Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#5: January Films Think They're Summer Films
By David Mumpower
January 1, 2010
The shock of all shocks was that there was another juggernaut release yet to come in January. In fact, it was my favorite one, Taken, a film that behaved like an old school 1980s/1990s release due to its tremendous legs. From the start, the Liam Neeson action flick was surprising. It easily exceeded tracking with a $24.7 million debut, but what happened next is much more impressive. During its next six weekends, the movie depreciated less than 17% four times. Its "bad" weekend declines were 26% and 41%, numbers most films' producers covet for later weekends of box office. People responded to the tale of a father crossing an ocean to find his daughter to the point that the film experienced a 150% rise in box office (in weekend 14) before it experienced a 50% decline in box office (weekend 15).
In an era where frontloading isn't just the rule, it's also the expectation and the law, Taken performed like a 1990s Disney animated movie. It was an exhibitors' dream come true. Taken was the rare title that performed well enough after a few weeks in release to justify keeping it. Ordinarily, exhibitors must funnel in a new product that would give them a smaller percentage of the overall box office revenue from ticket sales rather than keep an older title. This has been the cause of much strife in the frontloading era, and it makes Taken's 14 weekend run of marginal declines all the more impressive. Before the film eventually exited theaters, it had earned $145.0 million domestically and a grand total of $225.5 million worldwide against a $25 million production budget. Any film that earns a return of a factor of 10 on its expenditure is the most lucrative of investments in this industry.
Putting the whole series of events of January of 2009 into perspective, ten films debuted to at least $20 million in the nine year period from 2000-2008, barely over one a year. In 2009, the AVERAGE film debuted to almost that amount, $19.3 million. Seven titles earned north of $20 million on their opening weekends in January of 2009. Their average domestic box office total was $67.6 million, a full $23 million more than the prior highest tally for the month in the 2000s. The largest combined domestic take for the January openers in any single year in the 2000s had been $409,226,078. 2009's releases brought in an incomprehensible $810,677,759, almost exactly double that amount.
For the entire period from 2000-2008, the average January release managed an opening weekend of $13.1 million and a final domestic take of $36.6 million. The average release in January of 2009 was $6.2 million higher at the start (i.e. a full 47% more per release) and exactly $31 million higher overall (85% better). It is no wonder why box office analysts and pretty much everyone else involved in the industry were left shaking their heads over what had come to pass. January, historically the worst month on the box office calendar, had as many $100 million movies (Gran Torino, Paul Blart Mall Cop and Taken) as June, July or August of 2009 (three in each of those months). This is as close to the box office End of Days as we get.