Monday Morning Quarterback Part One

By BOP Staff

December 18, 2005

If only BOP was allowed to make all casting decisions.

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Love means never having to say your box office performance is sorry.

Kim Hollis: King Kong, the Peter Jackson epic with a reported budget of $207 million, earned $50.1 million over the weekend and has a five-day total of $66.2 million over five days. This is just over half of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King's five-day total of $124.1 million. Is there any way to sugar coat the analysis here?

Tim Briody: One word: Titanic. Not that I expect Kong to finish over $600 million domestically, but there are some eerily similar comparisons.

Reagen Sulewski: There are lots of available excuses, except that Peter Jackson has already personally disproven them. This weekend has to be a tremendously disappointing start, but by no means is all lost yet.

David Mumpower: Titanic happened in an entirely different box office landscape. King Kong will already be on DVD nine months prior to a time when Titanic was still doing respectable box office.

Joel Corcoran: It took great effort to pull myself out of a sulking depression over King Kong's stumble at the box office, and I'm having trouble trying to find any sort of bright spot here. I'm just stunned that Kong opened with a lower box office than Fantastic Four did (which grossed $56.1 million its opening weekend). I'm bordering on an "all is lost" mentality.

David Mumpower: All isn't lost yet, but let's be honest here. This film sold several hundred thousand fewer tickets than 2001's Fellowship of the Rings in the same span. For all the "bigger than Titanic" hype the mainstream media has been foisting on this production, it just took a body blow.

Kim Hollis: Honestly, the better analog for King Kong all along might have been Fellowship of the Ring rather than Return of the King. That was the original feeling I had (if you remember, I said in last week's discussion that I expected Narnia to have the better opening but the smaller overall box office total) and I wish now that I had stuck to those guns when doing the forecast. I allowed media hype to overwhelm my emotions and go significantly higher than my gut had been telling me all along.

Tim Briody: All sorts of bells, alarms and whistles went off when that Wednesday figure first came out, but with that multiplier it had over the weekend, I don't think things will turn out all that badly for Universal.

Kim Hollis: I agree, Tim. This will be a great holiday film as people have time to spare for a three-hour monkey fest.

Tim Briody: Those daily figures between Christmas and New Year's are sure going to be impressive, no doubt.

Reagen Sulewski: I think a lot of this can date back to an underwhelming teaser. You have to be so careful with first impressions these days.

3 hours = half of season two of Lost. Learn to edit some, Mr. Jackson.

David Mumpower: The forecast was obviously a product of expectations based upon box office behavior of Return of the King. A lot of analysts fell for that but at the end of the day, King Kong is a three hour long re-make. All the glowing reviews in the world can't sugarcoat that automatic lessening of desire for mainstream audiences.

Joel Corcoran: But Kong isn't truly a "re-make" in the usual sense. This year's Guess Who is the perfect example of a re-made film, a modern production of essentially the same story in 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. I think it's more of a re-imagining of the original King Kong from 1933 that avoided all the mistakes of the 1976 film. Maybe the marketing gurus didn't do a good enough job of tying it back to the original.

David Mumpower: I consider three hours in a movie theater punishment more often than entertainment. For movies that long, I would prefer to watch at home, and I think I speak for the body of consumers in this regard.

Kim Hollis: I also think a lot can be attributed to the fact that King Kong does not *feel* like a Christmas holiday film at all. I think Universal would have been much better served to attach it to a summer release date. Additionally, I think Disney and Universal deciding to put two tentpoles up against each other in consecutive weekends significantly damaged both Narnia and Kong.

Joel Corcoran: Excellent points, Kim. Return of the King was a holiday film full of myth, adventure, fantasy, and the triumph of good over evil. Same as Narnia. Kong probably would've had a better opening weekend around Memorial Day, or even Easter.

David Mumpower: I expect that we'll see the justification of the winter release over the next ten days as word-of-mouth builds. That's why I like the strategy better than a one and done style summer release. Good movies are given more time to breathe over the December holiday box office bonanza.

This is exactly why Nintendo let Mario rescue the girl while Kong threw barrels.

Reagen Sulewski: What was interesting to me is that it seemed like they were doing the right thing in the cross marketing, with "action" spots and "romantic" spots. Either this confused people, or didn't help as much as was thought.

Reagen Sulewski: Yeah, the interweekend period is the equivalent of another whole weekend.

David Mumpower: That or hot monkey lovin' isn't as popular as Universal had anticipated. That's bad news for that new tv series, Love Monkey.

Kim Hollis: Yup, there's still a lot to be seen as far as Kong is concerned. And Reagen, I'm right there with you in thinking that the marketing was just spot on. I hadn't been excited for the film at all, but in the final days leading up to release, I started to get interested.

Tim Briody: Naomi Watts temporarially sheds the box office poison label!

David Mumpower: Sheds it? Shouldn't we be looking at her as a factor for why the movie theaters were so empty these past five days? She seems so rejected in 2005 box office that I half expect Dikembe Mutumbo to stand beside her and shake his finger to indicate "no-no".


Kim Hollis: Would it have helped, do you think, if the lead female had been more of a known quality? Who would have been a better selection?

David Mumpower: Rachel McAdams. Lindsay Lohan.

Reagen Sulewski: I would have said Scarlett Johansson, but she's got enough problems of her own.

Joel Corcoran: Honestly, I thought Naomi Watts was an unusual choice that turned out to be near-perfect in the role, regardless of her reputation.

David Mumpower: Really, anybody with a pulse works here. For whatever reason, Naomi Watts just doesn't do it for North American audiences.

Kim Hollis: Okay. Rachel McAdams I could maybe buy.

Tim Briody: I would buy a million tickets for any of those choices.

Joel Corcoran: Poor Naomi. She gets no love at all.

Tim Briody: And the presence of Jack Black is just gravy, really.

Kim Hollis: But Jack Black always seemed to be playing a guy who was a lot like...Jack Black. So that works for me.

Fortunately, Kong has another life left.

David Mumpower: You folks are unexpectedly upbeat considering how much Kong has crashed and burned relative to expectations over the past five days. Let me turn the question around a bit. If it's not December 18th when this release comes out, what do you think of its chances?

Tim Briody: I hang around outside Universal's headquarters looking for jumping executives.

Kim Hollis: If it didn't have the holiday to work with, I think it would be in some trouble. I think there's a few things that could have been happening here - up to and including some people waiting to see the film to avoid crowds (I know two people specifically told me they hadn't gone for that reason).

Reagen Sulewski: Blockbuster legs in summer aren't unprecedented, eg Spider-Man. I like its chances less there, however.

Tim Briody: Or they just blame the year's crappy box office like they did with every other movie this year.

Kim Hollis: With the December turnaround, I think it's really hard for them to do that, Tim.

David Mumpower: So, you would all agree that the opening is a bust but since December tide raises all boats, it should come out of this okay. Is that really praise for Kong?

Kim Hollis: I honestly can't say that I think Universal did anything wrong here, though.

Tim Briody: Nope.

Joel Corcoran: It may not be praise for King Kong as much as utter confusion. Seriously, this film was far better than Fantastic Four - immensely better. And I can't believe that a three-hour length of time killed Kong at the box office. Return of the King ran almost three-and-a-half hours, and audiences flocked to it.

Reagen Sulewski: I think that depends a lot on just how far it gets lifted. There's nothing to steal its thunder next weekend, and January is what it is.

David Mumpower: I think the Wednesday release was a mistake. It's the instant negative buzz created by a poor Wednesday/Thursday performance which hurts most here.

Kim Hollis: I don't think anyone should be thrilled with this opening, but if it can turn around in the coming weeks, there's no reason to remember it as a disappointment.

Reagen Sulewski: There was an unusual clamoring to declare it a bomb after Thursday, with Fox leading the charge there.

Kim Hollis: It's just tough to look at a bright shiny road ahead due to recent box office behavior.

David Mumpower: I think the best summer comparison film for King Kong is Batman Begins. The fact that it will be remembered well helps but it's still not the numbers everyone was expecting. With Batman, that's acceptable since it's the reboot of a franchise. With Kong, it's a miscalculation, plain and simple.



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