Friday Box Office Analysis
By David Mumpower
June 4, 2011

How many degrees of separation are there between the two of them?

X-Men: First Class had the weekend to itself as the only new release. Presumably, this was in deference to the storied box office history of the franchise. In hindsight, nobody else in the industry needed to run away from X-Men, though. The lackluster quality of the two previous releases clearly left a sour taste in the collective mouths of consumers.

Fox believed that the best tactic to reinvigorate the X-Men franchise was a fresh start. First Class is effectively a prequel to the previous four titles, and it is the latest studio system comic book release to focus upon the origin story of characters. As was the case with Batman, consumers were less enthusiastic to start anew with a set of heroes/villains they’ve already watched several times. This is unfortunate in that the latest X-Men title is apparently a good movie, something that hasn’t been said with any sincerity since X2: X-Men United. For this reason, all involved must be frustrated by the $21.1 million Friday performance of First Class.

Before I go any further, I want to note that a $20 million first day is a historical bellwether of a strong first day of revenue. The reason why that is less accurate in this instance is simple. Out of the five X-Men opening days to date, X-Men: First Class has the worst Friday debut. X-Men itself earned $21.4 million on its first day. If we inflation adjust that 2000 number to current movie ticket pricing, it’s effectively a $31.3 million debut. This is right in line with X2’s $31.2 million in 2003 (which itself inflates to $40.8 million).

X-Men: The Last Stand set the standard for the franchise to date with $45.1 million. X-Men Origins: Wolverine fell back a bit to $34.4 million, but that was still the second best start for the franchise. With $21.1 million, X-Men: First Class shows that the opening performance for the franchise has fallen 53%, a full $24 million in a single day of box office, in only two films. It’s hard to describe this news as anything other than disturbing, especially given the inflation adjusted numbers for the first two titles. They slot X-Men: First Class roughly $10 million lower than any prior X-Men title with regards to ticket sales.

I attribute the decline to a couple of issues. The first of them is the subpar quality of X-Men: The Last Stand and the standalone Wolverine movie. Let’s be honest that the non-comic book geeks who love both of those titles are few and far between. Since Bryan Singer left the franchise to work on Superman, consumers have begun to recognize just how important he was to the product. Of course, Matthew Vaughn’s work with X-Men: First Class has been lavishly praised. Still, it’s understandable for consumers to shy away from the opening weekend of this title after being burned twice previously.

This leads us to the second issue. How many people know who James McAvoy is? How about Michael Fassbender? These are the two stars of the film and while the former has done some recognizable work, neither is a box office draw by any stretch. In point of fact, the most famous actor in the production is Kevin Bacon and he hasn’t opened a film well in since the '90s. X-Men: First Class is in exactly the same situation as X-Men was in 2000. It’s a cast of relative unknowns (plus Katniss from The Hunger Games) trying to prove themselves worthy of iconic comic book characters. Skepticism is to be expected here, which is why I would encourage people not to overreact to the disappointing opening weekend.

Alternately, feel free to mock every nerd you know with the news that X-Men: First Class is going to be the worst domestic performer in the franchise thus far. Just be wary that Batman Begins was once in a similar position to X-Men: First Class and we know how that turned out.

With regards to last weekend’s two debuts, the news is about as predicted. The Hangover II was never expected to sustain its opening weekend momentum for an extended period. A Friday-to-Friday decline of 65% is reasonable, all things considered. With $10.6 million yesterday, it has a domestic running total of $165.0 million after nine days. That’s a best case scenario result from my perspective. Meanwhile, Kung Fu Panda 2 continues to disappoint at every turn. Its Friday-to-Friday drop of 52.2% to $6.3 million gives it a nine day total of $82.4 million. For perspective, Kung Fu Panda was at $106.7 million after a similar time frame. This appears to be a rare misstep for DreamWorks Animation, at least domestically.