Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Projecting Inception's final domestic gross

There is no debate that Inception had a magnificent second weekend, but in order to answer the questions of how superb the hold really was and what range of final gross we are looking at now, we need to compare it in context with other past leggy summer releases. I decided to choose four of the leggiest we have seen in the previous decade: The Hangover (2009), Wedding Crashers (2005), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), and What Lies Beneath (2000). All of them have something in common with Inception. They are original films that enjoyed excellent word-of-mouth, and none truly belongs to a genre which is custom to produce such good runs: 2 R-rated, 1 horror, 1 sci-fi, and 1 action film. Pirates of the Caribbean came the closest by successfully appealing to families, but that was not apparent at the beginning, and it still has a more restricted rating (PG-13) than most family films. In addition, other than The Hangover, which was released in early June, all the others opened in July, giving us good daily comparisons.

Since midnight has taken a more prominent role over the years, the more controlled way to compare their data would be to subtract the midnight figure from calculation whenever appropriate, e.g. multiplier from opening weekend, second weekend drop, etc. The midnight numbers I used for the films are the following:

Inception ~ $3m
The Hangover ~ $750k
Wedding Crashers ~ $180k (for both WC and Hangover, deducted the ballpark number from this post by multiplying the result of notfabio's chain by 3)
Pirates of the Caribbean - 0 (since it opened on a Wednesday)
What Lies Beneath ~ 0 (the midnight was very much less of a factor in 2000)

First let's calculate the overall multiplier for the other films:
The Hangover - 6.25
Wedding Crashers - 6.20
Pirates of the Caribbean - 6.04 (calculated by subtracting the first two days' gross from the total)
What Lies Beneath - 5.23

The multiplier from the second weekend:
The Hangover - 6.26
Wedding Crashers - 6.02
Pirates of the Caribbean - 6.07
What Lies Beneath - 4.77

What we want to find out is that from Inception's data so far, what kind of multiplier we could expect for it. The second weekend drop is the first comparison to come to mind, again without midnight counted:

Inception - -28.5%
The Hangover - -25.9%
Wedding Crashers - -23.9%
Pirates of the Caribbean - -27.0%
What Lies Beneath - -23.0%

The Hangover had an extra month of summer weekdays and was able to turn a 25.9% drop into a 6.26 multiplier. Wedding Crashers and Pirates of the Caribbean didn't have that luxury and topped out at a bit lower multiplier. The latter group seems to fit Inception more, and with a worse sophomore weekend hold, it appears 5.9 would be the upper limit of what the film could achieve. However, Inception possesses one factor none of those two had: IMAX, which could help the midweek figures tremendously. One measurement to check its potential effect would be the ratio of Mon-to-Thurs total vs. the previous weekend, and here are the numbers for the opening week:

Inception - 0.625
The Hangover - 0.610
Wedding Crashers - 0.617
Pirates of the Caribbean - 0.608
What Lies Beneath - 0.565

Indeed, Inception came out on top, and that advantage in weekday gross could compensate for 1-2% difference in weekend drops, so in fact it is holding as good as Pirates of the Caribbean and only about 1% worse than The Hangover so far, meaning a 6.1 multiplier from the second weekend is still achievable.

What about What Lies Beneath? The film gives us some insight on another important factor impacting one's long term prosperity: competition. What Lies Beneath had the best second weekend hold (although when taking the midweek into account, the hold would have been on par), but ended up with a far worse multiplier. The main culprit is that it had to face Hollow Man, another horror film, on its third weekend, causing it to drop 39.6%. Even though it recovered fine afterward and had an 5.37 multiplier from its 4th weekend, that one higher-than-normal drop knocked its multiplier from the 2nd weekend down to 4.77. So how does it look on the competition front for Inception? Dinner for Schmucks will be its main competition this week, but it is not nearly as strong as Salt last week or what Pirates of the Caribbean had to face on its 3rd weekend (Spy Kids 3D and Tomb Raider 2). Then it'll be The Other Guys, but the biggest threat won't really come until the 08/13 weekend, where there will be 3 new wide releases, two of which target strongly toward the male audience - The Expendables and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. After that, the question will mainly be how well it could hold on to its screens, as 8 more films are scheduled to open wide in the following two weeks. Overall, it will not be as a smooth sailing as what Wedding Crashers encountered (Pirates of the Caribbean also at least had a couple of weekends with little direct competition), but it's also better equipped to handle competition than What Lies Beneath, especially with IMAX all to itself for quite a while.

So my conclusion?

Conservative case: average 31% drop for the 3rd and 4th weekend, 40% drop the 5th weekend, and 4.8 multiplier from the 5th weekend on; 142.883424+42.725012*(0.625+0.69+0.69*(0.625+0.69)+0.69*0.69*(0.625+0.6*4.8)) = $309.13m (5.12 overall multiplier without midnight, 4.89 multiplier from second weekend)

Realistic case: average 27% drop for the 3rd and 4th weekend, 35% drop the 5th weekend, and 5.1 multiplier from the 5th weekend on; 142.883424+42.725012*(0.625+0.73+0.73*(0.625+0.73)+0.73*0.73*(0.625+0.65*5)) = $332.74m (5.52 and 5.44)

Best case: average 23% drop from the 3rd and 4th weekend, 30% drop the 5th weekend, and 5.4 multiplier from the 5th weekend on; 142.883424+42.725012*(0.625+0.77+0.77*(0.625+0.77)+0.77*0.77*(0.625+0.7*5.4)) = $359.96m (5.97 and 6.08)


  1. Really only $360m for best case? One advantage Inception has that those other films don't have is a higher proportion of repeat viewers, those other movies you really only need to see once. Most people I know in my 30-under age group don't usually see the same movie twice in theaters, but they all loved the film and already talk about planning to see Inception again.

    But I'm still a bit concerned about this crossing over to the 30+ age group, at least the ones at my work, they're still not getting around to seeing the movie and are more interested in Salt. I'm still not sure if the great WOM from 30 and under will spillover to strong 30+ interest, but if it does crossover and the 30+ people are also willing to do repeat viewings, then $360m might be too pessimistic for a best-case scenario.

  2. Get a life for chrissake...

  3. Awesome article. I agree with Alexcuse that best case scenario should be higher as this will have geeks going multiple times. I think 400M+ is still a remote possibility if it has crazy holds for couple of weekends.

  4. weekday numbers this week have dropped off a little more than I expected, and it is unlikely to clear 29m this weekend, so I lean more towards the conservative numbers...$305m to $315m

  5. Yeah, the weekday numbers have been a little weaker than I expected too, as Monday-to-Thursday total will be about 55% of last weekend's gross, down from 62.5% during the opening week. I think this suggests a higher Friday increase (60%+), and I still see a $30m weekend, although not much more than that. 25% drop does seem to be out.