Box Office Review: September 2008

By David Mumpower

September 30, 2008

Oh look, Shia is running from the law again.

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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 revenue collection for locations far removed from North America. Tariffs, the US dollar's performance, additional subtitling/voiceover expenses, 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, which 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 frontloaded titles such as The Strangers and not so great news for leggy hits such as What Happens in Vegas. Don't get me wrong. Having legs is always great for a film, but it helps the distributor less if most of the money comes in later weekends.


1) Fireproof
In determining the winner for September, it all comes down to return on investment. The Christian-themed film starring Kirk Cameron and the only woman he will kiss onscreen (or, presumably, in real life) Mrs. Kirk Cameron (and Erin Bethea in the non-kissing scenes) cost a whopping $500,000 to produce. Okay, to most people, that's a lot of money and it's certainly more than Kevin Smith spent on Clerks. Or that guy who spent on his $70 zombie Facebook movie. But it's still pretty darned cheap (it would be wrong to swear in a Kirk Cameron discussion, no matter how I really feel about that evil harpy Tracey Gold) for a major motion picture in this day and age. Once we factor in that the title earned $33.5 million in domestic release, finished in the top five for one week, and in the top 20 for 11 weeks, it's a no-brainer. This is exactly the sort of grass roots title that is often imitated but rarely duplicated. In a month containing a pair of $150+ million worldwide performers, a much more modest box office earner is the biggest hit.

2) Burn After Reading
The surprise here is probably the fact that the September release that earned the most money, both domestically and worldwide, still hasn't been mentioned. This is again a situation where production budget expense matters. Burn After Reading was intended to be a nice change of pace for the Coen Brothers to cleanse the palate after the menacing air of No Country for Old Men. A slapstick comedy is something this creative duo has done and done well in the past, mastering their craft with the hilarious hijinks seen in Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou. They also made Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. Let's forgive them their transgressions and focus upon the huge positive here. Thanks in large part to the re-teaming of Brad Pitt and George Clooney, Burn After Reading was a modest success domestically and a fine performer internationally. The film debuted at number one, stayed that way for a full week, and managed $60.4 million domestically against a $37 million budget. Factoring in the $90 million earned abroad, the title's revenue was almost exactly a factor of four against the initial investment. The title in third place received more hype, but it was less profitable in terms of actual revenue against cost than the latest Coen Brothers hit.

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