Dragon, Hot Tub, Both Softer Than Expected
By John Hamann
March 28, 2010
This is one of those weekends that looks great on paper. We have a new high-flying 3D kids flick in How to Train Your Dragon, and what looks to be a great comedy for adults in Hot Tub Time Machine. Both of these films look like hits we've seen from the recent past, like Alice in Wonderland and The Hangover. The top two films at the box office should easily pull together $100 million, and with some strong titles following up on the top two, it should be a glorious weekend at the box office, right? Uh, nope.
Our number one film of the weekend is How to Train Your Dragon, the Paramount/DreamWorks creation that has been marketed like mad the last couple of weeks. The trailer brought oohs and ahs and big laughs at the screening of Alice in Wonderland I was at during Spring Break. Posters and displays were all over the theater, and the TV ad has been non-stop for the last ten days, even going back to the Olympics. While the marketing was grand, and the reviews were fantastic, How To Train Your Dragon for some reason under-whelmed this weekend, earning only $43.3 million from a huge venue count – 4,055. It had a venue average of $10,678, and has to be considered - at best - a disappointing opening.
When Reagen Sulewski forecasted at $61 million open for Dragon, I thought he was really low, but it turns out that isn't the case, and that the DreamWorks 3D product actually threw under $60 million. So what happened? Is 3D finally getting the brushback it deserves? Do flying dragons not appeal to the younger set? I doubt these two options are to blame. We do know that Paramount/DreamWorks were in a pitched battle with Disney for those 3D screens this weekend, as Alice in Wonderland is only playing its fourth weekend, and was coming off a $35 million gross last weekend. How To Train Your Dragon landed at 2,170 3D screens, an accomplishment considering the competition was the almighty Disney. A bigger issue, as I alluded to last weekend, may be the rising costs of 3D ticket prices. Admission costs to get into a 3D flick went up again in many markets this weekend, and in some locations, a single adult ticket to see something like Dragon, Alice or Avatar went up to a ludicrous $17.50 per seat. While supply is obviously catching up to demand, the suits are getting much too greedy, and are pricing themselves into flop territory.
Something like Dragon really should have been much bigger. Reviews were absolutely fantastic. Of the 98 reviews counted at RottenTomatoes, only five were negative, leaving Dragon at 97% fresh. It hasn't been a solid year so far in terms of film quality, so you might think parents might be more willing to drop the kids off after reading reviews in the Friday newspaper. The opening here does break the run that 3D has been on with the open of Alice in Wonderland ($116.1 million), and of course Avatar. It does open ahead of Disney's A Christmas Carol ($30.1 million), but that was really a scheduling mistake more than anything. For Paramount and DreamWorks, Monsters vs. Aliens ($59 million opening) stands as a much bigger picture, with Dragon being more like the failed Bee Movie ($38 million opening, $126 million domestic finish) the CGI animated flick from Jerry Seinfeld. Suffice to say, How to Train Your Dragon is a big disappointment, and industry wags will likely go on about it for weeks. My note to studios and theatres: You are pricing yourself out of what could be a very lucrative stream, and the renaissance of movies.