Eclipse Forecast
By David Mumpower
June 30, 2010

You'd think that with a $65 million budget, they could have bought these guys shirts.

Okay, let’s quickly review the history/box office pattern of the Twilight Saga. Prior to the novel’s release, MTV Films acquired the film rights to a franchise that nobody knew. They treated the subject matter with so much respect that the screenplay bore little if any resemblance to the original Stephenie Meyer work. Paramount, the owner of MTV Films, ditched the project they had pegged as a loser and it was picked up by the virtually unknown distribution group, Summit Entertainment. This is one of those bottom line transactions on a ledger sheet that has virtually no meaning in Hollywood 99% of the time. Twilight would prove to be the other 1%.

After giving the project a modest production budget of $37 million, Summit Entertainment embarked upon creating a work in the vein of The Covenant, a teen-friendly witchcraft project that earned about $23 million in 2006. Even after the trailer for Twilight debuted, it was still considered a low key project in most circles, but a strange phenomenon was happening as a cultural undercurrent. Meyer’s work was being discovered by more and more teens, as was intended for the target audience. The unexpected fallout from this was that their mothers were also reading the books then passing them along to their friends. Twilight was becoming a buzz subject, growing at an exponential rate.

Summit Entertainment found themselves catching lightning in a bottle with a cheap acquisition that suddenly looked like a hugely profitable property. Even in the middle of 2008, however, there still wasn’t much recognition of the type of sleeping giant Twilight would prove to be. The film exploded into theaters with a $36.0 million Friday. That total alone represents the body of Summit’s investment. By close of business on Sunday, shrill voices across the land cried out in joy as Bella and Edward touched and the rest of us were left going, “$69.6 million for that? Seriously?” Everything the movie did from that point forward was gravy. And there was a LOT of gravy to be had, almost $400 million of it worldwide.

What happens when a low budget film earns more than any sane person could have reasonably expected? More is required in the sequel. In this case, that means a lot of muscle-chested lycanthropes, an odd request for a species whose stomachs are hidden by fur. Taylor Lautner figured out that it looks bigger if you shave it, though, and the end result is that Lautner went from being called Shark Boy by snide haters into becoming THE face (and chest) of the second Twilight Saga movie. What we learned from this is that sex sells, especially when cougars are given the opportunity to lust over jailbait.

New Moon became the third biggest opening of all-time, debuting with an incomprehensible $142.8 million including $72.7 million on its first Friday. As you know all too well by now, that’s the largest single day of box office in the history of the industry. And it was not a fluke. The project earned over $700 million worldwide, a $300 million bump from the previous iteration. That is how much the Twilight brand grew in such a short period of time. The first book was the biggest seller of 2008 and at one point midway through 2009, one out of every six books sold in North America featured Bella Swan being overwrought with ambivalent over Jacob and Edward.

In addition, there are signs in place that even more is expected of the franchise from this point on. For no apparent reason other than a blatant cash grab, the fourth book is being split into two movies, meaning that there will be five Twilight Saga films. That’s like ten hours of overwrought teen angst on film, which has to be a record of some sort. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who hates the Twilight franchise. To the contrary, I’m in awe of what has been accomplished here. Ms. Meyer has bedazzled vampires and suddenly made them into something the public perceives as new and exciting. Would Bram Stoker slap her in the face for the heresy of it? Perhaps. Would he be jealous of the money she has made over the past five years? Absolutely.

What matters is that Summit Entertainment has delivered a pair of films of questionable quality that have been instantly adopted as the Gone with the Wind of our time by women of all ages. Now we’ve reached the middle of the film franchise and the shocking word is that Eclipse, the latest example of Bella feeling forlorn and conflicted, is the best of the three films to date. While I maintain that this is akin to being the best Uwe Boll film (sorry, Twihards, I want to love your thing but those first two films gnaw at my soul they’re so terrible…particular apologies to my teen niece), the reality is that it’s a huge selling point. The most passionate fans have been willing to overlook some of the shortcomings of the first two titles but imagine the outpouring of support for a movie that is, you know, really good.

Where does this leave Eclipse in terms of opening weekend? There are several factors in play here. The first is that the Wednesday debut means that a massive chuck of potential weekend box office will be eaten up prior to the weekend. Both previous Twilight releases have earned roughly half of their weekend box office on the same day. Eclipse will perform slightly differently in that a certain segment of fans will wait until the (semi)holiday weekend to see the film. No, the obsessive sorts will not, but I don’t expect an opening weekend anywhere near on the order of the last one.

Instead, we’ll see a massive Wednesday, a massive decline on Thursday, a spike on Friday that still falls short of Wednesday, a Saturday that probably falls short of Wednesday and then a Sunday that will function as a July 4th holiday. We’ve discussed in the past the way that July 4th can negatively impact box office due to the celebratory behavioral patterns of consumers, but July 4th falling on Sunday means that a large percentage of American workers will be given Monday as a vacation day; ergo, Sunday box office will be solid. Then again, there is a chance that by its fifth day of release, Eclipse already begins to depreciate due to the frontloading pattern of the prior films combined with the Wednesday/holiday release. Potential consumers will have had ample time by then to go see the movie if so inclined, similar to what happened to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen last year. That Michael Bay atrocity earned almost exactly half of its $402 million during its first five days in release. The frontloading percentage would have been even higher if it had debuted a week later when July 4th fell. There are a lot of moving parts in play here. My expectation is that we’re looking at $75 million during the Wednesday/Thursday period and $105 million over “opening weekend”. That total would represent a five-day debut of $180 million, an increase of 9.3% from New Moon’s $164.7 million, a respectable growth for a short period of only seven months or so.

We'll return later this week with our forecast for the box office of The Last Airbender.