Monday Morning Quarterback Part I

By BOP Staff

August 15, 2011

Hey, do you have some chewing tobacco I can borrow?

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Kim Hollis: The Help opened to $35.9 million over five days, including $26 million over the weekend. Do we all agree that this is a stunning result? How do you think Disney pulled off such a spectacular debut?

Tim Briody: It's an adaptation of a fairly recent bestseller, so it was still fresh in a lot of people's minds. I'd first heard of the book about a year ago, and looking it up the novel was published in February 2009, so two and a half years is a fairly decent turnaround time from publication to film adaptation. What also helped The Help (hah!) is I think it hit an audience, women, that's been pretty underserved this year. And no, Bridesmaids didn't count.

Brett Beach: I first want to mention something John Hammam pointed out in his column: that a straight-ahead drama, even if it has a historical bent as this and Seabiscuit do, is an anomaly in the summer months. There are high-octane action film and thrillers, horror films, family movies, animated features, tentpole launchers and sequels, comic book adaptations, and romantic comedies, but an adult drama is unheard of. For a film with no big names, in that genre, to open to $35 million in August (and I do want to give credit and say that it would have won the weekend, but I won't get sidetracked with the whole Wednesday opening thing) to me seems equivalent to an $80-$90 million opening for some anticipated summer blockbuster.


As to why? Well, I don't know that I entirely agree with the whole "bestselling book is fresh in people's minds" thing. For some reason, I was thinking of two of Eastwood's mid-'90s adaptations of insanely successful books in vastly different genres, The Bridges of Madison County and Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil. The former opened decently at $10 million and ended with an impressive $71 million. But the latter opened soft and never recovered, winding up with $25 million. Just because a book has a devoted following won't necessarily translate into bodies in the seat. And it doesn't guarantee a huge turnout for opening weekend. Having not read the book, and being only tangentially familiar with the plot, I think the uplift of the storyline struck a chord (I was initially under the false impression that it must be a tearjerker/tragedy, but that appears to be incorrect) and it filled a niche that, as stated above, never gets filled this time of year. It was the epitome of counterprogramming (like Taken during the Super Bowl) that got unexpectedly good reviews to start and now appears to have great word-of-mouth to push it forward.

Edwin Davies: I agree completely with Brett that the success of the book should not be overestimated as a reason for the film's success. It certainly helps that a lot of people were aware of the book, but unlike in the case of comic book fans, for example, there is no guarantee that the fans of a bestselling book will flock to the theaters on opening weekend to see the film version. They may like the story plenty, but buying the book one time hardly constitutes brand loyalty.

The good reviews probably have a lot to do with this result, since these kind of straight up dramas are exactly the sort of films that implode if they don't get at least moderately good reviews. Though not ecstatic, for the most part, they were strong enough to convince people who had read the book that the adaptation wasn't a travesty, and people who hadn't read it that it was worth a shot, especially given how different it is to everything else out there at the moment.

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