Weekend Wrap-Up

High School Musical Temporarily Down But Not Out

By John Hamann

November 3, 2008

Fist hands are the new jazz hands.

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Studios and theater owners must have had a huge black mark circled around this weekend, or maybe a poison symbol. Yes, Halloween landed on a Friday this year, and it was truly horrific for the box office. The last time the spookiest day of the year landed on a Friday was in 2003, and the same havoc reigned then. Disney decided to release a big animated film, Brother Bear, on a Saturday instead of a Friday (it was the only opener). This year was very different. The weekend saw two new films, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and The Haunting of Molly Hartley, as well as two high profile expanders in Changeling and RocknRolla. Finally, with only crickets taking seats on Friday, what would that do to last weekend's phenomenon, High School Musical 3?

To say we have a mess on our hands is going to be the understatement of the year. Halloween landing on a Friday or Saturday delivers bad business of epic proportions. In 1998, All Hallows Eve landed on a Saturday, and it brought the weekend down to the second lowest top 12 total of that year ($45.6 million). That weekend, the only opener was John Carpenter's Vampires, and it was the number one film of the weekend; however, it only earned $9 million. As I mentioned above, October 31, 2003 landed on a Friday, and Hollywood at least made a few smart moves to stem the tide of bad box office.


Disney waited to open the animated flick Brother Bear until Saturday, and still managed to earn $19.4 million over two days, and saved the overall box office in the end. The primary holdover was Scary Movie 3. While it was off 58%, it still earned $20 million. Maybe the most surprising achievement was the strength of the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It earned $10.8 million but was only off 25% despite Saturday and Sunday being post-Halloween. The top 12 films managed to earn a respectable $90 million, but this number would have been $70 million had Disney not opened Brother Bear on Saturday. Hollywood basically chose to ignore the fact that Halloween was scheduled poorly this year, and they're paying for it.

Here is the sentence I wrote yesterday in planning out this column: "Our number one film is not High School Musical 3, last weekend's runaway winner. It's Saw V, last weekend's runner up to HSM3." In news that should give hope to the McCain campaign, a lot has changed in the past 24 hours. After a historically unprecedented 90% drop to $1.7 million on Friday, the teen musical had your run-of-the-mill 8.7 multiplier (weekend box office divided by Friday box office) to wind up with an estimated $15 million. Assuming this estimate holds after Sunday actuals are in (far from a sure thing), the film has a running total of $61.8 million after ten days. Given that High School Musical 3 was at $48.4 million after Friday, this is a miraculous reversal of fortune.

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