke out on its opening weekend and is enjoying very positive word-of-mouth, reflected by its strong daily holds. All of them are naturally frontloaded, but the two August successes were able to limit its sophomore decline to around 50% while facing much heavier competition. The environment for Zombieland will be much nicer, so a 45% or lower drop could be expected.

5. The most interesting film of the weekend is in fact the online sensation Paranormal Activity, whose box office performance is very much keeping pace with its insane buzz. It earned a $16,129 per-theater-average in 33 locations, while playing from 10pm on only. That means it basically sold out every showing. Sensing a phenomenon is in the making, Paramount is smartly expanding the horror film into over 150 theaters as well as the showings into the entire day. It will certainly not play as packed during the day, but that will hardly matter. The theaters are giving it multiple screens, in the biggest auditorium too, so a $10K PTA from late night showings could very well translate to a $30K PTA over 3 full days of the weekend. Box office wise, it is one of the most fascinating films to track in some time.

6. As for other new wide releases from last weekend, The Invention of Lying should behave closely to Ghost Town, with better Sunday offsetting the higher degree of frontloadedness. Whip It will not suffer the same fate as Fame; it only needs a 200% Friday recovery and 3.2 IM to reach 3m for the weekend. And the best comparison for Capitalism would be Religulous, which dropped 35% on the same weekend (also its second) a year ago.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Box Office Tweets

Alex recently launched a very interesting project: trying to forecast a film's success or failure by tracking the number of tweets each received at Twitter prior to release. The idea is similar to David and I were attempting to achieve with Yahoo user reviews. We had reasonable success there, but developing a model based on Yahoo has several drawbacks, the biggest one being that it is highly dependent on how Yahoo designs its interface, and when Yahoo was making a lot of modifications itself, the stability of the model suffered. Twitter, on the other hand, should be much more stable in that regard, and even when its interface does evolve over time, the ease and habit of tweeting should not be affected.

The project is still in the early data gathering stage, but certain traits are already visible after I defined several variables and ran statistic analysis on various combination of them with Alex's data (note: I only applied linear regression for now unless there is significant evidence for quadratic or higher to avoid fitting to noise). The clearest one is that demographics definitely has a strong correlation with the final ratio. If we define the main audience a film attracts into five categories - kids, older females, older males, younger males, and younger females, then the ratio goes up as we move from the first to the last category. Regardless what other variables I pick, the resulting model shows a t-value of over 3.5 for its coefficient, meaning a statistical significance of 99%.

The second trend is that the ratio is inversely proportional to the theater count, or in another word, when a film has lower theater count, it becomes more likely to have a bigger ratio. This is similar to what we saw with Yahoo as well, and we could reason why such finding is plausible. When a film is shown in smaller amount of theaters, it becomes less accessible and will presumably require more passion on the viewers' part to seek it out, and such group would be more intent to tweet about the film.

I will continue to follow Alex's site for updates and his thoughts, and I would encourage others to do so as well. Hopefully I will have more findings to share later.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Oct 2 - 4)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. Zombieland24.9$8,200 average
2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs14.0-44%
3. Toy Story / Toy Story 2 (3D)12.4$7,100 average
4. Surrogates7.4-50.5%
5. The Invention of Lying6.1$3,600 average
6. Whip It6.0$3,500 average
7. Capitalism: A Love Story4.6$4,800 average
8. Fame4.5-55%
9. The Informant!3.7-44%
10. Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself2.4-49%

1. If we simply use the past as guide, Zombieland would not be the favorite to win the weekend, as history has not been kind to horror comedies. Outside the Scary Movie franchise, $13.8m is the biggest any such film was able to open to this decade (Snakes on a Plane). The issue of R-rated films overload has not gone away either. However, something feels different with Zombieland, and as we move closer to the release, more concrete data became available to back up that abstract feeling. Not only the numbers are indicating it is not going to be another Jennifer's Body or Sorority Row, they are also screaming for a substantial breakout. Major Theater Chain's tracking put it at $22m; the Box Office Mojo's polls are excellent at 28.5% Opening Weekend and 20.1% Sometime in Theater; and it is blowing away any other recent releases in terms of tweets count, approaching 10,000 for the week alone. An $8m Friday looks secure, with $10m being a good possibility. Although the internal multiplier is not expected to be strong, the good reviews could help in that department. Look for a $23-27m opening.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (09/21 - 27)

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)ChangeTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. The Founding of a Republic (建国大业)120m ($17.57m)-3.5%245m ($35.88m)
2. Cow (斗牛)2m ($0.29m)-47.4%11.1m ($1.62m)
3. Jing Tian Dong Di (惊天动地)1.5m ($0.22m)-2m ($0.29m)
4. Yi Meng Liu Jie Mei (沂蒙六姐妹)1.1m ($0.16m)-11m ($1.61m)

(Using exchange rate of 1 yuan = $0.1464)

Some argued that the accomplishment of The Founding of a Republic is not really as impressive as it appears because the market is being artificially emptied to help maximize its number. No major films, foreign or domestic, had been released since Sophie's Revenge on Aug 14th, and there won't be any serious competition in the foreseeable future. Such point is indeed valid, but external factors alone would not have pushed it to gross 250m yuan in just 12 days. We won't see another film with so many Chinese stars for at least 10 years (and I doubt they will try to duplicate the same trick when 70th anniversary comes along), so I am very much intrigued to see how far this one could go. With basically the whole nation on vacation from Oct 1 to 8th, it should not have much difficulty crossing 400m yuan ($58.6m), and surpassing Transformer 2 to become the No. 1 film all-time in China is definitely within reach.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Sep 25 - 27)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs21.0-30.7%
2. Surrogates15.2$5,150 average
3. Fame14.5$4,680 average
4. The Informant!5.5-47.4%
5. Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself4.9-50.4%
6. Love Happens4.5-44.2%
7. Pandorum3.8$1,500 average
8. 93.5-37.1%
9. Jennifer's Body2.8-59.2%
10. Inglourious Basterds2.4-37.2%

1. Three more movies are entering the market this week, but dislodging Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs will not be an easy task.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (09/14 - 20)

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)ChangeTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. The Founding of a Republic (建国大业)124.36m ($18.22m)New124.36m ($18.22m)
2. Cow (斗牛)3.8m ($0.56m)-28.3%9.1m ($1.33m)

(Using exchange rate of 1 yuan = $0.1465)

The last week was about one film and one film only: the highly anticipated release of The Founding of a Republic, a tribute to the 60th anniversary of People's Republic of China. The main attraction of the 140-minute film is in fact not its plot, but rather its cast, as it contains almost the entire album of current well-known Chinese actors and actresses domestically or abroad (check out the amazing list at IMDb), with most only getting a few lines to speak. Viewers are competing to see how many actors they could recognize, and they better pay attention to each frame, otherwise they could miss the only appearance of someone famous. With October 1st (The Independence Day) holiday right around the corner and an empty market, the prospect cannot look any brighter for it. It should have no problem at making 300m yuan, and even 400m is a possibility.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Sep 18 - 20)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs34.3$11,000 average
2. Love Happens11.2$5,900 average
3. Jennifer's Body11.1$4,100 average
4. Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself10.5-55.2%
5. The Informant!9.0$3,600 average
6. 96.0-44.1%
7. Inglourious Basterds3.9-36.5%
8. All About Steve2.9-48.6%
9. The Final Destination2.1-62.0%
10. Whiteout2.1-57.3%
11. Sorority Row1.8-64.4%

1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is entering a market desperate for some light family entertainment after being bombarded with R-rated films since early August, and it is primed for delivering a breakout number. The trailer has been very well received, and having good early reviews could only help. Its poll numbers of 14% Opening Weekend and 17% Sometime in Theaters at Box Office Mojo are significantly better than what G-Force (7.8% + 12.2%), Beverly Hills Chihuahua (6.9% + 7.2%), and Open Season (9.7% + 14.9%) had. Adding the 3D/IMAX factor, I have a hard time seeing it open below $30m, and it definitely has a shot at breaking the September opening record of $35.6m held by Sweet Home Alabama.

2. R-rated films will continue to cannibalize each other with two more releases this week. That leaves the door open for Love Happens, the PG-13 romantic comedy, to surprise. The theater count is relatively low at 1,898, and it is only getting one screen at most theaters. However, such obstacle has not prevented past similar films to average more than $5,000 per location on the opening weekend. Jennifer Aniston had demonstrated her drawing power by opening each of her last three wide releases to over $27m, while Aaron Eckhart also helped No Reservations to a respective $11.7m initial frame. Look for Love Happens to crack double digit.

3. Because of the unkind environment, the two new R-rated releases are likely to not each their respective potentials. Jennifer's Body is headlining Megan Fox, but a lot of its targeted demographics, younger males, will have to sneak in. The Informant, on the other hand, may appear too weird to attract a bigger audience. The BOM polls are respectable for both, but we have seen failures in the past with similar or even better numbers. The Black Dahlia opened to only $10m with 21.4% Opening Weekend and 24.4% Sometime in Theaters, and just last year, Blindness failed spectacularly even though it had double-digit percentage in both those categories. With the current condition and neither trailer generating much additional interest, the upside potential looks rather limited.

4. Tyler Perry's films tend to suffer large second weekend declines, with the past three dropping an average of 60%. However, I Can Do Bad All By Myself could benefit from being PG-13 to limit the damage to 55%. Whiteout and Sorority Row, on the other hand, won't be as lucky and will be exiting the theaters quickly when the third week comes around. The Final Destination will also be looking at a huge red number with the loss of theaters in general and 3D screens specifically.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

2009 Summer Recap: The Top 10 Stories (Part III)

First I apologize sincerely for the long delay on finishing the summer recap. Let's get straight to the top 3.

3. Star Trek making $250m+ total
In any given summer, Star Trek's run could have contended for being the biggest story. Even inflation-adjusted, its $75m opening is 50% better than the previous best of the series, and its final gross also left all of its predecessors in the dust. After the disaster of Nemesis, none of these appeared remotely possible for the next Star Trek installment. Batman Begins was the previous best example of rebooting a popular but faltering franchise back from irrelevance, and it had to rely on its sensational legs to beat Batman and Robin by 92% in the end. Star Trek, by comparison, surpassed Nemesis' total before the end of its opening Saturday.

In addition, Star Trek did not necessarily have a perfect release date for delivering such a notable performance, as the second weekend of May was more known for box office disappointments (Speed Racer, Poseidon, Battlefield Earth) than juggernauts. No film had ever opened to over $50m, let alone $75m, on that weekend. It also had to deal with plenty of direct competitions from before and after, but suffered a 47%+ drop only once (on the July 4th deflated weekend) in its entire run. We could point to various factors for the positive outcome, such as using new actors and re-imaging the franchise to attract the younger generation, but none could sufficiently explain the degree of the success in the end, nor did many see it coming.

2. Ice Age 3's oversea performance
By July 20th, after we could see what the last mega-blockbuster of the summer, Harry Potter 6, was headed to, there appeared to be no more doubt on what the biggest story of the summer is. The debate was over, we thought, until Ice Age 3 kept making money in essentially every territory it opened. In fact, it eventually made the race so exciting that it became almost impossible to decide which performance is more impressive. Just take a look at these numbers: $80m in Germany, $70m in France, $45m in Russia, $44m in Brazil, $41m in Mexico, etc. Being huge in Europe could at least be somewhat expected, given how the first two performed there; it is the performance elsewhere that elevated it to a completely different level. Even with little help from Japan and South Korea (less than $6m combined), two of the biggest Asian markets, it is able to not only comfortably beat Harry Potter 6 for the year's oversea crown, assuming no film surprises in December, but also become the third biggest film ever internationally, behind only Titanic and Return of the King.

The way the Ice Age franchise has grown its popularity oversea is simply stunning. The foreign gross represented 54% of its worldwide total for the original Ice Age, fairly standard for a Hollywood blockbuster, but the number rocketed to 70% for The Meltdown and then 77% this time. Dawn of the Dinosaurs looks to finish with $690m oversea, a whopping 50% jump from The Meltdown. The weakness in dollar no doubt helped, but even in term of admissions, it has surpassed previous installments in many countries, by a large amount in some cases. Although its domestic performance has remained consistent, it is fair to say that the foreign gross is what makes producing Ice Age 4 and more no-brainers.

1. The Hangover
In a summer where the most uneventful month is the one that covered the path of two highest grossing films, it is difficult to say which single film owned it, unlike The Dark Knight last year. However, one film burst onto the scene in early June and still had people discussing its numbers by Labor Day weekend, and that is The Hangover. Separating it and Ice Age 3 is like splitting hairs, but in the end The Hangover's run feels just a little more remarkable and unlikely. For Ice Age 3, it is after all a sequel, and there are historical data we could look back on to see the potential, even though it blew past the expectations. Similarly, four of the five $250m+ grossers are either sequel, reboot, or from established brand (Pixar); The Hangover is the lone exception.

It is not that The Hangover was never expected to do well. The terrific early word-of-mouth indicated this is indeed going to be another crowd-pleaser and successful R-rated raunchy comedy, but the definition of "doing really well" was $30m opening and $120-150m total, not $45m and $275m. On paper it does not have the star power of Wedding Crashers or even Knocked Up, so the expected pattern was an opening no more than on par with those while having similar legs. The average prediction for its opening weekend was around $25m, with a few thinking $30m+ was possible, but $45m? It was the second biggest June opening ever for a R-rated film, behind only Wanted.

In general, the bigger a film opened, the harder it is to achieve an outstanding multiplier, especially for a R-rated film, as any new releases with equal or less rating restriction could be seen as competition, and it would never benefit from sneak-in business. However, this is the area The Hangover shined even brighter, if that is possible. It was in the top 12 for ten consecutive weeks, and for each of those weekends after the opening, it had one of the two best holds among the top 12 films. It never declined more than 41% once for the entire summer and had sub-21% drop on five of the weekends. Probably most impressive of them all, it grossed over $1m for 52 straight days, the longest since Shrek 2 achieved for 54 days. With a 6.1 multiplier, it leaped over Beverly Hills Cop to become the biggest R-rated comedy ever and the third biggest R-rated film all time. A staggering combination of achievements that is unlikely to be matched any time soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Sep 11 - 13)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself27.0$12,000 PTA
2. 99$5,450 PTA
3. Sorority Row8.0$3,000 PTA
4. Whiteout8.0$2,900 PTA
5. Inglourious Basterds7.0-39.8%
6. The Final Destination6.5-47.5%
7. All About Steve5.3-52.8%
8. District 94.6-35.0%
9. Julie & Julia3.8-28.6%
10. Gamer3.7-59.6%

1. Tyler Perry's films that featured Madea in general have exhibited more impressive per-theater-average than the ones without ($16K vs. $8.5K). Smartly enough, the studio is putting Madea front and center in most of its ads, even though the role is small here. The demographics is also underserved at the moment, so expect a very good opening, although the poll numbers indicate that challenging Family Reunion's $30m, let alone Goes to Jail's $41m, will be difficult.

2. At first glance, 9's opening Wednesday of $3.1m looked pretty good, but considering it was taking advantage of the obvious 9/9/9 gimmick, the number no longer appears to be all that impressive. Given the past examples of The Omen and Earth, we should see a 60% drop on Thursday, and the key for a double-digit weekend will fall on its Friday recovery. With Tim Burton attached to the project and heavily promoted in the trailer, its level of frontloadedness is likely to be higher, and the Friday increase should be smaller than what a regular family film would have around this time of the year.

3. Sorority Row has an effective trailer, but it is released in an inopportune time, as the market is overloaded with R-rated as well as horror films. The signs are also mixed, with average BOM poll numbers but better online buzz elsewhere. It is the wild card among this week's openers. In the end, I feel the competition and poor screen allocation per theater will prevent it from grossing more than the $3K PTA a post Labor Day opener typically receives.

4. Whiteout also faces the same problem of entering an overloaded market, only it doesn't have an interesting premise to hook viewers in. One advantage it does possess is having a bigger studio behind it, and Warner Bros has done a decent job to push its poll numbers close to what Sorority Row has (10.3% vs. 11.6% Opening Weekend at BOM) that a complete disaster looks unlikely.

5. Except for Labor Day openers, holdovers historically don't suffer big drops on the post Labor Day weekend. One reason is the lack of new interesting films, and the other is the Friday and Saturday increases become much higher in September. I expect films in general to shed 10% off their Wed-to-Wed drops. All About Steve and Gamer, on the other hand, will suffer 50%+ declines due to the poor WOM for the former and direction competition for the latter.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Labor Day Weekend Box Office Predictions (Sep 4 - 7)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. The Final Destination17.0-38.0%
2. Inglourious Basterds14.5-24.9%
3. Gamer14.0$5,600 PTA
4. All About Steve11.5$5,750 PTA
5. District 98.6-16.3%
6. Julie & Julia8.1+15.7%
7. Halloween II7.0-57.2%
8. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra6.7-13.0%
9. The Time Traveler's Wife6.0-7.0%
10. Extract5.5$3,450 PTA

Taking a short hiatus

Will be visiting Seattle area for the rest of the week and only have intermittent Internet access. Should be able to post predictions though.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Brief Weekend Analysis (Aug 28 - 30)

Being busy to get ready for the long weekend trip to Seattle/Vancouver, so I'll have a rather abbreviated version of the weekend recap. Apology first. In the mean time, for another expert's charts and opinions, I highly recommend Box Office Tracker. Here are his takes on The Final Destination and Halloween 2 as well as Inglourious Basterds' second weekend.

For the weekend, I am happy with my instincts on all three openers. The Final Destination surprised more on the upside and became the first one of the series to open at No. 1. The word-of-mouth is average but not toxic, and with 3D's help, it should have a good shot at $70m total. Halloween 2, on the other hand, disappointed as expected. The large Saturday and Sunday drops indicate rocky road ahead, not to mention the series is known for having short legs. Even $35m could be hard to reach. As for Taking Woodstock, any breakout potential it might have went out of the window after Cannes. Without good reviews, people did not see enough reason to justify a trip to theaters for it. With a $30m budget, it will be a rare failure for the team of James Schamus and Ang Lee.

I foresaw the holdovers would see bigger Friday increases once again, but I continued to underpredict the actual degree. Instead, they behaved more like what would happen on a Labor Day weekend with an average of 100% increase on Friday followed by 50% jump on Saturday. Among the top 12 films, the most impressive holds are Inglourious Basterds (for avoiding the 50% drop), Julie & Julia (which has its sight very much set on $100m), and (500) Days of Summer (4% PTA drop while losing only 8% of theaters).

I'd give the weekend a 4.5 out of 5 stars and 4 out of 5 for my own predictions.

China Weekly Box Office (08/17 - 23)

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)ChangeTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. Sophie's Revenge (非常完美)29m ($4.25m)+16%54m ($7.91m)
2. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (特种部队:眼镜蛇的崛起)25m ($3.66m)-41.9%94m ($13.76m)
3. Kungfu Cyborg Metallic Attraction (机器侠)21m ($3.07m)New21m ($3.07m)
4. Up (飞屋环游记)16m ($2.34m)-42.9%66m ($9.66m)
5. State of Play8.6m ($1.26m)New8.6m ($1.26m)
6. On His Majesty's Secret Service (大内密探零零狗)7.2m ($1.05m)-64.9%96.7m ($14.15m)
7. Empire of Silver (白银帝国)6.6m ($0.97m)New6.6m ($0.97m)
8. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (冰川世纪3)3.3m ($0.48m)-36.5%152m ($22.25m)
9. Ace Mission (超能少年之烈维塔任务)3.0m ($0.44m)New3.0m ($0.44m)

(Using exchange rate of 1 yuan = $0.14641)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

2009 Summer Recap: The Top 10 Stories (Part II)

7. Transformers 2's $62m opening day
Transformers 2 was the overwhelming favorite to win the box office crown coming into the year. There were few reasons to doubt its potential: $319m total, 3.3 multiplier, and 16m DVDs sold all illustrated the popularity of the original, and the history has shown when a blockbuster is well received, the sequel would most likely be bigger, sometimes significantly so. However, when we got close to its release, there was an increasing amount of chatter on forums questioning its slam-dunk status: the advance sales didn't look as robust as one would expect; the "buzz" seemed to be subdued; maybe the audience didn't in fact like the first one that much to be excited; perhaps it is vulnerable after all, and we could have a different champion for the year?

This set up the scene perfectly for its opening day, and what a day it had. By the time June 25th rolled around, It already squashed all doubts by obliterating the old Wednesday record by 40%. It was also the second highest single day ever trailing only The Dark Knight's opening Friday of $67m. And unlike Harry Potter 6, it didn't fall back to the crowd right away. Instead, it went on to earn another $109m between Friday and Sunday to edge out Revenge of the Sith for the biggest non-Friday opening weekend. These are a couple of magnificent achievements, and I was agonizingly debating on where to put it on the list. In the end, it was just edged out by the others in this amazing summer.

6. Up's run
Pixar is as steady as a brand gets, with every film making over $200m domestically inflation-adjusted. Such consistency of excellence also makes it more difficult for people to be surprised. That is what makes Up's run stand out. The $68m opening was Pixar's biggest since The Incredibles, and its 4.24 multiplier was their second best for a $60m+ opener, behind only Finding Nemo's 4.84. What earned it some more extra credit is that among Pixar's upcoming releases, Up was not expected to be the one that would break through and become their second biggest film ever. The premise as well as the trailer did not give the impression of appealing to a wider range of audience; in fact, there were whispers that it could be more likely to follow Ratatouille's run instead.

However, there is also one factor none of its previous films had: 3D. Up was released in 1,534 3D locations, and at one point of its run, almost half of its daily earning came from the 3D screens. Back in March, Monsters vs. Aliens showed the power of 3D and established a benchmark with its $59.3m opening, so to some degree, Up simply extended on it with its named brand and bullet-proof quality reliability, a small reason that I did not put it higher.

5. Universal's miserable summer
As usual, this summer has seen its own share of failures that would've deserved a place on the list. What is uncommon is when they all belong to one studio. Unfortunately for Universal, this is exactly what happened to them. In June, Land of the Lost, with a fitting title, claimed the spot for the first real disappointment of the summer, both expectation-wise and financially. Will Ferrell could only carry it to a $18.8m opening and $49.4m total, basically the worse summer performance the actor ever had (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back took in less in 2001, but it was released in late August). The foreign receipt was equally abysmal, leading to a $62.5m combined gross worldwide, miles away from its gigantic budget of $100m. In the process, it was completely overshadowed by another comedy released on the same weekend.

A month later, Universal released another highly debated film, Bruno. Not many expected it to match Borat's performance of $128.5m total, but with Sacha Baron Cohen playing his other well-known character, $90m+ seemed reasonable. However, few could have predicted the negative effect the toxic word-of-mouth had on the film. The opening Friday was perfectly fine with $14.4m, but it started to nose-dive right away, dropping 39.2% on Saturday and never recovered. It suffered 4 consecutive 65%+ drops and could not even reach a 2.0 multiplier, unheard of for a July release, where the summer weekdays normally help a frontloaded film to avoid an embarrassingmultiplier. Its opening Friday turned out to be 24% of its total gross, another crazy fact.

Still, that's not all. Universal had one more chance to salvage its $100m-less summer, and this one looked to be a sure bet on paper. Funny People stars Adam Sandler and is directed by Judd Apatow. The former had anchored 6 summer releases since Big Daddy, all of which opened to at least $34m and crossed the triple-digit in the end, while the latter was known for producing quality films that would display superb box office legs; a perfect combination. Instead, it became a black mark for both. The film opened to only $22.7m and had mixed WOM to say the least. 3 straight 62%+ declines later, it barely crossed $50m, leaving Universal scratching their heads on their miserable summer.

4. The Proposal's run
THE romantic comedy of the summer. Coming to each summer, we know there will be one (or more) leggy breakout propelled mainly by the love from the female audience; the art is to predict which one. In 2006, it was The Devil Wears Prada, then Hairspray in 2007, and Mamma Mia! in 2008. The Proposal topped them all and then some, even surpassing Sex and the City to become the biggest romantic comedy in 7 years and the second biggest one ever in the summer behind only There's Something About Mary.

What makes the achievement more amazing is that unlike the films it leaped over, The Proposal does not have a Meryl Streep or popular source material. Director Anne Fletcher had two solid spring hits under her belt but nothing else, the best Sandra Bullock had opened a film to was $17.6m, and nobody would think Wolverine grossed $180m because of Ryan Reynolds. The average opening prediction was $26m, a number it blew past by 28%. Its endurance is equally impressive, with 5 straight weekends of sub 31% drops and 38 straight days of grossing over $1m.