March has recently seen a steady climb in total box office generated. It has
gone from average numbers in 1998 to very strong numbers in 2001. While by
no means is it up there with the summer months, it has certainly shown in
the past, and developed a reputation for, having the potential for a
1990, easily the most impressive year for this particular month, produced
three of the top six highest March grossers of all time. The Hunt For Red
October, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Pretty Woman combined for a total
box office pull of $434.38 million, an average of just under $150 million
per movie. These are numbers that are worthy of any summer month of any
year. This unfortunately was followed by a severe dry spell where March
didn't see another significant opener until 1996's The Birdcage. It wasn't
until the year after that that March started raising eyebrows in terms of
It is important to note that time of release has very little to do with
a movie's opening potential. A movie that is well backed can open on any weekend to booming
business. The significance of movies opening well in March is the continuing
extension of the summer season. So as March continues to prove that it can
accommodate a blockbuster, more blockbusters are scheduled for March.
It all turned around for March with the 1997 release of the ultra-hit Liar,
Liar, starring Jim Carrey. Opening to a phenomenal $31.42 million and grossing
a total of $181.41 million, Liar, Liar opened the floodgates for what was
about to come. The following year saw solid hits such as The Man In The Iron
Mask and U.S. Marshals continue the March success stories. '99 then saw a
brief slowdown when the biggest hit of the month was Analyze This, but that
only preceded the strong rebound in 2000 when Erin Brockovich, Mission To
Mars and Romeo Must Die lit up the box office once again. 2001 only helped
that trend continue
The big winner for March 2001 was the live-action children’s film Spy Kids. The
film was a gamble for Dimension Films, which gave Robert Rodriguez a
reasonable budget of $35 million to work with. The project was a risk
because Rodriguez was untested in the field of children's movies and because
the nature of the film (live action kids movie) was an unproven one. But the
venture paid off big time as the film proved to be one of the biggest
surprises of the year.
The month itself opened with bang as The Mexican, the second highest opener
for the month, debuted in theatres, hailing another hit for Julia Roberts and producing
the second biggest opener of Brad Pitt's career (after 1994’s Interview with the Vampire). Although it had lukewarm reviews
and even worse crowd response, Roberts still drew fans in and made the film
a hit. Combined with the surprisingly strong debut of See Spot Run and
the ongoing (though severely declining) run for Hannibal made the first week a
very strong one.
The second week didn't fare as strongly as the first one as 15 Minutes
opened to a lukewarm $10.5 million. The Robert De Niro starrer, which had
been through many a last-minute change, ended up dying a quick death at the
box office. Of interest is the odd connection between Robert De Niro and the
month of March. Including 2002, De Niro has had a March release in three of the
last four years and this possibly could merely be an indication of the time of
year that the star likes to work.
The third week of the month picked up again with net new business of over
$32 million. This is the total for which Exit Wounds and Enemy at the Gates
combined in a very strong double debut. Exit Wounds' success was
not so surprising seeing as how its production, casting and especially
marketing were almost identical to the previous year's hit Romeo Must Die.
Exit Wounds almost exactly duplicated Romeo's debut of $18.01 million by
pulling in $18.49 million. The less than favorable response to Romeo
probably kept some away as Romeo actually had almost a $25 million weekend
when the two-day lead-in is included. Nonetheless, Exit Wounds proved
another hit for Joel Silver and DMX.
The other opener of the week was a bit more of a surprise. While Enemy at
the Gates looked pretty, it was still a European production with very little
star power and a less than favorable wide-release (1,509 screens). Its
opening weekend pull of $13.8 million, which barely put a dent in the hefty
$80 million budget, was a surprise to many. It is now one of many foreign
films that destroy the theory that foreign produced films can't do well in
the North American market.
The fourth week of the month again saw two very strong debuts in
Heartbreakers and The Brothers. Both were surprises as Heartbreakers seemed
to be a terribly marketed black comedy and The Brothers was a barely
marketed black-audience targeted comedy. The debut total for both films was
over $22 million which makes the month three for four when it comes to $20
million+ weekends; A very strong month indeed.
But where does Spy Kids fit in? Well, Spy Kids opened on Wednesday, March
30, 2001 so it is technically a March release even though the weekend fell
in April. So not only does this boost March's numbers, it also deflates
April's numbers (as will be seen in the upcoming April analysis). So can
this look back to last year help us forecast this upcoming month?
The answer is yes and no. No, in that there really is not completely accurate
way to forecast box office. What it does, however, is give us an idea of the
potential of this month. It might not fall in the summer but it does have
the precedent of seeing some excellent openers during its time. So we know
studios can have a big hit during this time and we also can see that they can
produce several smaller hits. So it definitely is wide open at this point.
Looking ahead to the month, it would seem that the year-to-year upwards
trend will continue and March 2002 should be one of the strongest ever.
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