“Jurassic World” stunned the movie business this weekend with its massive $204.6 million opening.
It’s the second-biggest debut in history and a sign that a franchise that appeared to have run out of gas 14 years ago, when “Jurassic Park III” petered out with $368.8 million at the global box office, has been reinvigorated.
So how did Universal Pictures, the studio behind the dinosaur thriller, pull off the cinematic comeback? Here are five key ingredients in the summer blockbuster’s success:
1.) Chris Pratt is a star. Period.
In an era of would-be leading men like Jai Courtney and Garrett Hedlund, Pratt shows what a true movie star looks like. After “Guardians of the Galaxy” proved he was an actor to watch, with his tongue-in-cheek work as a galactic adventurer drawing comparisons to Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, “Jurassic World” offers up a second major franchise to stick in his quiver. That’s a feat that only a handful of actors have achieved, putting him in elite company with Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes), Jennifer Lawrence (“X-Men,” “The Hunger Games”) and Ford himself (the “Indiana Jones” films, “Star Wars”). If rumors are true, and Pratt assumes Ford’s bullwhip in a planned reboot of Indiana Jones, he could score a blockbuster trifecta.
“He’s the modern action hero,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “He’s funny, he’s charming, he’s self-deprecating. I call him Jimmy Stewart in a leather vest. He just has the perfect sensibility for today’s audiences.”
But Pratt’s contributions extended beyond his onscreen work as a velociraptor trainer. He was an indefatigable pitchman for the film. His preemptive Facebook apology for anything he will say during “Jurassic World’s” press tour inspired headlines and showed a deft feel for social media. Even hiccups, like when Pratt stumbled over the meaning of “impotent,” proved the adage that all publicity is good publicity.
Somebody’s passion projects are about to get a greenlight. So if Pratt has ever wanted to play a second century fresco painter struggling with gonorrhea or something equally uncommercial, now is the time to make that ask.
2.) Timing is everything.
“Jurassic World” was shrewdly positioned as the June blockbuster to beat, ceding April to “Furious 7” and steering clear of “Avengers: Age of Ultron’s” May release. After “Tomorrowland” flopped over Memorial Day, there was some gum-flapping among box office analysts about whether Universal erred in not putting “Jurassic World” over the four-day holiday. In retrospect, it was the perfect move. The box office, which was coming off of three consecutive lackluster weekends, needed to cool down before it could heat up again.
“You could see this coming after a number of films that didn’t live up to expectations,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “There was just this hunger for a big summer tentpole film.”
The studio benefited from timing of another sort. Over the past decade and a half, the fourth “Jurassic Park” saw various filmmakers and screenwriters , such as “The Departed’s” William Monahan and “I Robot’s” Alex Proyas, come on board before getting tossed aside after failing to find the right creative direction for the film. The tortured development worked in “Jurassic World’s” favor, giving it distance from “Jurassic World III,” which is generally considered to be the series’ nadir, and lending the franchise a feeling of freshness.
3.) The right director can make you almost forget about Spielberg.
Nobody can outshine Steven Spielberg, but with the “Jurassic Park” director unwilling to return to Isla Nublar, Universal settled for the next best thing — a filmmaker on the rise, who could pay homage to Spielberg’s creation while taking the series in a younger and vibrant direction. It found him in Colin Trevorrow, an indie impresario who had made a stir with “Safety Not Guaranteed.”
Trevorrow’s time-travel comedy demonstrated the kind of fantastical humanism and ability to tap into childlike wonder that is Spielberg’s stock-in-trade, making him a worthy successor to the man who ushered in the age of the summer blockbuster with “Jaws.”
“He has extraordinary energy and he had a vision from day one about what this film could be,” said Nick Carpou, president of domestic distribution at Universal. “His determination comes through.”
It also ranks as another example of major studios raiding Sundance, South by Southwest and their festival ilk for behind-the-camera talent to helm their most important franchises — an approach that previously yielded Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” and Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” efforts. Nothing beats commodifying some indie spirit.
4.) Premium formats are prime.
The Indominus rex, basically a T-rex on steroids, demanded to be seen on the biggest, widest, most souped up screens possible. That meant that “Jurassic World” got a major boost from premium large format and Imax screens, along with 3D showings. The sequel took in 48% of its domestic opening weekend receipts from 3D screens, while setting new high-water marks for Imax and private label PLF screens.
Those formats were in their infancy when “Jurassic Park III” was in theaters — 3D was still a novelty and Imax was reserved for nature films.
“I use my kids as a bit of a barometer,” said Anthony Marcoly, president of worldwide cinema for 3D-maker RealD. “They’ve seen the ‘Jurassic Park’ movies before, but they’ve seen them on TV or DVD. They haven’t had a chance to see a ‘Jurassic’ movie on these big [premium large format] screens or in 3D. People wanted to be brought into the world of ‘Jurassic’ and to see it in a grand fashion and just be drawn into the story.”
It also helped that Trevorrow talked up the virtues of seeing “Jurassic World” with all the extra bells and whistles on promotional videos and by appearing before screenings at the Imax TCL Theater in Los Angeles.
“This is a shared experience,” he told the crowd at one of these events. “It’s why we go to the movies.”
The exhibition industry has taken its knocks for not keeping up with the digital revolution that has upended the entertainment landscape, but “Jurassic World’s” success with tinted specs and sprawling screens demonstrates the lengths that theaters have gone to differentiate their experience from the one found in the living room or at the keyboard. Times have changed, of course, but some of it’s for the better.
5.) Dinosaurs ripping apart humans = appropriate for children of all ages.
It’s been 23 years since “Jurassic Park” first illustrated the dangers of bringing velociraptors back to life, and in that time one generation of film fans has come of age and another has emerged. That means that a group of moviegoers who were first weaned on popcorn pics with that first film have grown up and were eager to introduce their sons and daughters to the magic of a T-rex rampage.
To familiarize a new group to the pleasures of the park, Universal reissued “Jurassic Park” in 3D in 2013 in conjunction with its 20th anniversary. It also primed the pump in a nice piece of corporate synergy, hosting a special presentation of “Jurassic Park” last week on NBCUniversal Networks that included interviews with Pratt and Spielberg. The film and TV stations share a corporate parent in Comcast.
The PG-13 rating made the prospect of seeing pterosaurs treat tourists like birdseed something of a family event. That resulted in an opening weekend crowd that was 39% under the age of 25, a demographic that hadn’t been born or was barely verbal when the first film debuted.
“We’re getting everybody and that includes parents with kids,” said Carpou.
Hollywood take note. That’s how you build a blockbuster.