Monday Morning Quarterback Part One

By BOP Staff

November 22, 2005

Damned Madden curse!

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Harry Potter conjures big box office bucks

Kim Hollis: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire made $101.4 million. It started the weekend with $39.5 million on Friday. Is it going to be the cure for the box office blues of 2005 or is it just an anomaly?

David Mumpower: Potter's performance is further confirmation of what we have been saying for a while now. The Potters and Star Wars titles are deflation-proof.

Reagen Sulewski: I think this is a huge arrow in the quiver of those that subscribe to the theory that quality was a large part of the problem this year. It's a blockbuster that performed exactly as, or a little bit better, than was expected.

Kim Hollis: The audience is nothing if not completely consistent.


Joel Corcoran: It depends on how you define "the box office blues of 2005." If you're talking pure profits and revenues, then I think it goes a long way toward rescuing an otherwise mediocre-bordering-on-dismal year. But if you're talking about movie quality overall, then it's an anomaly.

David Mumpower: $100+ million is a huge number. Of course, I would politely note that the bouncing ball that was its reported Friday box office indicates a cry of "Shenanigans!" is warranted.

Joel Corcoran: I still think the fourth Harry Potter will end up as a distinct outlier, far from the statistical median for 2005, though.

Reagen Sulewski: It still remains to be seen if this can reverse the trend of the final box office for the series. Thanksgiving's going to help it in that regard, but the openings have been going up, and the final totals considerably down.

Kim Hollis: It just blows me away that Potter by itself made almost as much this weekend as the entire top ten did last weekend. Put in those terms, it's staggering how many people the Potter franchise draws.

A nerd is a nerd is a nerd

Joel Corcoran: And you people criticize us Lord of the Rings fans for our slavish devotion to a franchise. Next to the Harry Potter fans, we are mere pretenders to the throne.

Kim Hollis: Frankly, I think the crossover between Lord of the Rings fans and Potter fans is pretty big. At least grown-up ones.

David Mumpower: Speaking of which, Joel, I find the demographic breakdown of Potter intriguing in its uniform nature.

Joel Corcoran: I agree, Kim. Most of the people I know who are fans of one series are fans of the other. But Return of the King opened to less than $75 million if I remember right, about a week before Christmas.

David Mumpower: 42% of the audience is children, 20% is their suffering parents, and 38% is the adult fanbase for Potter. That's almost identical to Azkaban, meaning a box office analyst can set their watch by the Potter franchise's uniformity of box office behavior.

Hey, all that magic takes a lot out of a guy

Kim Hollis: Like Reagen, I'm somewhat curious to see how it sustains compared to the other films. Sorcerer's Stone did $317 million domestic, Chamber of Secrets did $262 million and Prisoner of Azkaban did $249 million. There's been a steady decline in overall numbers for each film. With that said, Goblet of Fire is the most beloved of the books, and with a dearth of quality family films during the holiday season, it could really have a decent run. I'm probably being optimistic, though.

Joel Corcoran: That is damned impressive. Any movie - much less a franchise - that can pull together such a cross-section of fans should be congratulated.

Kim Hollis: Going back to your Lord of the Rings vs. Potter comparison, Joel, it's important to remember that 1) December openings are almost always a different beast. 2) The audience skews older so the tendency is for them to not necessarily attend the film right away. There's a willingness to wait there which shows in the final totals as opposed to opening weekend.

Reagen Sulewski: The "can't waits" have stayed remarkably steady. These are four almost identical openings when you factor in inflation. But it's been subject to the same home video creep as anything else in the last five years. And yet, its final totals have trended steadily down.

David Mumpower: In addition to Kim's note, I think what's most important about Potter is its slipping power internationally. The first film earned $974 million while Azkaban was down to $792 million. Chamber of Secrets was $879 million. So, we're watching the franchise lose $80 million per film internationally while still having the same opening weekend numbers domestically. $90.3 million vs. $101.4 million indicates significant growth opening weekend, but the reality is that we won't see this one earn anywhere near as much overall.

DVD is the new box office

Joel Corcoran: I'm having trouble understanding how home video creep could chip away anything from Harry Potter, though.

David Mumpower: That's what makes the study of box office behavior so arcane, Joel. At first blush, it's easy to miss this but the trending is obvious if you take a step back and look at the big picture.

Kim Hollis: It goes like this: people who were willing to see the film in weekend three or four or five now realize that they don't really have to wait that much longer to see the film on DVD. I didn't even see the second film until it came out on video myself, though I was there opening weekend for the first one.

Joel Corcoran: Well ... that makes sense, actually.

Reagen Sulewski: And it's easy to forget that WB is more or less fine with this. They'll make as much or more on DVD sales.

David Mumpower: The $101.4 million at the front end is slightly better, even allowing for inflation but it's the second tier of movie-goers who no longer show up. Rather than watch Potter in later weeks, they wait three more months and buy the DVD.

Joel Corcoran: Might make an interesting thesis for a budding economics grad student out there, too - compare the effects of "home video creep" on the movies with very strong fanbases versus movies grouped by genre or the box office overall.

David Mumpower: And that's exactly right, Reagen. Their split is reduced in later weeks at the theater anyway, whereas the DVD production line is much more profitable, even allowing for the chunk taken out by retailers.

Kim Hollis: I would posit that it has had a pretty significant effect on final box office. Other than Wedding Crashers, what have we seen this year that had any *real* longevity? There will never be another Titanic, I can tell you that much.

David Mumpower: You're absolutely right, Kim. A great landmark release to track in coming weeks is The Polar Express since it's the first title in ages to have this sort of delay between its theatrical and video runs.

Joel Corcoran: I'm still not fully persuaded that the reasons for that are purely technological, Kim.

David Mumpower: What other factors do you see devolving the process, Joel?

Christmas in May just doesn't work

Reagen Sulewski: I think the Holiday themed movies are still going to see this kind of delay, because marketing departments can't see spending money to promote a DVD release of them in, say, May.

David Mumpower: I'm inclined to agree, Reagen, but this is the biggest litmus test of the year. It's not in a studio's best interest to release a holiday title in March since the demand is affected by the seasonal nature of the title. Also, by the time the demand rises again, the DVD should be down to the $7.50 rack.

Kim Hollis: Yep, holiday films will be the exception since they'll almost always see a full year between theatrical release and video. Still, no Titanic.

Are movies these days just no good?

Joel Corcoran: I think the overall qualities of films continues to decline. I mean, we've had some real dogs at the box office this year, but then again, we had March of the Penguins - likely the surprise hit of the year.

Kim Hollis: I think there have been plenty of good movies this year. I think that other years in the 00 decade have been better, but it's not as disastrous in 2005 as everyone would have you believe.

Joel Corcoran: March of the Penguins had almost a five-month run at the box office, and it just now seems to be moving from first-run theaters into second-run theaters.

David Mumpower: The studio system's panic over piracy might counterbalance this somewhat, though.

Kim Hollis: This weekend saw two wide releases that have been reviewed quite well, after all.

David Mumpower: Platform and indie film titles are a bit different in that movie-goers don't have the same simultaneous opportunity to watch a film. The rolling availability changes the behavioral pattern a great deal.

Joel Corcoran: But don't get me wrong - I think technological advances are the significant force behind the decline. But I think more high-quality films would counter-balance that effect quite a bit.

Reagen Sulewski: But Joel, the fact that we scramble to bring up the same "leggy" films each time this discussion comes up, and that the main poster boy for legs is a film that wouldn't have gotten a tenth of its screens five years ago speaks volumes.

David Mumpower: That's absolutely right, Reagen. The most apt comparisons for March of the Penguins is My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Fahrenheit 9/11. And I would further note that March of the Penguins made considerably less than its documentary counterpart, much less than the Nia Vardalos one-hit wonder.

Kim Hollis: I do think the one thing we can agree on is that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire will be the biggest film of Thanksgiving - and that's with five new wide releases and another platformer.

Reagen Sulewski: And through the following week, even.

David Mumpower: With Aeon Flux looking like a dud, it's all Potter until Aslan roars.

Studio suit vs. another studio suit: we're all winners!

Joel Corcoran: Just once, I'd like to see the studios go for the smack-down challenge, something like Harry Potter opening against Chronicles of Narnia on the same weekend. It'll never happen, but it would still be fun to watch sometime.

Reagen Sulewski: The studio head of the film that finished second would selling pencils on the street by Tuesday.

Joel Corcoran: Which might not be a bad thing ...



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