Sunday, January 6, 2013

First Look at Zero Dark Thirty's box office potential

Zero Dark Thirty will expand into 2,400+ locations this upcoming weekend. It has performed very well in limited release so far, but the weekend the film shined the most is the past one, where it is able to limit the per-theater-average drop to 28% while increasing its theater count 12-fold. So the question now is how well it could do with this next significant expansion. The good thing is that we have some past examples for some guidance, and let us take a look at them first:

Traffic (2000) - $62,645 PTA in 4 theaters before the expansion (its opening weekend); $10,276 PTA in 1,510 after
Black Hawk Down (2001) - $46,778 PTA in 16 before (its 3rd weekend); $9,226 PTA in 3,101 after
The Bucket List (2007) - $36,408 PTA in 16 before (its 2nd weekend); $6,661 PTA in 2,911 after
Gran Torino (2008) - $34,957 PTA in 84 before (its 4th weekend); $10,500 PTA in 2,808 after

We could see that all of them did well with the expansion. The worst performer is The Bucket List, which unlike the others was not an award contender and whose targeted audience skewed older. Zero Dark Thirty's $45,833 PTA in 60 theaters on its third weekend also compares favorably to all of those films, Gran Torino being closest in term of its impressiveness. Black Hawk Down had the benefit of MLK holiday weekend when it expanded, but Zero Dark Thirty will have the benefit of Oscar nominations happening on Thursday when it was usually announced on a Tuesday in late January. The boost from the announcement will lead right into the weekend and maximize its box office boost to all major players involved, which Zero Dark Thirty will certainly be part of.

If the film stays close to the 2,400 theaters estimate, it will be a lower number than what Gran Torino or Black Hawk Down had, and this normally means a higher per-theater-average, other things being equal. Thus, along with the Oscar boost, I do not see a PTA less than $10,000, and one close to $12,000 would not surprise me either. Overall, I am seeing a weekend in the $27-30m range.

As for its long term prospect, Traffic, Black Hawk Down, and Gran Torino all ended up over $100m, and I expect the same to happen with Zero Dark Thirty. There is a concern that people will be going in expecting an action film from the trailer and end up being disappointed, resulting in a mediocre word-of-mouth. And there is also the controversy of how the film stands on torture. However, the word-of-mouth seems to be just fine from how it is holding so far, and the controversy has not really hurt it either. Having MLK holiday falling on the ensuing weekend will help its overall multiplier as well. I do not expect it to win the Best Picture or Director at the Oscars (although it has a better shot at latter than former), but the constant spotlight the film will be under in the next month will push it to a $110m+ total.

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