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.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Aug 28 - 30)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. The Final Destination25.5$8,170 PTA
2. Inglourious Basterds17.0-55.3%
3. Halloween 216.5$5,455 PTA
4. District 99.0-50.6%
5. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra7.0-42.6%
6. Julie & Julia6.6-25.0%
7. The Time Traveler's Wife5.9-39.4%
8. Taking Woodstock4.0$2,872 PTA
9. Shorts3.5-45.4%
10. G-Force2.3-44.1%
11. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince2.3-33.9%

1. The BOM polls are favoring The Final Destination over Halloween 2 by quite a margin. Adding the 3D help, I expect the former to win the battle comfortably, despite what the tracking is showing.

2. The buzz for Halloween 2 does not appear to be anywhere near the level of the original. Its "Opening Weekend" percentage at BOM trails the original by 36%, I believe mostly due to going head-to-head with another R-rated horror film, a very dubious decision. We could see a similar degree of decline as what The Hills Have Eyes had.

3. Even though the 40-year anniversary of Woodstock makes this a natural release date, Taking Woodstock is opening at an inopportune time with all the R-rated films flooding the market at the moment. Ang Lee will bring in some fans of his, but the reviews are not at a good enough level in order for such offbeat film to break out.

4. Inglourious Basterds has had very similar dailies as District 9 so far. The heavier Monday decline will be offset by the better Friday recovery. However, two new R-rated films could provide more severe competition combined.

5. As we have observed for a couple of weeks, the holdovers are seeing both better Friday increases and bigger internal multipliers as summer is officially coming to a close. All should see better weekend holds than the respective Wed-to-Wed holds.

6. With four R-rated movies all targeting males at the top, both the less restricted and female-oriented films should benefit. Julie & Julia, which also enjoys excellent word-of-mouth on top of covering both areas, will especially shine. However, losing many 3D screens will hurt G-Force.

Monday, August 24, 2009

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

With the summer coming to an end, it is time to do a recap on what exactly happened. There were a lot of uncertainties when the summer started. Outside the two behemoths in Transformers 2 and Harry Potter 6, there was no guarantee that we could see another $200m grosser, but with many possible candidates competing for the No. 3 position. Few thought we would have 3 additional films breaking $250m, making it only the second summer ever to have 5 $250m+ grossers (the other being 2007, the biggest box office year in history). On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have some spectacular failures as well. Here I present my top 10 stories of the summer for 2009:

10. Harry Potter 6's $22.2m midnight
Almost all aspects of Harry Potter 6 - the $77.8m opening weekend, its dailies after, the 2.85 overall multiplier - make it indistinguishable from its predecessor the Order of the Phoenix. Almost all, except for one number: the opening midnight figure from 3,003 theaters. It broke The Dark Knight's record by $4m (23%) and basically single-handedly accounted for the difference in total over the Order of the Phoenix. It also makes the rest of its run feel rather anticlimactic, including the Wednesday number itself ($58m) even though it bested any of the previous HP films by 31%.

9. District 9's $37.4m opening
August looked uninteresting on paper, but it turned out to be way exciting than July, even without a $170m+ grosser. District 9 is one of the key contributors. It kicked off its buzz at Comic-Con and never looked back. The $37.4m was the second best August opening for a R-rated film (although it didn't hold the title for long, as we'll see later) and already enough to cover its budget of $30m. It also one-upped Cloverfield, the film it tried to follow the success of, in the legs department with some terrific holds so far and could reach $100m by Labor Day.

8. Inglourious Basterds' $38.1m opening
One $35m+ opening for a R-rated film in August is rare enough, but two? And back-to-back? The reason I ranked Inglourious Basterds higher is that its expectation was lower, even though it had a named director and a star lead. The average prediction for District 9 was around $30m, while the average for IB was $26m. There were concerns about its 2.5 hour length and the poor performance of Grindhouse, which Tarantino co-directed, but it turned out to be his biggest opener by 51%. The internal multiplier is also encouraging, in particular the small Sunday drop of 19%. A $100m+ total looks set as well. Brad Pitt has been a star for 15 years, but for the most part of the 90s, his box office draw was heavily skewed to the international side. Not any longer. Inglourious Basterd will be his 7th $100m grosser domestically in the last 8 years.

Will come back later with No. 4-7.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Weekend Analysis (Aug 21 - 23): August surprises keep coming

1. Inglourious Basterds - $37.6m (predicted: 27.0)
August was supposed to be the dull month of this summer, but with the back-to-back-to-back performance of G.I. Joe, District 9, and now Inglourious Basterds, it is becoming one of the most exciting periods. Tarantino came back from the failure of Grindhouse to deliver his best box office performer by a whopping 50%. In the hindsight, we could locate reasons for its success from the genre (World War II) to the star (Brad Pitt), but it remains a big surprise, especially with its 2.5 hours long screen time. The word-of-mouth may not be as good as what District 9 received, but it is still excellent enough, so I do see it breaking $100m, even with The Final Destination and Halloween 2 releasing on its heels next week.

2. District 9 - $18.9m (predicted: 17.5)
It held up very well in the face of Inglourious Basterds, and it will pass Cloverfield's total sometime this week. Even though the competition won't let up in the upcoming weeks, the film will breeze past $100m. A bona-fide success.

3. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - $12.5m (predicted: 10.7)
A nice recovery from the previous week, and it makes $150m a realistic target again.

4. The Time Traveler's Wife - $10.0m (predicted: 8.5)
Had a much better Friday recovery than I expected. The competition will get tougher in September with All About Steve and Love Happens, but it should reach $65m.

5. Julie & Julia - $9.0m (predicted: 8.3)
Thought $9m was possible going in, and should have stick to the instinct more to predict a bit higher. The Saturday increase keeps getting better for the film, and now just needs a 4.42 multiplier to reach $90m, comparing to the 4.86 a week ago. With two new releases both targeting at males next weekend, look for another sub-30% hold. And with Labor Day weekend coming up after, $100m is in fact still in play.

6. Shorts - $6.6m (predicted: 6.0)
The prediction I am happy the most about, even though I went too low in the end, one of the principal sins I try to avoid (i.e. under-predicting a film when the general consensus was over-predicting). Aliens in the Attic, with better opening and more midweek help from summer, is only looking at a 3.0 multiplier, so it is unlikely Shorts will hit $20m.

7. G-Force - $4.2m (predicted: 4.1)
Disney should have counted X Games' gross toward it for any 3D screens it lost to the former, as that turned out to be one dumb idea. However, it will still have some room to run until Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball arrives.

8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - $3.5m (predicted: 2.8)
The best hold of its run by far, and this essentially extinguished any doubt of a $300m+ total.

9. The Ugly Truth - $2.9m (predicted: 2.7)
With Labor Day weekend still on the horizon, it should cross $90m eventually.

10. Post Grad - $2.8m (predicted: 5.2)
My worst prediction of the week, not just the score itself, but my general logic toward it pre-release. I was comparing its poll numbers with Bledel's previous films and other similar releases such as Materials Girls, but it turned out to be more like First Daughter instead. It also shows the unpredictability of teenage-girl targeted films. There is nothing good to say about its performance, and it should have a multiplier of 2.5 or less for a $7m total at best.

11. The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard - $2.7m
(predicted: 2.4)
Standard drop, and will lose theaters quickly the next couple of weeks. Will finish with around $15m.

12. Ponyo - $2.4m
Hoping the actual could reach 2.5. Either way, it was a quite nice hold, even if the strong dailies were already pointing to a weekend take of this neighborhood. It is still on track for a $15m total and to become the 3rd highest grosser of the 08/14 openers.

-. X Games 3D The Movie - $0.8m (predicted: 1.4)
Turns out that 3D did not help the movie at all, as it grossed basically the lowest possible amount I imagined. With a average ticket price of $12 for a 3D screen, a $572 PTA means 3 people per show for the whole weekend. It will certainly not be extended beyond the duration Disney originally planned to run.

Rating the weekend: *** out of *****; one great performer and three very underwhelming openers, with some nice holds by the holdovers, and we have a total that was on par with the past years.
Rating my predictions: ** out of *****; except for one week in in the middle, has been in a mini-slump since starting the blog. Really only proud of two predictions this week, Shorts and J&J. The thing that irked me the most is not the misfires on the openers, but rather to underestimate the effect of improved internal multiplier (as the summer is coming to an end) on holdovers. Need to do better; will do better.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Aug 21 - 23)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. Inglourious Basterds27.0$8,531 PTA
2. District 917.5-53.2%
3. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra10.7-52.1%
4. The Time Traveler's Wife8.5-54.4%
5. Julie & Julia8.3-31.2%
6. Shorts6.0$1,932 PTA
7. Post Grad5.2$2,656 PTA
8. G-Force
9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince2.8-45.5%
10. The Ugly Truth2.7-39.3%
-. The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard2.4-57.5%
-. X Games 3D The Movie1.4$1,001 PTA

After a decidedly muted reception at Cannes, Inglourious Basterds was left for dead on the awards front, and its box office prospect became even more murkier. However, it is now surging almost all the way back with the majority of critics praising its final theatrical version and tracking showing it could surpass Kill Bill 2 to become Tarantino's biggest opener ever. Unlike Grindhouse, Inglourious Basterds has a bona-fide star for the lead in Brad Pitt, who is heavily featured in the trailers. A failure of similar proportion is quite impossible, and it could break out to $30m+.

The signs for Shorts range from weak to terrible. The BOM poll numbers of 67.6% Never and 2.5% OW are worse than Aliens in the Attic's and only a little better than what Hoot (which opened to a miserable $1,116 PTA in 3,018 theaters) had. The tracking is not showing much strength either. Robert Rodriguez has some fanbase of his own, but at this moment, a sub-$7m opening appears highly likely.

On first glance, the poll number for Post Grad may look bleak as well (70.7% Never and only 2.7% OW), but the genre is always one of the worse performers for such questions at BOM. For example, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Alexis Bledel's film last year, had 76.5% Never and 4.5% OW, while still opened to almost $4K PTA. The bigger issue facing Post Grad is that we have had two consecutive openers in the last couple of weeks targeting at the female audience, and the competition could be tough to overcome. Still, Bledel should have enough drawing power to match the tracking number of $5-6m.

One has to wonder why a film like X Games 3D is made in the first place. No data is suggesting people care about it at all and even know it exist. The BOM poll of 82.7% Never and 1.9% OW is one of the very worst in history. Its PTA will only be saved by the inflated 3D prices. it reminds me of Supercross, and I expect a similar opening as a result.

After a strong opening weekend, District 9 continues to see good figures during the week, but they are not untypical enough to suggest a sub-50% drop, not with Inglourious Basterds attracting a similar demographics of viewers. For the other holdovers, G.I. Joe may not escape another 50%+ drop with the new stream of competition, while two comparable films are moving in the opposite directions. In fact, natural frontloadedness and mediocre WOM could hit The Time Traveler's Wife hard enough that it falls below Julie & Julia this weekend, despite of leading by 50% in the last frame. J&J has narrowed its week-to-week drop to 36.5% on Wednesday, and with less competition, it should see a bigger Friday bump this time. It is going to be a close battle between the two.

After finally stabilizing nicely and crossing $100m, G-Force will face the double challenge of losing audience to Shorts and losing 3D screens to X-Games. A 40% drop could be expected.

In their brief three-year history, Paramount Vantage had opened a film in over 1,000 theaters right away just four times. None of the previous three saw good second weekend hold (Black Snake Moan: -54.5%, A Mighty Heart: -59.8%, How She Move: -62.8%), and The Goods should be no different.

China Weekly Box Office (08/10 - 08/16): Ziyi's Latest film

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)ChangeTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (特种部队:眼镜蛇的崛起)43m ($6.29m)+65.4%69m ($10.10m)
2. Up (飞屋环游记)28m ($4.10m)+27.2%50m ($7.32m)
3. Sophie's Revenge (非常完美)25m ($3.66m)New25m ($3.66m)
4. On His Majesty's Secret Service (大内密探零零狗)20.5m ($3.0m)-41.4%90m ($13.10m)
5. Overheard (窃听风云)8.5m ($1.24m)-51.4%85m ($12.44m)
6. McDull-Kungfu Ding Ding Dong (麦兜响当当)5.6m ($0.82m)-49.1%70m ($10.25m)
7. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (冰川世纪3)5.2m ($0.76m)-31.6%
148m ($21.66m)
8. Doraemon 3 (哆啦A梦3)2.2m ($0.32m)-40.5%6m ($0.88m)
9.Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (哈里波特6)2.0m ($0.29m)-60.0%157m ($22.98m)
10. Tracing Shadow (追影)1.9m ($0.28m)-64.2%12.2m ($1.79m)

(Using exchange rate of 1 yuan = $0.14637)

The only new release is Ziyi Zhang(章子怡)'s latest film Sophie's Revenge. Being also one of its producers, Ziyi has done a lot of promotion personally back in China. The film opened on Thursday to 4.4m yuan and then received a nice bump over the weekend. Romantic comedies has come far and few in between this summer, so I expect to see a leggy performance in the next few weeks for a potential 100m yuan run.

With no new direct competition, foreign films are experiencing some excellent holds, topped by G.I. Joe's 65.4% increase. One caveat is that the increase percentage is by comparing its full 7-day gross last week vs. its initial week, which G.I. Joe had only three days since it was released on a Friday. Still, it is very impressive, and now it should no trouble clearing the triple-digit milestone. Up had a terrific hold as well given it initially opened on Tuesday. I definitely see 100m yuan in the future as well.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

China Yearly Box Office Comparison

WeekGross (yuan)Change from 2008AdmissionsChange from 2008
Total2.792 billion

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Weekend Analysis (Aug 14 - 16): District 9 rules

1. District 9 - $37.0m (predicted: 30.0)
A resounding success. What is most encouraging is its Saturday hold. For a film with high Internet buzz, a 11% drop is impressive and indicates the good word-of-mouth is already spreading to counter the frontloaded demand. By comparison, Cloverfield dropped 19.2% on its first Saturday, and that was in January instead of summer. With
Inglourious Basterds, The Final Destination, and Halloween 2 all aiming at the male audience, the competition in the next few weeks will be fierce, but $100m is a very realistic target now.

2. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - $22.5m (predicted: 23.5)
Could be closer to my prediction with actual. It had a lower Friday increase due to District 9 providing stronger-than-expected competition, but recovered fine over the weekend. Overall, it had a typical sophomore drop for such a film. With intense upcoming competition, it could see a few more over-50% declines. I am lowering its total projection to $140m.

3. The Time Traveler's Wife - $19.2m (predicted: 26.0)
My biggest misfire of the week, no doubt. It had the internal multiplier that I expected, but with a much lower Friday number, where I thought double-digit was possible. In the end, it opened to what the general consensus was, and MTC tracking turned out to be dead wrong instead. The WOM is quite worse than what Julie & Julia received, and the film attracts fewer older females, so we should see a significantly lower multiplier. I could see it miss $60m.

4. Julie & Julia - $12.4m (predicted: 11.1)
One of the best performers of the weekend, considering the competition. The 35% Friday increase was strong, followed by an even more impressive Saturday jump of 33%. Now with the toughest part behind it, it should start seeing some sub-30% drops. I will just guarantee it here that it will gross at least $8m next weekend. A multiplier of 5 from this point on for a $90m+ total is very much achievable.

5. G-Force - $6.9m (predicted: 6.3)
Finally stabilizing after having no serious new competition since it opened. And with children starting to return to schools, its Friday increase and weekend IM are becoming better. It could reach $100m on Monday and has its sight set on reaching $130m by the end.

6. The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard - $5.4m (predicted: 3.8)
14. Bandslam - 2.3m (predicted: 3.8)
I put the two together because they share some similarities: they were both given good campaigns; both were considered wild card of the weekend, with a relatively large range of possibilities (i.e. high end doubling the low end); and I predicted the same amount for both. It turned out quite differently.

The aggressive campaign for the former was successful, at least to a certain degree, while putting the latter's trailer to New Moon's audience did not help at all. I had the hunch on Bandslam's possible disaster when studying Summit Enterntainment's release history; not following through more was my second biggest mistake of the week. With such a low opening, even good reviews won't be able to help, and it should finish with just $5-6m. The prospect for The Goods does not look much better, as it is rated R and will face relentless competition from bigger films the next couple of weeks. The multiplier should be below 2.5.

7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - $5.2m
(predicted: 5.0)
Harry Potter 6 continues to follow the trajectory almost on the nose. Still going to cross $300m and still going to take a while.

8. The Ugly Truth - $4.5m
An unexpected turnaround, especially with genre competition from Time Traveler's Wife on one end and R-rated competition from District 9 on the other. Now it is looking at $90m+, and with a budget of $38m, a definite success, probably an overlooked one.

9. Ponyo - $3.5m (predicted: 3.8)
The final figure should rise to around 3.6, with Sunday drop being in the 15-20% range. Regardless, this is a successful launch. Foreign films in general, let alone a foreign animated feature, do not normally open in too many theaters right away because when they do, they tend to get ignored and have a meager PTA. The reason is even though such films tend to have hard-core followings, their broad appeal remains limited. So Disney was taking a risk by releasing Ponyo in 927 theaters. With a 4K average though, Ponyo's long-term future now looks quite healthy. It will become Miyazaki's biggest film in the U.S. for sure, and $15m is very much attainable. Ponyo is also one of Miyazaki's most kid-friendly films with its simpler story and vivid images. The WOM so far has been fantastic, so even a $20m total is possible.

10. (500) Days of Summer - $3.0m

One worry I had about Days of Summer when doing the last analysis is the bigger degree of frontloadedness it had consistently demonstrated since the beginning, and this weekend is no different. With PTA dipping below $3K, any significant expansion from this point forward becomes very unlikely. I am afraid that $30m, not $39m or even $35m, could be where it will end up instead.

11. Funny People - $3.0m (predicted: 3.8)
It is hard to believe that its legs are almost as terrible as Bruno's, and it will be regarded as a bigger failure because of what was expected.

Rating the weekend: ***.5 out of *****; a good weekend for August with a few standout performers.
Rating my predictions: **.5 out of *****; I actually wasn't as disappointed as what my score may indicate; made a couple of miscalculations, but happy about the instincts on Bandslam (even though will not get much out of it) and Ponyo, where many others predicted lower.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Aug 14 - 16): Three-way battle for the top

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. District 930.0
2. The Time Traveler's Wife
3. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra23.5-57.0%
4. Julie & Julia11.1-44.6%
5. G-Force6.3
6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince5.0-44.0%
7. Ponyo3.8New
8. Bandslam3.8New
9. The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard3.8New
10. Funny People

Gaining buzz since its Comic Con launch and carrying excellent reviews, District 9 has the best shot emerging from the slew of new releases to command the weekend. Tracking from Major Theater Chain and Reel Source puts it at mid-20, while comparing its BOM poll with Cloverfield (44.2% OW vs. 55.9%) shows a higher ceiling, but not in the range of $35m+.

If District 9 falters to below $25m, we could have a surprise winner in The Time Traveler's Wife. Like most everybody, I stared at the screen in disbelief when MTC put out a number of $30m, and this is not something to dismiss easily, especially not when it far exceeds RS's mid-teen. The history has indicated it is highly likely to see an actual much closer in MTC's direction when this happens. The BOM poll is better than what Julie & Julia had, so $20m appears to be a lock. I am not willing to go as high as $30m because I feel MTC may not have taken the potential degree of its frontloadedness into consideration. My Sister's Keeper, another best-seller adapted film, dropped 22.5% on Sat, a number Time Traveler's Wife could definitely match.

None of the other new wide releases look to top $5m, although in the best of world, would have an $8K PTA and go on to earn $30m+, as Miyazaki deserves to become better known in the U.S. Both PonyoBandslam and The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard have some terrible poll numbers that make me hesitant to predict anything higher.

G.I. Joe has held up fine during the week, declining 66.6% from Sunday to Wednesday, right in between The Bourne Ultimatum's 65.2% and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon's 69.5%. Look for it to drop another 10% on Thursday and then have a healthy rebound on Friday. Both Bourne 3 and Mummy 3 increased around 70% on their respective second Fridays, and the former had a lower Monday decrease, while the latter was subdued by Olympics' opening ceremony, so a 70% increase for G.I. Joe should definitely be within reach. District 9 will take away some audience, but since it is rated R, it could also help bring in sneak-in business.

What will happen when great word-of-mouth meet direct competition? We will find out again with Julie & Julia. Films targeting older females normally rely more on midweek business instead of big Friday jump; both Mamma Mia! and The Devil Wears Prada climbed only 31%. Expect similar pattern with J&J.

China Weekly Box Office (08/03 - 08/09)

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)ChangeTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. On His Majesty's Secret Service (大内密探零零狗)35m ($5.12m)+2.9%69m ($10.10m)
2. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (特种部队:眼镜蛇的崛起)26m ($3.80m)New26m ($3.80m)
3. Up (飞屋环游记)22m ($3.22m)New
22m ($3.22m)
4. Overheard (窃听风云)17.5m ($2.56m)-50.0%76m ($11.12m)
5. McDull-Kungfu Ding Ding Dong (麦兜响当当)11.0m ($1.61m)-62.1%65m ($9.51m)
6. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (冰川世纪3)7.6m ($1.11m)-67.0%143m ($20.93m)
7. Tracing Shadow (追影)5.3m ($0.78m)+6.0%10.3m ($1.51m)
8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (哈里波特6)5.0m ($0.73m)-69.7%154.5m ($22.62m)
9. Doraemon 3 (哆啦A梦3)3.7m ($0.54m)New
3.7m ($0.54m)
10. One Night In Supermarket (夜店)2.3m ($0.34m)-56.6%12m ($1.76m)
11. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (变形金刚2)2.0m ($0.29m)-56.5%430m ($62.94m)

(Using exchange rate of 1 yuan = $0.14634)

Up was released first on Tuesday, while G.I. Joe was released on Friday, so the latter appears to be more impressive there, being able to come out ahead while having three fewer days. However, Up, as a 3D-only release, has just around 300 screens, while G.I. Joe is in the 900 range. Also, Up is already showing much better stamina, so which one will finish on top at the end remains unknown. Regardless, Up is going to be the highest grosser ever for a Pixar film in China (getting a proper release for once, even though still 2 months late, definitely helps).

Doraemon's brand is pretty stable in China, but competing in a crowded market of Up, McDull, and Ice Age 3 is not a great idea. Comparing to the first two Doraemon films' respective total of 22m and 15m yuan, getting to 10m yuan will be a success for this one.

The market grossed 138m yuan ($20.2m) in total last week, an increase of 154% from previous year; the admission rose 118% to 4.4m.

Monday, August 10, 2009

More thoughts on (500) Days of Summer

Little Miss Sunshine:

WeekendPTA ChangeTheater ChangeMultiplier from the Weekend on
1$52,999 PTA7 theaters161.1

Garden State:

WeekendPTA ChangeTheater ChangeMultiplier from the Weekend on
1$22,346 PTA9 theaters132.8

(500) Days of Summer:

WeekendPTA ChangeTheater ChangeMultiplier from the Weekend on
1$30,907 PTA27 theaters?

The first two films provide the best comparison, as both were released in August and had similar expansion patterns so far. The trend does not favor (500) Days of Summer, as for three weekends in a row, it experienced a worse PTA hold than Garden State while having a smaller expansion percentage wise. Comparing with Little Miss Sunshine's last couple of weekends yields similar result. However, part of it has to do with the fact that Days of Summer started with 27 theaters right away, at least tripling what the other two had initially. So what is the trajectory pointing to exactly? Let's look at the multiplier with respect to theater count:

Garden State had a 51.5 multiple from its 35-theater weekend, while LMS had a 40 multiple from its 58-theater weekend. 27/35 = 77%, 35/58 = 60%; that would correlate to a multiple around 55 for 27 theaters, which would put DoS' total at $46m.

If we use LMS and GS's 3rd weekend as guide, the respective multipliers are 21.8 and 18.4, from theater counts of 153 and 175. That translates to a multiple of 12.5 for 266 theaters, giving DoS a $39m total.

If we use LMS and GS's 4th weekend as guide, the multipliers become 9.4 and 7.7, from respective theater counts of 691 and 652. Little Miss Sunshine started to separate itself here, as it had a bigger count and still finished with a higher multiplier, instead of the more regular pattern before. It is because with a high enough PTA, it was able to expand to a much bigger count (1,602) comparing to GS' peak (813). Days of Summer is still in a little better shape than GS on this front at the moment, as it's maintaining a similar PTA while in 165 more theaters. However, if the PTA decline trend continues, the advantage could evaporate very soon. So my suggestion would be to expand to 400 more theaters this weekend to make the maximum use of the waning momentum. If that is the case, it can have a better multiple from its 4th weekend than what GS had, although touching LMS' 9.4 is practically impossible. A 7.9 - 8.2 would put its total at $38-39m, and that is where I see it end up.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Weekend Analysis (Aug 7 - 9): G.I. Joe and Julie & Julia impressed

1. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - $56.2m (predicted: 47.0)
A $175m budget tag notwithstanding, G.I. Joe had a successful launch by almost all means. The Sunday projection of -14% is surely on the high side though, as the recent August blockbusters of comparable size generally dropped around 25%, e.g. Mummy 3: -27.5%, The Bourne Ultimatum: -23.6%, Rush Hour 3: -23.9%. So the actual could see it dip below 55 or even close to $54m. Nonetheless, it generated the second biggest August opening for a non-sequel film. As for its long term prospect, a CinemaScore of B+ and A Yahoo user grade of B do not indicate a better-than-average WOM, and competition for the male audience will come fast and furious in the upcoming weeks, so it could see a rocky road ahead. Look for an overall multiplier between Mummy 3 and Bourne 3 for a $150m total.

2. Julie and Julia - $20.1m (predicted: 22.7)
An equally excellent opening, especially with the theater count being 2,354 instead of the 2,975 number various sites reported on Thursday. It appears Sony mistakenly put down The Ugly Truth's count twice, and such misinformation somewhat cost me here. Back to the film itself, Julie and Julia has some great signs for a promising leggy run: a high PTA of $8.5K, a Friday-to-Saturday increase of 16%, and a CinemaScore of A. The last couple of Streep-starred summer $20m+ openers turned out to have fantastic stamina, a tradition J&J looks to continue. Even with competition from The Time Traveler's Wife next week, I expect a minimum multiplier of 4 for a total around $90m, and making to the triple digits is not completely out of the question.

3. G-Force - $9.8m (predicted: 10.0)
Not an impressive Friday again, but saved by a much better Saturday increase, and the actual could go above $10m. It is still making its methodical march toward $100m, propelled by the fact that it is grossing as much over the midweek as it does on the following weekend. Should get to $110m.

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - $8.9m (predicted: 9.5)
It appears G.I. Joe hurt it more directly than The Bourne Ultimatum did to HP5, and IMAX could only help it so much. If it follows the trajectory of Order of the Phoenix from now on, it will finish with $302m.

5. Funny People - $7.9m (predicted: 9.5)
Universal cannot catch a break, as for their second film in a row, it experienced terrible WOM to suffer a horrendous drop on the next weekend. This is more unexpected though. Bruno was destined to at least be frontloaded to a certain degree, but Apatow-directed films had never seen a drop this bad. Sandler was supposed to guarantee the opening, while Apatow was to guarantee the leg, and neither part of the equation held up. Now it is looking at a $60m total.

6. The Ugly Truth - $7.0m (predicted: 7.0)
Right on par, although its actual will likely be below 7. The Time Traveler's Wife should hit it hard next week.

7. A Perfect Getaway - $5.8m (predicted: 5.5)
It never appears this one had a chance to deviate from the tracking. It is released at a bad time, as both males and females have much more attractive alternatives. But even on a quieter weekend, its generic plot would still not be appealing enough for viewers to not wait for DVD. With a R-rating, it is more unlikely to survive the onslaught of upcoming movies. Making to its budget number of $14m will be good enough.

8. Aliens in the Attic - $4.0m (predicted: 4.5)
3D has certainly not helped the last couple of animated films much. Now with a paltry PTA of $1,300, it will be dropped like flies by theater owners next week. Look for a theater loss of more than 50%.

9. Orphan - $3.7m (predicted: 4.1)
It is not common to see a third weekend drop be 9% worse than the second weekend without losing many theaters, but that is what direct competition can do. The road ahead remains cloudy, with so many male-oriented films. Regardless, it will gross over $40m and should be proud of its run.

10. (500) Days of Summer - $3.7m (predicted: 4.3)
It was unable to hold its PTA as well as it did the previous weeks, but still a respectable result. By comparison, Little Miss Sunshine had $5.6m in 691 theaters for a $8,119 PTA on its fourth weekend, while Garden State took in $3.0m in 652. (500) Days of Summer is now much closer to the path of the latter instead of the former. Garden State had a multiplier of 7.7 from its fourth weekend, which would put (500) Days of Summer at $37m. I am seeing a little better finish, at $40-45m.

11. The Hangover - $3.4m (predicted: 3.5)
Finally another 30%+ drop after four consecutive weekends of 21% or lower declines, a statement on how insanely good its run has been.

-. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - $2.6m (predicted - 2.7)
The loss of theaters likely put $200m out of reach.

Rating the weekend: *** out of *****; G.I. Joe and Julie and Julia succeeded, but offset by the poor holds among holdovers.
Rating my predictions: **** out of *****; should have gone higher on G.I. Joe and lower on Funny People, but generally satisfied.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Aug 7 - 9)

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra47.0
2. Julie & Julia22.7New
3. G-Force10.0-42.9%
4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince9.5-47.0%
5. Funny People9.5-58.1%
6. The Ugly Truth7.0-46.9%
7. A Perfect Getaway5.5New
8. Aliens in the Attic4.5-43.8%
9. (500) Days of Summer4.3+54.8%
10. Orphan4.1-45.5%
11. The Hangover3.5-32.6%
-. Ice Age 32.7-51.1%

Due to viewer's disinterest in Funny People, August is off to an inauspicious start. The top 10 films grossed just $13.1m in total on Wednesday, the lowest since May 28th, and G-Force was able to take the pole position with $2.3m, something we hadn't seen since the end of April. It is natural to think the market is ripe for a surprise breakout, or two. Could G.I. Joe, a film filled with question marks until recently, be the one that benefits and fills the void? The tracking (MTC - $50m) and BOM polls (36.6% Opening Weekend, 24% Sometimes in Theaters) are certainly backing the claim up. The OW number of BOM poll is about 20% higher than what Mummy 3, a film with similar uncertainty and opened around the same time last year, had. It could definitely challenge $50m, but I still believe a high 40 is more likely.

The older female demo hasn't had a film truly targeted at them since The Proposal, and Julie and Julia boasts an excellent casting duo in Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Streep had two $100m grosser in the past three summers, and she is going for another one here, although this has a premise that is a little tougher to sell. The final theater count of 2,975, way up from the estimated 2,300, is encouraging. As for the polls, Mamma Mia! turned 13.4% OW + 15.6% SiT into a $27.8m opening, while Devil Wears Prada earned a similar number with 15.0% OW + 19.9% SiT. By comparison, J&J is weaker at 11.2%+14.0%, so breaking $25m is quite unlikely, but a low $20m remains very much achievable.

The other new release of the week, A Perfect Getaway, is getting overshadowed and will not be able to take advantage of the subdued market, as people have more desirable choices for a two-hour escape. No signs are pointing to an opening higher than the tracking of $5-6m.

Among holdovers, the ones to keep an eye are Funny People, which could suffer a huge drop with very mixed WOM and competition from G.I. Joe, and (500) Days of Summer, which Fox Searchlight continues to handle superbly with another three-fold increase in theaters. The rest should experience standard drops.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

China Weekly Box Office (Jul 27 - Aug 2): Local films dominated

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)ChangeTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. Overheard (窃听风云)35m ($5.12m)+45.8%59m ($8.64m)
2. On His Majesty's Secret Service (大内密探零零狗)34m ($4.98m)New34m ($4.98m)
3. McDull-Kungfu Ding Ding Dong (麦兜响当当)29m ($4.25m)+16.0%54m ($7.91m)
4. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (冰川世纪3)23m ($3.37m)-32.4%136m ($19.91m)
5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (哈里波特6)16.5m ($2.42m)-65.6%150m ($21.96m)
6. One Night In Supermarket (夜店)5.3m ($0.78m)+23.3%9.6m ($1.41m)
7. Tracing Shadow (追影)5.0m ($0.73m)New5.0m ($0.73m)
8. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (变形金刚2)4.6m ($0.67m)-69.3%427.9m ($62.64m)
9. Bao Chi Ai Ni (保持爱你)3.0m ($0.44m)New3.0m ($0.44m)
10. My Girlfriend Is a Cyborg (我的机器人女友)1.1m ($0.16m)New1.1m ($0.16m)

(Using exchange rate of 1 yuan = $0.14640)

Second week in a row where there are no new Hollywood films released, but it didn't stop the overall box office from breaking 150m yuan again. In the end, the scorching hot July set a monthly record with 660m+ yuan, and the momentum is continuing into August. Both Overheard, whose increase surprises me quite a bit, and McDull held up well, sandwiching director Jing Wong's latest comedy. On the opposite side, Harry Potter 6 suffered another steep drop, and with both Up and G.I. Joe opening this week, it is pretty much certain that it won't reach a multiplier of 2 from its first 5 days. In fact, Ice Age 3 would have had a real shot at passing HP6 in total if not for the opening of Up; but instead, similar to what happened in the U.S. when G-Force opened, IA3 should shrink dramatically with the loss of 3D screens and direct competition. Transformers 2 is going to finish with 430m yuan.

The total box office last week was 158m yuan ($23.1m), an increase of 129% from previous year, and the admission rose 109% to 5.1m.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Weekend Analysis (Jul 31 - Aug 2): Funny People disappoints

1. Funny People - 23.4m (predicted: 31m)
One of the biggest negative surprises of the summer. Its Sunday is also greatly overprojected, and the final number should be around $22m instead. I thought an opening under $30m was possible, but definitely not something this low given the track record of both Sandler and Apatow. Universal gave it a good marketing push, with the trailer attached to a lot of movies, but it didn't stop their disappointing summer from continuing. The key problems appear to be many in retrospect: 1) It's a R-rated dramedy, and such films simply do not perform well regardless who is in the lead (maybe except for Will Smith); 2) the trailer gave almost everything away and wasn't funny enough for Sandler's regular fans or intriguing enough to attract more serious moviegoers; 3) it's 2.5 hours long. With a Cinemascore of B-, the long term prospect looks iffy as well. A $60m total may even be difficult to reach.

2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - 17.7m (predicted: 19.0m)
The Thursday drop of 16% blindsided me, as I was expecting 10% better. That being said, it is a very good weekend for HP6, as it pretty much mirrors Order of the Phoenix in daily now, putting it on pace for a $305m total.

3. G-Force - 17.1m (predicted: 20.6m)
Big Thursday drop and another weak IM resulted in an unimpressive hold of -46.2%. However, due to strong Monday-to-Wednesday numbers, it now only needs a 3.0 multiplier to reach $100m, comparing to the 3.16 the week before. Should pass the mark with some to spare.

4. The Ugly Truth - 13.0m (predicted: 14.5m)
It got hit hard by Funny People and the mediocre WOM, but ironically, with Funny People's own
soft opening and an even worse WOM, The Ugly Truth is very likely to win the race between the two in the end.

5. Aliens in the Attic - 7.8m (predicted: 8.0m)
No surprise here, except for perhaps the Fri-to-Sat change of -3.4%, rare for a non-Pixar summer animated film. Looking at a $25m total.

6. Orphan - 7.3m (predicted: 6.6m)
Who would've thought a R-rated horror film would have the best second weekend hold over an animated film and a romantic comedy? Strong midweek dailies translated to a strong weekend this time. The good WOM is spreading, and it's becoming a fun film to track for August. Could it reach $50m?

7. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - 5.3m (predicted: 5.5m)
Recovered from last week as expected. Could still make a run at $200m.

8. The Hangover - 5.0m (predicted: 4.6m)
We are just about to run out of superlatives, if we have not already, with this film. Funny People provided the most direct competition to date, and it barely budged. Still in over 2,000 theaters at its 9th week, still earning a healthy $2.5K PTA, and just passed Star Trek to become the 3rd biggest film of the year. The Matrix Reloaded has to be sweating now.

9. The Proposal - 4.8m (predicted: 4.7m)
Kind of a sibling of The Hangover, as it had its 4th straight weekend of sub-25% drop. And like its brother, it may just survive its biggest direct competition in Julie and Julia fine next week too.

10. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - 4.6m (predicted: 4.7m)
Needs a 3.6 multiplier from this weekend to reach $400m. On paper G.I. Joe should definitely hurt it next weekend, but the trick here is that both are from Paramount, and as we have seen from the past, films of the same studio tend to hold quite well when a new blockbuster is released, e.g. Star Trek dropped only 32.6% when Revenge of the Fallen opened. So I don't expect Transformers to deviate from the current pace, and it will hit the milestone eventually.

11. The Collector - 3.6m (predicted: 1.3m)
Well well well, it earned what I predicted for the weekend on Friday alone. Certainly didn't imagine this to happen, nor there appeared to be any indication of a $3m+ weekend. However, it was only a surprise because of the low expectation as well as the alarmingly weak frame. I would not overstate the degree of the surprise, considering its PTA was still below $3K. The next goal will be making to double-digit.

12. (500) Days of Summer - 2.8m (predicted: 2.4m)
$40m total? $45m? $50m? We should have a much better sense next weekend when it will attack a bunch of new markets. So far, so very good.

Rate the weekend: * out of *****; the weakest weekend of the summer by 15% and could end up being the weakest July frame in 7 years.
Rate my predictions: * out of *****; even worse than the previous week.