Monday Morning Quarterback Part I
By BOP Staff
December 20, 2010

This is our favorite moment of the 2010 NFL season.

Who's up for a little death frisbee?

Kim Hollis: Tron: Legacy opened to $44 million. Do you view this as win, lose or draw for Disney, and why?

Edwin Davies: Considering the amount of time that has passed between the original and the sequel, and the fact that the original has always been a pretty niche property, $44 million isn't too shabby a start. However, in the short term - and I mean the very short term, like the next week or so - it could be considered a loss, or at least a disappointment. Given the big advertising boost that Disney has given the film and the positive buzz that was generated from the preview footage that had been released, not to mention the huge number of 3D screens that it went out to, they must have been hoping for something in the $50-60 million range for the opening weekend. But, and it's a big one, they got it out before Christmas, during one of the most lucrative box office weeks of the year, and if it holds up then it might just earn its production budget back. If that happens, it's going to end up being a draw, but I don't see how Tron: Legacy could turn this around and become an out-and-out win for Disney, at least domestically.

Bruce Hall: On the one hand, I want to say "win". Tron 2.0 technically earned back a larger percentage of its budget on opening weekend than did the first one. I know that's reaching a bit, but I kind of have to in order to make juice out of what's probably going to end up less like a lemon and more like a tangerine - it's better than a lemon, but it doesn't make you happy. Also positive: Tron's weekend multiplier does not reflect the sharp drop off in business you might expect if this movie were going to play like the niche brand it is. That's a "win." The total numbers are pretty close to Disney's publicized expectations, so you have to wonder whether or not they've already decided to be okay with a modest performer. On the other hand, while Tron did smashing business in the 3D and IMAX 3D space on its first weekend out, you have to believe that this $44 million haul is skewed somewhat in favor of fanboys and curiosity seekers (those IMAX tickets are not cheap). By next weekend, the people who were going to rush out of the house to see Tron will likely have done so, and for me the more interesting number will be next weekend's results. That's a "lose."

I enjoyed the film but I kind of dig Tron, warts and all; casual viewers won't be as forgiving. Word-of-mouth on this film has been lukewarm, so it will be interesting to see what sort of legs Tron has. There isn't a whole lot of competition for this film's demographic until The Green Hornet opens next month, so if there's a solid international showing as well, Disney could make their money back. But I wouldn't start holding my breath for part 3.0 just yet.

Brett Beach: I am inclined to say win, lose, and draw just to hedge my bets. First, I will throw this out for anyone willing to look into it further: Does the jump in budget from $17 million on the first to somewhere between $170 million and $200 million for this (and that's not counting advertising) count as the biggest dollar increase ever from one sequel to the next? If the film is a global success (making at least $400 million) then this is money well spent, but even before this early estimate of low $40 millions came in, I would argue that that budget is insane for a sequel to a cult film, helmed by a first time director (as the first was) and coming from Walt Disney Studios who are aware that this isn't exactly their typical kid/family-friendly feature. Based on what reviews like Bruce's suggest, this is The Matrix at a PG level, with the caveat that, as he notes, TRON went there first. I would say that the win is simply that they got an opening as high as they did. I could not see this opening at I Am Legend/Avatar levels, even with hype, IMAX and 3D, especially with no Will Smith or James Cameron involved. David and Kim pointed out in their Weekend Wrap-up that every December opener north of $40 million got to $200 million at least. So Tron loses, in my eyes, if it doesn't make that. The draw would be that the hoped-for sequel goes forward, but at a lot less of a budget.

Shalimar Sahota: That it's opened at higher than $40 million I'd say works out as one of those disappointing yet good results for Disney. This opening also reminds me of the other long-time sequel released a few months ago, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which also won the weekend with a slightly lower than expected take. A few months ago, all the signs were there for me to say that Tron: Legacy would open big with $60 million. However, despite all the marketing power Disney put behind the film, and given that the original film was released back in the 1980s, some people still simply don't know what the hell Tron is, and probably don't want to. I imagine that this opening does represent some fanboy rush, and the whole video game look is going to prove difficult in getting more than just teenage boys to go and see it. However, I think Disney might just scrape the production budget back domestically, but it's going to be a struggle getting there. As Bruce says, it'll be next weekend's results that'll be more interesting.

Michael Lynderey: It really looks like a classic draw, but only because inflated expectations mar the result. If someone told you a sequel to Tron opened with more than the original ended up making on the whole, and 28 years later, to boot, that would be a big win on all fronts. But since Legacy was turned into "the" mystery event picture of the fall (sorry, Mr. Potter), I don't think I was the only one who was expecting the next coming of Avatar, or at least 50% of what that would work out to. But as things stand, I suspect the legs won't be all that good, and the planned Tron 3 might not materialize (...for another 28 years?).

Reagen Sulewski: I hate to hedge my bets but it really depends how well this carries through Christmas. This is clearly not the result they were hoping for with a $200 million budget but how many other sequels to 28-year-old movies do you see opening to $40-plus million (on quick glance: E.T., Poltergeist and Gandhi)? It's found money from their vault in a way, assuming they can drag it into the black through Christmas, foreign territories and ancillaries. But where this failed to break out, in my opinion, is that people eventually remembered, "Hey, this is Tron. It wasn't that good the first time."

David Mumpower: Brett, that was exactly why Kim and I included that statistic about December $40+ million openers. It gives us all a nice baseline for Tron Legacy expectations. I also wanted to get the King Kong scenario of $190 million in there to show what happens to semi-disappointing December blockbusters. They do fade a bit quicker, which meant that a $50.1 million opening in 2005 led only to a $218.1 million final domestic result. We had discussed Tron a lot several months ago in Trailer Hitch, and most of our expectations were similar in that it was a film we had not been excited about in the least prior to seeing the luscious visual effects. After that, we were almost all allowing for the possibility that something special could happen here. That hasn't proven to be the case; still, Tron Legacy has also opened well enough that it's not going to be arbitrarily dismissed as another disappointing internet buzz film. We're not talking about the second coming of Avatar any more as had seemed possible six months ago yet we are talking about a strong opening for a relatively obscure Disney property. I see this as a draw for now with the possibility to bump up to a win if it does well the rest of the month.

Kim Hollis: I think the opening might be slightly disappointing due to overhyped expectations. Tron is the very definition of a niche film. It's a sequel that targets an audience who probably never saw the original film. So, we're looking at fanboys and people who just like shiny movies as the potential audience. A couple of weeks ago, when I realized I didn't hear anyone talking about Tron: Legacy, I started wondering if we might not have another Speed Racer on our hands. I think that's a pretty fair comparison film as it's also based on a cult "classic" and full of grandiose special effects. The good news for Disney is that Tron: Legacy did much better than Speed Racer, and there are enough people who are giving it a moderate nod of endorsement to keep people interested and talking. For someone who just wants a fun time at the movie theater over the holidays, it's a solid option. That should be good enough to take the film close to matching its budget domestically, which is not great, but good enough.

It will only be remembered fondly if Only Solutions is on the soundtrack, covered by Daft Punk

Kim Hollis: What will be your lasting impression of Tron: Legacy?

Bruce Hall: I'll go ahead and out myself as a fan of the original although as I mentioned to David the other day, I liked Tron more for what it tried to be than for what it actually was. I can say that I felt pretty much the same about the sequel as well. There really are some interesting philosophical concepts at play in the Tron universe but once again they're masked by (brilliant) special effects and the plodding, dated Homeric Saga era storytelling. Add to this the fact that the fundamental dilemma in Tron: Legacy was the same as the first one. A guy is stuck at point A and has to get to point B, sidestepping stationary obstacles, wandering through mazes and vanquishing ever increasing waves of enemies along the way. The end is never really in doubt, the heroes aren't very inspiring but the enemies aren't especially terrifying either. Kind of sounds like a video game, doesn't it?

I happen to enjoy the unstable mashup of pseudo science and dime store metaphysics that is Tron, but I can understand those who don't. And for those who accuse the franchise of being occasionally derivative, I don't entirely disagree. Yet the first time I saw The Matrix I remember thinking "This is cool, but not so cool I can't remember the first time I saw it, when it was called Tron." The creative world is full of give and take. As Kevin Flynn would say, it is Yin and Yang, the circle of creation - a Zen thing, man.

Michael Lynderey: You know those "What if" stories some people like to draw out of important historical events?

Tron: Legacy could be remembered as the answer to the question "What if Avatar was a box office disappointment?"

David Mumpower: To a certain extent, I see this as the theatrical equivalent of Jericho. That television program was canceled and for good reason if we consider only the financial perspective. Passionate fans spoke loudly with their nuts (I mean that literally), which led to a surprising second season. The ratings performance of those gifted-to-the-fans episodes indicates that the initial decision to can the show was the right one. A Tron sequel has been rumored since the mid-1980s. The advent of new computer/videogame hardware inevitably led to excitement over new implementations of the core Tron ideas, most of which are based on state of the art visuals. There were 20 years between Tron games yet it felt like every hardware generation featured rumors of a new Tron game. I credit Disney for taking a shot in the dark here and largely coming out okay in the end. Is there enough interest to turn this into a franchise as happened with the other famous television resuscitation, Star Trek? Probably not. That answer could change depending on how well received Tron Legacy is by casual movie-goers over the next couple of years. A strong showing on home video, Netflix Watch Instantly et al could lead a second surprising sequel. I don't think that will happen for many years yet I still think of this as largely a well intended idea from Disney that worked out okay, not great. It sure is pretty, though.

Kim Hollis: I think it's a little early to decide on this question (even though I posed it). I remember when Tron was released in theaters way back in the day. I never saw the film until a couple of months ago, but I sure was familiar with the video game. I feel like Disney took a film that had a very small, very niche fanbase (and let's face it - Tron is interesting but not what I would call a good movie) and turned it into something that should make close to $200 million in North America while appealing widely overseas as well. I can't fault them for giving it a shot - given the ideas and effects that were presented in the first film, it did seem to be begging for a 21st century follow up. I reserve the right to change my mind if I go watch Tron 2.0 and think it's crap, but I have a feeling it's going to be much the same to me as the first film - sort of crummy, but still a movie I will stop and watch if it's playing on HDNet.