Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#2: New Moon Eclipses Box Office

By David Mumpower

January 3, 2010

Ugh x 1000.

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At some point over the past 12 months, Twilight went from a minor cultural phenomenon to a fully formed icon that became an integral part of the pop culture zeitgeist. I'm not talking about the Team Jacob and Team Edward t-shirts, either. The book sales for the four films comprising this franchise consistently placed in the top five throughout the period since Twilight's release. In fact, one published report indicated that one out of every eight books sold in the first quarter of 2009 was written by Stephenie Meyer. No, her works are never going to be confused with Tolstoy in terms of quality but in terms of sales, War and Peace has sold 36 million copies. The Twilight franchise is up to 85 million. Logic and the success of the Twilight franchise do not dwell on the same plane of existence.

The challenge for industry observers is gauging the growth of Twilight as a brand. Phenomenal book sales do not automatically translate into box office success and most sequels do not exceed the final domestic take of their predecessor. In spite of this, during 2009, BOP frequently compared the franchise to Pirates of the Caribbean in terms of likely box office expansion. The thought process was simple. The popularity of a movie is integral to the opening weekend performance of its sequel.

No matter what you personally may have thought of Twilight - and I am of the opinion that the Vampire Baseball scene is the funniest movie sequence since Naked Gun - the reality is that its target audience loved it. And the quirk here is that since the target audience, young women, is the group of people that everyone else in the world aspires to sleep with, that created a scenario wherein New Moon became a date movie. Yes, it's a date movie where the key conflict involves a paper cut, but that's my issue and I'll deal with it. What matters is that for reasons passing understanding, people who watched Twilight got what they wanted from it and if their significant others wanted to prevent their Facebook status updates from changing to "Single", they had to go as well. What did that mean in terms of opening day box office? $72.7 million.


New Moon didn't stop there, either. It made $70.1 million over the Saturday/Sunday portion of its first weekend, a total that also exceeding Twilight's opening weekend result. In a span of 12 months, the Stephenie Meyer story went from a single $70 million opener to a pair of them rolled up into one. New Moon's $142.8 million is the third largest single weekend of box office ever. For some perspective, if we COMBINE the opening weekends of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, the first two Lucas prequels have a combined total of $144.8 million, only two million ahead of New Moon on its own. Sure, Star Wars was negatively impacted by its core fan base's inability to get dates but if you had made this bet three months before Twilight was released, you would have gotten more action than Las Vegas has ever seen.

In terms of how New Moon performed after opening weekend, nothing unexpected occurred. It appears like it will fall just short of $300 million domestically, putting it neck and neck with Up for the fourth most successful release of the year. The difference between Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and New Moon lies in brand growth. The sixth Potter film made only $10 million more than its predecessor, Order of the Phoenix, while the second Transformers film increased $82 million from the original. The difference in their opening weekends are $700 thousand (a virtual draw) and $38.4 million, respectively.

Compare those results to New Moon, which spiked over 100% on opening weekend, increasing by $73.2 million from an initial debut of $69.7 million. It will wind up almost $100 million ahead in terms of domestic box office with global revenues increasing from $396.4 million to north of $675.0 million, a 70% boost on an already-large $400 million performance. Across the board, New Moon has raised the bar on its predecessor, scorched any and all box office expectations and proven once and for all that this franchise is no flash in the pan, whether we wish that were the case or not.

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