June 30, 2014

UPDATED: The “Transformers 4″” $100M Controversy & Behind the Weekend Box Office


MONDAY UPDATE:  In the face of widespread industry skepticism, Paramount is sticking to its claim that TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION earned $100M last weekend–actually, $100,038, 390.  (The consensus is that the real number is $97-98M.)  Here’s the way the system works:  the vast majority of US theatres report their results to the 3rd-party company Rentrak, which issues official tallies.  However, a tiny number of small-market theatres self-report to the studios–in the case of a massive opening like TRANSFORMERS 4, about 100 theatres of the 4233 total.  The Rentrak number for the 4100+ theatres it counts is the $97-98M figure, and logic suggests that it would be virtually impossible for the remaining theatres to have made the necessary $2-3M among themselves.  Nevertheless, since only the studio actually sees those last numbers, no one can technically disprove Paramount’s claim that they were sufficient.  While this is all, in the end, a matter of studio vanity, the question is whether it will encourage other studios to play fast and loose not just with Sunday estimates–which by now is taken for granted–but with Monday “actuals” as well.   

OPENINGS:  It will be a considerable surprise if TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (Paramount) holds onto its $100M weekend tally when official numbers are released tomorrow, and the final count may be as much as $2-3M lower.  As expected, Paramount is justifying the estimate by claiming that although Transformers had a very large 23% Friday-to-Saturday drop (bigger than those for any of the year’s other blockbuster openings), it will have the best Sunday hold in the Top 10 by far–down just 18%, when the next smallest decline is 25% for the family-oriented How To Train Your Dragon 2.  That’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely–however, the headlines noting the correct numbers will be far smaller and less plentiful than today’s stories about the purported 9-figure weekend. In any case, Transformers has the year’s biggest opening, ahead of the $95M for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and just the shadow of any competition for the holiday weekend dead ahead.  (The honeymoon, however, will end with a crash the following weekend with the arrival of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.)  Overseas, Transformers was predictably huge, with $201.2M from 37 territories (it’s waiting until the World Cup is over before launching in most of Europe and other soccer-crazed nations).  Paramount claims this is considerably higher than the opening for Transformers 3, although it’s extremely difficult to do apples-to-apples comparisons among international openings that have different release patterns.  The big asterisk is that $90M of the $201.2M comes from China alone, which is a spectacular number–the biggest opening ever for a non-Chinese title–but far less profitable than it looks, because China retains 75 cents of every box office dollar.  (A $90M China gross is roughly equivalent to $40M in the US in terms of what the studio is allowed to pocket.)

HOLDOVERS:  In the face of Transformers, most movies already in US theatres were down in a narrow range of 43-47% from last weekend.  That gave 22 JUMP STREET (Columbia/Sony) $15.4M, with $139.8M to date (ahead of 21 Jump‘s $138.4M US total and not done yet) plus $54.2M overseas.  HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (DreamWorks Animation/20th) had a $13.1M weekend in the US, which put it at just $121.8M, with no chance of getting near the first Dragon‘s $217.6M.  Dragon 2‘s bigger problem is overseas, where the movie only managed $17.9M for a $107.4M total (the first Dragon earned $277.3M overseas, although Dragon 2 still has some major territories yet to open).

MALEFICENT (Disney) skews younger and more female than Transformers, so it became solid counterprogramming for the weekend, down a comparatively slim 36% to $8.2M, and now over the $200M line in the US with $201.9M.  Overseas, it brought in another $16M for a $383.7M international total, and with Japan still ahead, it could end up with $700M+ worldwide.  2014’s current worldwide leader (although Transformers 4 will almost certainly change this) is now X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (20th), with $3.3M this weekend for a $223.4M total in the US, plus $6.2M overseas for $491.3M, giving it a worldwide $714.7M.

EDGE OF TOMORROW (Warners) is in a similar situation to Dragon 2, with a lousy (considering its huge cost) $84.2M in the US, and lacking the big result it needed overseas.  Edge earned $6.9M internationally this weekend, with Japan as the only major territory yet to open, and its $234.5M international total means it will finish worldwide with under $400M, leaving the only question how much of its investment Warners will lose.  THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (20th), on the other hand, has been an international surprise, with $85.8M overseas after $13.1M this weekend, and still some territories to come.  Added to the $109.5M Stars has in the US after a $4.8M weekend, and it’s at $195.3M worldwide, a superb result on a very low investment.

Last week’s #1, THINK LIKE A MAN TOO (Screen Gems/Sony) dropped a big 64% to $10.4M, and probably won’t reach $70M in the US, far from the first Think‘s $91.5M.  JERSEY BOYS (Warners) declined to $7.6M in the US (it’s in only 11 overseas markets with a modest $1.1M weekend).  That’s not a bad drop (43%) for a 2d weekend, but it’s not extraordinary, either, and it started out so low that the movie’s fate is all but settled.

CHEF (Open Road) had a spectacular hold, slipping just 3% in its 8th week of release, and clearly the movie of choice this summer for audiences who want something smaller than a studio extravaganza.  It’s at $19.4M after $1.7M this weekend, and with little competition on the way in its genre (the new Woody Allen opens at the end of July, and that’s a period piece), it may keep chugging along for quite a while.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (Columbia/Sony) was dragged across the $200M US line by its studio, with $200.2M to add to its much more successful $503.5M overseas–although that $703.5M is still disappointingly less than the $757.9M worldwide total for the first AmazingGODZILLA (Warners) is now at $197.1M in the US, and after a $1M weekend, it will only reach $200M if Warners pushes it there.  Overseas, the beast is at $291M, not a particularly tremendous total for a CG spectacle, but Japan is still to come.

LIMITED RELEASE:  BEGIN AGAIN (Weinstein) began well with a $30K average at 5 NY/LA theatres.  SNOWPIERCER (Weinstein/Radius) was on a slower train with a $20K average at 8.  The third in the studio’s trio of openings was YVES ST. LAURENT (Weinstein) with a slow $12K average at 2.  The conservative “documentary” AMERICA (Lionsgate) prefaced next week’s wide opening with a $13K average at 3 theatres in Houston and Atlanta, not that impressive considering that the cities were chosen because those were the biggest markets for the director’s last propaganda effort.  OBVIOUS CHILD (A24) had a moderate expansion with a $2800 average at 196 theatres.  THIRD PERSON (Sony Pictures Classics) didn’t show much strength with a $4500 average after widening to 18 theatres.  That was even more true for LE CHEF (Cohen Media) with a $1800 average after widening to 19.  The subtitled IDA (Music Box) continues to hold remarkably well, down just 8% in its 9th week of release and with $2.5M earned in arthouses to date.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."