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.

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