Friday, September 30, 2011

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Sep 30 - Oct 2): What's Your Number, 50/50, Courageous, Dream House

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. Dolphin Tale15.5-19.1%
2. Moneyball13.2-32.3%
3. The Lion King 3D11.1-49.4%
4. What's Your Number10.5$3,500 PTA
5. 50/509.1$3,700 PTA
6. Courageous8.1$7,000 PTA
7. Dream House7.0$2,630 PTA
8. Abduction5.5-49.7%
9. Contagion5.3-37.3%
10. Killer Elite4.3-54.0%

For the fourth straight weekend, we will have four new wide releases joining the fray. September is one of the weakest months for box office, so having 19 good-scale openers all crammed into it is quite absurd. Last weekend turned out to be a pleasant surprise on the strength of 4 main openers combining for $58.9m and The Lion King's impressive hold, as the overall market set a new September record ($105.9m total for the top 12 films). This frame is unlikely to sustain such performance, and with Dolphin Tale and Moneyball receiving great word-of-mouth, the holdovers in the top 12 look to grab around $65m, not leaving much room for the new releases. I will be surprised if even two of them break double-digit.

To me, the new film best suited to break double-digit is actually What's Your Number. It fills a market void and will enjoy the most number of theaters among the openers (3,002). The trailer had been well received by the audience each time I saw it, especially the end. The R-rating is a concern, and there are signs of weakness such as weak tracking ($6-7m), small number of tweets (around 400 from Monday to Thursday), and little advance sale; however, its 8.4% Opening Weekend figure at Box Office Mojo poll is stronger than some past R-rated romantic comedies such as Going the Distance (5.8%, $6.9m start) and My Best Friend's Girl (4.4%, $8.3m), even though the number could not quite match Good Luck Chuck's 11.2% ($13.7m). Balancing all the factors, I put its per-theater-average at around $3,500 for a $10-11m weekend.

In addition to good BOM poll (18.4% OW, way better than the most recent R-rated comedy Our Idiot Brother), 50/50 also has excellent reviews in its favor. On the other hand, the cancer topic is a hard sell, and people don't really want to relate that to comedy. As Drive just showed, doing well on those fronts (24.0% OW, 93% at RottenTomatoes) does not necessarily translate to good box office. Not appearing on Fandango's top 5 ticket sales list is a bigger concern for it than for What's Your Number. It could break double-digit, but I feel it will fall short.  

Courageous has led Fandango's tickets list since Wednesday, as churches tend to do group buying in advance for religious films. Fireproof, director Alex Kendrick's previous endeavor, took advantage of the same late September weekend to open with a very healthy $8,148 PTA in 838 locations, and look for Courageous to achieve something similar, although higher screen count of 1,161 could mean a slightly smaller PTA.  

Dream House is one film I feel least confident about. The online signs (number of tweets, BOM poll) are decent, but the delay, very low-key marketing, and the lack of advance sales are all causes for concerns. The buzz around it feels rather minimal, so it could very well end up last among the four.

With weakness from the openers as well as its own magnificent word-of-mouth, Dolphin Tale will be able to duplicate what The Help, the previous movie to receive A+ CinemaScore, accomplished on its sophomore weekend: claiming the top spot. Comparable films include Soul Surfer (-31.4% on its second frame), Secretariat (-26.6%), and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (-17.4%). I expect its hold to be close to Meatballs, as there is little new direct competition, and A+ CinemaScore has proven to be strongly correlated to superb box office legs.  

Moneyball also enjoyed a strong CinemaScore of A, but it does have one obstacle of baseball playoff starting this weekend after Major League Baseball changed the schedule this season. A drop somewhere between The Social Network, Red, and The Town, well-received films that opened in similar range, is likely.

Not surprisingly, Disney extended The Lion King's run beyond the initial two-week engagement after its splendid performance. However, as we have seen with Toy Story 1/2 re-release, Michael Jackson's This Is It, and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Concert Tour, when the engagement was extended, the films would suffer steep declines because one of the main reasons the first two weeks got good business is precisely the limited time; by the time the third weekend came, many were either not aware, or those who were had already seen the movie, indicated by the small Friday increase. The Lion King did hold much better on its second weekend than all of those films; even Toy Story re-release dropped 37.8% with no new competition, while The Lion King declined just 27.3% when facing Dolphin Tale. And unlike TS, it does not have to face a $30m+ opener on its 3rd weekend. It is also not losing any theaters; in fact, according to BOM, it will gain 10. So while the Friday increase will still be quite a bit smaller than the previous week, it should be good enough to avoid a 50% drop.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Weekend Box Office (Sep 23 - 25): Dolphin Tale, Moneyball, Killer Elite, Abduction

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. The Lion King 3D18.0-40.3%
2. Dolphin Tale16.5$4,705 PTA
3. Moneyball16.0$5,346 PTA
4. Killer Elite11.0$3,684 PTA
5. Abduction10.0$3,207 PTA
6. Contagion8.5-41.6%
7. Drive5.5-51.5%
8. The Help4.8-26.3%
9. I Don't Know How She Does It2.5-43.2%
10. Straw Dogs2.3-55.1%

Won't be able to write in details this week, so just want to point out that September has never seen top 12 films to gross over $100m combined (unadjusted to inflation); the highest was 9 years ago when Sweet Home Alabama set September's opening weekend record with $35.7m to help the top 12 gross $91.8m together. With the 8 holdovers looking set to grab at least $40m, it is unlikely that the four openers will total over $60m, and with Dolphin Tale poised to outperform the initial expectations, one, or maybe even two, of the other three could disappoint. Also I don't expect Drive to hold all that well with its C- CinemaScore and fierce new competitions for its demo.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

China Weekly Box Office (09/12 - 09/18): Captain America repeated, but Sanctum was the more impressive performer

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)Change# of showingsadmissionsTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. Captain America: The First Avenger(美国队长)36.5m ($5.72m)+4.3%44,715983,29771.5m ($11.20m)
2. Sanctum(夺命深渊)35.8m ($5.61m)+62.7%33,128880,03957.8m ($9.05m)
3. Love in Space(全球热恋)27m ($4.23m)-40,127813,25354m ($8.46m)
4. Drive Angry(狂暴飞车)24.5m ($3.84m)NEW26,523637,02524.5m ($3.84m)
5. My Kingdom(大武生)21m ($3.29m)-38,092647,34842m ($6.58m)
6. Source Code(源代码)7.1m ($1.11m)-60.6%10,512216,99268.1m ($10.67m)
7. The Man from Nowhere(孤胆特工)5m ($0.78m)New10,558165,4535m ($0.78m)
8. Overheard 2(窃听风云2)2.8m ($0.44m)-77.6%5,74183,482216.3m ($33.86m)
9. Cars 2(赛车总动员2)2.8m ($0.44m)-50.0%3,45677,75677.3m ($12.11m)
10. Yang Shan-zhou(杨善洲)2m ($0.31m)-53.5%80848,60281.4m ($12.70m)
(Source, 1 Chinese Yuan == $0.1566)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Morning Rants: the impressiveness of The Lion King's opening and the ridiculousness of "early Friday numbers"

The Lion King 3D got $8.8m on Friday.  To put this in perspective, on the same weekend two years ago, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs turned a $8.1m Friday into a $30.3m opening weekend, or a 3.72 internal multiplier.  People may argue this has more rush factor since it is a re-release of a classic, but the 3D re-release of Toy Story/Toy Story 2 double-feature had a 3.84 IM on its opening weekend.  With those as comparisons, The Lion King is looking at a $33m start, and that's simply incredible.

So just how magnificent this opening is?  To me, it ranks right up there both as the most surprising and as the best opening of the year period.  The average pre-release forecast was around $15m, and I personally thought I was pushing its upper limit with my $22m prediction, given its theater count and the amount of screens.  The screen count is what makes this start especially impressive even in term of the raw number.  Because it is a re-release, The Lion King is not hogging multiple screens like family films traditionally do to achieve big openings.  In fact, it occupies only a single screen in almost all of its 2,330 theaters.  If we assume 5 showings per theater per day and $10 average ticket price (it's 3D but also has many kids in attendence, so should not average much higher), then each showing yesterday attracted 75 people on average.  We could compare this to Transformers 3 for example.  The latter got $33.0m in 9,300 screens on its first Friday, translating to 70 people per show even if we assume the same average ticket price.  And when we consider family films tend to have trouble filling the late showings, The Lion King would basically need to sell out plenty of the afternoon and early night showings across the country to achieve such start.  One more food for thought: when the original one first expanded wide in the summer of 1994, it got $40.9m in 2,552 theaters for a $16,022 PTA; 17 years later, in the early fall, the re-release is looking at a $14K PTA.  That's some staying power.

Toy Story double-feature re-release, which was also advertised as a two-week only event but extended beyond, ended with a 2.46 overall multiplier.  If The Lion King matches it, it will be looking at adding another $80m to its total and make its way to the all-time Top 10 on the domestic chart.

One other matter I feel compelled to say something about is how the "early friday numbers" are being reported earlier and earlier to the point where "respected" trade papers such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are giving weekend projections on Friday afternoon based on early matinee returns.  That is simply ridiculous, and we have seen how off these projections could get.  A month ago, Rise of the Planet of the Apes saw its reported Friday number rose steadily from $13m in the afternoon to $15m early evening to $18m late night and then finally $19.5m with real estimate, leading to a change in weekend projection from mid-$30m to $50m+ and a complete alteration in article's tone.  Now with The Lion King, the first report at around 3pm PST from Variety said $15-18m for the weekend directly without even giving what they thought Friday number would be.  Then THR revised to $22-24m later at night, and it turned out we're looking at $30m+.  We know why they are doing it ealy to attract traffic, but it is still sad to see the two renowned trade papers stoop to the level of Nikki Finki at Deadline and sacrifice the fundementals of professional journalism.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Sep 16 - 18): The Lion King 3D, Drive, I Don't Know How She Does It, Straw Dogs

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. The Lion King 3D22.0$9,442 PTA
2. Contagion12.0-46.4%
3. Drive11.5$3,985 PTA
4. I Don't Know How She Does It7.0$2,827 PTA
5. The Help6.3-29.4%
6. Straw Dogs5.7$2,367 PTA
7. The Warrior2.8-46.6%
8. The Debt2.7-43.4%
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes2.3-40.8%
10. Colombiana2.1-46.8%

What was supposed to be a close race for the top spot is turning out to be not the case at all, as The Lion King 3D is blowing away its competitors in terms of advance sales and number of tweets. By Thursday afternoon, it accounted for 62% of Fandango sales, simply a remarkable figure for this time of the year. Its tweets reached 10,000 on Wednesday alone. On the Box Office Mojo front, 18% of voters say they will see it on the opening weekend. That is a bit lower than what the 3D re-release of Toy Story/Toy Story 2 received - 22.9%; however, the TS re-release was a double-feature, which limited the amount of showings it could have per day as well as its family appeals, since the kids will have great difficulty sitting in theater for 3 hours. The Lion King will not have such problem, and it will maintain Toy Story's nostalgia factor. If we just look at the 18%, it is an excellent number for a family film. On the same weekend two years ago, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs turned 13.9% OW interest into a $30.3m start. The Lion King does not have the theater count to match that start, but it could get close to a $10,000 per-theater-average, as the Toy Story double-feature re-release achieved $7K PTA while playing an average of only 3 showings per day. It is true that 3D is nowhere near as popular as two years ago, but The Lion King will also be played in some 2D screens to alleviate the concern.

For a while, it looks like Drive may suffer a similar fate as Warrior did last week, a superbly-reviewed film not able to attract the audience it deserves. However, as the week progresses, its prospect is becoming better and better. The OW interest at BOM poll jumped from around 19% on Monday to 23.8% by Thursday night. Also the Never percentage is below 30%, indicating people are open to check out the film, and the excellent reviews (93%/8.3 average at RottenTomatoes, 81 with 6 100s at Metacritic) could convince last-minute deciders to propel its opening higher. The big jump in theater count from originally estimated 2,400 to 2,886 exhibits FilmDistrict's confidence, and it finally entered Fandango's advance sales list on Thursday with 3%, a figure that will continue to improve into the weekend.

Weinstein Company has not aggressively marketed I Don't Know How She Does It, and the awareness and interests are not very high as a result. Its BOM poll shows a paltry 2.2% for the portion of voters who are interested in seeing it the opening weekend; although people may argue BOM demo is as far away from the film's targeted audience as possible, we could still compare it with films of similar demo, and the number trails the ones from others such as Did You Hear About the Morgans (5.0% OW, $6.6m opening), Love Happens (5.4% OW, $8.1m opening), and The Women (4.0% OW, $10.1m opening). The appeal for this film does appear to skew even more females than usual, and there has not been a female-oriented comedy in a while, so some upside surprise to a $3,000+ PTA could occur.

Among the four new wide releases, Straw Dogs has the weakest outlook. Last week demonstrated yet again when Major Theater Chain tracking came in way below ReelSource's, the final outcome will most likely be even weaker than MTC's forecast, and Straw Dogs essentially matched Warrior's tracking with mid-teen from RS and $8m from MTC. In addition, it still had not cracked the top 5 in Fandango's advance sales by Thursday afternoon, quite terrible for a R-rated thriller, and any time a R-rated film of this genre is unable to grab over 10% OW from the BOM poll, it will have trouble exceeding $3,000 PTA.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

China Weekly Box Office (09/05 - 09/11): Captain America conquered the Mid-Autumn holiday

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)Change# of showingsadmissionsTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. Captain America: The First Avenger(美国队长)35m ($5.48m)New26,999928,62835m ($5.48m)
2. Love in Space(全球热恋)27m ($4.23m)New31,183805,48927m ($4.23m)
3. Sanctum(夺命深渊)22m ($3.45m)New13,894527,70422m ($3.45m)
4. My Kingdom(大武生)21m ($3.29m)New24,034632,72021m ($3.29m)
5. Source Code(源代码)18m ($2.82m)-58.1%33,438576,73861m ($9.56m)
6. Overheard 2(窃听风云2)12.5m ($1.96m)-69.3%25,783379,247213.5m ($33.42m)
7. The Smurfs(蓝精灵)7.3m ($1.14m)-71.9%12,577193,582257.8m ($40.34m)
8. Beginning of The Great Revival(建党伟业)5.7m ($0.89m)-18.6%1,07897,569403.43m ($62.46m)
9. Cars 2(赛车总动员2)5.6m ($0.88m)-78.4%12,233148,54174.5m ($11.67m)
10. Yang Shan-zhou(杨善洲)4.3m ($0.67m)-42.7%1,977124,24179.4m ($12.39m)
(Source, 1 Chinese Yuan == $0.1566)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Sep 9 - 11): Contagion, The Warrior, Bucky Larson

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. Contagion24.2$7,500 PTA
2. The Help9.5-34.9%
3. The Warrior6.5$3,500 PTA
4. The Debt5.9-40.5%
5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes4.9-38.1%
6. Colombiana4.1-45.1%
7. Apollo 183.5-59.8%
8. Shark Night 3D3.1-63.1%
9. Our Idiot Brother2.7-50.5%
10. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World2.4-50.2%
-. Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star1.7$1,133 PTA

The signs for Contagion are looking quite good. Having Major Theater Chain's tracking a healthy percentage higher than the one from ReelSource, 30 vs. high-teen, is always nice. Even though the previous "rule" of the actual gross being even higher than MTC's in such circumstance has not been accurate lately, it is at least indicative of a number in between. The Box Office Mojo poll of 26.9% Opening Weekend interest is excellent for an adult-oriented film. By comparison, Ocean's Thirteen had 27.6%, The Adjustment Bureau 23.5%, Green Zone 19.3%, and The Informant 15.7%. It also occupied 14% of Fandango's tickets sale on Thursday, up from 8% the previous day, and the reviews are positive enough to not deter the last-minute deciders. Expect a per-theater-average around $7,500 for a $24-25m opening.  

The Warrior, on the other hand, is facing a uphill battle despite excellent reviews. The fighting genre is not known for big openings, and there is little star power in the cast. Having MTC come in significantly lower than RS, 8 vs. mid-teen, is a serious concern, as the rule works a larger percentage of time in this case and points to a sub-$8m start. The BOM poll of 11.0% OW interest is lower than The Fighter's 16.1% and just a bit higher than Pride & Glory's 9.7%. Undisputed, another comparable film, opened to a $4,127 PTA in 1,102 theaters, while The Protector had $3,266 PTA in 1,541. With the screen competition The Warrior is facing, a higher average in the $5K range appears unlikely. I do hope I am wrong, but at this time I am feeling a rather disappointing first punch.  

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star reminds me a lot of The Rocker, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Let's Go to Prison, and Grandma's Boy. I understand MTC has it pretty high at $5.5m, but with a tiny 2.2% OW interest at BOM, lower than any of those films received, I cannot see a PTA over $2,000.

A couple of factors could make this Sunday a bad day at the box office: the opening week of NFL regular reason and the 10th anniversary of 9/11. On the equivalent weekend last year, the top 10 films dropped an average of 44.9% Saturday-to-Sunday, with 3 declining over 50%. The 9/11 effect could add a few more percentages, and look for the Sunday night game in New York between Cowboys and Jets to score big rating. Combining it with the fact that last Sunday was helped immensely by the Labor Day holiday, we should see some higher-than-normal drops for holdovers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

China Weekly Box Office (08/29 - 09/04): Fall season begun with Source Code claiming the top spot

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)Change# of showingsadmissionsTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. Source Code(源代码)43m ($6.74m)New48,4441,414,93943m ($6.74m)
2. Overheard 2(窃听风云2)40.7m ($6.38m)-49.9%50,1481,217,469201m ($31.46m)
3. The Smurfs(蓝精灵)26m ($4.07m)-48.5%27,024696,177250.5m ($39.20m)
4. Cars 2(赛车总动员2)25.9m ($4.06m)-39.8%33,761692,32868.9m ($10.79m)
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2(哈利波特7(下))11.5m ($1.80m)-54%15,399295,705408m ($63.62m)
6. Transformers: Dark of the Moon(变形金刚3)9.4m ($1.47m)-53.9%10,764225,7441.0808b ($167.95m)
7. Perfect Baby(巴黎宝贝)9m ($1.41m)-10.0%21,264312,93419m ($2.98m)
8. Yang Shan-zhou(杨善洲)7.5m ($1.18m)-18.5%3,741205,42375.1m ($11.72m)
9. Beginning of The Great Revival(建党伟业)7m ($1.10m)+29.6%2,515145,258397.73m ($61.57m)
10. Season of the Witch(女巫季节)6.6m ($1.03m)-61.2%14,149218,32636.8m ($5.76m)
(Source, 1 Chinese Yuan == $0.1567)

China Weekly Box Office (08/22 - 08/28): Cars 2 opened to third place as Overhead 2 repeated

MovieWeekly Gross (yuan/dollar)Change# of showingsadmissionsTotal (yuan/dollar)
1. Overheard 2(窃听风云2)81.3m ($12.72m)+2.9%68,9542,421,083160.3m ($25.08m)
2. The Smurfs(蓝精灵)50.5m ($7.90m)-38.4%33,6551,350,628224.5m ($35.13m)
3. Cars 2(赛车总动员2)43m ($6.73m)New37,5371,129,20143m ($6.73m)
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2(哈利波特7(下))25m ($3.91m)-54.5%23,735653,594396.5m ($61.82m)
5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon(变形金刚3)20.4m ($3.19m)-50.2%17,257490,6201.0714b ($166.48m)
6. Season of the Witch(女巫季节)17m ($2.66m)+28.8%26,281566,47730.2m ($4.73m)
7. Perfect Baby(巴黎宝贝)10m ($1.57m)New17,178340,25110m ($1.57m)
8. Treasure Hunt(无价之宝)9.9m ($1.55m)+20.7%20,051335,28218.1m ($2.83m)
9. Yang Shan-zhou(杨善洲)9.2m ($1.44m)-29.2%4,952289,85567.6m ($10.54m)
10. Shen Zhou 11(飞天)7.4m ($1.16m)-2,962212,58256.2m ($8.76m)
(Source, 1 Chinese Yuan == $0.1565)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Weekend Box Office Predictions (Sep 2 - 5): Apollo 18, The Debt, Shark Night 3D

MoviePredicted Gross (m)Change
1. The Help17.2+18.6%
2. Apollo 1812.5$3,756 PTA
3. The Debt10.5$5,750 PTA
4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes8.8-0.8%
5. Shark Night 3D8.0$2,851 PTA
6. Colombiana7.5-27.9%
7. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World7.0+16.5%
8. The Smurfs6.0+26.3%
9. Our Idiot Brother4.7-33.0%
10. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark4.5-47.2%

Of the three new wide releases, Apollo 18 stands the best chance of unseating The Help as the No. 1 film of the weekend. However, after some initial good reactions to its first trailer, Weinstein has failed to capitalize on them on the marketing front; instead, the film got pushed back to its current date, and the interests have gradually subsided. Its 11% Opening Weekend figure at Box Office Mojo poll is mediocre for a horror movie that crosses into the sci-fi genre. The one positive is its PG-13 rating, given all the recent openers appealing to the 13-25 male demo have been R-rated (Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Our Idiot Brother, Conan the Barbarian, Fright Night, etc). The situation is similar to when Babylon A.D. opened in 2008, and we could see a similar adjusted gross as the result.

The immediate comparison to Shark Night 3D would be Piranha 3D, but unfortunately for the former, the 3D appeal has dropped so much this year that not only it no longer provides a boost to a film's PTA, it may have become a hindrance as people who could not find 2D showings at their preferred theaters may decide not to see the film at all. Also unlike Piranha 3D, there is no abundance of nudity in Shark Night as a headline attraction. The Box Office Mojo poll reflects the difference, as Shark Night 3D's 9.6% OW interest pales against Piranha 3D's 17.4%. In the end, it may not even get a $3,000 PTA over the first 4 days.  

The Debt opened to $0.970532m on Wednesday. While the number may not appear all that impressive on the first glance, it is in fact quite good when we compare against past Wednesday openers on the Labor Day weekend:

MovieWednesday (m)4-Day Weekend (m)Wed-to-OW Multiplier
The American1.67436316.6622339.95
Balls of Fury1.69114.1114548.35
The Constant Gardener0.92982910.96131111.79
Vanity Fair0.5998256.26892510.45

The American had higher pre-release buzz and then suffered from poor word-of-mouth, while Balls of Fury skewed younger males, so a 10+ multiplier like the other three films did should be achievable for The Debt. That will put its 4-day weekend at over $10m and give it a 6-day start of over $12m.

With Hurricane Irene hurting last weekend's box office and the weakness of new openers, we could expect holdovers to experience healthier holds comparing to past Labor Day frames. Given the Labor Day history, older-female oriented films like The Help and family films such as Spy Kids and The Smurfs should see the best holds.