Friday Box Office Analysis
By David Mumpower
August 9, 2014

Great, the ninja turtles are destroying the city again.

For the second time in less than two months, Paramount Pictures has conquered Hollywood with a toy story brought to cinematic life. In the process, the summer box office once again delivered a shocking performance on Friday as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted to $25.6 million. It also unseated Guardians of the Galaxy as the number one film in North America. Even during a disappointing season, the one box office truth that has been reinforced is that branding matters.

Teenage Mutant Ninjas Turtles, like Transformers last month, was adapted to the big screen for the fourth time yesterday. It has also been featured in three distinct animated programs, another similarity to Transformers. Due to the level of brand identification constructed over the past quarter century, perhaps more people should have expected this sort of breakout debut. As silly as the idea of pizza-obsessed reptilian warriors may be, the quartet is iconic, claiming a rare level of public awareness.

The other advantages the movie possessed are obvious in hindsight. Parents who grew up with the Ninja Turtles now have the ability to introduce their children to the characters. Given the absence of true family-friendly products this summer, TMNT becomes the rare blockbuster to breach the divide between too-adult titles such as How to Train Your Dragon 2 and childish releases such as Planes: Fire and Rescue. In this regard, it is similar to last weekend’s Guardians of the Galaxy, only more child-friendly.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also features the Michael Bay touch. For all of his criticism, Bay has displayed an innate ability to produce mainstream cinema that directly targets an untapped niche. In age of hyper-serial television shows and movies, popcorn cinema has become a dying breed. Bay has mastered the art of creating big budget action flicks that are innately disposable yet enticing to consumers. In a summer where few films are achieving their potential, Bay has directed the only billion dollar release of the year and produced a $60 million opener.

Ninja Turtles effectively earned $21 million yesterday, should match that today and fall to $14 million or so on Sunday. That would be an opening weekend of $60.4 million, more than anybody on the planet expected for a film with such strange trailers. In an industry where art is less than important than commerce to most studio executives, Michael Bay is at the top of his craft. Whether that is good or bad is in the eye of the beholder.

Three other wide releases debuted yesterday, as is oftentimes the case as we move later into August. Studios frequently empty the cabinets with all of the potential summer titles they wanted to protect from early season competition. Ignoring what bad strategy that is for a moment – and it is TERRIBLE – the result is that the other new releases in the top five are all also-rans.

Into the Storm, a low grade disaster flick, is the best performer of the bunch. The $50 million production earned a less than enthusiastic $6.5 million yesterday and should be headed for a $17 million weekend. That is right around the range of least case scenario result for this sort of project. Audiences generally are passionate about their disaster porn, but there was no hiding its dreadful quality. It is currently 20% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, which is amusingly the same grade as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The difference, of course, is branding. People will give the benefit of the doubt to characters they know. Plus, the current weather issues in Hawaii make Into the Storm feel badly timed and in poor taste.

With regard to scale, Disney's The Hundred-Foot Journey is on a par with Into the Storm. The Steven Spielberg/Oprah Winfrey-produced film is playing in only 2,023 locations compared to Into the Storm's 3,434. They have almost the same per venue average, though, meaning that The Hundred-Foot Journey managed about $3.6 million yesterday. With Helen Mirren at its center and a story that feels like it was meant for an indie film, this movie should hold up well over the weekend. Its older demographic tends to visit the theater more on Saturday and Sunday. It should come in at right around $11 million for the weekend.

Audiences continue to step up, but not the way that they once did. The film series that turned Channing Tatum into a star is also the least likely franchise in the industry today. Yesterday’s latest offering, Step Up All In, debuted to $2.8 million. That is a 43% drop from Step Up Revolution’s $4.9 million first day. Obviously, the franchise is dying if not dead in the short term. Step Up All In will become the first of the five releases to earn less than $10 million on opening weekend. It should gross about $7.9 million, which is probably the type of performance that should put a pause on future projects. Whether that happens or not is difficult to say since the same was true of Step Up Revolution.

Last week's alpha, Guardians of the Galaxy, predictably suffered in terms of Friday-to-Friday decline. After a $37.8 million start, $11.2 million of which came from Thursday sneaks, Guardians fell to $12.4 million yesterday. Its Friday-to-Friday decline is either 67% or 53%, depending on whether we isolate the Thursday revenue. In terms of expected weekend behavior, Guardians had a 3.11 internal multiplier last weekend. Meanwhile, the second weekend of Captain America: The Winter Soldier claimed a 3.19 internal multiplier. So, we have a strong baseline expectation of a 3.15 internal multiplier for weekend two for Guardians. That would be a $39.1 million second weekend, a bit short of The Winter Soldier’s $41.3 million. It is still way ahead in terms of total pace with $146.8 million as opposed to Cappy’s $129.5 million.