October Movie Recap

It’s possible the Saw franchise has damaged October horror movies. This year there were only two non-Saw entries, and one of those was a low-budget teen horror film along the lines of The Covenant. Will October recover to reclaim its Halloween genre?

Of course due to a quirk in the calendar, it is possible studios just considered it a bad year to release horror films.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Prediction: $25m open, $75m final

Actual: $29m open, $92m current, $95m final

Leading off the month was the success of Disney’s talking dogs. This is a surprise in multiple ways, possibly mostly because the reviews were not completely negative. For films like this, a middling response can be considered a victory.

As is becoming typical for Disney’s fall live action releases, this played very strong and had some pretty good legs. After the opening it seemed like it would get past the century mark, but it won’t quite be able to make it. Even so, this is a big victory. International totals aren’t very high, but it’s played rather well in Mexico.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Prediction: $15m Open, $50m Final

Actual: $11m Open, $31m Final

It seems it’s already been pulled from theaters. This isn’t quite as strong as I expected, but for an indie film on a $10m budget, this is very good and helps cement Michael Cera’s status as one of the biggest young stars in Hollywood.

There’s some question about how long he can keep playing the slightly awkward geeky guy as he gets older, but for now he’s well set to continue at least through the next year. He’s starring with Jack Black in The Year One, a Judd Apatow produced comedy set in biblical times. He’s also set to star as the titular character in the film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim, directed by Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). And there’s another indie turn as he leads in Youth in Revolt, a dark comedy about a sex-obsessed teenager. Finally, there’s some movement toward making a feature film extension of Arrested Development, where Cera first became a star.

This wasn’t quite Juno take two, but it was still respectable.

Appaloosa

Prediction: $4m Open, $12m Final

Actual: $5m Open, $20m Final

In contrast to the expectations of most films released, Appaloosa has played very well. It’s another entry to prove that westerns remain a solid niche for films. They aren’t likely to break out any time soon, but if the budgets are kept reasonable, they can be quietly profitable. In this case, it cost $20m to make and will be turning a nice profit once it hits the home video market.

An American Carol

Prediction: $5m Open, $10m Final

Actual: $3.6m Open, $7m Final

As far as predicting that the final tally would be about double the opening, I was spot on. This was a bit weaker than expected, but at this level it’s not really significant. Against a budget of $20m, this isn’t too bad of a loss, but it’s certainly not likely to get that back in any short order.

Perhaps most notable is that Bill Maher’s Religulous, a decidedly liberal film, opened on the same weekend on less than one third the number of screens and made just a couple hundred thousand less for the weekend. It’s also had better legs and has earned over $12m. Plus it only cost $2.5m to make

Flash of Genius

Prediction: $3m Open, $10m Final

Actual: $2.3m Open, $4.2m Final

Apparently this was out of theaters within a month. Greg Kinnear continues his streak as an actor respected for his talents but with absolutely no drawing power for audiences. He’ll probably need to shift his career to providing supporting roles. He’s doing just that next year in The Green Zone, with Matt Damon and Amy Ryan. Unfortunately, that film is set in Iraq, which is another box office non-starter.

Blindness

Prediction: $5m Open, $15m Final

Actual: $1.9m Open, $3.3m Final

Another lackluster opening. In strong contrast to Flash of Genius or An American Carol, however, this one has played relatively strongly internationally, earning almost $12m. Even so, it’s got to be a disappointment compared to the $25m budget.

Quarantine

Prediction: $15m Open, $30m Final

Actual: $14m Open, $32m Final

Against a budget of just $12m, this is a nice success for Sony’s Screen Gems. It had no stars, but the Blair Witch-esque advertising helped it play very well. It’s likely that audiences considered it fresh and inviting which helped cement the success.

As is typical with these sorts of viral films, the legs were almost non-existant. Even so, I doubt anyone involved was disappointed with this result.

Body of Lies

Prediction: $20m Open, $60m Final

Actual: $13m Open, $39m Final

Despite the prestige of the names involved, Body of Lies couldn’t overcome the Gulf War movie syndrome. Reviews were lackluster, citing the problems with a shiny but soulless espionage thriller that feels very convoluted at times.

The budget for this was a large $70m. The international receipts push the worldwide total above $80m, so it’s not likely that this will lose a ton of money, but it still has to be extremely disappointing for everyone involved.

Also, given the way just about every film set in the modern Middle East has played, it would probably be wise for Hollywood to give up on the concept for a while, no matter who is involved. Body of Lies probably had the highest profile stars and director yet for such a film, and it did nothing.

The Express

Prediction: $20m Open, $70m Final

Actual: $5m Open, $10m Final

Ultimately, trying to pitch a sports drama about overcoming long odds is fine, but doing it by focusing on someone who never played in the NFL and mostly just leaves audiences wondering “Who?” isn’t a recipe for success.

This is a bit disappointing, because Ernie Davis’ story is amazing and compelling. However, ultimately he’s just a minor blip in sports history and not likely to get a big response except from a niche audience.

Had this just been a small indie film, this would be a perfectly fine result. In fact, they probably could have played it as a platform release to try and build up momentum. Unfortunately, there’s a $40m cost attached, and it’ll take a long time to turn that around.

City of Ember

Prediction: $15m Open, $50m Final

Actual: $3m Open, $8m Final

Given the much higher profile and accessible family fare like Beverly Hills Chihuahua this isn’t terribly surprising. However, this is yet another lackluster adaptaion of a children’s book. The producers of Coraline are likely getting quite worried.

It’s also more bad news for Walden Media. In fact, this is the worst performance for the production studio, earning less than either Hoot or The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. To add to the pain, City of Ember cost $55m to make, and even with international reciepts, it’s only earned around $12m. This is an expensive miss. Given how poorly Prince Capsian did, there have to be some grave concerns about future films from the brand.

Of course there is some good news. Not with Ember, but with Walden. Journey to the Center of the Earth exceeded expectations in a grand manner, and the international take for Prince Caspain is a very healthy $278m. That’s still down from the $450m that The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe earned, but it’s enough to take off the sting.

What is perhaps the biggest concern is that for the most part, book adaptaions just don’t take off. They can be profitable, but the expectations need to be set appropriately. Budgets can’t be that large, and unless there is a very large and active fanbase, any projections should be well tempered. Unless you’ve got an extremely hot property like Harry Potter or Twilight, the only sure way to get a film to break out seems to be to disassociate it with the book connection. Witness how well Shrek and Night at the Museum did. It’s likely that few of the audience members were there because they liked the book.

Max Payne

Prediction: $25m Open, $55m Final

Actual: $17m Open, $40m Current, ~$41m Final

In comparison to similar titles, this is actually quite strong. It’s a similar haul to the first Resident Evil in 2002 and last year’s Hitman, both of which arguably had stronger release dates. It’s not quite as high as some films with a similar feel, such as Constatine, but in the realm of lower-budget action flicks, this is actually pretty good. My prediction was a bit too bullish, in retrospect.

This is also considerably stronger than star Mark Wahlberg’s We Own the Night, which opened on a similar weekend in 2007. That one finished with slightly more than $28m. It’s not that this is a spectacular result, but it’s not bad, given everything involved. And with a budget of $35m and an overseas gross that matched the domestic take, Max Payne will turn a nice little profit. For a film basically at the level of The Transporter series, this is quite good.

Next year Wahlberg has two high profile flicks. The sequel to The Italian Job is slated to finally come out (likely in the summer), and in December he’s starring in Peter Jackson’s next film, The Lovely Bones. In both cases, he stands a strong chance to pass the century mark.

Sex Drive

Prediction: $20m Open, $55m Final

Actual: $3.6m Open, $8.4m Final

I vastly overstated how effective Summit Entertainment would be at getting the word out for this film. Of course at this point, all of the distributor’s films have been completely overshadowed by the success of Twilight.

With a worldwide haul of $11m and a budget of $19m, this is in the red at the moment, but could see a profit on video. Or cable.

The Secret Life of Bees

No prediction

Actual: $11m Open, $37m Current, ~$38m Final

This was a bit of a surprise success, snagging #3 for the weekend after Max Payne and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. It played very well with a sorely underserved demographic: African American women.

As is typical for films targeting African Americans, this played very weakly internationally, but it only cost $11m to make, so it’s already earned a tidy profit for Fox Searchlight.

W.

No Prediction

Actual: $11m open, $26m Final

I’m rounding the opening weekends to the nearest million. The Secret Life of Bees had $10,527,000 while W. was at $10,505,000, an incredibly close gap.

For director Oliver Stone, always at home with controversy, this is a bit of a disappointment. His three previous films earned more, two of them above $70m. Even the reviled Alexander managed to gather up $34m.

In the case of W., it’s likely that this was a poor release date. Given how much political fervor existed in October, adding a politically charged film wasn’t going to take off. There was so much emotional investment in the presidential race this year that anyone who went to see a movie wanted some escape.

On one hand, you’ve got people who are apologetic to Bush and don’t want to see a film critical of him by a liberal like Stone. On the other you’ve got people who are already critical of Bush and don’t want to spend a couple hours watching his life on screen. In a few years, this might be an interesting film to check out, once people have had a bit of distance.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

Prediction: $35m Open, $90m Final

Actual: $42m Open, $89m Current, ~$92m Final

And here we have probably the weirdest box office run ever. There’s such a confluence of events that came together to effect this run, both internal and external, that I’m sure that HSM3 will go down as one of the most unique box office stories of all time. The fact that my final prediction was that close is amazing.

To start, this is probably the first time that a direct to TV/video movie has ever had a theatrical sequel. I actually predicted, after the success of the first film for Disney, that HSM2 would get a big screen release. This didn’t happen, though, and Disney reaped the rewards as over 30m people checked in for the opening weekend premier. Had all of those people gone to the opening weekend of the third film, it would have been vying with The Dark Knight for the biggest opening weekend of all time.

Clearly that didn’t happen. The opening weekend was still very strong, but somewhat surprisingly, it wasn’t the biggest in October’s history. Both Scary Movie 3 and Shark Tale top it. This is despite having a very dedicated fanbase and almost no competition. At this point, some people began to question Disney’s release strategy for the film.

Even so, with an opening like that, it seemed like HSM3 could cruise to some supremely strong heights. And in a normal year, it probably would have. But here’s where the story gets weird.

After four weekdays of lackluster businss due to school and whatnot, it was heading into its second weekend on Halloween Friday. Expectations were high as competition was still non-existant and Musicals tend to hold up well. Mamma Mia! dropped less than 40% in its second frame this summer.

But that Friday was killer. HSM3 earned just $1.6m, a 90% drop from its opening day. With an established fanbase, a large Friday to Friday drop is expected, but in most cases, this would be something in the 60% range. 90% is unprecedented. For a film to do that, it would have to be completely hated and abandoned. Like Gigli. Actually Gigli only dropped 85%, so it actually did better than HSM3.

But High School Musical is well loved by its fans. The third film is no different. On the second Saturday, it bounced up about 400% to just over $8m. This was down less than half of the business from the first Saturday and looked much more normal. The second Sunday was similar.

So what happened here? Halloween on a Friday. For movies, it absolutely sucks. It eats up the box office like nothing else because kids who might be going to films are instead going to parties and whatnot. In the case of HSM3, it’s entirely likely the intended audience was out costumed as the members of the cast on Friday. Then they turned around and went to the movie again on Saturday.

What’s really weird is that Disney should know this. Halloween last fell on a Friday in 2003. Disney released Brother Bear that year and after a week in limited release, they chose to go wide with it on November 1, a Saturday. This seemed to turn out rather well as it earned about $20m in two days and went onto finish with $85m.

Had HSM3 gotten a normal Friday for its second weekend, it probably would have earned another $5m or so. As it stands, it got an incredibly weird weekend where the Friday to Weekend ratio was over 9. That NEVER happens.

Were it just the Halloween weekend, HSM3 would be the victim of a strange quirk in the calendar, and people would be wondering why Disney made such a release date decision. But it doesn’t stop there.

After the second weekend, it had a relatively soft drop and its second Monday was just 21% down from the first. Then the second Tuesday happened and it shot up to almost $2m. The first Tuesday it’d earned under $1.2m, so it beat that by a healthy margin. It also beat the vastly depressed second Friday by a good $300,000.

As a best guess, Election Day had a bunch of adults dropping their kids off at the movie theater before going to vote. Or a bunch of Obamaniacs choosing to go see a film in celebration after they voted. Or something. It’s not entirely unprecedented, as Brother Bear jumped 10% on the Election Tuesday, but that was also 2003, and off year for voting. In 2004 Election Day fell on a Thursday. Shark Tale jumped about 35% that day.

On the Wednesday the 5th, the film fell by 70% to just over half of its Monday take. But then on Thursday it received another positive bump of 34%. Given how similar this is to the Shark Tale bump on the first Thursday in November, I’m not sure we can attribute the latter’s jump on that day to the Election. Then on the third Friday, HSM3 rose to $2.5m, further proving how bad Halloween is on a Friday.

Surely, at this point it would turn into a normal film and have its standard drops each week. Such is not the case. On November 11, a week after Election Day, it had another absurd bump, this time of 80% over Monday the 10th. It was down just 15% Tuesday to Tuesday, because of… Veterans Day. It’s not really much of a holiday, all things considered, but apparently people decided the way to celebrate was to go see kids singing about school.

And after Veterans Day, it seemed that, yes, it finally has settled down to a normal box office run.

Unfortunately, as strange and interesting as High School Musical 3’s run has been, there’s probably not a lot to learn from it, at least in box office comparisons. It’s such a wide outlier in so many ways that finding a comparable movie in the future will be nigh impossible.

But it seems rather clear that Disney left a lot of money on the table with the release. The fact that they lost about $5m on Halloween is clear, but given the size of the fanbase, a $90m haul has to be a bit disappointing. Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, and Enchanted all had a similar audience demographic and each managed to get past $100m easily. Of course, they all had much better release dates.

Disney probably could have earned a similarly higher amount by waiting until Thanksgiving, like Enchanted. Of course that would have had the problem of crossing over with Twilight, which plays to a similar audience. And it would have necessitating moving Bolt elsewhere in the schedule. But as nice as Bolt’s legs might be, it’s likely that High School Musical 3 would have earned more on the same release date.

Of course, in the end here’s a film that cost $11m to make and it’s going to gather almost nine times that domestically and already has over twenty times that world-wide. That’s not to mention the huge amount it’s going to earn once it shows up on DVD and the Disney Channel. We may not see a High School Musical 4, and Disney might have lost about $50m by their release choices, but it’s not likely to hurt them in the end.

Saw V

Prediction: $25m Open, $55m Final

Actual: $30m Open, $57m Final

Despite the same release date and a similar budget to High School Musical 3, there’s much less that’s interesting about the box office run for Saw V. It’s interesting in comparison only.

To compare some numbers:

$19m, $32m, $34m, $32m, $30m

Those are the opening weekends of the five Saw films. You’ve got the first, which came out as an October surprise in 2004, the second and third building on the popularity, then the fourth and fifth tailing off from the peak but still doing respectably.

$55m, $87m, $80m, $63m, $57m

Those are the final tallies for the five Saw films. You’ve got the first surprise success, a huge jump to the second, and then declining grosses therafter. The extremely large drop between the third and fourth is especially telling. It’s also worth noting that despite having an opening weekend over $10m higher, the fifth film only outgrossed the first by $2m.

33, 36, 42, 50, 53

Those are the percentage of the entire box office run that happened in the opening weekend. And Saw V is terrible in this regard. It’s abundantly clear that audiences are tiring of the franchise. The fans come out (in decreasing numbers) for the opening weekend and then they get abandoned.

At this rate, when Saw X comes out in 2013, we should expect it to open to $20m and finish with $30m.

While it seems likely that Lionsgate will abandone the franchise before that happens, consider that the films are incredibly cheap. Saw V, even with a bad box office run managed to earn five times its budget domestically. There will be a Saw VI next year and probably many more to come.

Pride & Glory

Prediction: $10m Open, $30m Final

Actual: $6m Open, $16m Final

As I noted in my prediction, this was lost in the shuffle. both HSM3 and Saw V opened stronger than predicted, and this had less chance to break in. The legs were actually relatively strong, but that’s a small consolation.

Pride & Glory cost $30m to make, so it’s not only the most expensive film released this weekend, but also the only one to lose money.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Prediction: $5m Open, $15m Final

Actual: $0.4m Open, $1.1m Final

It seems likely that the combination of High School Musical 3 and the strong release this film had in 2007 combined to cancel out any interest this year.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Prediction: $25m Open, $70m Final

Actual: $10m Open, $31m Current, ~$31m Final

The Halloween release date did have an effect, depressing the opening Friday despite an established (if small) fanbase for director Kevin Smith.

However, a larger problem arose due to the subject matter of the film. Some venues chose not to allow advertising of it, and some theaters chose not to show it. This led to some haphazard attempts to keep interest up and get the word out. They called the film just “Zack and Miri” in some cases, although it’s questionable how much of an effect removing the “Porno” from the title can really have. If people know what it’s about, they’re already decided, and if they don’t, then they won’t really enjoy being surprised.

For Smith, this is actually his largest film to date, just barely beating out Dogma. He’s actually been remarkably consistent since that film was released as all of his have earned between $24m and $31m. Whether he manages to break out at any point will mostly depend on if he can garner any reception outside of his core audience. His next film is apparently not going to be a comedy, so that may help.

While this is a success for Smith, it probably isn’t for star Seth Rogen. After his huge success last year with Knocked Up and Superbad, he looked prime to hit it big this year. His voice work has done well in Horton Hears a Who and Kung Fu Panda, but neither of those really showcased him, and the celebrity names usually don’t matter for animated entries. Pineapple Express did respectably well this summer, but it was a bit of a drop compared to the 2007 pair.

Zack and Miri isn’t the sort of business he’d like to establish if he wants to be a comedy leading man. While all of the big comedy names have hit snags from time to time, they’ve tended to do so much later in their careers. Rogen doesn’t have the track record to keep getting projects if he can’t keep the dollars coming in consistently.

He’s got two more comedies next year. Observe and Report has him teaming up with Anna Faris who’s coming off of a surprise success in The House Bunny. And next July he’s in Funny People with Adam Sandler and directed by Judd Apatow. That one, at least, should be safely large.

The Haunting of Molly Hartley

Prediction: $10m Open, $20m Final

Actual: $5m Open, $13m Final

If you’re going to release a PG-13 horror film, don’t do it on Halloween Friday.

Overall

A mostly forgettable month, business-wise, with a number of bad to moderate performances. Disney comes away as the big winner with Beverly Hills Chihuahua and High School Musical 3.

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