Recycling the Classics Big at the Box Office, For Now
By John Hamann
September 18, 2011
Well, if it's September, it must be another nutty weekend at the box office. After a frame that saw Contagion lead the box office, I thought Ryan Gosling's Drive would continue a streak of good films on top, but despite a solid marketing campaign from FilmDistrict, things did not work out as well as expected this weekend for the critically loved thriller. Sarah Jessica Parker was back in I Don't Know How She Does It, but we learned this weekend that folks don't show up for SJP unless there is Sex in the title (or they had a recent lobotomy). That leaves us with Straw Dogs and The Lion King re-release. Screen Gems has made horror work in past Septembers – could they do it again? And what about the Lion King, now 17 years in the rear-view mirror?
The number one film, despite a couple of new, interesting titles, is The Lion King, re-released this weekend in 3D. One might think with a re-release on top that the box office was really slow again this frame, but no, The Lion King earned $29.3 million from 2,330 venues, putting tracking on its head, and leaving industry observers scratching their collective heads. Had The Lion King won the weekend with a $13 million gross, I would have accepted it and moved on, but $29 million? Has Disney become the new George Lucas?
Ethically, have we really come to the point where we as a society are ready to dust off the old (and very good) films, so that they can be re-released in 3D and we go because we at least know there will be some kind of value for money involved? Is this the safest thing we can do with our kids? Hadn't the parents that took their kids to The Lion King this weekend already showed it to them on the small screen? I can understand the nostalgia factor, and I get the fact that there is completely nothing else out there for the kids – but is this it? Is this George Lucas style of recycling the right answer for childrens' entertainment? The Lion King earned over $300 million in domestic ticket sales during it original run, and another $500 million from overseas grosses. In the last 17 years of its existence, it's earned another $1.5 billion in DVD sales and rentals.
How much is enough? Couldn't Disney take some of the original billions they earned off this one and made something NEW? Or has September at the box office simply become too risky to release original product? Sony's original film Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs actually did about the same as The Lion King in 3D, grossing $8.1 million on its first Friday (versus $8.8 for The Lion King but you do get a pair of those snazzy glasses), and $30.3 million for the weekend. Why should Sony put all that money and work into a film when they could just re-release Men In Black in 3D? Have we become so risk-averse that we can't even put out an original kid's cartoon? This result has left me sad – I could argue that we've become lazy as a society, but that's not really it – is it?