It’s Memorial Day weekend and there are no $100 million openers. Is it time to panic about the summer box office in general? No, not for a second. Summer 2015 is currently much healthier than most years. Don’t believe those that will tell you differently. Five films earned more than $20 million at the box office, a first for a Memorial Day weekend, providing a good moving forward point for the rest of the season.
Memorial Day Box Office on the Edge of Tomorrowland
By John Hamann
May 24, 2015
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away (or 1994), Memorial Day weekend was the launch point for summer films, the start of blockbuster season. Oh, how things have changed, with the calendar stretched out to April (aka early-summer), and the box office needing momentum now to push a good summer forward. The key word there is momentum. If there are too many Hot Pursuits or Battleships in the month of May, those poor box office performers can take valuable real estate within the release schedule, and their large percentage drops over post-opening weekends drag totals down.
Heading into the Memorial Day frame, the box office had that momentum, thanks to Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road and the I’m-still-trying–to-figure-out-how-the-hell-that-happened Pitch Perfect 2, which is the fairy godmother in the group. What the box office doesn’t need this weekend is two out and out flops in the opener department. The box office needs to keep up the momentum established by those earlier releases. What we actually got depends upon your perspective.
Over the Memorial Day weekend frame, we had two big openers, but it was the combined top five that led the drama this weekend. Disney’s new hope is Tomorrowland, the gorgeous-looking but poorly handled $180 million release with George Clooney, stepping out of his usual adult zone and into the world of a PG picture. The other opener is Poltergeist, the reimagining of the 1982 classic – replacing Tobe Hooper and Senor Spielbergo with Gil Kenan (the under-appreciated Monster House) and Sam Raimi stepping into the director/producer role this time around. Neither film was expected to blow up the box office, but would certainly embolden an already strong top five, heading toward a weekend where I say that San Andreas could surprise. Then, three films are going to combine for $100 million the following weekend, before Jurassic World becomes a top 12 opener of all time. This summer is going to cook, and we are just getting started.
Our number one film of the weekend was Tomorrowland. The much-hyped Disney feature effectively tied with Pitch Perfect 2 as it earned $9.7 million on Friday night, but $725,000 of that came from Thursday night previews. Getting right to the point, Tomorrowland earned a questionable $32.2 million this weekend from 3,972 screens, too little for a film that cost $180 million to make, but not an unmitigated disaster, either.
Let’s remember that this is a Brad Bird film, the man behind The Incredibles, Iron Giant, and Ratatouille – three flicks that had solid legs, but at the same time much better reviews. Tomorrowland is currently only 50% fresh at RottenTomatoes, but I am not convinced the film is dead. Tomorrowland could (and I lean on could) resonate with kids and will have that market to itself until June 19th, when Pixar returns with Inside Out.
So, what happened? Let’s start with the marketing, which started strong like a whispered secret but never expanded well enough on its initial premise. Disney and Brad Bird didn’t want to give too much of the film away in trailers and TV ads (which I respect), but the later marketing materials struggled with advertising that sense of wonder and giving it that gotta-see-it hook. It needed a money shot like the one featured on the marketing for Jurassic World (that money shot turns it into a $100 million plus plus opener – and if you don’t know what I’m talking about you should find something else to read).
The next problem was the Thursday preview. Instead of opening wide on Thursday, Disney and Bird wanted previews shown in only the best theaters, and it significantly reduced that preview gross, which doesn’t lead to great press and kneecaps the weekend take. It almost felt like the filmmakers (and studio) were a little arrogant in Tomorrowland's release, too over-confident (confidence is a good thing for a summer blockbuster, but over-confidence is trouble – just ask George Lucas). Had the reviews and Cinemascore matched that arrogance, this explodes. One wrong move, though and the film becomes just a middle-ground Memorial Day opener. Clooney’s weight overseas may help Disney save some face, but something in my blood says that Disney doesn’t care what the financial impact is here. It's good advertising for the theme park, and if it does resonate with the kids, could see some toy sales as well.
The indomitable Barden Bellas finish in second place for the Memorial Day frame. As mentioned, Pitch Perfect 2 basically tied with Tomorrowland on Friday with $9.7 million, and it was off a significant 65% from its first Thursday ($4.8 million) and Friday ($23.4 million) combined, or 58.5% from Friday alone. Given the ‘2’ in the title, and the ravenous fanbase that came out last weekend, this drop could have been so much much worse – like Godzilla’s 77% Friday-to-Friday drop worse.
The hit Elizabeth Banks film (how strange does that sound now, eh?) is now the gold standard for the breakout musical comedy, making films like School of Rock and Mamma Mia! look bad. Pitch Perfect 2 drew a powerful $30.3 million over the three-day portion of the Memorial Day weekend, dropping 56% compared to that large opening weekend. Made for only $29 million, Pitch Perfect 2 is going to fund Universal’s production bankroll for a while, as the Anna Kendrick/Rebel Wilson starrer has already earned $117.8 million at the domestic box office and could earn $200 million if the cultural phenomenon continues. Overseas, the Bellas are not going to be quite as hot, but had $40 million in its foreign coffers before the weekend began.
Pitch Perfect 2, with its 67% fresh rating and A- Cinemascore, could play as strong female counter-programming as some heavily male-oriented flick come out over the next few weeks. It is perfectly positioned to provide a solid second to San Andreas next weekend and then against Entourage the following weekend. Worldwide, this little gem should earn at least 10 times its production budget before all is said and done.
Like the tight race between Pitch Perfect 2 and Tomorrowland, it was also close between Mad Max: Fury Road and Poltergeist. The winner by a truck bumper is Mad Max: Fury Road, the ridiculously good action extravaganza from George Miller, Village Roadshow and Warner Bros. Whatever you thought of last weekend’s $45 million debut, Max stayed ahead of the 50% drop level, earning $23.8 million this weekend from 3,702 venues. For an R rated, super-violent flick, this is a stellar hold, and the film could be settling in for a long stay. The $150 million epic has now earned $87.3 million stateside, and should be destined for a $150 million domestic haul. It could get even better overseas, but will need to almost double the domestic gross to see a profit of the theatrical release.
For the overall box office, films like Mad Max and Pitch Perfect 2 are strong additions, as they assist with momentum. These films don’t drop 70% in their second weekends and then another 60% in their third. These two will earn more than $10 million for a number of weekends to come, until three more mid-tier openers arrive on June 5th in the form of Entourage, Insidious Chapter 3 and Spy (which will be another leggy hit). If you haven’t figured it out yet, I like the results from this weekend, and am looking forward to future weekends as we roll into June.
That puts Poltergeist in fourth, and is really just an Evil Dead remake all over again. This time, it’s at least a little bit more for the younger set. Poltergeist got started on Thursday with $1.4 million, and rolled that into a reported Friday figure of $9.35 million – which was several million more than Mad Max earned on Friday. However, being horror and propped up by a decent Thursday, the re-imagining wasn’t going to hold on throughout the weekend. It earned $23 million over three days, again nothing too exciting, but fills that gap between Max and The Avengers, and is another film that will likely earn more than $10 million next weekend.
Poltergeist’s $35 million budget makes it the smarter opener this weekend, as it will make at least $50 million on the domestic side and should do decently overseas as well. The Cinemascore was decent at a C+ (horror films don’t do well in Cinemascore land), but reviews were troubling, coming in at 35% fresh. As I think everyone agrees that this "reimagining" is somewhat unnecessary. Reviewers seemed to wear that on their sleeve in reviews I’ve read, instead of addressing it on its merits. Regardless, this version of Poltergeist will cause neither too much pain nor pleasure for Fox, which is distributing.
The fifth film in the top ten to earn at least $20 million is Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now in its fourth weekend, the comic book flick earned another $20.9 million, bringing its total beyond the $400 million mark, and becoming only the 20th film to do so. It dropped 46% compared to last weekend, continuing a series of falls that are right around the 50% mark. It crossed the $400 million mark on Sunday, its 24th day of release and will surpass the domestic total of Iron Man 3 in a few short days. Overseas, the total is $860 million, meaning that Age of Ultron has surpassed Iron Man 3’s worldwide total of $1.22 billion.
The other seven titles in the top 12 can’t combine to earn more than Age of Ultron. Sixth is Hot Pursuit, the Reese Witherspoon miss. It earned $3.5 million and brings its total up to $29.8 million. Seventh is Far from the Madding Crowd, which rises from 10th last weekend to seventh this weekend. The Carey Mulligan counter-programmer earned $2.3 million, and was up 82% - but added no new screens. The 85% fresh drama has now earned $5.4 million.
Eighth is Furious 7, which has been in the top ten for the last eight weekends. It added $2.1 million this weekend, bringing the domestic cume up to $347 million. The worldwide total is still fourth overall at $1.5 billion. Paul Blart 2 which earned another $1.8 million to place ninth. It drops 50% but brings its domestic cume up to $65.6 million, and has earned almost $100 million worldwide against a $30 million budget. Tenth goes to Home, which earned $1.7 million and now has a domestic total of $168 million.
Overall, the Memorial Day Weekend top 12 came in at $144.4 million, much lower than the $178.7 million when X-Men: Days of Future Past opened to $90.8 million over three days. That said, this weekend’s results may leave room for San Andreas to open solidly next weekend. Also opening is Aloha, the new film from Cameron Crowe, which hopefully brings us back to his glory days.