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Weekend Forecast
for April 19-21, 2002

By Kim Hollis

It's fun to play at the Y-M-C-A.


I have seen the future of cinema, and its name is The Rock.

Don’t imagine for even a moment that I’m happy about this prospect. Though I fully understand that The Rock is loaded with charisma and is easily the hottest commodity ever to come out of the World Wrestling Federation, or the entire wrestling world, for that matter, I have actually had the misfortune of hearing the man utter actual lines in a film and can hardly bear the vision of a future where he becomes the next Tom Cruise. Besides that, his first big starring role is in a movie that largely reminds me of Gladiator, which I loathed, so the People’s Eyebrow unfortunately gets my contempt primarily because of negative association.


Of course, none of this matters where box office is concerned, but I thought I’d preface my forecast so that readers are fully aware about my negative bias towards The Rock in movies and The Scorpion King in particular. I learned long ago that my personal opinions about a film mean squat relative to box office performance, but the hard fact of the matter is that these feelings always factor somewhat into even the most objective of analyses. Caveat emptor.

There is no doubt that The Rock is a dynamic personality who is extremely well known both in and out of the world of wrestling. WWF Raw has steadily been the number one cable show on television for quite some time, with ratings dipping fairly substantially during The Rock’s sabbaticals for filming. His brief appearance in The Mummy Returns was good enough to build awareness about his character and it seems all but certain that one of the reasons this film surprised at the box office last year is that a number of his fans who saw him prominently displayed in commercials came out to support their hero. Just this past weekend, he cemented his crossover appeal by ably hosting Saturday Night Live, further supporting his status as current pop-culture icon.

Beyond his wild popularity, ads for the new film are all but unavoidable. Universal has put every cog in their marketing machine to work here and if past success is any indication (the studio opened all four of its summer blockbusters to more than $40 million in 2001), The Scorpion King is going to recover its $60 million budget very quickly, indeed.

So, we have a huge star with a proven quantity of appeal, hot ads and trailers with no dialogue and tons of action and T&A, not to mention the fact that the film is playing in a stupefying 3,443 venues (with a reported 4,904 screens), and I haven’t even mentioned the most important ingredient for this film’s probable success: the rapidly expanding marketplace.

An examination of recent box office trending reveals that movies, particularly those positioned as blockbusters, open big. In 2002 alone, we have already seen eight films with debut weekends greater than $20 million, with four of those films exceeding the $30 million mark (Ice Age, Black Hawk Down, Blade II and Panic Room). Traditionally, during the first quarter, runaway successes such as these have been the exception rather than the rule, but over the course of the past year we can clearly see that people are rushing out to see movies in their opening weekend. When films are marketed well, they tend to generate box office explosions.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at films that have opened to more than $25 million over the past year.

<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE movie like '%Harry Potter and the So%' OR movie like '%Rush Hour 2%' OR movie like'%Mummy Returns%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + " OR movie like '%Planet of the Apes%' OR movie like '%Monsters, Inc%' OR movie like '%Pearl Harbor%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Fast and the Furious%' OR movie like '%Jurassic Park III%' OR movie like '%American Pie 2%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Tomb Raider%' OR movie like '%Fellowship of the Ring%' OR movie like '%Ice Age%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Ocean''s%' OR movie like '%Blade II%' OR movie like 'Shrek' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Black Hawk Down%' OR movie like '%America''s Sweethearts%' OR movie like '%Panic Room%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Vanilla Sky%' OR movie like '%Artificial Intelligence%' OR movie like '%Dr. Dolittle 2%' ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Movies that opened to greater than $25 million within the last year" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>


We have had a jaw-dropping total of 21 films open to bona-fide blockbuster numbers in the last 12 months, but what is truly amazing is that 13 of these had totals of over $40 million. $30 million is practically unheard of and we’re practically to the point where when we get to summer releases, that amount will be considered a disappointment. The commonality for all of these films is a perceived status prior to the time they were even released, with studios creating buzz, monster awareness, and a tremendous “rush-to-see” factor.

Going a bit further, let’s now examine movies that have opened on more than 3,000 screens in the last 12 months.


<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE movie like '%Harry Potter and the So%' OR movie like '%Rush Hour 2%' OR movie like'%Mummy Returns%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + " OR movie like '%Planet of the Apes%' OR movie like '%Monsters, Inc%' OR movie like '%Pearl Harbor%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like 'Cats and Dogs' OR movie like '%Jurassic Park III%' OR movie like '%American Pie 2%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Tomb Raider%' OR movie like '%Fellowship of the Ring%' OR movie like '%Ice Age%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Ocean''s%' OR movie like 'Shrek' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Black Hawk Down%' OR movie like '%America''s Sweethearts%' OR movie like '%Panic Room%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Atlantis:%' OR movie like '%Artificial Intelligence%' OR movie like '%Dr. Dolittle 2%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Scary Movie 2%' OR movie like '%Bandits%' ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Movies that opened on more than 3,000 screens" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>


Of the 22 films on this list, only one opened to less than $20 million and a mere five can truly be called disappointments relative to expectations (A.I., Dr. Dolittle 2, Scary Movie 2, Atlantis and Bandits). Once again, we’re looking at 12 films with totals exceeding $40 million, and adding in the $30 million performers shows us that an astonishing 73% of movies released in such a wide number of venues over the course of the last year can truly be considered muscular. There’s a reason studios go for a monster number of screens for tentpole releases.

Since a screen count total of 3,400 was unheard of prior to 2001, let’s narrow the scope a bit more and look at just the films that have debuted on 3,200 screens or higher within the last year.


<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE movie like '%Harry Potter and the So%' OR movie like '%Rush Hour 2%' OR movie like'%Mummy Returns%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + " OR movie like '%Planet of the Apes%' OR movie like '%Monsters, Inc%' OR movie like '%Pearl Harbor%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Jurassic Park III%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Tomb Raider%' OR movie like '%Fellowship of the Ring%' OR movie like '%Ice Age%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like 'Shrek' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Artificial Intelligence%' OR movie like '%Scary Movie 2%' OR movie like '%Bandits%' ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Movies that opened on more than 3,200 screens" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>


We’ve cut our sample size down to 14 films and the data shows that 11 of these (79%) had openings over $40 million. The typical opening if you average the bunch together is $47.6 million. Since Harry Potter and Bandits are hardly fair comparisons and Scary Movie 2’s overall weekend take was affected by its Wednesday opening on a holiday weekend, if we throw out the top two and the bottom two films on the list and then look at average openings again, our total is $52.2 million. I’ll take it one step further and extrapolate per screen numbers (excluding the top two and bottom two once again) which gives us an average of $15,774. If Scorpion King does these kinds of numbers, an opening weekend of $54.3 million really doesn’t look at all unattainable, does it?

Ah, but here’s where that aforementioned bias is going to step in. I’m going to hedge my bets a bit for now for a couple of reasons. First of all, North American film audiences do have the uncanny ability to smell a dog. Frequently, when movies look bad - really bad - no amount of marketing or screens can save them (see: Battlefield Earth). I do have some definite fears in this regard, but fortunately for Universal and The Scorpion King, critics have been substantially more positive in their reviews for this weekend’s release, with a 42% positive rating at Rottentomatoes as I write this (for comparison, Battlefield Earth is an embarrassing 6% fresh).

My bigger concern is that The Scorpion King isn’t quite as broad in its scope as some of the other blockbusters from the past year. I’m not certain it appeals very far past the coveted 18-30 male demographic, and though I may be projecting, I see very few females coming out in support of this film. In the end, I’m going to hedge my bets and go with my gut, which tells me The Rock pulls in numbers similar to what Angelina Jolie was able to draw in last year’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. I’m looking for Friday to Sunday totals of $47.5 million, with sharp and severe drop-offs to come in the weeks to follow as this film is a prime candidate for the “frontloading effect.”

With all of the hype surrounding The Rock, it’s easy to forget that there is a second film hitting theaters this weekend, the Sandra Bullock crime thriller Murder by Numbers. Sandy has been fairly eclectic in her choices for film roles, which run the gamut from light romantic comedies such as While You Were Sleeping to heavier law dramas like A Time to Kill. Either way, she’s generally a solid box office draw who can be counted on for at least $10 million opening weekends if not more. Take a look at her recent films.


<% sqlstr = "SELECT * FROM box WHERE movie like '%Miss Congeniality%' OR movie like '%28 Days%'" sqlstr = sqlstr + " OR movie like '%Forces of Nature%' OR movie like '%Practical Magic%' OR movie like '%Hope Floats%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%Speed 2%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%In Love and War%' OR movie like '%Time to Kill%' OR movie like '%Two if By Sea%' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like 'Net, The' " sqlstr = sqlstr + "OR movie like '%While You Were Sleeping%' OR movie like 'Speed' ORDER BY open DESC" max = 100 header = "Recent Sandra Bullock films" tstyle = "release" skin = "bop" x = Drawtable(sqlstr,max,header,tstyle,skin) %>


Accounting for inflation, all but two of her movies from the past several years have opened to well over that $10 million sum. Though I do have concerns about the light marketing push the film has received, I just don’t ever like to count Sandy out. Additionally, since it’s truly a rare (and financially disappointing) film that doesn’t manage a $10 million opening in the current box office environment, I’ll predict that her name will propel the film to an $11.5 million weekend though it will obviously be completely overshadowed by the much bigger story. Murder by Numbers will need strong word-of-mouth to keep it afloat in the coming weeks.


Forecast: Weekend of April 19-21, 2002
Projected
Rank
Film
Estimated Gross ($)
1
The Scorpion King
47.5
2
Murder by Numbers
11.5
3
Changing Lanes
10.6
4
Panic Room
6.9
5
Ice Age
5.6
6
The Rookie
5.4
7
The Sweetest Thing
4.9
8
High Crimes
4.7
9
Clockstoppers
3.1
10
Blade II
2.5c

     


 
 

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