August 11, 2013



Here’s an instructive piece of box office math, courtesy of Disney and The Lone RangerRanger cost (including worldwide marketing) about $350M all told, and it’s going to have global theatrical revenues of about $240M.  Disney is reporting that the movie will end up losing around $190M, which is $80M higher than the usual back-of-the-envelope calculation that if a film grosses the same amount in theatres worldwide as its total costs, it roughly breaks even (the idea being that ancillary revenues balance the percentage of ticket prices retained by theatre owners).  The upshot of this is that many of the summer movies that are struggling to reach that box office sales = total costs level are very likely going to lose some money even if they get there, and those that seem to be comfortably above that level are just breaking even, because of other expenses and shortfalls that go unreported.  And since that describes many of the season’s high-profile titles, like World War Z (which just became Brad Pitt’s highest-grossing picture, a distinction that might actually mean something if it weren’t also his most expensive) and Pacific Rim, it’s bad news for the studios.

OPENINGS:  As always, a weekend estimate that hovers just above a round number–in this case, the $30.4M estimate for ELYSIUM (TriStar/Sony) may or may not survive the release of final numbers on Monday.  Like any studio seeking to pad its weekend numbers, Sony has claimed the best Sunday performance in the Top 10 compared to Saturday (off just 20%) even though Elysium had Saturday’s worst result compared to Friday.  So, we’ll see.  In any case, this isn’t a great opening for a movie with $115M in production costs (more like $250M all-in), considerably below director Neil Blomkamp’s much lower-budget District 9, which started with $37.4M.  The potentially good news for Elysium is that we’re now done with giant sci-fi spectacles for a while, and the only real competition for its second weekend is Kick Ass 2. Elysium opened in a few foreign territories, but not enough ($10.9M in 17 areas) to say much about its prospects.

PLANES (Disney) had a very modest $22.5M start, but with a $50M production budget, it almost can’t lose money unless it crashes overseas (extremely unlikely, as international audiences are even more crazy about CG animation than Americans).

There were plenty of naysayers about WE’RE THE MILLERS (New Line/Warners), but a $26.6M weekend and $38M in 5 days on a $37M production budget speaks for itself.  Millers faces little competition for the comedy audience in the next several weeks (just The World’s End, likely to be more of a niche player), and has a real chance of hitting $100M+ in the US.  A cute premise + Jennifer Aniston spells a hit, and this boosts Jason Sudeikis’s profile as well.

PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS (20th) only managed $14.6M for the weekend and $23.5M in 5 days, compared to $31.2M for the first Percy Jackson‘s opening weekend.  The $90M production (which will cost over $200M with marketing included) won’t get much beyond $50M in the US, a dead loss unless overseas bails it out (it’s only opened in 6 territories thus far).

HOLDOVERS:  2 GUNS (Universal) had a very disappointing hold for a Denzel Washington action movie, down 59% to $11.1M.  That’s the worst drop for a genre title in Washington’s entire career, and its likely $65-70M US total will put it on the low end of his recent results.  Universal didn’t finance the picture and is on the hook for a limited amount, but still may not make back its marketing and distribution costs.

THE SMURFS 2 (Sony) isn’t looking like much of a franchise, with a 46% drop to $9.5M in its second weekend (a likely $65M total in the US, less than half of the first Smurfs).  Like its predecessor, Smurfs 2 will do better overseas, but it’s underperforming there as well, with a $34.6M weekend and $110M so far in most of the world, strongly suggesting that as in the US, it will do less than half of the business ($421M) pulled in by the first Smurfs.  This really has been a dreadful summer for Sony, with the moderate exception of This Is the End.

THE WOLVERINE (20th) is plunging in the US, down another 63% to $8M and a likely $130M total ($50M below the last standalone Wolverine), but it’s doing much better overseas, with $18M this weekend, $195M so far and what should be a very lucrative opening in Japan still ahead.  It could reach $400M worldwide before it’s done, which would make for a success thanks to its relatively low $125M production budget.

On the other hand, a worldwide $400M is less useful for PACIFIC RIM (Warners) with its $200M production budget, especially because a disproportionate amount of that total will come from China (around $100M, with $76.5M already earned), where studios are permitted to retain only about 25% of box office revenue–less than half of what the rest of the world allows.  A shockingly low $3M opening in Japan (considering the strong Asian influence on the production) is probably the death sentence for any hope of profit.

It’s now fairly clear that neither THE WAY, WAY OUT (Fox Searchlight) nor FRUITVALE STATION (Weinstein) will make it out of the “art-house hit” category.  Both dropped 45% this weekend with sub-$2K per-theatre averages, and Way Out may reach $20M or so while Fruitvale won’t.  The next question is how they stand in terms of awards season.  With respect to Fruitvale, the answer probably depends on Harvey Weinstein’s usual well-stocked Oscar-wannabe shelves and how the rest of his prospects fare, especially the upcoming The Butler and Mandela, both of which will aim for the same market.  Way Back is probably only in the running for Original Screenplay, although Searchlight might make a run for Sam Rockwell as Supporting Actor.

LIMITED RELEASE:  BLUE JASMINE (Sony Pictures Classics) hasn’t peaked yet, with a superbly successful expansion to 116 theatres that gave it a per-theatre average over $20K, heady numbers for that level of release–the film was in 11th place for the weekend, despite playing in thousands of theatres less than the 10 above it.  (In comparison, Elysium had only a $9300 average.)  THE SPECTACULAR NOW (A24) expanded well on a much smaller level, with a $14K average at 19.  IN A WORLD… (Roadside) opened nicely with a $24K average at 3.  LOVELACE (Radius/Weinstein) and PRINCE AVALANCHE (Magnolia), though, found their only audiences (if any) on VOD, with $1600 and $2500 averages at 118 and 14 theatres.



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."