Box Office Awesome: The Early ’09 Sprint

To say that 2009 has been a heap of awesome box office is a massive understatement. It’s running no less than 14% ahead of any previous year on record and while it’s only been holding stead against 2008 and has been losing a bit of ground against 2007, it’s still running almost half a billion dollars ahead of any previous year.

But awesome is not created equal. Just this weekend, with the Memorial Day holiday and the traditional “start of summer” has seen two films enter the marketplace and both posting numbers that would be large without context but are somewhat disappointing in practice. WB’s attempt to salvage the Terminator franchise seems like it’s doomed to shoot under the 2003’s Rise of the Machines. And while the new Smithsonian entry in the Night at the Museum franchise is going to open tops in the box office, it’s not likely to reach the much vaunted and desired heights of its predecessor.

It’s actually been the story the entire year: the films with hype and large expectations have generally disappointed. Angels and Demons opened $30m less than The Da Vinci Code and looks like it’s going to be the victim of Prince Caspian syndrome. Wolverine opened large (biggest of the year), but is barely going to double the opening take when all is said and done. And the incredibly hyped and heavily promoted entry into the increasingly valuable March box office, Watchmen, had a large $55m opening and didn’t even double that in the end.

So, if the top of the line films aren’t satisfying, what is? Well, there are some films that are at least meeting expectations. Dreamworks’ latest animated entry, Monsters vs. Aliens has done boffo business and will probably finish up just shy of $200m. A sequel is already in the works (and possibly a TV offshoot.) Likewise, Star Trek has wowed audiences and critics and will soon pass MvA as the biggest film of the year. Between those two alone, Paramount has already had a very nice year, and their big entry, Transformers, is still to hit in late June.

But one studio and two films alone don’t make a great year. What has made this a great year, a year of Box Office Awesome that we can only hope continues is the huge spate of films that have surprised.

What’s really awesome about these surprises is that they have come in two wildly divergent trends. On one hand you’ve got the films that have followed the increasing trend where the bulk of businesss has happened during the opening weekend. While there’s top of the line entries like Wolverine and Watchmen (and possibly Terminator Salvation, but we’ll have to wait and see), a number of others have followed suit.

There’s the Hannah Montana movie, of course, which managed to encourage tweens and parents to drop $32m in one weekend, a large 42% of the current tally. Or Tyler Perry’s latest, Madea Goes to Jail, which earned $41m in three days, an even bigger 45% of the final.

Then there’s Fast and Furious, the fourth installment in the road racing franchise which brings back the original stars. Considering the response to the third, jokes were abound when Universal decided to shift the release date from the cushy summer confines of June to early April, often a box office dead zone.

Things paid off, however, as it pulled in over $70m in three days, shutting up critics of the move and possibly encouraging Hollywood to push summer forward another month. It didn’t stick around long, though, as the opening accounts for over 46% of its $153m total.

However, while all of these films are impressive, they don’t hold a candle to the king of one weekend wonders. Actually, in this case, it’s more of a one day wonder.

I give you Friday the Thirteenth.

The horror franchise reboot opened to a massive $19m on its titular day in February. The prospects looked good at that point for it to pull in some massive business: it had both Valentine’s Day and the four day President’s Day weekend to bolster its business.

However, the Saturday gross fell over 25%. Sunday saw a drop over over 50% and it finished the three day opening weekend just north of $40m, barely twice its opening day. The actual holiday boosted Monday saw another drop above 50% and it finished the long weekend at under $44m.

Still, at this point things were looking fine. Even if it saw large drops in the coming weekends, it should finish up with around $80m. We could make jokes about how it saw almost a quarter of its business in one day and have a laugh while Platinum Dunes took their massive haul all the way to the bank, right?

Well, it did see large drops. Incredibly large drops. The second weekend take was under $8m, a drop of over 80%. Never had a film that large dropped so much. The third weekend saw a drop of over 53%. That would be, in fact, the lowest percentage drop in its first seven weekends. The film was already out of the top ten at that point and after hitting $40m in three days it took another eighteen to get to $60m.

The final tally for the slasher flick is just $65m. The opening weekend accounted for over 62% of this total.

The movie landscape is changing for sure. Even a year ago, we’d have laughed at the idea of big films, #1 films earning more than half their gross in the opening weekend, but it’s already happened twice this year and there are a number of close calls.

Moreover, we’re seeing films that are extremely frontloaded in the opening weekend itself. Friday the Thirteenth isn’t even the most notable in this regard. Hannah Montana fell 40% between Friday and Saturday, but managed to rebound rather well in weekend 2.

Perhaps in the future, if the theater doesn’t disappear entirely, we’ll start to get films that really do become one-day events.

It’s perhaps a bit troubling to consider that, but at the same time it’s something really awesome to behold.

Next time we’ll look at the other end of the spectrum: the dying breed of movie marathon runs. It will include what might be the most Awesome box office story of the year.