Summer in Review: May
By BOP Staff
October 28, 2008

When John Henry was a little baby...

BOP takes a look at the 2008 Summer Box Office Season. From the big winners to the massive disappointments, we discuss all of the biggest stories. We start our series by examining May's results. Moving forward, BOP will be doing this for every month. The rules are simple. We'll wait until all of the releases have fallen out of the top 12 and made most of their domestic box office.

Kim Hollis: May's releases were:

Iron Man - $318.3 million domestic, $576.0 million worldwide, $186 million budget

Made of Honor - $46.0 million domestic, $102.3 million worldwide, $38 million budget

What Happens in Vegas - $80.3 million domestic, $219.3 million worldwide, $35 million budget

Speed Racer - $43.9 million domestic, $92.4 million worldwide, $120 million budget

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - $141.6 million domestic, $419.5 million worldwide, $200 million budget

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - $317.0 million domestic, $786.0 million worldwide, $185 million budget

Sex and the City - $152.6 million domestic, $408.5 million worldwide, $57 million budget

The Strangers - $52.6 million domestic, $72.3 million worldwide, $9 million budget

In a few sentences, please offer your final thoughts on each of these box office performances.

David Mumpower: When evaluating the final box office of a title, there are so many factors to be considered. Domestic receipts matter exponentially more than international revenue due to the precarious nature in collection for locations far removed from North America. Tariffs, the US dollar's performance and unusual studio splits all impact the international takes. As such, domestic performance skews the picture more, which helps a film like Iron Man, whose international take wasn't that extraordinary, and hurts a film like Prince Caspian that tore it up worldwide but not in North America.

Similarly, films that open better help the studio more since they get a much bigger cut (generally in the 85-90% range) for the first weekend before falling into the 50/50 range after a month. So, a strong start is more beneficial than impressive legs in the final analysis. That's great news for The Strangers and not so great news for What Happens in Vegas. Despite all of this, the reality is that every May release except for Speed Racer is a solid performer, a rare feat for any month, particularly a summer one.

Keeping these things in mind, here are the eight titles discussed in descending order from least impressive to closest thing to The Dark Knight:

8) Speed Racer

Like a couple of others have said, I personally enjoyed Speed Racer a great deal. As a fan of the series, I was impressed by how true to the vision of the anime the film wound up being. I also believe that not enough attention was paid to what a complicated script The Wachowski Brothers wrote. Time gets fractured so much the end result is a work best identified visually by Frank Gehry. I am stunned the whole thing doesn't collapse upon its own vastly complicated foundation. I the minority on this subject. The film played very young and appealed to almost no one who was not a fan of the (relatively obscure) series with the end result being Speed Racer is a financial loser. It is not the hyperbolic disaster being painted by some but I would expect a loss on a scale of $25 million after initial home video revenue and cable packaging is factored in. The bad news is that the toy sales were disappointing, and that was the major anticipated source of revenue for this release, the part that really leaves a mark.

7) Made of Honor

Had its international receipts not been so significant, this one actually would have been a slight loser despite domestic earnings slightly in excess of its production budget. After advertising and other expenses are considered and the sub-$15 million opening is factored in, it was not a solid performer in North America. Internationally, it was a stud. $60 million is a very solid result. Grey's Anatomy must be huge internationally.

6) The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Calvin Trager made an astute point during a Monday Morning Quarterback conversation on this topic. He correctly stated that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a property in and of itself. The Chronicles of Narnia: Title X means much less to the casual observer, making all remaining titles in the series less popular by default. Having considered the release from that perspective, I still feel that the $200 million production budget was absolutely insane. Walden Media has to dial that down for the rest of the films in the series. Acknowledging this, it's still a success thanks to the magic of worldwide results. Being the #7 performer internationally squarely puts it in the win column.

5) The Strangers

We have reached a day and age where most films don't make a significantly exponential amount of money relative to budget. That's why the $9 million budget for The Strangers causes pause. This title had already earned $15.5 million after only two days in release. This was a stunning result. While my fellow BOP analysts point to the bulletproof nature of the horror genre, what I see when I look at this marketplace is an epic amount of oversaturation. The Strangers is a shocking result exactly because of this rather than predictable as some have indicated. This title was tracking for the $6 million range yet opened to just under $21 million. That just doesn't happen often and it didn't stop there. The Strangers earned a factor of almost six more than its production budget during its North American box office run and almost exactly a factor of eight more in terms of total worldwide box office. This is a stunning accomplishment for a completely unheralded horror film that had but one thing going for it: The Strangers looked creepy and novel. Would that more movie releases aspire to such a worthy goal of unique design.

4) What Happens in Vegas

You can tell that May had a lot of box office champions when a title like this is only slotted at number four. To my total shock, What Happens in Vegas is the 17th most successful film of 2008 in terms of worldwide revenue. Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz are both much more popular than could ever be logically explained. Face it, folks, being pretty and shallow is where it's at. The only reason it's not higher on the list is that 75% of its domestic take happened after opening weekend and only 36.6% of its overall revenue came from North American receipts. Its splits do not fall in the right range to place it higher on the list. I did, however, initially have it slotted in fifth place behind The Strangers before shaving with Occam's Razor. The Strangers made its money in a more lucrative fashion from a return on investment percentage perspective, but $63 million in profit can't hold a candle to $139 million. So, I flipped them.

3) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Part of the evaluation of a film's final box office is prior expectations. If we knew nothing about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and it earned $300 million domestically, we'd be falling all over ourselves to praise it. Since it's the fourth film in one of the most pedigreed franchises in box office history, that's about the amount of money most people expected. While I understand why others are downplaying this result, I fervently believe that one of the most difficult accomplishments is to match the loftiest of expectations. The fourth Indiana Jones film suffered this fate, winding up "only" the third best domestic performer of the summer (Iron Man edged it out by about $1.3 million), but it's the second biggest worldwide release of the year with $786 million. That's the 25th best performance all-time in addition to it being the 23rd most successful domestic performer of all-time. It matched expectations by doing what was expected of it. Given the scale of these expectations, I prioritize it over less heralded films that were more surprising success stories.

2) Iron Man

The description of this as a live action version of The Iron Giant amuses me to no end. I had never considered it in those terms before, but that's a pitch perfect evaluation, at least on paper. In execution, Iron Man is...well, marvelous. It's the best film I have seen to date in 2008, something I certainly never thought I would say of a comic book adaptation (unless such a film was the first thing I saw in January). There isn't much more to be said of Iron Man's success beyond the fact that it's the rare title that matches quality with exemplary box office performance. In looking over the list of $300 million films, the last non-sequel movie I believe succeeded to this degree on both sides of the quality/quantity scale is The Sixth Sense. That's lofty company indeed.

1) Sex and the City

My wife and I are an amusing contrast in that I get women so much better than she does. While she never viewed this title as anything other than an obscure novelty, I always felt that this could be a perfect storm of box office. I was even openly baited people into making bar bets about the film's opening weekend, one I sincerely believed would be north of $50 million at a time when few people believed it would earn $50 million domestically. What I'm trying to say here is that others are much more caught off-guard by the performance of Sex and the City than I am. Like with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I had lofty expectations for the title that it has in fact met. It effectively tripled its budget domestically and, like The Strangers, it almost reached a factor of eight in terms of worldwide revenue. And this was on a much larger scale than The Strangers to boot. It is the number eight release of 2008 worldwide and perhaps the ultimate chick flick, although Mamma Mia! is also staking a claim to that same title.

Jim Van Nest: For me, the month of May had two major stories and a couple of interesting subplots. Ironman's dominance at the box office is easily #1. Sure, super hero flicks are the "it" thing in movies now, but seriously... For the non-comic lover, this movie was like, "Okay, we're taking a lesser-known character that looks like an in-color version of the Iron Giant and making a movie of him. And oh, by the way...we're gonna throw Robert Downey Jr in it. Are you kidding me?" And then it turns out to be one of the best films of the summer. I mean for real...who'd a-thunk?

The second major story for me was the Chick Event film of all time, Sex and the City. Sure, the show had its following and I figured it would do well, but the insanity of the Sex and the City parties leading up to the opening and huge groups of women getting together to see this was amazing. It truly was the female Episode I.

The interesting subplots were the tanking of Speed Racer and the domestic take for Narnia. The Wachowski brothers are on their way to Shaymalan territory with Speed and you have to wonder if the Narnia series wouldn't be dead without the worldwide gross.

The return of Indiana Jones was an interesting story for a minute. I mean, we knew it would be huge. What we didn't know was that it would be sub-par and still be huge. With $750 billion worldwide, I can't help but think we'll be seeing Harrison don the fedora one more time in the near future.

Brandon Scott: Iron Man kicked it all off and was a great success, spawning a franchise in the process, while the Indy franchise put out some apparent tripe and still almost matched it in earnings. The "Vegas" numbers are disturbing because what happened there should have stayed in the script scrap heap. "Racer" seemed stuck in neutral from the start. It was always a bad idea in my eyes. The Strangers was a pleasant surprise but they would be unwelcome guests at my home. SATC did great business, women showed up in droves, but the sequel idea, I have been told, is a doubly bad idea from a story standpoint. There was no honor in making "Made" for Dempsey. Not sure what should happen to Narnia at this point, I will only chronicle that I am not looking forward to the continuation of the franchise.

Jason Lee: The real standouts in May, for me, were Iron Man and Sex and the City. Both were able to zero in on their respective fanbases and turn them out in droves. As in politics, you win when you can get your people to come out. I think Indy did much better business than I expected, considering its lackluster film quality, and was surprised to see Ashton and Cameron kick the Wachowski brother's butts.

Shane Jenkins:

Iron Man - The perfect marriage of material and star, Iron Man opened bigger than nearly anyone was expecting and got Summer 2008 off on the right foot. The key to a really successful superhero movie is cross-gender appeal, which Robert Downey Jr. brought in spades.

Made of Honor - Or When Counterprogramming Goes Awry. Eh, it still made money, though. Never bet against lousy-looking wedding-themed comedies.

What Happens in Vegas - I bet if you had told Fox at this point in the summer that this was going to be their biggest moneymaker of the season, they would have laughed at you. Which would have been more laughs than the film itself provided. Nice legs, though...

Speed Racer - A historic bomb! Heaven's Gate with chimps! Cleopatra with That Guy From Lost! Actually, this is a pretty enjoyable flick that never found its audience. I think the previews put people off, but I expect it will do very well on DVD.

Prince Caspian - I'd almost completely forgotten that this had come out this summer, and I'd wager that I'm not the only one. This was curiously un-engaging, and its disappointing take bears that out.

Indiana Jones - A huge hit commercially, particularly for a movie nobody liked that much. I suspect that if it had been better, it could have added another $100 million, but this wasn't a movie you needed to see more than once.

Sex and the City - A "surprise" hit that shouldn't have been that surprising. The ladies were looking for something fun to see with their girlfriends that didn't involve CGI spaceships and centaurs. I would argue that its success was a triumph of marketing over quality, but I'm not its target audience.

The Strangers - A fantastic result when you compare the budget vs. gross. The terrifying trailer got people into the theater, and decent word of mouth kept its week-to-week drops relatively low for a horror flick. I wonder, though, if this would have done even better if it had come out, say, right about now, when everyone seems more in the mood for scares.

Scott Lumley:

Iron Man - Far better than I thought it could be, Downey completely nailed Stark to the point that I can't imagine anyone else in the role. The ending was a little disappointing, but any other year this would have been the movie of the summer.

Made of Honor - This made money? There is no God.

What Happens in Vegas - And now we know why Ashton Kutcher keeps getting work. Apparently he can turn crap into money.

Speed Racer - Good news! The chances for a fourth Matrix movie just got better! Bad news! The chances for a fourth Matrix movie just got better!

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - Harry Potter it isn't. However, it does appear to be really profitable anyway.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - $600 million in profit from a franchise that is 30 years old. Holy Cow. After that result we just might even see another Indy flick.

Sex and the City - An 8 to 1 profit margin is pretty impressive. I can only imagine what kind of business the Dexter and House films are going to do...

The Strangers - Classically profitable horror film formula.

Sean Collier:

Iron Man - Early this year, I theorized that this would be the chance for comic book films to finally reach critical and awards-season praise, with Iron Man setting 'em up and The Dark Knight knocking 'em down. Years after X-Men and Spiderman, these two films have, in my mind, erased any stigma that stodgy, conservative critics may still have about comics as source material. Iron Man was easily the best true action-adventure of the summer, carried by performances, humor and heart, rather than effects and action. The fact that it was a bigger draw than Indiana Jones, despite decades of anticipation, speaks to this.

Made of Honor - I'm single, so I don't even know what the hell this is.

What Happens in Vegas - Americans, $80.3 Million worth of you kept the careers of both Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz going at the same time. Shame on you. That being said, we saw a lot of examples of successful counter-programming this summer, and this was one of them. If there are no romcoms coming out for a month, just throw anything out there; apparently it'll stick.

Speed Racer - Well, something had to kill the '80s nostalgia boom.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - The fate of the Narnia series is a shame; while I missed Prince Caspian (like everyone else,) I thought that the first film in the series was charming and captured the spirit of the book well. Fantasy seems to work well when we haven't seen one in a while, with the three Lord of the Rings films being the obvious exception; the glut of kid's fantasy over the past few years spelled doom for Prince Caspian. No one should've been surprised, though; a look at Eragon's numbers should've made the result here crystal clear.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - As someone who has purchased not just one, but two Indiana Jones hats in his lifetime, it killed me to hate this film. But it was truly dreadful. If an Indy film this bad managed to pull in $315 million domestic, imagine what a good one could've done.

Sex and the City - The strong result for this virtually guarantees a sequel. It'll run four and a half hours long, star 35 people I can't stand, and have a budget of $120 million, $105 million of which is devoted solely to handbags.

The Strangers - I maintain that horror is the most reliable of the genres. Bombs are usually a result of oversaturation, not quality, and even a clunker will find an audience among those (like myself) who will see any scare filck playing, regardless of quality. Put out an acceptable R-rated (for the love of god, R-rated) horror film at a convenient place on the calendar, and you'll easily make your budget back. The Strangers is an excellent example; it won't make any best-of lists, but moved along enough to keep me interested, and it took advantage of a fright-less stretch of the release schedule to prosper. Good for Universal on this one.

Kim Hollis:

Iron Man - Red hot commercials and trailers made me a believer in the notion that this film could open huge. The best surprise is the fact that Iron Man was every bit as good as previews promised it would be. I continue to be blown away at the fact that it's more than just a good superhero movie. It's a good, good movie. How awesome is it that two outstanding and quirky actors as Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp have seen career resurgences over the past few years? I'm legitimately excited for the sequel, even if I'm not a particular fan of Iron Man (in fact, I kind of hate the character in the comic books) and am disappointed that Terrence Howard won't be returning to play Rhodey.

Made of Honor - I totally forgot that this movie exists. It's profitable, so I guess we might be seeing more of McDreamy in future above-the-title roles.

What Happens in Vegas - This commercial still infests my nightmares from time to time. I hate Cameron Diaz and see no reason why anyone would ever want to see a movie where she stars. But unfortunately, the world doesn't agree with me and thus, movies like What Happens in Vegas find success. Boooooo!

Speed Racer - I personally thought this movie was a blast and did a great job of capturing the spirit of the animated series, but readily admit it wasn't for everyone. Honestly, it's not for most people. And the Wachowskis have lost a lot of Hollywood confidence as a result. After disappointing with the quality of the Matrix sequels and turning in a product that bombs as badly as Speed Racer, they're not golden anymore. They might just have to delegate projects down to James McTeigue (director of V for Vendetta and the upcoming Ninja Assassin) in the short term.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - What can I say about this that hasn't already been said? I think it's been proven that audiences are pretty much worn out on kids' fantasy not named Harry Potter and the _____________. Caspian was probably profitable, but there has to be a lot of concern about Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - I remember way back when, back in the day when I thought this movie would be the top earner of 2008. Oh, how sweet, innocent and naïve I was then. I had no idea that a movie as violent and scary as The Dark Knight would have the chops to go all the way to #2 of all time, nor did I think that newcomer Iron Man would be able to beat the well-loved Indy. I'm sure not spitting on Indy's result, but imagine what might have been if people actually liked the movie?

Sex and the City - I just don't understand women, which is sad, since I am one. I love shoes, I like handbags and I like clothes. I just don't understand sitting and watching a movie about them.

The Strangers - This movie's success was a total surprise to me. It looked so awful, but admittedly, I think that about most horror movies these days. Even the ones that look good to most people turn my stomach thinking about them.

Daron Alridge: Iron Man - When you consider the monstrous budget of this film, Paramount and Marvel took a big gamble on a mid-tier superhero. Luckily, it exceeded expectations both in quality and in revenue. Personally, I wouldn't have pegged it to be the number two film of the summer. My guess would have been more of a Batman Begins gross around $200 million.

Made of Honor - What we have here is a solid showing for a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. There really wasn't anything unique about it and the domestic box office was predictably average as well.

What Happens in Vegas - Compared to Made of Honor, this film seemed to focus more on the comedy and less on the sappiness. As a result, it beat Patrick Dempsey's gross. There appears to be still some juice left in the appeal of Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. My question is how did Made of Honor cost more than What Happens in Vegas? It surprises me that a movie with two somewhat bankable stars in the form of Diaz and Kutcher cost less than a film with a single actor known primarily for TV work.

Speed Racer - What went wrong here? I mean other than Warner Bros. dropping that kind of cash on a project that was clearly a kitschy nostalgia trip for the filmmakers. There is no way to paint this other than as a failure. I guess the Wachowski brothers won't be getting a greenlight anytime soon for that Super Seizure Robots feature film.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - This was 2008's Troy, which had a similar pattern of the domestic gross paling in comparison to the international receipts. Could this be a shift in the dynamic of the box office game where the international gross was often equal or close to the domestic? Or it may just be the European appeal of this type of product with a beloved British author that doesn't have the pull in North America.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - This one exploded out of the gate but then leveled off quickly. There is the obvious comparison to the other Indy sequels and this one simply doesn't measure up as well as Paramount had hoped, I would assume. Temple of Doom's $179 million total in 1984 translates to $377 million adjusted to 2008 prices and the Last Crusade's $197 million in 1989 comes out to $350 million in 2008. I think it was gestating too long to get much more bang out of it. The Raiders of the Lost Ark's 1982 total is a Dark Knight-defeating sum of $590 million. I know it was released in 1981 but it ran in theaters for more than a year, so this inflation adjustment is based upon 1982 prices.

Sex and the City - Women of the world united and kept what many people had anticipated was the eventual box office winner of summer to a single first place finish. Between this and Mamma Mia!, studios may quit ignoring the fairer sex's eagerness to see movies that actually appeal to them.

The Strangers - Making nearly $43 million above your budget for most genres, especially horror films, is always a success story.