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.

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