As far as successful films go, 2016 has had one hell of a ride. From family-friendly movies such as Finding Dory clearing an eye watering $1 billion dollars all whilst still showing in cinemas, to R-Rated violence fests like Deadpool shocking the studios and breaking almost $800 million! This has definitely been the year for big money films. Check out some prime examples of the numbers this year has provided for the silver screen.
I have to admit that I wasn’t too excited about “Real Steel” when I saw the trailer. Sure, the special effects look great, and Hugh Jackman is an excellent actor. Also, the “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” storyline had some appeal. But it looked like another typical crowd pleaser put together just because we now have CGI. It just wasn’t one of the new films of 2011 that I wanted to see.
But the movie delivers. It gives you exactly what you would expect, and it does it fairly well. That’s what we really want from movies, except for those rare instances where we don’t mind being surprised by a great film. Audiences are naturally responding, thus the success at the box office. Go see it at a good theater like the Leicester Square cinema.
I was looking forward to seeing “Brüno.” “Borat” was hilarious, and the scenes released by the studio for “Brüno” were funny. Unfortunately, the film fell a little flat. Some scenes were funny, but most were not, and too many of the scenes seemed staged this time around. I just started using Twitter so I sent out a note (I hate the word “Tweet”) about the film. Apparently I wasn’t the only one.
In the old days — like, until yesterday — movie studios judged the success of their big pictures by how much they grossed on the opening weekend. But in the age of Twitter, electronic word-of-mouth is immediate, as early moviegoers tweet their opinions on a film to millions of “followers.” Instant-messaging can make or break a film within 24 hours. Friday is the new weekend.
That appears to be the lesson from the studio estimates issued on July 13 for the weekend box office. Brüno, the Sacha Baron Cohen docu-comedy in which an Austrian fashion journalist shoves his flamboyant gayness in the faces and other body parts of unsuspecting Americans, won the weekend with $30.4 million, a bit above most industry expectations for an R-rated provocation whose star was unknown to the mass audience until his Borat became a surprise hit in 2006, earning more than $260 million at theaters worldwide on an $18 million budget. Yet Brüno’s box-office decline from Friday to Saturday indicates that the film’s brand of outrage was not the sort to please most moviegoers — and that their tut-tutting got around fast. Brüno could be the first movie defeated by the Twitter effect.
It’s a gorgeous and breezy afternoon as I type this from the relatively bare business center of the otherwise swanky W hotel which abides in the shadow of UCLA and, during the Los Angeles Film Festival, a small but select chunk of the film industry. That may include some of those who could be effected by the news, apparently first reported by the redoubtable Nikki Finke, that perceived poor management skills and excessively neurotic behavior have led studio chief Brad Grey to commit to a major management shakeup at Paramount. (The Hollywood Reporter has a considerably more staid version of the story up.)
I’ll finally start writing about some of what I’m seeing and hearing at the festival later tonight, but first it’s time for the numbers. Those were especially good for Ms. Sandra Bullock who, with the help of Ryan Reynolds and what Variety sees as “pent-up demand” for rom-coms, scored an estimated $34.1 million with “The Proposal.” That would be Bullock’s biggest opening ever.
Following with a really outstanding estimated $26.9 million in its third weekend, “The Hangover” dismissed it’s newer male-appeal comedy competition, “Year One,” which came in only at the #4 spot, but nevertheless managed $20.2 million in its first week. Ms. Finke described the hunter-gatherers-go-biblical film’s performance as “disappointing,” but The Hollywood Reporter deemed it “solid,” perhaps reflecting the budget. In any case, it surely reflects that a perception of poor quality caused by bad reviews (as discussed on Thursday’s pre-weekend post) and perhaps more or less matching word-of-mouth might actually have some impact on a film’s performance.
“Up” did its bit for the power of family entertainment, remaining aloft at the #3 spot for yet another week with $21.3 million, say the estimators, and is within a hair’s breadth of the $225 million mark for its entire run.
The first sign I received was an e-mail from a friend (more of a civilian than a ravening cinephile like yours truly) raving about the “The Hangover.” After a response from me that I’d already written that the picture seemed like a possible sleeper, he mentioned that he saw it with a healthy sized crowd for a relatively early show, but by the time he exited at about 8:30 or so, the theater staff at the Northern California multiplex was announcing the comedy was sold out for the entire night.
Then, going on my morning blog/pub patrol, I found that Nikki Finke and THR (and I’m sure Variety too, but do you really need a third source for the same info?) are abuzz with reports that the modest, R-rated comedy earned a cool $16.5 million yesterday. It defeated not only “Land of the Lost,” which unsurprisingly ran a mediocre-at-best third in the wake of a lot of negative buzz, but far more surprisingly, the beloved (but perhaps a bit family friendly for a Friday night) “Up.” And it did it with a starless cast of actors, who would ordinarily be in supporting roles in a film like this.
Once upon a time, my friends, even the big studios occasionally lowered their financial risk for slightly off-kilter projects by populating them with relative unknowns. Major ensemble-comedy releases like “American Graffitti,” “M*A*S*H,” or “Animal House” could make superstars, rather than simply relying on already huge names to fill every seat on the very first night. Of course, this was back when movies initially opened in a small number of theaters in large cities, with gradually expanding releases that allowed time for word of mouth to spread. The meant that not every film was expected to be as pre-sold as a Big Mac.
It’s still possible that “Up” will stage a comeback with families hitting the screens today and tomorrow, but “The Hangover” is now a verifiable sleeper hit and concerns that the appearance of Mike Tyson might backfire because of his recent extremely sad family tragedy seem to be more or less baseless. (Eternal interest in gossip notwithstanding, maybe the general audience is a bit less emotionally wrapped up in the personal lives of celebrities than you’d think.)
It’s nice to see that, even in today’s truly hostile and originality-killing marketplace, Pixar isn’t the only place where filmmakers make a star-free killing by simply entertaining an audience. (And folks, if you can’t get in to see “The Hangover” tonight, consider another film that’s a bit of a throwback to a less calculating Hollywood, “Drag Me to Hell.”)
UPDATE: I forgot to add that my friend also mentioned something I’d somehow missed — that the early reaction to “The Hangover” was so strong that Warners was already publicly discussing a sequel even before the release of the film. I think it’s safe to say that there are some very happy agents in Hollywood right now. One thing is certain, “The Hangover II” will be more expensive than the first.