By David Mumpower
April 15, 2011
2011 has been an unmitigated disaster at the box office thus far, but this weekend delivers hope. Two major releases enter the marketplace, and they are poised to become mutual $30+ million openers, a box office rarity. The question of which title will take first place is hotly debated; I am of the opinion that betting against high profile animation is a mistake.
Then again, I could care less about Rio as a movie (heck, I don’t even play Angry Birds), so I’m going to start with the title I expect to debut in second place. Since the inception of Box Office Prophets and even going back to discussions on the previous site, I have described myself as a huge fan of the Scream franchise. I consider the first film in the franchise to be one of the hallmark cinematic achievements of the 1990s.
The irreverent yet self-aware nature of the Wes Craven project was a near-perfect project at the start of the Internet era. Scream was also quite the box office phenomenon. After opening to a modest $6.35 million, it demonstrated the type of box office legs that are simply impossible in this day and age save for awards season contenders/indie releases. Neither of those criteria fit Scream. It was a wide (for the era) release whose immediate reception was a stifled yawn. Quickly, buzz grew as oftentimes happens for quality December releases. Scream’s weekend box office outperformed the opening frame’s $6.35 million each of the next four weekends. Eventually, Scream exited theaters with $103.0 million (against a $15 million budget), a rare instance where a quality release waited patiently for its target audience to discover it. With the shrinking release windows, such behavior isn’t even possible these days.
Only a year later, Scream 2 demonstrated a box office behavior we have discussed here on several occasions. The quality of the first movie behaved as a consumer line of credit toward the opening weekend of the sequel. Scream 2 opened to an estimated $36 million (no, really) before weekend actuals indicated a more honest $32.9 million. Miramax was mocked incessantly for the gross exaggeration of box office they made with their estimates, particularly since there was no reason to do so. The rest of the top 5 combined for $10 million less than Scream 2. Despite this snafu, Scream 2’s box office debut was stunning. It made more in three days than its predecessor managed in two full weeks of late December release. As is the case with most sequels, it did not match the overall box office total of the original yet it did finish with a respectable $101.4 million.
While we frequently see annual horror film franchises releases now and did in the 1980s, the pattern was quite unusual in the 1990s. Miramax sagely chose to wait another year between projects, saving Scream 3 for February of 2000. It was the first Scream film to be released outside of December, which impacted its legs. On opening weekend, however, the demand for the Scream franchise remained extreme. Scream 3 debuted to $34.7 million, almost as much as Scream 2 had been estimated to make. It went on to earn an impressive $89.1 million in domestic release, giving the franchise a grand total of $293.5 million in less than four years. Scream 3 was not as well regarded as the prior two films, but the franchise was not mothballed for this reason. Alas, director Wes Craven had largely run out of cast members to kill. Only three actors remain from the original Scream. They are Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox. Everyone else has been a victim of the dreaded Ghostface Stab.