Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#2: New Moon Eclipses Box Office
By David Mumpower
January 3, 2010

Ugh x 1000.

Once in awhile, a box office story occurs that almost exists outside of its individual achievement. The Twilight Saga: New Moon is such a situation in that its box office behavior not only exemplifies a franchise on the rise but also simultaneously encapsulates a decade worth of box office trending with one event.

I speak of course of the opening weekend of New Moon. There are twin aspects to this discussion. The first is an individual examination of the success of the Twilight sequel. The second requires a bit of box office history. Let's discuss this portion before talking about the Summit Entertainment side of the story. At the start of the new millennium, The Lost World: Jurassic Park stood as the most lucrative opening weekend in box office history. As hard as this is to imagine nine years to the day later, $72.1 million represented the best weekend total ever. Not even the highly anticipated Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, could surpass this total. For four and a half years, the record stood until the release of the first J.K. Rowling adaptation, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, shattered it with a $90.3 million weekend. Re-stating terms, $72.1 million was the pinnacle of box office achievements until November of 2001.

On November 20, 2009, New Moon made $72.7 million. In one day.

To put that number in perspective, consider that on its own $72.7 million would be the 31st most successful debut of all time (Avatar since exceeding it). That total represents a larger opening weekend than 300, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (or any of the other two Lord of the Rings films, for that matter), any release in the Bourne Trilogy, all James Bond films, all Pixar films, the afore-mentioned Lost World and...Twilight.

While an argument ensues whenever people debate which of the feats above is most impressive, the reality is that the correct answer is Twilight. The brand was increased so much that the stellar $69.6 debut of the original, the 34th biggest debut of all time to that point, was beaten in 24 hours. And it's not as if Twilight had come out awhile ago. The one year anniversary of the first release was not until the second day of New Mon's release. This franchise expanded exponentially in popularity and it did so in a hurry.

A lot of the reason why New Moon excelled was the overriding adoration directed toward the original release. After the $69.7 million debut of Twilight, it didn't flame out of theaters as many predicted. Instead, it hung around long enough to earn a domestic total of $192.8 million, a final box office multiplier (final domestic revenue divided by opening weekend) of 2.76. That's not a stupendous demonstration of legs by any stretch, but it is well beyond most expectations for Twilight. Equally impressive were its $203.7 million earned overseas and its $178 million on the home video market, a total surpassed by only The Dark Knight in terms of 2008 releases. Yes, that means Twilight's home video revenue exceeded that of Iron Man. The easy statement to make here is that Goth Girls outnumber comic book geeks these days, but that's not the reality of the situation.

At some point over the past 12 months, Twilight went from a minor cultural phenomenon to a fully formed icon that became an integral part of the pop culture zeitgeist. I'm not talking about the Team Jacob and Team Edward t-shirts, either. The book sales for the four films comprising this franchise consistently placed in the top five throughout the period since Twilight's release. In fact, one published report indicated that one out of every eight books sold in the first quarter of 2009 was written by Stephenie Meyer. No, her works are never going to be confused with Tolstoy in terms of quality but in terms of sales, War and Peace has sold 36 million copies. The Twilight franchise is up to 85 million. Logic and the success of the Twilight franchise do not dwell on the same plane of existence.

The challenge for industry observers is gauging the growth of Twilight as a brand. Phenomenal book sales do not automatically translate into box office success and most sequels do not exceed the final domestic take of their predecessor. In spite of this, during 2009, BOP frequently compared the franchise to Pirates of the Caribbean in terms of likely box office expansion. The thought process was simple. The popularity of a movie is integral to the opening weekend performance of its sequel.

No matter what you personally may have thought of Twilight - and I am of the opinion that the Vampire Baseball scene is the funniest movie sequence since Naked Gun - the reality is that its target audience loved it. And the quirk here is that since the target audience, young women, is the group of people that everyone else in the world aspires to sleep with, that created a scenario wherein New Moon became a date movie. Yes, it's a date movie where the key conflict involves a paper cut, but that's my issue and I'll deal with it. What matters is that for reasons passing understanding, people who watched Twilight got what they wanted from it and if their significant others wanted to prevent their Facebook status updates from changing to "Single", they had to go as well. What did that mean in terms of opening day box office? $72.7 million.

New Moon didn't stop there, either. It made $70.1 million over the Saturday/Sunday portion of its first weekend, a total that also exceeding Twilight's opening weekend result. In a span of 12 months, the Stephenie Meyer story went from a single $70 million opener to a pair of them rolled up into one. New Moon's $142.8 million is the third largest single weekend of box office ever. For some perspective, if we COMBINE the opening weekends of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, the first two Lucas prequels have a combined total of $144.8 million, only two million ahead of New Moon on its own. Sure, Star Wars was negatively impacted by its core fan base's inability to get dates but if you had made this bet three months before Twilight was released, you would have gotten more action than Las Vegas has ever seen.

In terms of how New Moon performed after opening weekend, nothing unexpected occurred. It appears like it will fall just short of $300 million domestically, putting it neck and neck with Up for the fourth most successful release of the year. The difference between Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and New Moon lies in brand growth. The sixth Potter film made only $10 million more than its predecessor, Order of the Phoenix, while the second Transformers film increased $82 million from the original. The difference in their opening weekends are $700 thousand (a virtual draw) and $38.4 million, respectively.

Compare those results to New Moon, which spiked over 100% on opening weekend, increasing by $73.2 million from an initial debut of $69.7 million. It will wind up almost $100 million ahead in terms of domestic box office with global revenues increasing from $396.4 million to north of $675.0 million, a 70% boost on an already-large $400 million performance. Across the board, New Moon has raised the bar on its predecessor, scorched any and all box office expectations and proven once and for all that this franchise is no flash in the pan, whether we wish that were the case or not.