Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#5: January Films Think They're Summer Films
By David Mumpower
January 1, 2010
Once we allow for box office inflation, 2004 was the worst of the first five years of January openers. The train wrecks of this period averaged a $10.3 million debut with final domestic revenue of $27.7 million. What's scary about this is that Along Came Polly was a huge hit, debuting with $27.7 million on its way to $88.1 million. If we take it out of the equation, the other January 2004 releases averaged only a $8.3 million opening weekend with a final take of $21.0 million. Yes. Ouch.
2005 is when the pattern for January openers took a positive turn. After the 2000-2004 period saw only a pair of movies open north of $20 million, there were three in this month alone. This is why the average debut in this time frame was $15.8 million, the best of the decade thus far, and final box office was $44.6 million, again the best yet in the 2000s. Part of this was because a pattern was starting to emerge involving the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the United States. That x-factor of time argument BOP has been espousing began to elevate the releases on this three-day weekend as well. Hollywood took notice of this and began to build around it afterward.
The results the next two years were hit and miss. Two more films opened north of $20 million in 2006 with Hostel narrowly missing the mark by a few hundred thousand. Alas, there were also several films dumped in the first month of 2006, meaning that the average debut was still only $13.5 million with the final domestic take mediocre at $37.2 million. In 2007, the situation was even direr. Stomp the Yard was the only release to debut north of $20 million. The average January debut that year was a woeful $9.6 million with the worst overall take of any January in the 2000s, even before we adjust for ticket price inflation. The average January 2007 debut managed a final domestic take of only $23.5 million.
In spite of this setback, 2008 saw a bold gambit during an otherwise ordinary month of January box office behavior. Yes, the films that opened wide during this period only earned an average final domestic take of $37.0 million and the average debut was only $15.6 million, less than 2005's $15.8 million. The story here is that one film blew the curve for everyone else. Cloverfield debuted with a remarkable $40.1 million. How impressive a total is that for the month of January? Among new releases and not counting platformers, the previous record holder for opening weekend in this month had been Big Momma's House 2 (God help us) with $27.7 million. Keep that number in mind for later discussion, but what's important is that the monthly record for best opening weekend was scorched by 45%. Studios again took note.
Before we move forward, please consider the following. No film that debuted in January had ever earned over $100 million domestically. Coming into 2008, only four January openers had earned even as much as $75 million in North America. Then, that total went up by 50% with 27 Dresses and Cloverfield. While the former film earned only $3.2 million less than the latter in terms of final domestic gross, Cloverfield's $40 million debut was the cataclysmic opening that gave studios the confidence to open higher quality films during January.