×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

B.O. reality gets lost in perception

Opening weekend flash doesn't tell the whole story

Economic prophets divine pic profits

During a year of extremes at the worldwide box office, domestic totals are running more than 6% ahead of 2011, while a tally of year-to-date overseas grosses from the six majors trails by almost 4%. But with the media focused on hits and misses, subtlety and nuance have been overlooked — and perception is sometimes at odds with profitability, even for people in the film industry.

There are other films in Hollywood history that show misperception is nothing new. Consider 1963’s “Cleopatra.” That pic ultimately made its money back, cuming nearly $60 million with a budget estimated at $44 million. Even 1995’s “Waterworld” — a perceived disaster then and now — managed to shore up $264 million worldwide. The pic cost $175 million. In both cases, aftermarkets pushed the films into profitability, if just barely.

A quick quiz: How do clunkers like Disney’s “John Carter,” Universal’s “Battleship” or Warner Bros.’ “Wrath of the Titans” stack up against some of the all-time losers?

In truth, while none has performed up to the studio’s hopes, the three films collectively have earned $890 million at the global box office, meaning they are nowhere near the industry’s all-time biggest debacles like “Heaven’s Gate,” which earned just 8% of its production budget at the B.O. (see accompanying chart).

The misperception of a film’s success or failure is usually based on faulty thinking, centered on its domestic opening. A few decades ago, opening weekend was the key indicator in the life of a film. Now, it’s interesting, but far from conclusive evidence. Yet in the flashpoint world of entertainment media, many reporters and executives still predict a film’s eventual success using this outdated methodology.

Most B.O. watchers are aware of the year’s bona fide blockbusters (“The Avengers,” “The Hunger Games,” etc.) and sleeper hits (including “Ted” and “Magic Mike”). But some of the most profitable titles are flying under the radar, including Fox Searchlight’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” whose beefy profitability ratio outweighs its image as a little charmer: The pic has earned more than $130 million globally from a budget of $10 million. Ditto Universal’s sturdy franchise installment “American Reunion,” which cost $50 million and has grossed almost $235 million worldwide.

“Marigold Hotel,” from Participant Media and Imagenation Abu Dhabi, began its international run nearly three months ahead of the U.S. rollout, where it bowed May 4 and has cumed $45 million. (Its best overseas territory is the U.K., which co-produced the film, with $32 million.)

Similarly, the level of success for “American Reunion” is below the radar of many bizzers. The pic proved there’s still steam in the franchise, especially at foreign wickets, where it bagged $178 million. Pic’s domestic tally stands at $57 million.

Two family films likewise stand out because of their boffo international runs: Fox’s “Ice Age: Continental Drift” and WB-New Line’s “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.”

Continental Drift,” which the studio says cost $95 million to produce, has surpassed $600 million internationally, making it the third-highest grossing animated film ever overseas, behind “Toy Story 3” ($648 million) and “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” ($691 million).

As Fox did with “Drift,” Warners launched $79 million live-action “Journey 2” early overseas; during the first quarter, that translated into an international take of $226 million. “Drift” so far has grossed almost $720 million worldwide; “Journey 2,” $330 million.

Studios would not provide marketing figures, but even if a pic’s production costs were doubled to account for marketing, these titles — along with “Titanic” in 3D, which certainly cost more than its $18 million conversion fee to market — would have been profitable.

For “Titanic” 3D, Fox handled overseas distribution, while Paramount released the pic Stateside, where it floated to a decent $57.9 million. But the real waves were made internationally, as China alone contributed a massive $146 million. In total, the conversion grossed more than $345 million worldwide, with Par and Fox splitting the pie.

On the profitability scale, the year’s battle of the Snow Whites — Relativity Media’s “Mirror Mirror” and Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” — silenced those who doubted whether the two could coexist in the marketplace.

Both benefited by targeting different auds. “Mirror Mirror” bowed March 30, aimed squarely at families, and cumed $176 million globally — not too shabby for a film with a reported $85 million (minus marketing) budget. “Huntsman,” though darker-themed, with a marketing campaign aimed at teens, was aided by a summer launch and grossed a higher total, $388 million worldwide, although it had a much steeper pricetag, $170 million.

Moreover, “Mirror Mirror,” as well as “American Reunion” and “Journey 2” have been able to boost their bottom lines with early ancillary profits, like DVD, video-on-demand and merchandising tie-ins.

For the year’s biggest misfires, ancillary will help in the long term, though theatrical success is usually the essential piece for establishing the aftermarket price point and creating a merchandising blitz.

“John Carter,” which reportedly cost Disney around $250 million to produce, made $282 million worldwide — not enough to move much Mars-themed merch, and with marketing factored in, a disappointment for the studio. But it was labeled by the media as one of the Mouse’s costliest films. How quickly we forget. Last year’s Disney red planet-set pic, “Mars Needs Moms,” cost $150 million and grossed just $38 million worldwide.

Though still a costly venture for Universal, the $209 million-budgeted “Battleship” made enough overseas ($238 million) to keep it from the list of all-time B.O. clunkers. It doesn’t even rank as this year’s worst. Warner Bros. suffered an equal doozie with “Wrath of the Titans,” which cost $150 million to produce (and reportedly the same to market, though still more than “Battleship”) and topped out at almost $305 million globally.

That said, the disappointment of “Carter,” “Battleship” and “Wrath” seems mild compared with the industry’s biggest bombs. For example, 2002’s “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” cost $100 million and returned just $7 million worldwide.

Several on-the-fence films this year have gone undetected, including Fox’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” and Par’s “The Dictator” — both of which have outgrossed their budget so far, though not by much when adding in marketing costs.

Only time will tell whether 2012’s iffy offerings will become profitable. In the meantime, some added perspective should help shrink the extremes.

Rachel Abrams and Marc Graser contributed to this report.

More Film

  • Gkids Takes Salvador Simó’s ‘Buñuel in

    Gkids Acquires ‘Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Gkids, the U.S. distributor of ten Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations including this year’s “The Breadwinner,” has acquired North American rights to Spaniard Salvador Simó’s “Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles.” Gkids will release the film theatrically next year. The animated feature is sold worldwide by Spain’s Latido Films; the all-rights [...]

  • Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to

    Film Review: 'Mary Poppins Returns'

    Nostalgia is a quaint word, one that summons visions of things that are toasty, comfy, wholesome, reassuring — all qualities, as it happens, that we associate with the 1964 Walt Disney nanny-from-heaven musical “Mary Poppins.” Yet nostalgia can also be a magical thing. It’s the great time machine of human emotion, with the power to [...]

  • O_163_wem_1360_comp_v003_01,1159 2 – L-R: Gwilym Lee

    SAG Award Nominations: Biggest Snubs and Surprises

    At the SAG Awards nominations Wednesday morning, “A Star Is Born” led the film pack with four nods and while that wasn’t a surprise, there were plenty of snubs and surprises that caught us off guard. On the television side, a plethora of co-stars are competing against each other, as both male and female actors [...]

  • DF-04714_R2 - Jennifer Lawrence stars as

    20th Century Fox Takes Final Bow at CineAsia

    If it is possible to feel sympathy for the demise of a competitor, such feelings were on display Wednesday evening at the CineAsia distributors and exhibitors’ convention in Hong Kong. 20th Century Fox made what was expected to be its final product presentation at the event as an independent studio. The mega-acquisition of Fox by [...]

  • SAG Awards Placeholder

    SAG Nominations Scorecard: Netflix Leads the Pack

    Netflix led the way among all networks and studios with this year’s SAG nominations, garnering 15 nods thanks to programming like “GLOW,” “Ozark,” “Grace and Frankie” and “The Kominsky Method.” “Ozark” was among the select group of titles to snare four nominations, along with “A Star Is Born” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” On the [...]

  • SAG Nominations: 'A Star Is Born,'

    'A Star Is Born,' 'Mrs. Maisel,' 'Ozark' Lead SAG Awards Nominations

    Musical drama “A Star Is Born” led the way with four SAG feature film nominations, while “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Ozark” each scored a quartet of TV nominations. “BlacKkKlansman” and “The Favourite” both took a trio of film nominations, followed by “Barry,” “GLOW,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “The Kominsky Method,” each scoring three TV [...]

  • Marvelous Ms Maisel

    SAG Award Nominations: Complete List

    Nominations for the 25th annual SAG Awards were announced on Wednesday. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” led film nominations with four nods, including best actor for Cooper, best actress for Gaga, best ensemble, and best supporting actor for Sam Elliot. “BlacKkKlansman” and “The Favourite” followed close behind, both taking home a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content