Daily Box Office Analysis for June 27, 2007
It's Die Hard Time, Bay-bee!!!
By David Mumpower
June 28, 2007

Live free! I choose live free!

$9,111,638. That's either the amount Live Free Or Die Hard earned yesterday or it is the average annual cost the government has spent cleaning up the messes left by supercop John McClane. Assuming it is the former, that's a respectable number of tickets sold for a debut Wednesday in June/July.

Let's look at some other recent summer Wednesday openers on this level. The most direct analogy from a pure dollars perspective is (surprisingly) Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde. The heavily frontloaded sequel disaster debuted to $9.147 million before flatlining over the weekend with only $22.2 million. I'm disregarding this one as an outlier, but it's a cautionary tale for the kind folks at Fox.

Some more appropriate comparisons did better on their first days. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (maybe you've heard of it) started with $13.5 million on its way to an opening weekend of $46.6 million. Batman Begins earned $15.1 million on June 15, 2005 then made $48.7 million on its opening weekend. Men in Black II's first day was $18.6 million then it followed that up with $52.1 million over the weekend. Superman Returns debuted at $21.0 million then fell off to a mediocre $52.5 million first weekend. War of the Worlds started with $21.3 million on its way to a $64.9 million opening weekend. The one that blows the curve in terms of both first day performance and three day holdover is Spider-Man 2, which spiked at $40.4 million on Wednesday, but was so frontloaded that it managed only $88.2 million on opening weekend. There are some other movies we could factor in here like White Chicks, King Arthur and Like Mike, but all of their first days are in the $4 million range, less than half of what Live Free Or Die Hard did. As such, I consider them unfit for comparison. So, what we can draw from the ones that matter is that Live Free Or Die Hard is not going to be War of the Worlds or anything, but it's also not going to be Herbie: Fully Reloaded, either ($2.7 million Wednesday followed by a $12.7 million weekend).

So, these are the data points in play as we determine how solidly Live Free Or Die did on its first day as well as how we should project it to hold up through Sunday. Wednesday/Thursday decline will be the topic of tomorrow's column, and should be old hat by now to long time readers of BOP anyway. What we are most interested in studying is the behavior large scale Wednesday openers exhibit the following weekend. Opening weekend and final box office are the two stats most mainstream box office wonks obsess upon, after all. As we can see from the above, $9.1 million is fine, but it's certainly not mega-blockbuster territory. In fact, it represents only 60% of the box office of Batman Begins, a sub-$50 million opener. So, it is safe to say that barring something wildly unforeseen, John McClane's latest outing is not going to be a $50 million opener.

If we do look at the above examples, however, this is what we learn. The Curse of the Black Pearl did 3.45 more on its first weekend than it did on its first Wednesday. We'll invent a term right now for this, Wednesday/Weekend Multiplier (I'm allowed to invent terms, because it's my column). I'll call it WWM for short. The WWM for Men in Black II was 2.80. Superman Returns had a dreadful WWM of 2.50 while Spider-Man 2 threw well under that at 2.18. Proving that not all comic book adaptations are frontloaded, Batman Begins had a stellar WWM of 3.23. War of the Worlds managed a solid 3.05 WWM. The Legally Blonde's sequel's WWM is 2.43. As you can see, there is a pretty broad range of WWMs here. These indicate the full spectrum of possible box office behavior for a Wednesday release.

There are a couple of studio strategies in play for such a release. One is to maximize box office as much as possible in the first five days. This is usually done in order to be able to chest-thump about a much larger opening total than what have otherwise been possible. Spider-Man 2 was expected to open lower than Spider-Man so rather than face the negative headlines of a smaller debut, Sony had five days of box office to trumpet instead. $88.2 million doesn't beat $114.8 million, but $152.4 million in five days sure sounds like it does.

Conversely, Disney faced a challenge in its submission of Pirates of the Caribbean into the marketplace. No one remembers this aspect now, but The House That Walt Built had failed completely with their first attempt to create a movie based on one of their linchpin rides. The Country Bears managed just under $17 million in its entire domestic run. Disney also knew by then that they had a stinker on their hands in The Haunted Mansion, an unfunny Eddie Murphy movie (is that redundant?) that neared only $75.8 million the November after Jack Sparrow was introduced to the world. In order to establish this brand as something special, Disney decided to show confidence in the product by giving it a relatively last minute Wednesday release. They had complete confidence in the quality of their product, so the Wednesday debut was an attempt to get people talking about pirates. Suffice it to say that this strategy was...successful.

What we must determine is how Live Free Or Die Hard fits into the equation. Is this a money grab for a movie with shaky word-of-mouth? Yes and no. Fox is making a money grab here in that they want to give their action title as many days of release as possible before Transformers enters the marketplace and crushes all puny humans, even John McClane. Word-of-mouth, on the other hand, is nothing short of glorious for the fourth Die Hard entry. Reviews are universally positive. As I type this, it has a fresh rating of 77% at Rotten Tomatoes, a huge accomplishment for a blow-em-up movie- and everyone I've talked to who has seen it was very satisfied that the franchise has discovered new life. So, I see Live Free Or Die Hard as being closer to Pirates of the Caribbean and Batman Begins in terms of WWM.

In addition, the other factor to consider is that it's easier to have a higher WWM if the number at the start is lower. Remember that seemingly innocuous cheap shot I took at Herbie: Fully Reloaded above? It was slipped in for a reason. You'll notice that movie had a startling WWM of 4.7 despite being a financial disaster all the way around. Given the fact that it's easier to spike the WWM if the numbers start lower, I'm going out on a limb here by saying that it could do as much as a 3.75 WWM (yes, higher than almost all of the examples listed above), which would mean an opening weekend of $34.1 million.

Given the data points in this column, however, I totally understand if you want to hedge your bets by expecting a much lower total. A 3.2 WWM would a disappointing $29.1 million opening weekend and if we go much lower than that, say 2.7 WWM) would take it all the way under $24.6 million. Fortunately, we will have a much better idea of what will happen after tomorrow's numbers. See, this is a bait and switch. I'm forcing you to come back tomorrow to see for sure.

The rest of the top ten today clearly is not the story, but I do want to make a couple of points. The first is that these films combined to earn $22,353,083 yesterday. Sure, Live Free Or Die Hard represents almost 41% of that total, but it's still the largest weekday of June 2007. Given that the number one film is likely to drop 50% tomorrow, that total will stand as the monthly winner. Of course, when we look at some of the single movie, single Wednesday performances listed above, it doesn't seem quite so exciting.

The other point of note I want to make circles back to our initial discussions at the start of the month. You may recall (and you scare me if you do) that the tenth place film for June 14th was Gracie, which earned a pitiful $82,054. I mentioned at the time that this situation would work itself out as the bottom of the top ten became filled with much stronger titles. That has come to fruition today as the tenth place title, Shrek the Third, still manages a solid $834,439. That's a factor of ten better than what the bottom of the top ten was managing just two weeks ago. There are also seven films making at least a million dollars a day right now as opposed to only five at this point two weeks ago. Next week, these numbers are going to seem pitiful, too. The July 4th holiday is going to spike all the weekdays.