Box Office Round Up – July 17-19, 2015

Stumped-Magazine-Ant-Man-Paul-Rudd

Get behind the numbers of the last weekend’s box office! Down is up, cats are chasing dogs and hamburgers are eating people! Chris Neumer gets into why earning $60 million opening weekend is disappointing (ahem, Ant-Man) and why taking in half that amount is the stuff hits are made of (ahem, Trainwreck). Buckle up for a wild ride.

by Chris Neumer

In my very first box office column last October, I noted that Brad Pitt’s Fury and Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy had opened to almost identical numbers; $23 million for Fury, $22 million for Tammy. Despite the fact that Tammy cost $50 million less to make, it was deemed a miserable failure and Fury was seen as another Pitt success.

If it weren’t for the expectations attached to each project—Tammy was released wide over 4th of July weekend and big numbers were hoped for—there was no way to rationalize away the consensus. I don’t think it should come as much of a surprise to learn that if two movies make the exact same amount of money at the box office, the studios generally profit more from the one that cost less to make.

Sure, there are ancillary features like merchandising, cable review, video on demand etc. that do come in to play, but unless you’re dealing with a series like Cars, those don’t really make thaaaaaaaat much of a difference.

Thus the question continually pops up: how much do the expectations surrounding a film or the size of its budget play into whether or not its box office is designated as successful?

I pondered the answer to this yet again this Monday when I saw that Ant-Man pulled in $58 millon at the box office its opening weekend. I found it fascinating because, on the surface, I have no idea whether Ant-Man should be considered a success or not. There aren’t many scenarios where a roughly $60 million opening could give a studio executive pause… but when a well-promoted Marvel title with a prime July release date and a $130+ million budget comes out and does just that, it certainly constitutes one of those rare scenarios.

Let’s investigate:

Option #1) ANT-MAN IS A SUCCESS!

Marvel has done it again! They took a rather obscure title from their comic library, Ant-Man, and turned it into a critically acclaimed film with a $60 million opening weekend that looks primed to start yet another franchise. Paul Rudd was delightful in the lead and the special effects look fantastic. The merchandising possibilities for ant related material haven’t been this good since Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Option #2) ANT-MAN IS A DISAPPOINTMENT

Depending on your perspective, the biggest flop in the Marvel in Hollywood era either came in the summer of 2003 when the movie Hulk came out and did so poorly that they rebooted the franchise five years later… or in the summer of 2008 when the rebooted version of Hulk, now titled The Incredible Hulk, came out and had a worse opening weekend that the original misfire ($62 million for Hulk to $55 million for The Incredible Hulk).

The reason that I mention this is that Ant-Man’s opening weekend was lower than the first Hulk’s. Its per theater average ($15,052) is lower than the first Hulk’s by roughly $2,000 and The Incredible Hulk’s by almost $1,000. Ant-Man’s lead, Rudd, is also 46 years old and, assuming that Ant-Man’s franchise follows the same timeline as Iron Man’s, he will be well into his 50s by the time the third film hits theaters.

The movies just above Ant-Man on the list of movies with the largest opening weekends in history is also somewhat auspicious: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is immediately above it and Pearl Harbor is just above that. That is not the type of company you want to keep as a big-budget summer tent pole movie.

Bonus Option #3) ANT-MAN IS IN AN IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION

As evidenced by the disparity of length in the above two options, my gut reaction is to look at Ant-Man as more of a disappointment than a success. However, as I began to try and figure out what would have had to happen for me to look at Ant-Man as a bonafide hit, I quickly realized that it would have been almost impossible to do so. The problem in this respect lay with Ant-Man’s reported $130 million budget. Coupled with what had to be at least a $70 million P&A campaign, something well north of $200 million was spent making and marketing Ant-Man. It just doesn’t seem like a $60 million opening and a likely $160-$185 million box office will transport this title into true hit territory.

On paper, it’s hard to argue with that a movie that made $175 million domestically is a disappointment. On the other hand, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opened to almost $95 million and ultimately grossed $202 million… and that was a poor enough showing that Sony scrapped the third movie in the series.

Had Ant-Man opened to $80 million, I would have called it a success. The odds of that happening though were somewhere between slim and none.

One film that did succeed—though it placed third for the weekend—was the Judd Apatow/Amy Schumer film Trainwreck. Trainwreck had a reported $35 million budget and took in almost that amount its first weekend in theaters. Now that’s how you do it! (And, compared to that, Ant-Man seems even more of a disappointment. Wait, Ant-Man’s budget was 4.5 times that of Trainwreck? And it didn’t even gross twice as much opening weekend? Urp).

Of course, since 2015 is an incredibly unusual year at the box office, Trainwreck’s $30 million—a figure that puts it squarely in hit territory—is $3 million less than the amount that Ted 2 opened to several weeks back for which it was labeled a flop.  And yes, the flop of the week did almost double with the hit of the week did.  Also, the hit of the week was a Trainwreck.

More than anything, I think this just means that someone needs to come up with a ‘hit’ formula. Since August is coming up, I think I’ll be able to spend some time doing just that. You know, unless I need to write 1,200 words explaining why the rebooted Hitman series isn’t quite working.

On another note, it’s kind of surprising to me that this is no PER like formula for Hollywood. It sure as hell would make for good headlines! It’d be nice to figure out how these films do on level playing fields; sort of a park factor for motion pictures.

What makes Trainwreck’s opening even more unusual is that it doesn’t in any way suggest that Schumer is a star. I mean, sure, her film opened within change of A-lister Mark Wahlberg’s latest (Ted 2), but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything for her. Apatow produced films generally open between $20-$30 million regardless of who is starring in them. Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Seth Rogen, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill all starred in movies that opened between $26-$30 million and it hasn’t in anyway changed their careers. In Wiig’s case, she had the lead in the enormously successful Bridesmaids ($169 million domestically) and in the four years since that hit theaters, she hasn’t had the lead in anything that opened in more than 375 theaters. In Cera’s case, despite his success in Superbad, the only leading role he’s had in the last five years is in a movie called Crystal Fairy that opened in two theaters and ultimately grossed $202,000.

It’d be nice to think that Schumer is now in line for more leading roles in the future because of Trainwreck, but such is not the case.

It was a weird, weird weekend.

 

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