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.