Prophecy: High School Musical 3
By BOP Staff
October 17, 2008

Don't worry parents, their relationship is *totally* platonic.

David Mumpower: If you have children yourself or know anyone under the age of 18, you are by now well aware of the phenomenon that is High School Musical. And you most assuredly resent them for this knowledge.

The made-for-TV movie about a...well, you figure it one of the most surprising cable success stories the industry has ever known. Debuting on January 20, 2006, the original High School Musical was popular enough to gain a Disney Channel record 7.7 million viewers. What happened next is what makes it a triumph. Each of the next three repeats of the broadcast saw higher viewership than the original airing. Kids went crazy for those starstruck lovers, Troy and Gabrielle, to the point that after three weeks in rotation, 26.3 million distinct viewers had watched them get their heads in the game of love.

High School Musical became a cottage industry that some analysts speculated was worth half a billion dollars to Disney over the next 12 months. There was a quadruple platinum soundtrack, multiple DVD releases that made it the fastest selling as well as most successful TV movie of all time, HSM merchandise that dominated Christmas in 2006 and a movie sequel. There had to be a movie sequel.

Some had speculated that the phenomenon of HSM would be short-lived. Such concerns were answered quickly and emphatically upon High School Musical 2's debut on August 17, 2007. 17.2 million viewers tuned in to watch the first airing of the sequel. Folks, just in case you aren't clear about how strong a performance this is, forget that it's the all-time best performance on cable television for a moment. Think of it in box office terms instead. At an average ticket price of $6.88 for 2007, that would be a *single day* total of $118.3 million had this been released in theaters. Even The Dark Knight would look impotent compared to that.

Given this news, Disney made the obvious call here and decided that High School Musical 3 would not be a free showing for anyone with cable. Instead, they have looked at their data that states 170 million people watched the original and decided that a theatrical release was a no-brainer. As said release approaches, it is time to make a determination about whether they are right.

How successful a release do you expect High School Musical 3: Senior Year to be?

Calvin Trager: I'm prepared to be laughed right out of the room for coming in too low, but that's the price you pay for speaking up first, and thinking later. My gut says in the range of a $70 million opening. I think domestic box office will easily clear $300 million. To sum up my prediction: a solid opening and plenty of repeat business.

Jason Lee: Jason: I felt exactly the same way Calvin does, in that I know what I honestly and sincerely believe it will make in its opening weekend but am terrified that I'm coming in laughably low. I know that this franchise has a huge fanbase and have demonstrated a willingness to spend money on HSM products (DVDs, CDs, etc.) however I think that HSM 3 will be handcuffed a little bit by the age of the audience - you can go over to Amy's house to watch HSM 2 but you gotta get your mom to drive you to the theater to see HSM 3.

This is likely low, but I predict a mid-$60 million opening, topping out around $180 - $190 million.

Daron Aldridge: It's funny to me that so many of us are scared that we might lowball a bunch of singing high school students, which in my opinion is essentially Saved by the Bell with songs for this generation. I am not mocking because I am also leery of going out on a limb with this one. I am going to go with an opening of $62 million, which is double the debut of Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds. But given the tween and teen appeal here and their history of repeat viewings (hello, Titanic), I think that this one could possibly compete for the number two slot of 2008 releases and surpass Iron Man, which makes me depressed.

Max Braden: I would predict over $50 million because of Miley Cyrus, but I'm going to predict under $50 million because of Miley Cyrus. If that sounds a little loopy, blame the numbers. The Best of Both Worlds concert film earned a staggering $45,560 per site. But that was in part because Disney put out the movie in limited release. And despite the huge opening, they never expanded it. I don't know if Disney learned a lesson there and will go bigger with Senior Year, but I would expect they recognize the niche market and don't go super wide. Plus as Jason pointed out, television ratings don't automatically translate to box office dollars because of the cost parents have to pay getting kids to and into the theaters. I'm going to go with a $45-50 million prediction.

Kim Hollis: Max, I think they will go super wide with this as opposed to following the Miley strategy. Even with that said, I don't think your number is terribly far off. I have to believe that the bloom is off the rose somewhat with regards to the staying power of this thing. Kids have moved on to other shiny things by now, and some of the kids who really loved it when the first two were released are now too old for it to be cool. Even so, it's a very safe option for tweens, and for that reason, I do see about a $50-55 million opening.

Calvin Trager: As I said, my prediction of a $70 million was about as low as I could rationalize, so I obviously think the rest of you are talking crazy between $45 and $62 million. Who is going to go out on a limb and support a nine-figure opening?

Les Winan: I will. Partially because I have no idea what I'm talking about but partially because I think it's possible. $100 million here we come.

Jason Lee: There'll be a lot of bored parents with that $100+ million figure. I hope for their sake that you guys are wrong (though you very well may be right).

Shane Jenkins: This looks to be an "event" film for tween girls, much like Sex and the City was for their moms. That film made $57 million in its opening frame, and, since I expect opening weekend demand for this will be much higher, I anticipate that HSM3 will blow past that total. The $70 million range we're bandying about here sounds about right to me; I predict it will come in at $75 million.

Scott Lumley: Dear god. Who watches these things?

I understand there's an audience out there, but did we really need a third one? (The cold hard answer to that is, "Of course we do. We're Hollywood. If it's profitable and requires little effort, it will get made.")

At any rate, I see this opening in the $35 million range, and coasting with moderately strong legs to $100 million, possibly more. The audience is obviously there for these films, and they're insanely profitable.

Hell, if Mamma Mia! can make $500 million worldwide, this will do at least $250 million.

David Mumpower: Other than Les Winan's "I know nothing about this so I'll shoot the moon" prediction, I generally agree with most of what has been said here. At the end of the day, the two most direct comparisons are Sex and the City and The Simpsons Movie. Prior to those two releases, there wasn't much precedent for a free (Sex and the City has been free on TBS for a while now) television program making a spectacular theatrical debut. The X-Files movie, Fight the Future (but definitely not I Want to Believe), was a solid performer for its time frame, but High School Musical just feels...bigger.

This more of an event film, sort of what Grease 2 would be were it released as a sequel 30 years later rather than some motorcyle luau nonsense early 1980s release. 250 million people have watched a High School Musical movie. How many of those are willing to debate it is the (hundreds of) million(s) dollar question. I'm inclined to believe that it doesn't sell as many tickets as The Simpsons Movie,a title that had even more ubiquity. Combining that premise with the knowledge that a good portion of the tickets sold will be at children's discount rates, that brings it down into the Sex and the City range in my estimation. I think it opens in the low-to-mid-$50 millions area. And it's certainly possible we are all overshooting this one. I doubt it goes far beyond what everyone (but Les) is saying, though. That would require a perfect storm of movie marketing and under-18 attendance. At the moment, I think it's leggy enough to earn $150 million. $200 million is a possibility.

Calvin Trager: One of the things we haven't mentioned as a significant variable in this discussion is how wide of an opening HSM3 is given. Any thoughts on that? My estimate assumes 3,200 - 3,600 screens. I also want to continue to address the potential appeal of this property, because it seems like with our staff demo we might have a big blind spot about it. I think naturally there will be a lot of matinee action, but from full families - including the dads, including the brothers. To me that evokes Ice Age 2. To refresh your recollection, Ice Age 2 did $17,000 per screen on 4,000 screens opening in late March 2006. I think it provides a good bellweather as a known entity with full family appeal, and it's probably fair to say that Ice Age 2 did "most" of its business through matinees. David, if I plug HSM3 into the same model, ignoring inflation to be conservative and accounting for fewer screens, I get an opening in your range of mid $50s. What I believe HSM3 has going for it that Ice Age 2 surely did not is older teen appeal. I believe evening showings have a good chance to attract the age 16-20 demo in groups. And so, I'm back to my $70 million figure pretty easily.

Kim Hollis: And as a note on the theater count topic, I'm seeing that 3,400+ venues are planned. This will certainly give everyone who wants to see the film ample opportunity to do so, but as Max noted earlier, it does not create the same sense of urgency that Miley Cyrus had earlier this year.

Tim Briody: Right, based on the theater estimates that are being reported, I could see $75-80 million and a ton of repeat business opening weekend, followed by a cliff dive where it's out of the top ten by week three.