Weekend Wrap-Up
Universal Continues to Cook as Compton Breaks Out
By John Hamann
August 16, 2015

You have to wonder about people who need to wear their names on their hats.

Another weekend, another big win for Universal. I don’t remember a summer for a studio like this is in the 14 years I’ve been writing this piece.

Universal has now done it all this year. They have the biggest opener ever (Jurassic World), the 11th biggest ever (Furious 7) and the 22nd biggest ever (Minions). They have done nicely with musical comedy (Pitch Perfect 2), soft-core porn (Fifty Shades of Grey) and even female-driven comedy (Trainwreck). Now they can urban drama to their hit list, as Straight Outta Compton is a financial and critical hit. Stories this weekend also include the mediocrity of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a film that many didn’t realize was opening due to the noise from Compton, and the massive death spiral of Fantastic Four.

Our number one film of the weekend, erasing the pain from last weekend’s not-so-Fantastic frame, is Straight Outta Compton, the Universal and Legendary musical drama about the rise of NWA. The film from F. Gary Gray got started big on Thursday night, earning a sizzling $5 million from screenings 8 p.m. and onward. That was a fantastic start for a biopic, coming in higher than the amount big budget flicks like Fantastic Four ($2.7 million) or even Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation ($4 million) earned from Thursday previews. Universal was trying to keep expectations in check with a $25-$30 million forecast, but tracking was looking much higher at $45-$50 million. With that Thursday, the Universal estimate was already dust, and that tracking estimate was already in trouble after just a few screenings on preview night.

The Friday number on its own came in at a very strong $19.2 million, and pooled with the almost $5 million Thursday, the combined opening day amount is $24.2 million. That’s higher than 8 Mile’s breakout opening day 13 years ago in 2002, when the Eminem drama took in $19.6 million, blowing away just about everyone. Oddly enough, 8 Mile was also from Universal, and the studio pushed that rap drama to a $51.2 million opening frame. Straight Outta Compton would be aiming for that, but these films are typically front-loaded, with 8 Mile earning a 2.6 internal multiplier, and 2009’s Notorious, which opened to $20.5 million, earning a multiplier of 2.46. Compton had a strong opening day, but it would be hard to keep that momentum going.

Over the weekend proper, Straight Outta Compton earned $56.1 million from a smallish venue count of 2,876, giving it an outstanding per-location average of $20,345. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which opened to a similar $54.8 million, opened in 3,648 venues for a $15,000 average, so exhibitors have to be thrilled with Compton’s debut. Universal found success with Compton the old-fashioned way, through a super marketing campaign, followed by great reviews and a solid Cinemascore. Compton was marketed successfully through a strong trailer and TV campaign, but also heavily through social media, which is just another successful Universal marketing strategy. This team could put on master classes for the other studios. They've been that good this summer.

Universal also killed it this summer through great reviews and strong Cinemascores, and did it again this weekend. Straight Outta Compton is 88% fresh at RottenTomatoes, with only 12 bad reviews out of a possible 96. The Cinemascore was also a ridiculously good A, better than 8 Mile’s B+, which should give a film like this better legs than the norm. 8 Mile opened strong but languished quickly, earning $116.8 million, garnering an opening-to-total multiplier of only 2.26. Universal has produced strong Cinemascores this summer, and of their big releases, only Fifty Shades of Grey has struggled with a poor Cinemascore.

For 2015, Compton pushes Universal over the $2 billion domestic mark from only 14 films, and two of those, Seventh Son and Blackhat, were pretty terrific flops. Compton is the perfect bookend to a ridiculously good summer. It cost only $28 million to make, so it should be profitable by the end of next weekend.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation keeps the pedal down this weekend, out-earning newbie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the race for the spy movie dollar. The Tom Cruise flick pulled in another $17 million, dropping a not-bad 40% in the process. Made for $150 million, the Paramount actioner needs $450 million worldwide to see a theatrical profit and looks like it will achieve it. Domestically, Rogue Nation has earned $138.1 million so far (with some good holds it might get to $200 million, but $190 million is more likely), and had earned $185 million overseas prior to the start of the weekend. It opens in China on September 8th, where it is sure to earn another $150 million. Ghost Protocol turned in $103 million there the last time around. I see no reason why this doesn’t match or beat Ghost Protocol’s worldwide take of $694 million.

That puts The Man From U.N.C.L.E. down in third this weekend, a disappointing domestic start for a film that cost $75 million to make. Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill are two stars without enough wattage, and with Compton bringing the noise, this one had no chance. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. earned only $13.5 million from a much too wide venue count of 3,638. Oddly enough, where Compton and its low screen count would have had packed houses, one could have been alone at an U.N.C.L.E. screening. The thriller was only mildly accepted by critics and audiences. Given its 62% fresh rating and B Cinemascore, U.N.C.L.E. was much too "meh" for anyone to champion. I would expect this one to differently overseas, but it will have a lot of ground to make up after earning only about $45 million or so domestically.

The nightmare that is Fantastic Four lands in fourth spot this weekend, but will disappear from this list quite quickly. The Fox flop earned only $8 million this weekend, off a massive 69% compared to the previous frame. It has a domestic total now of only $42 million against a budget of $120 million. Overseas totals are keeping pace, but this one is never getting to profitability.

The Gift from STX Entertainment drops to fifth, and has a disappointing result in its second frame after surprising with a $11.9 million opening frame. This weekend, The Gift earned $6.5 million, declining 45% in the process. Still, having been picked up by STX for domestic distribution for only $2.5 million plus marketing costs, The Gift should be lucrative for the company given its domestic total so far of $23.6 million.

Ant-Man lands in sixth this weekend as it enjoys its fifth weekend of release. The Marvel movie earned another $5.5 million this weekend, falling 30%. The $130 million comic book flick brings its domestic total up to $157.6 million, and had earned about $180 million overseas before the weekend began. It still has some big markets to open in, including Japan and China, so it shouldn’t have a problem getting to $400 million worldwide.

Vacation is seventh, and somehow keeps hanging on despite its putridity. Vacation earned another $5.3 million and dropped 40% compared to last weekend. Made for $31 million, the reboot has pulled in $46.9 million, and has yet to open overseas.

Minions are eighth, and it’s hard to believe this has been out for six weekends. This time around, the animated film pulled in $5.2 million and declined 31% compared to last weekend. It has earned $312.9 million on the domestic side, and the worldwide total has reached about $950 million. It should reach a billion, as it opens in China on September 13th.

Ricki and the Flash falls to ninth. The Meryl Streep flick earned $4.6 million after opening last weekend to $6.6 million. That gives it a drop of 31% and a gross to date of $14.7 million. The TriStar release cost $18 million to make.

Trainwreck drops to 10th, earning $3.8 million. The Amy Schumer comedy – also from Universal – now has a domestic total of $98 million, all against a budget of $35 million.

Overall this weekend, thanks to Straight Outta Compton, the top 12 films earned $131.9 million. That puts the weekend just ahead of last year, when the top 12 earned $129 million. Next weekend brings three late August releases, with the most promising being American Ultra with Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Also opening are Hitmen: Agent 47 from Fox and Sinister 2 from Focus.