Universal Continues to Cook as Compton Breaks Out
By John Hamann
August 16, 2015
Another weekend, another big win for Universal. I don’t remember a summer for a studio like this is in the 14 years I’ve been writing this piece.
Universal has now done it all this year. They have the biggest opener ever (Jurassic World), the 11th biggest ever (Furious 7) and the 22nd biggest ever (Minions). They have done nicely with musical comedy (Pitch Perfect 2), soft-core porn (Fifty Shades of Grey) and even female-driven comedy (Trainwreck). Now they can urban drama to their hit list, as Straight Outta Compton is a financial and critical hit. Stories this weekend also include the mediocrity of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a film that many didn’t realize was opening due to the noise from Compton, and the massive death spiral of Fantastic Four.
Our number one film of the weekend, erasing the pain from last weekend’s not-so-Fantastic frame, is Straight Outta Compton, the Universal and Legendary musical drama about the rise of NWA. The film from F. Gary Gray got started big on Thursday night, earning a sizzling $5 million from screenings 8 p.m. and onward. That was a fantastic start for a biopic, coming in higher than the amount big budget flicks like Fantastic Four ($2.7 million) or even Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation ($4 million) earned from Thursday previews. Universal was trying to keep expectations in check with a $25-$30 million forecast, but tracking was looking much higher at $45-$50 million. With that Thursday, the Universal estimate was already dust, and that tracking estimate was already in trouble after just a few screenings on preview night.
The Friday number on its own came in at a very strong $19.2 million, and pooled with the almost $5 million Thursday, the combined opening day amount is $24.2 million. That’s higher than 8 Mile’s breakout opening day 13 years ago in 2002, when the Eminem drama took in $19.6 million, blowing away just about everyone. Oddly enough, 8 Mile was also from Universal, and the studio pushed that rap drama to a $51.2 million opening frame. Straight Outta Compton would be aiming for that, but these films are typically front-loaded, with 8 Mile earning a 2.6 internal multiplier, and 2009’s Notorious, which opened to $20.5 million, earning a multiplier of 2.46. Compton had a strong opening day, but it would be hard to keep that momentum going.
Over the weekend proper, Straight Outta Compton earned $56.1 million from a smallish venue count of 2,876, giving it an outstanding per-location average of $20,345. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which opened to a similar $54.8 million, opened in 3,648 venues for a $15,000 average, so exhibitors have to be thrilled with Compton’s debut. Universal found success with Compton the old-fashioned way, through a super marketing campaign, followed by great reviews and a solid Cinemascore. Compton was marketed successfully through a strong trailer and TV campaign, but also heavily through social media, which is just another successful Universal marketing strategy. This team could put on master classes for the other studios. They've been that good this summer.