The North American release of Skyfall is now less than twenty-four hours away, and its commercial prospects seem excellent. The holiday movie season got off to a strong start last weekend with better than expected grosses for Wreck-It Ralph and Flight on their opening weekends (and that despite Hurricane Sandy). This coming weekend seems even more promising because of its proximity to a national holiday (the United States observing Veteran's Day the following Monday), and because of the scarcity of action films in the market (the Taken franchise having opened five weeks ago). Along with the performance of previous Daniel Craig Bonds (somewhat marred by the disappointment with Quantum of Solace), the extra publicity the series had this year due to its fiftieth anniversary (and the stunt at the London Olympics), the strong buzz surrounding this film, and the demonstrated audience interest in those markets where it opened the previous two weekends (suggesting that this has all been working in its favor) - as well as the higher ticket prices and anticipated first-ever IMAX revenues - this seems nearly certain to translate to a record weekend for the series.
Naturally, there has been quite a bit of talk about estimates around the web, with Boxoffice.com among the more aggressive in suggesting an $85 million figure for the first weekend, and $230 million for the total U.S. run. This, of course, would do much to push the film's globally tally north of $800 million, as Gitesh Pandya of the Box Office Guru predicted. But just how far north of that mark can it go?
At least one person found their way to this blog wondering if Skyfall would outgross The Avengers. Avengers, however, was anomalous in being less a franchise than a combination of several previously successful franchises in a single film - which helped it earn more than Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America combined ($1.511 billion at last count).1 It also had the advantage of opening at the start of the summer season, and a considerable boost from 3-D surcharges. By contrast, Skyfall is a 2-D early November release. All of this is to its disadvantage in a comparison.
The Dark Knight Rises appears a more appropriate analogy, however. Like Skyfall, it was the third installment of a rebooted movie franchise bringing a darker tone to its source material, which put out its last film in 2008 and was released in the 2-D format. The late summer position from which Dark Knight Rises launched also seems more comparable to Skyfall's release date than that of The Avengers.
If Skyfall approximates the success of the last Batman film, crossing the billion-dollar mark, it will earn Thunderball-style money and not only become the highest-grossing film in the franchise's fifty year history, but return the 007 series to that uppermost box office tier occupied by the biggest blockbusters.2 However, at least in the U.S., the anticipation for the last Batman movie was higher (reflected in a weekend gross of $160 million, almost twice the prediction for Skyfall, was actually a bit less than some expected), which seems unsurprising given the sheer popularity of The Dark Knight, and its cliffhanger ending. Better legs could make up for this, but the plain and simple truth is that despite the American market's being more receptive to a Bond film than it has been in decades, I still don't see the United States as a place where 007 can match Batman, and certainly not that series' last film.3
The importance of other markets may have risen in relative terms, but the movie's performance in the United States will still make up a large chunk of the global take. Of course, there have been occasions when the gap in performance between the United States and other markets was rather wide, with 1973's Live and Let Die the greatest example.4 However, barring such an exceptional performance, or Skyfall's performing much better in the United States than any major forecaster I know of has yet predicted (at least approaching the $300 million mark), it isn't happening this time around.5 Still, even if it falls short of these most aggressive speculations, the film would still be a success on a scale the series has not seen in forty years.
1. By contrast, Iron Man 2 grossed $624 million, Thor $449 million, and Captain America $369 million - which comes to about $1.442 billion.
2. While the Bond films continued to do well after their '60s-era heyday, a close examination of the numbers shows that their earnings were consistently on a lower level than those of films like the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter sagas, superhero movies like the Superman, Batman and Spiderman series', or Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Titanic, Avatar and the Transformers series. A billion dollars may no longer mean as much as it did when Titanic first broke that barrier back in early 1998 (on the way to a $1.8 billion gross), but it would still suggest a rough parity.
3. The comparative grosses of the movies in 1989 (Batman made $251 million to Licence to Kill's $35 million), 1995 (Batman Forever grossed $184 million to Goldeneye's $106 million) and 2008 (The Dark Knight earned $533 million to Quantum of Solace's $167 million) make the point. Nineteen ninety-seven was an exception (Tomorrow Never Dies grossed $125 million to Batman and Robin's $107 million), but this was because Batman and Robin was a franchise-wrecking flop, something The Dark Knight Rises decidedly was not.
4. Live and Let Die grossed $35 million in the U.S., but $161 million globally, about 78 percent of its revenue coming from other markets. (70 percent is a more typical figure.)
5. If a $230 million U.S. gross ends up being just 22 percent of the global take, as in Live and Let Die, this would easily translate to a final global gross of $1.045 billion. If the U.S. were to account for 30 percent of the global total, as has been more typical, $300 million would also translate to a billion-dollar global gross.
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Skyfall's Opening Weekend
New in Print . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond)
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The 50th Anniversary of the James Bond Film Series