Perfect Storm Catapults Box Office
By John Hamann
February 15, 2009
Only one word describes the box office this weekend, and that word is "unbelievable". A perfect storm rose at the box office, and Hollywood negotiated it perfectly, with a little luck added along the way. Friday the 13th fell appropriately for our biggest film this weekend, which was followed by Valentine's Day on Saturday, which again was followed by the Sunday prior to President's Day. The storm also included an upcoming Oscar ceremony, and a slew of extremely strong holdovers from previous weekends. In the end, we have our biggest movie going weekend of the year so far, with a top 12 total of $167.8 million - almost as much as the mega-lucrative top 12 during the weekend after Christmas, which had combined receipts of $174.7 million.
The last time Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday (or a weekend for that matter) was in 2004. That weekend, the box office wasn't nearly as hot as it is this weekend - 50 First Dates led the pack with $39.9 million and wasn't even Sandler's biggest opening to that point. It led the top 12 to a ho-hum $105.2 million. That top 12 wasn't even the biggest weekend for 2004's February, as The Passion of the Christ opened later that month, bringing a top 12 score of $140 million. However, behind the scenes of that Valentine's weekend, big things were happening, which led Hollywood to strategize this weekend, five years later. 50 First Dates for example, had a weekend multiplier (weekend grosses divided by Friday sales) of 3.8, an amount almost never seen by an opening film of any kind. This is especially true of Adam Sandler movies, where fans rush out to seen the comedian opening night, lowering the multiplier. Usually, a new Adam Sandler title would see a 2.8-2.9 multiplier at best. Other films that weekend also did very well, thanks to Valentine's Day, and the lead up to the President's Day holiday. Barbershop 2: Back in Business, in its second weekend, had a multiplier of 5.0, and wasn't really a Valentine's title; holdover Along Came Polly earned a 4.3 multiplier late in its run; The Butterfly Effect garnered a multiplier of 4.4 later in its run, and even Catch That Kid did very well with a 4.9 multiplier. With the Valentine's/President's Day effect, films in the top 12 get what basically amounts to an extra day over the three-day weekend. This weekend, studios banked on that same thing happening, and the result is six films earning more than $10 million (in 2004, only three earned more than $10 million).
Our number one film is not a drippy romantic comedy. Instead, it is our best-positioned flick in the top 12 this weekend, Friday the 13th. Banking on the title/calendar similarity, Valentine's Day, and President's Day, the remake made a killing, earning an ungodly three-day total of $42.2 million from 3,105 venues. It had a venue average of $13,605 and assuming estimates hold, becomes the fifth biggest February opener ever, behind only 2001's Hannibal ($58 million opening) and 2004's Passion of the Christ ($84.8 million), Ghost Rider ($45.4 million) and Hitch ($43.1 million). The weekend multiplier for the R-rated horror flick was 2.19, and while that might not seem outstanding, let's remember that it would be much lower over any other weekend, as Sunday numbers get a boost due to the President's Day holiday. This Friday the 13th cost Warner Bros., MTV Films, and Platinum Dunes (Michael Bay's production company) only $16 million to make, so after three days it has already earned close to three times its production budget. Not bad work if you can get it.