Summer in Review: May
By BOP Staff
October 28, 2008
BOP takes a look at the 2008 Summer Box Office Season. From the big winners to the massive disappointments, we discuss all of the biggest stories. We start our series by examining May's results. Moving forward, BOP will be doing this for every month. The rules are simple. We'll wait until all of the releases have fallen out of the top 12 and made most of their domestic box office.
Kim Hollis: May's releases were:
Iron Man - $318.3 million domestic, $576.0 million worldwide, $186 million budget
Made of Honor - $46.0 million domestic, $102.3 million worldwide, $38 million budget
What Happens in Vegas - $80.3 million domestic, $219.3 million worldwide, $35 million budget
Speed Racer - $43.9 million domestic, $92.4 million worldwide, $120 million budget
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - $141.6 million domestic, $419.5 million worldwide, $200 million budget
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - $317.0 million domestic, $786.0 million worldwide, $185 million budget
Sex and the City - $152.6 million domestic, $408.5 million worldwide, $57 million budget
The Strangers - $52.6 million domestic, $72.3 million worldwide, $9 million budget
In a few sentences, please offer your final thoughts on each of these box office performances.
David Mumpower: When evaluating the final box office of a title, there are so many factors to be considered. Domestic receipts matter exponentially more than international revenue due to the precarious nature in collection for locations far removed from North America. Tariffs, the US dollar's performance and unusual studio splits all impact the international takes. As such, domestic performance skews the picture more, which helps a film like Iron Man, whose international take wasn't that extraordinary, and hurts a film like Prince Caspian that tore it up worldwide but not in North America.
Similarly, films that open better help the studio more since they get a much bigger cut (generally in the 85-90% range) for the first weekend before falling into the 50/50 range after a month. So, a strong start is more beneficial than impressive legs in the final analysis. That's great news for The Strangers and not so great news for What Happens in Vegas. Despite all of this, the reality is that every May release except for Speed Racer is a solid performer, a rare feat for any month, particularly a summer one.
Keeping these things in mind, here are the eight titles discussed in descending order from least impressive to closest thing to The Dark Knight:
8) Speed Racer
Like a couple of others have said, I personally enjoyed Speed Racer a great deal. As a fan of the series, I was impressed by how true to the vision of the anime the film wound up being. I also believe that not enough attention was paid to what a complicated script The Wachowski Brothers wrote. Time gets fractured so much the end result is a work best identified visually by Frank Gehry. I am stunned the whole thing doesn't collapse upon its own vastly complicated foundation. I am...in the minority on this subject. The film played very young and appealed to almost no one who was not a fan of the (relatively obscure) series with the end result being Speed Racer is a financial loser. It is not the hyperbolic disaster being painted by some but I would expect a loss on a scale of $25 million after initial home video revenue and cable packaging is factored in. The bad news is that the toy sales were disappointing, and that was the major anticipated source of revenue for this release, the part that really leaves a mark.
7) Made of Honor
Had its international receipts not been so significant, this one actually would have been a slight loser despite domestic earnings slightly in excess of its production budget. After advertising and other expenses are considered and the sub-$15 million opening is factored in, it was not a solid performer in North America. Internationally, it was a stud. $60 million is a very solid result. Grey's Anatomy must be huge internationally.
6) The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Calvin Trager made an astute point during a Monday Morning Quarterback conversation on this topic. He correctly stated that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a property in and of itself. The Chronicles of Narnia: Title X means much less to the casual observer, making all remaining titles in the series less popular by default. Having considered the release from that perspective, I still feel that the $200 million production budget was absolutely insane. Walden Media has to dial that down for the rest of the films in the series. Acknowledging this, it's still a success thanks to the magic of worldwide results. Being the #7 performer internationally squarely puts it in the win column.
5) The Strangers
We have reached a day and age where most films don't make a significantly exponential amount of money relative to budget. That's why the $9 million budget for The Strangers causes pause. This title had already earned $15.5 million after only two days in release. This was a stunning result. While my fellow BOP analysts point to the bulletproof nature of the horror genre, what I see when I look at this marketplace is an epic amount of oversaturation. The Strangers is a shocking result exactly because of this rather than predictable as some have indicated. This title was tracking for the $6 million range yet opened to just under $21 million. That just doesn't happen often and it didn't stop there. The Strangers earned a factor of almost six more than its production budget during its North American box office run and almost exactly a factor of eight more in terms of total worldwide box office. This is a stunning accomplishment for a completely unheralded horror film that had but one thing going for it: The Strangers looked creepy and novel. Would that more movie releases aspire to such a worthy goal of unique design.
4) What Happens in Vegas
You can tell that May had a lot of box office champions when a title like this is only slotted at number four. To my total shock, What Happens in Vegas is the 17th most successful film of 2008 in terms of worldwide revenue. Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz are both much more popular than could ever be logically explained. Face it, folks, being pretty and shallow is where it's at. The only reason it's not higher on the list is that 75% of its domestic take happened after opening weekend and only 36.6% of its overall revenue came from North American receipts. Its splits do not fall in the right range to place it higher on the list. I did, however, initially have it slotted in fifth place behind The Strangers before shaving with Occam's Razor. The Strangers made its money in a more lucrative fashion from a return on investment percentage perspective, but $63 million in profit can't hold a candle to $139 million. So, I flipped them.
3) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Part of the evaluation of a film's final box office is prior expectations. If we knew nothing about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and it earned $300 million domestically, we'd be falling all over ourselves to praise it. Since it's the fourth film in one of the most pedigreed franchises in box office history, that's about the amount of money most people expected. While I understand why others are downplaying this result, I fervently believe that one of the most difficult accomplishments is to match the loftiest of expectations. The fourth Indiana Jones film suffered this fate, winding up "only" the third best domestic performer of the summer (Iron Man edged it out by about $1.3 million), but it's the second biggest worldwide release of the year with $786 million. That's the 25th best performance all-time in addition to it being the 23rd most successful domestic performer of all-time. It matched expectations by doing what was expected of it. Given the scale of these expectations, I prioritize it over less heralded films that were more surprising success stories.
2) Iron Man
The description of this as a live action version of The Iron Giant amuses me to no end. I had never considered it in those terms before, but that's a pitch perfect evaluation, at least on paper. In execution, Iron Man is...well, marvelous. It's the best film I have seen to date in 2008, something I certainly never thought I would say of a comic book adaptation (unless such a film was the first thing I saw in January). There isn't much more to be said of Iron Man's success beyond the fact that it's the rare title that matches quality with exemplary box office performance. In looking over the list of $300 million films, the last non-sequel movie I believe succeeded to this degree on both sides of the quality/quantity scale is The Sixth Sense. That's lofty company indeed.
1) Sex and the City
My wife and I are an amusing contrast in that I get women so much better than she does. While she never viewed this title as anything other than an obscure novelty, I always felt that this could be a perfect storm of box office. I was even openly baited people into making bar bets about the film's opening weekend, one I sincerely believed would be north of $50 million at a time when few people believed it would earn $50 million domestically. What I'm trying to say here is that others are much more caught off-guard by the performance of Sex and the City than I am. Like with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I had lofty expectations for the title that it has in fact met. It effectively tripled its budget domestically and, like The Strangers, it almost reached a factor of eight in terms of worldwide revenue. And this was on a much larger scale than The Strangers to boot. It is the number eight release of 2008 worldwide and perhaps the ultimate chick flick, although Mamma Mia! is also staking a claim to that same title.