Box Office Round Up – July 29 – July 31, 2016


Get behind the numbers of last week’s box office! This week, Chris Neumer seeks out hard and fast statistics to determine whether a given project is a hit or not. This leads him to realize that, in the end, Jason Bourne has about a 23% chance of being a blockbuster hit.

by Chris Neumer

I have three wonderful cats. My oldest, Nelly, is going on 16 and I’ve had her since she was a kitten. The older she gets, the more I attempt to spoil her. What is the point of having pets and not spoiling them rotten?

Nelly is half goat. She will eat anything, up to and including fruit and most house plants. Uniquely, she has an aversion to the most expensive plants, therefore, most of the plants that I own are orchids. She has previously eaten my shoelaces, attempted to eat unpeeled carrots and nearly demands algae wafers when I feed my fish. Her favorite food though is slices of American cheese. I feel certain I could get Nelly to handle all my emails for me if I promised her enough cheese.

Recently, I noticed something about the Kraft cheese slices I purchased: they had gotten smaller. Eyeballing it, I’d guess the new slices were about 15% smaller than the old slices. Naturally, the prices for the two different sizes of cheese slices were exactly the same.

This is an occurrence that is happening with more and more frequency of late. Companies feel the rising costs of materials and, rather than raise the prices on their products, simply give the consumer less. For the companies, it’s a win-win; they are now making more money and the consumers are happy that there hasn’t been a price hike.

For the last couple of weeks, in light of Ghostbusters’ $46 million opening weekend on a $144 million budget, I’ve been pondering what numbers would conflate hit status upon a film after its first weekend in theaters.

While starring down at my smaller slices of cheese, I had an interesting revelation that was both extremely obvious and extremely helpful in understanding the mindset of studios: they spend money to make money.  The less they spend, providing sales remain static, the more they make!

Since the prices of tickets are out of the studios’ hands (and rightfully so), they can’t raise the cost of going to a movie. What that means is that the studios can A) get more people to go pay the fixed cost of a ticket, or B) spend less money creating their product. Everything is intrinsically connected. The bigger the film’s budget, the more it will have to make to be considered a hit.

Boiling away a lot of fat and glossing over some details, it doesn’t appear that any movies with a less than $100 million budget can earn more than $280 million at the box office. Sure, Passion of the Christ and American Sniper did, but those titles are extreme outliers that, along with Titanic and Avatar, shouldn’t be looked at as repeatable circumstances.

In the last twenty years, there were only three movies that had a budget of under $100 million and a domestic total above $250 million: The Blind Side had a $29 million budget and earned $255 million, The Hangover had a $35 million budget and a $277 million take and The LEGO Movie had a $60 million budget and earned $258 million. And that’s it!

The reason that the studios keep spending exorbitant amounts of money on their projects is because they looked at the numbers and realized that you have to spend money to make money. What’s interesting though, is that only a few of the 25 most expensive films ever made were bonafide box office smashes. Yes, The Avengers (#19 most expensive all time) was a hit, as was Captain America: Civil War (#7). Avatar (#12) certainly was and I suppose it could be debated whether Avengers: Age of Ultron (#3), Spectre (#11) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (#14) and On Stranger Tides (#1) were, but the other 17 films were disappointing, to say the least. That list includes titles such as John Carter, Tangled, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Longer Ranger, Man of Steel, Men in Black 3, Battleship, X-Men: The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3.

It might seem like Man of Steel was a bonafide success—it almost grossed $300 million domestically and it opened to $117 million!—but its budget was also $225 million. It didn’t do much overseas business either. It was reported that Man of Steel ultimately earned Warner Brothers $42.7 million,* which again seems like a lot of money, but studios don’t spend $400-$500 million on a property hoping to ultimately earn $42.7 million of profit.

* There are reports out there that Man of Steel earned a $300 million profit, but those profit reports include merchandising and some other income sources that don’t necessarily go to Warner Brothers. Deadline’s figures are considered far more detailed and in depth.

With this in mind, it seems like one line of demarcation is how much of a film’s given budget it recoups opening weekend. With a film with a $100-$150 million budget, it seems safe to say that securing at least half of that total domestically is a good start to being classified as a hit. Overall, it seems as though doubling your budget domestically is another great marker for being a hit, but that doesn’t help any type of determinations after one weekend in theaters.

The new Jason Bourne movie came out this last weekend and earned an estimated $60 million on a $120 million budget. As Bourne movies involving Matt Damon go, getting 50% of the budget back opening weekend is a rather low percentage. The Bourne Supremacy earned about 70% of its budget back opening weekend and The Bourne Ultimatum earned about 65% of its budget back opening weekend. The only difference to consider though is that The Bourne Supremacy’s budget was only $75 million.

Since it’s obviously a lot easier to get back a $30 million budget than a $150 million budget, the percentage of the budget returned opening weekend is only pertinent if the budgets are comparable.

For the purpose of this article, I wanted to see how likely it is that Jason Bourne will earn back half of its budget domestically (100%; this half already been accomplished) and double its budget overall. On the latter point, it gets a little iffier.   Of the 13 live-action movies that have opened in the $58 – $62 million range, only three have topped $240 million: The Amazing Spider-Man, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and Inception. One commonality of these three is that there were all critically well-received. Interestingly, their total domestic takes came in in the same order as their Rotten Tomatoes score. The Two Towers grossed the most, followed by Inception and The Amazing Spider-Man. Give that Jason Bourne has a ‘rotten’ rating (56% fresh), it doesn’t seem likely that it will follow in the footsteps of the other three and earn $240+ million. A $180 million, give or take, domestic cumulative seems a lot better of a guess.

Is that a hit? Not really. It’s somewhere between a push—no one is going to lose their jobs over Jason Bourne—and a ‘B’. It certainly could have done better… but what are you going to do?

In the end, it’s probably a little bit more disappointing than usual because The Bourne Ultimatum was such a huge success. It was well made, earned back more than half its budget domestically during its first weekend, doubled its budget overall and was incredibly well reviewed (93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).  And comparison to other, legitimate ground-breakers never help make current films bigger hits.



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