Weekend Wrap-Up
Twilight Eclipses Bolt, Bond
By John Hamann
November 23, 2008

I've been in Potter. I've been in Twilight. I'm kind of a big deal.

Here's the news we've all been waiting for. Twilight, the new film aimed at teen girls, opened to a very loud $70.5 million, from Summit Entertainment, the distributor no one has heard of. Twilight started on Friday with $35.7 million, the second biggest single day in November box office history. Combined with the recent opening weekend success of High School Musical 3, studios will be awed at the power of the teen girl in terms of box office. The Twilight opening, combined with the debut of Disney's Bolt and the second weekend of Quantum of Solace, will make for one of the more memorable weekends in box office history.

As I mentioned above, Twilight, the small film featuring a love story between a human girl and a male vampire, is our number one film of the weekend with an awesome opening weekend take of $70.5 million. Twilight earned $7.5 million from midnight screenings on Thursday night, and combined that with a huge Friday for an opening day gross of $35.7 million. That's more than any film from Summit Entertainment, the distributor of Twilight, has ever made (Never Back Down was their biggest domestic grosser at $25 million). It basically recouped the production budget ($37 million) in one day, which must be smashing expectations even for the studio. The opening is the fourth biggest for the month of November, behind three Harry Potter films. Ironically, Twilight's star, Robert Pattinson, also was a lead character in the top opening November film of all time, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

The biggest news is that Twilight blew the cover off expectations, with many analysts looking for a $50-60 million opening. To crush estimates to this degree is startling, and again historic. Twilight did something no one expected it to do, which is the mark of any hugely successful breakout hit. It crossed over into hidden and unexpected demographics.

How did Twilight open so large, and cross over into this unexpected demographic territory? At its essence, Twilight is a media-driven success that was charted masterfully by upstart distributor Summit Entertainment. No matter where you turned this week, Twilight was in your face. Pictures of screaming girls lined up in the dark on Thursday thrust this one front and center into the limelight, and obviously, new facets of the population wanted to see what they were on about. David Mumpower mentioned "Tween girls and cougars" as the target in his Weekend Forecast, but obviously this one developed a broader audience; otherwise, the earlier tracking estimates for Twilight would have been more correct. Also at play is the success of the book, with four of the titles in this series appearing in the top sic sales at Amazon.com. You need more than teen girls to sell this many books. Summit kept the author, Stephenie Meyer, in play throughout the production of the movie, and brought on Melissa Rosenberg to adapt the novel into a screenplay. Again, this was a smart move, as Rosenberg understood the dark side of human nature (Dexter), but also knew how to write for the tween/teen set (The OC). Summit also didn't give up on marketing just because they knew they had the next big thing. There have been a few times we've seen blockbusters replace traditional movie marketing with video game tie-in marketing, or just minimize costs by lowering the ad budget. We didn't see that with Twilight; we saw saturation marketing all week, and this is the payoff.

Summit Entertainment also made some really smart industry moves along the way to release. Twilight received a huge gift when Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince moved from this weekend in November to Summer 2009. Originally, Twilight was scheduled as a December 2008 release, but when Potter picked up and left, Summit didn't wait long to jump into the spot. Disney's Bolt actually moved into this weekend first, but it didn't put Summit off. The new date put Twilight out the weekend before Thanksgiving, and only five weekends away from Christmas, which should give it bigger legs than it would have received with a mid-December release date. Scheduling has been in the limelight as of late, as Disney dropped the ball with High School Musical 3: Senior Year, opening it the weekend before Halloween, and two weekends prior to the release of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. Summit was also able to get Twilight on to 3,419 venues - many of them in the middle of the night on Thursday, which wouldn't have been an easy task for a distributor whose biggest title was a martial arts movie.

Finally, Summit controlled the critics in a way that didn't make their film look bad. Quietly, Summit embargoed reviews for Twilight, which controlled any early negative word-of-mouth, and then on Thursday, marketed the good reviews into a good news story for the media. In the end, at RottenTomatoes, 123 reviews had been counted at the time of this writing, and 53 were positive, leaving Twilight at 43% fresh. The movie isn't great, but it's a huge winner, and it cost Summit only $37 million to make. Is this a $300 million domestic earner by the end of the run? Probably not. However, it will make $200 million, which is $163 million more than the production cost.

With this big of an opening, is there room for more big titles at the weekend box office? Absolutely. After coming off a $67.5 million debut last weekend, Quantum of Solace didn't get completely buried by Twilight, but it did feel an impact. The new James Bond flick earned $27.4 million in its second weekend, and was off a heavy 59% compared to last weekend. I think it is important to remember that the first Bond flick with Daniel Craig opened to $40 million, so to have a second weekend in the low $30 millions, regardless of first frame numbers, isn't a bad thing. Yes, Casino Royale was off only 25% in its second weekend, but it was buoyed by a holiday Friday, which basically gave its second weekend two Saturdays (the big days of the weekend for this type of film). Quantum of Solace crossed the $100 million mark on Saturday, its eighth day of release, and joins Madagascar 2 as the second November 2008 flick to reach $100 million in only eight days. Quantum now has a cume of $109.8 million, and it's still too early to tell where this one will end up. $200 million is certainly a very strong possibility.

Finishing in what may be a sorry third is Disney's Bolt, as it just didn't sit at the top of the movie-going food chain. Despite them being two extremely different films, Bolt lost a part of its audience to Twilight, as the animated film's opening weekend came in at an okay $27 million. While this is approximately one-third of what Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa opened to a few weeks ago, Bolt is a different animal, as it's not a sequel, a Pixar film, or a tentpole release for its distributor. $60-$70 million Pixar-type openings were never at play here, or even a Ratatouille-like $47 million opening. Shrek numbers were out, as Disney was left to look at some of their other 3-D releases. It did earn close to what Meet the Robinsons did over its opening frame ($25.1 million), but failed to come approach Chicken Little's $40.1 million. Bolt was a tough release for Disney, as it opened within the shadow of Madagascar 2, and was absolutely eclipsed in the media by Twilight. Bolt had a fantastic trailer and TV ad, but to break through the insanity around Twilight was almost impossible. The larger theatres in googleplexes would have been reserved first for Twilight, and second for the sophomore weekend of Quantum of Solace.

Disney's biggest problem with Bolt could be the cost. Chicken Little cost Disney $150 million to make, and it had a domestic gross of $138 million, despite almost doubling Bolt's opening weekend. Like they have with Bolt, Disney kept budget data for Meet The Robinsons under wraps, and it earned only $97 million domestically, and less than $170 million worldwide. The good news for Bolt is that it does look like a good, funny family movie that could attract the legs that Disney is known for. It's currently 84% fresh at RottenTomatoes, and its primary animated competition comes from Delgo (if you've never heard of it, that's not surprising) and Universal's The Tale of Despereaux, which could pose some problems if it's well-received. I actually expect Bolt to come back, earn $100 million plus, and be one of the stars of the holiday season.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa lands in fourth as it gets creamed by Twilight and Bolt. Madagascar 2 earned $16 million, off a way-too-high 54% - despite the competition. Usually, returning films pay the price for opening films of a similar demographic, and that certainly happened here with Madagascar 2. It has now earned $137.4 million domestically, and another $50 million from foreign shores.

Role Models has another successful weekend as serious counter-programming, as the opening titles don't impede on the comedy's target audience. Role Models earned $7.2 million and was off 38% compared to the previous frame. Role Models has now earned $48 million against a budget of $28 million, and could turn into an $80 million hit for Universal.

The rest of the top ten is certainly not as exciting as the top five, so we will move through them quickly. Sixth goes to Changeling which earned $2.6 million. It was off 38%, and has a gross so far of $31.6 million. The production budget for the Angelina Jolie starrer was $55 million. High School Musical 3 finished the weekend with a take of $2 million. It was off a painful 65% due to Twilight, and has a cume so far of $86.8 million. HSM3 cost Disney only $11 million to make. Zack and Miri Make A Porno finishes eighth with a weekend gross of $1.7 million, it was off 46% and has a domestic total of $29.3 million.

I'll take a time out for ninth, as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas takes that spot, a new film on the chart this weekend. Despite opening in only 406 venues, Pajamas earned $1.7 million, giving it a venue average of $4,121. The story concerns a Jewish and German child in World War II, and is a surprise to see in the top ten this weekend.

Finally in tenth is The Secret Life of Bees, now in its sixth weekend. Bees earned $1.3 million and was off 45%. So far, this one has earned $35.6 million against a budget of only $11 million for Fox Searchlight.

Overall this weekend, things are obviously very big. The top 12 films this weekend earned a huge $159.4 million. Last weekend, when Quantum of Solace was on top, the top 12 earned $137 million. Last year over the same weekend, the top 12 earned $150 million, as five films received wide release, and Enchanted was on top with $34.4 million - it finished with a $127 million domestic gross. Next weekend, we get three more releases to join this crop - they include Four Christmases, Australia and Transporter 3.