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.

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