In 1997, an amazing book was bequeathed to your trusty Filmcore Editor-In-Chief. And that book was Russell Ash’s The Top 10 of Everything 1998 (people used to date compilation books a year beyond their actual publication years, the way car companies continue to date their latest machines). I think that’s when it all happened. I of course skipped ahead, to the sections covering key movie, basketball and music lists. What were the biggest hits ever? The biggest flops? The biggest hits by decade? The all-time priciest flicks? The top 10 actors in history by cumulative box office receipts? Before the Internet became the one-stop shopping resource for all these questions, The Top 10 of Everything books had you covered. The 1998 edition-in-1997 sparked a curiosity in me, and every Monday I would scroll through the Chicago Tribune to look at the top box office performers for the past weekend (movie weekends are defined as Friday through Sunday, although lengthier holiday weekends are also tallied).
By 1999, I couldn’t contain my interest to just the Monday report cards. I wanted more. The weekend “Lake Placid” dropped, to be exact (July 16th-18th), marked the first time I started regularly consulting the Internet for box office weekend performance predictions. These would typically drop on the Thursday leading up to the weekend in question. At the time, my two favorite sites were Box Office Guru, from Gitesh Pandya, and Lee’s Movie Info. It was incredibly cool to see these guys combine information gleaned from ticket-sales tracking sites, studio projections, critics’ reviews (which still have something of an impact on audience engagement, especially long-term), online trailer view counts, movies’ theater and screens-per-theater tallies, and general buzz to predict how these movies would open and, subsequently, how they would hold up. It’s also always fun to root for certain movies to succeed and for others to fail, to see records fall or endure, and to compare and contrast contemporary movies’ success with the past. Some general trends: movie attendance peaked in the 1940s (i.e. when it’s only competition for consumers was radio — TV was introduced to the masses in 1952), and has been hovering around 10% of the population for the past 20 years (that number was closer to 65% in the 40’s). Attendance in 2015 was up a bit from 2014, although only 2014 and 2011 have had lower turnout totals in the past two decades. Although pure box office grosses have generally been on the rise (2015 was the highest-grossing year ever), those sums have been drastically inflated by increased ticket prices, which lately have also been abetted by 3D and IMAX surcharges. There have been significantly fewer asses in seats, but the owners of those asses been paying more to park ’em there than ever before.
At long last, I’ve decided to get in the game, with some good old-fashioned movie money number-crunching. Starting today, I’m rolling out a comprehensive box office analysis system on Filmcore, making predictions ahead of the Friday-Sunday weekend, and then re-assessing those guesses when the final numbers are released on Monday. Obviously holiday weekends will be handled differently, but generally we’ll stick to a Wednesday/Thursday predictions drop date and a Monday unpacking. There are some fantastic box office and movie revenue sites worth checking out, in addition to this sure-to-be-brilliant Filmcore box office content. Beyond Box Office Guru (still the source of the best Thursday weekend predictions) and Lee’s Movie Info (their layout is pretty 2005, but they’re okay) and Box Office Mojo, the young upstart with a fantastic archiving system (through the early 1980s, at least, although it does a pretty good job of tallying the receipts for the old school box office smashes too). Those are my go-to’s, but I’ll also fuck with The Numbers for video rental and sales numbers.
A weird quirk in the way Hollywood defines a “hit:” a movie has to make more, domestically, then its reported budget. The reported budgets are production budgets — i.e. they don’t include marketing costs, which typically run their studios anywhere from $50-100 million. Hollywood’s primary focus is still raw box office numbers, for some inscrutable reason. Home video has been a huge piece of movie revenue for the past 35 years, and streaming and TV rights deals make significant contributions to most big movies’ bottom lines. For whatever reason though, movies are viewed as successes and failures judging strictly from how they do in theaters. Doesn’t paint a cumulative picture, especially for a lot of slow-burning sleepers, but there you go. I may at some point try to compile lists based on all of these numbers, not just box office grosses, but we’ll see how that goes.
Anyway, here we go. Welcome to the inaugural Box Office Futures Listcore!
Weekend: June 10th-12th, 2016
Big New Releases: “The Conjuring 2,” “Warcraft,” “Now You See Me 2,” “Te3n” (limited), “Genius” (limited)
Big Holdovers: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Me Before You,” “Alice Through The Looking Glass,” “The Angry Birds Movie”
Projected Domestic Top 5:
1. “The Conjuring 2” (PG-13, 3,343 theaters) – $40-45 million opening weekend, $115 million final
The James Wan Hit Factory looks to continue its winning ways this weekend with “The Conjuring 2,” the sequel to 2013’s low-budget ($20 million) “The Conjuring.” As either or a director or a producer, Wan has been churning out solid hits since the first “Saw” in 2004 (which he directed and co-wrote); that movie, made for just $1.2 million, grossed $103.9 million worldwide and spawned six sequels (that series’s total take-home: $873.3 million). After his breakout hit, he elected to stick primarily to low- and mid-budget horror fare (with the exception of last year’s mammoth, $1.5 billion-grossing “Furious 7”). In the midst of producing the “Saw” sequels, Wan directed two flops, “Dead Silence” (it cost $20 million and made $22 million internationally) and “Death Sentence” (another $20 million price tag, this one made $17 million internationally). After the failure of the latter, he decided to modify his approach: less gore, more family-friendly suspense. His first PG-13 movie was “Insidious,” produced for a scant $1.5 million. It made $97 million worldwide and has thus far has yielded two sequels. Their total box office revenue to date is $371.9 million. And now he’s (ahem) “Conjuring” up a storm with his latest series, a return to his R-rated roots, albeit without almost any gore.
The original “The Conjuring” made a great $137 domestically and $318 million worldwide. Reviews have been good, although not as strong as they were for the original, but the market is ripe for a family-friendly horror movie, the first wide horror release of the summer. “The Conjuring” was one of its summer’s surprise sleeper hits, opening to a stellar $41.8 million stateside and posting good holds throughout the summer. Its follow-up, the $6.5 million-budgeted prequel/spin-off “Annabelle” (which Wan produced but did not direct), opened to $37.1 million in the fall of 2014, but fell off quickly, ending its run with $84.3 million domestically. Worldwide, however, “Annabelle” squeezed $256.9 million out of the viewing public. So what should we expect out of the third entry in this burgeoning “The Conjuring” franchise? A bigger opening than either, followed by a cumulative gross that lands somewhere in-between its predecessors. Awareness and interest are high, helped by suspenseful trailers emphasizing the new movie’s terrifying demon children, always a big selling point for people. Reuniting Wan with stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as a pair of real-life paranormal investigators, “The Conjuring 2” led all comers in Thursday night previews, grossing $3.4 million, $1K more than the original “Conjuring.” The original “Conjuring,” though, was released to 440 fewer theaters (2,903), and was less of a known commodity. Look for a weekend total in the vicinity of $40-45 million. Sequels, especially horror sequels, tend to be significantly more front-loaded than the original movie in their series, so look for steeper drop-offs in the weeks to come. This bad boy should still clear $100 million though.
2. “Warcraft” (PG-13, 3,400 theaters) – $30-35 million opening weekend, $75 million final
“Moon” director (and, yes, the son of David Bowie) Duncan Jones’s $160 million-budgeted “Warcraft” adaptation has been kicking ass and taking names around the globe, especially in China, where it had the biggest two-day start in that country’s history ($91 million). “Warcraft” has already hit $200 million worldwide. The medieval fantasy epic, based on the uber-popular computer and video games, has been failing to inspire much excitement stateside, however. This makes sense, since it lacks any big names in the cast (the biggest, Paula Patton, is barely in its trailers); a simultaneously aggressive and unappealing marketing campaign (the digital critters in the ads look more cartoony than the stars of the damn “Angry Birds Movie”); and savage notices from critics (32% from Metacritic and 26% from Rotten Tomatoes). Its success abroad is depressing, but “Warcraft” is a huge brand across the globe, and international markets (especially Asian territories) have become an increasingly important component of Hollywood’s game plan with these big releases over the past 15-20 years. It took in $3.1 million in Thursday night previews, a solid start. Slaying 3,400 kingdoms this weekend (with 3D and IMAX options too), and playing to lots of fantasy-minded families, “Warcraft” should hit $30-35 million this weekend. “Warcraft” looks fantastically horrible, though, and should erode quickly. I say it makes back about half its gross, $75 million, at the US box office. Unfortunately, even such a paltry cumulative showing probably won’t dissuade Universal from making a sequel, since the thing is an absolute smash elsewhere. Lame.
3. “Now You See Me 2” (3,232 theaters) – $28-30 million opening weekend, $85 million final
The original “Now You See Me” was an unexpected hit in 2013, a welcome anomaly in modern Hollywood: a special-effects-light character movie with no basis in any preexisting product, selling tickets through concept and stars alone. Yes, it’s concept was stupid. But, you know, still. Most of those original stars (Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson) are back this time around, joined by Daniel Radcliffe and Lizzy Caplan, in the continued saga of a Robin Hood-esque band of law-bending and physics-defying magicians. Original director John Cho returns for seconds, too. Its $1.75 million Thursday night preview isn’t necessarily indicative of how it will perform this weekend, since “Now You See Me 2” is targeted more towards older audiences who are less inclined to wait in line on opening night. Fantasy and horror movies, however, trend younger and thus are more willing to shell out their cash right away, during Thursday evening and midnight shows. The original “Now You See Me” opened to $29.4 million in July 2013, but held strong in the weeks following. It wrapped up its run with a $117.7 million domestic gross on a $75 million budget, and a $351.7 million worldwide take. As effective, adult-targeted counter-programming, “Now You See Me” was a bit of a novelty, and that cache hooked audiences. It didn’t enrapture critics, and it was not the kind of movie that a lot of folks loved. Demand for a sequel was fairly low, but, I mean, it looks better than another fucking “X-Men” movie In a different era it would not have warranted a sequel. But Hollywood loves to pummel properties into the ground, and so here we are. I think this second entry will open in line with the first movie, in the $28-30 million range, but, like most sequels, will fall off faster, and wrap up with $85 million domestically.
4. “Me Before You” (2,762 theaters) $11-$12 million second weekend (-35%), $80 million final
Despite apathy from critics, the female-baiting Emilia Clarke romantic tearjerker “Me Before You” was a hit with audiences, registering an 81% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Then again, critics have thus far liked this movie more than anything else in our projected top five not named “The Conjuring 2.” The $20 million “MBY” is one of the few movies catering to an underserved demographic, adult women, who will bring their significant others in droves to stuff like this, an adaptation of a popular book with a known commodity attached in “Games of Thrones” star Clarke. This weekend, “The Conjuring 2” may dig into the couples crowd and women in general, but “Me Before You” is the sole romantic option around, and buzz is positive. Expanding into 58 more theaters, “Me Before You” should hold significantly better than the rest of last weekend’s top grossers, and dip 35-40% to something in the $11-$12 million range.
5. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” (4,071 theaters) – $10-12 million second weekend (-67%-72%), $70 million final
Among this weekend’s output, the $135 million-budgeted “TMNT: Out of the Shadows” is the sixth theatrical “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, but the second entry in the Michael Bay-produced reboot series. Here’s hoping there will not be a third. The next reboot had better have Jim Henson’s Creature Shop constructing a cast of all-animatronic turtles, voiced by Corey Feldman et al. THESE ARE MY TERMS FOR SEEING IT. Two years ago, the first Bay “TMNT” reboot performed well enough, taking in $191.2 million domestically and $493.3 million total. The Megan Fox starrer was universally loathed, and audiences registered their franchise fatigue by keeping their wallets in their pockets the second time around. The sequel limped to a pathetic $35.3 million #1 debut last weekend, a 46% dip from the $65.6 million opening-weekend pace of the original reboot. Look for this flop-in-the-making to crumble in week deux, suffering a precipitous drop right around 70%, an extreme amount even for a sequel, netting somewhere between $10-$12 million.
While we’re here, I just want to point out how exhausted a lot of these properties are. As I had mentioned, “TMNT: Out of the Shadows” is the sixth theatrical “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, but the second in its own series. “The Conjuring 2” is technically the third “Conjuring” movie, after the original flick two years ago and its subsequent spinoff “Annabelle.” “Now You See Me 2” is, mercifully, just the second entry in the “Now You See Me”… franchise, I guess you could call it? “Warcraft” is based on a computer game and a video game. “Me Before You” was a book first.
The rest of the movies in my projected top ten don’t have a single original thought in any of their pretty little heads. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is the ninth “X-Men” movie. “Alice Through The Looking Glass” is the 61st (61st!) Disney theatrical “Alice in Wonderland” movie — albeit just the third full-length one. Overall, it’s the 75th theatrical “Wonderland” movie; granted, most of this total is short films, but still. Kind of played out. “The Angry Birds Movie” is the first adaption of a phone app, but I’m sure it’s not the last. And hey, I’m not saying that movies based on phone apps are universally a bad idea. “The Tinder Movie” could be pretty awesome, if someone ever green-lit that, and if it was awarded the NC-17 MPAA rating it obviously deserves. I guess you could talk me into making it an HBO show or something so that the nudity wouldn’t be as much of an issue. “Captain America: Civil War” is technically the fourth theatrical “Captain America” movie (don’t forget about the OG “Captain America,” fam), but it’s the eighth movie to feature Captain America. “The Jungle Book” is the seventh theatrical “Jungle Book” movie (and the FOURTH Disney “Jungle Book” movie!), and there are TWO more on the way — a Disney follow-up and a wholly unrelated Warner Brothers adaptation.