Sunday, June 4, 2023

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Revising the Box Office Prediction in Light of New Information)

Last week I reviewed my early April box office prediction for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny--in which I estimated the movie would be more likely to make between $750 million and $1 billion than go over the $1 billion mark, and raised the specter of a Solo-like collapse--in light of BoxOfficePro's forecast.

In that review I noted BoxOfficePro's new numbers, and considered some of their possible implications, not least dimming prospects for the high ($1 billion+) gross, and the increasing plausibility of the Solo-like scenario, but did not do much more than that. So here I am going to offer a somewhat fuller update.

For the purposes of this post let us take BoxOfficePro's figures as a starting point--namely the $225-$380 million domestic range--and consider the worst and best global grosses in relation to those. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made about 60 percent of its money overseas, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade almost as much, so this seems to me a plausible ceiling. Meanwhile Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom made a mere 46 percent of its money internationally, suggesting it as a plausible floor.

If we assume that the movie makes the top of the domestic range the magazine calculated, and 1.5 times as much more globally, we end up with something in the range of $950 million--not much under $1 billion, close enough in fact as to put the $1 billion figure within a reasonably small margin of error. By contrast, if the movie makes $225 million domestically, and relative to that does no better than Temple of Doom overseas, the movie would take in a mere $415 million or so worldwide.

The result is that, on the basis of our having more information, I now suggest $400 million-$1 billion as the relevant range of the film's gross for prediction now--with, where $1-$1.25 billion had seemed far from implausible, and a Solo-like collapse (which anything under $500 million could safely be counted as) had seemed an outside possibility, the two have switched places.*

Again we are talking about a colossal margin, making the difference between a movie that would be respectable if not stellar, and (maybe) bring in a decent profit by the time all is said and done (with home entertainment, etc., topping off the theatrical rentals), and a Solo-caliber disaster. Splitting the difference between the top and bottom of the range we end up with $700 million--while also splitting the difference between decent money-maker and catastrophe. (Disney-Lucasfilm might be able to break even on the film on a $700 million gross, but not do much better than that.)

Do I think the movie more likely to end up over that $700 million line, or below it? My earlier prediction would suggest an expectation of its going over the line (as, again, $750 million-$1 billion was the range I had in mind as the most likely outcome two months ago, and this remains even inside the new range). Still, the backers erred terribly with their decision to premiere the film at Cannes, undermining their own release with the bad reviews, the spoilers that many will find not to their liking, and the diminution of options for getting the public more excited about the film, as a result of which it is easier to picture the situation getting worse than better. The result is that right now the odds of the movie going over or ending up under the line strike me as even--though that could very easily change in the nearly four weeks remaining between now and the film's release.

* Adjusted for inflation Solo could be said to have grossed $474 million in contemporary dollars (rather more than the worst-case scenario discussed here).

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: The Opening Weekend Box Office and the Outlook for the Long-Term Domestic and Worldwide Gross

Earlier this year I wondered if Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse might not outperform every other Marvel superhero movie, or even every other superhero movie, coming out this year.

Three days into its release it its outperforming Guardians of the Galaxy 3 domestically, with, much closer to the high than the low end of BoxOfficePro's projection ($95-$130 million), over $120 million grossed.

Will the movie maintain its lead over Star-Lord and friends? Certainly its opening, as not just a sequel but perhaps the most anticipated movie of the summer, suggests front-loading. However, the enthusiasm seems real enough, and people seem to be liking what they were seeing--with 96 percent scores from both the "verified" and "all" audiences on Rotten Tomatoes (matched by ratings almost as good from the critics, both "all" and "top" critics giving it a 95 percent rating). The result is that the movie seems to me to still have a fair chance of besting Guardians of the Galaxy 3 (with its gross now standing at $322 million), and in the process just about every superhero movie coming out this year except, possibly, Aquaman 2 (though Across the Spider-Verse besting it too seems within the realm of possibility should the film prove the disappointment some fear).

Still, the margins are for the time being slender enough that the film's hold over the next two weeks will be critical in determining that outcome.

Internationally the debut has been less impressive--the film scoring $88 million so far--which is respectable, but not quite the same level of success. (Indeed, Across the Spider-Verse made a third less in its debut in China than its predecessor did--in current dollars.) It may be too soon to claim too much on that basis, but it may be that enthusiasm for the animated Spiderman feature film franchise did not explode globally the way it has at home. The result is that the film's performance will not hit the highs globally that it does at home, with all that implies for the film's final gross, and its ultimate significance from the standpoint of Hollywood fashion.

Is The Little Mermaid Playing Like Ant-Man 3?

Ant-Man 3 came out on a four-day holiday weekend, during which it posted respectable numbers, but then went on to an underwhelming gross relative even to the immediately preceding films. There were many dimensions to this--like the film's extremely weak legs (which had it taking in more than half its domestic gross in just those first four days). However, The Little Mermaid, domestically at least, if not opening much differently (it had a $119 million gross, actually less than Ant-Man 3's $120 million), seems bound to make much more money than Ant-Man 3 did, helped by rather stronger legs (the decline in the gross from the first Friday-to-Sunday weekend period to the second just 57 percent, as against Ant-Man 3's 70 percent, bringing its ten-day cume to $186 million, as against Ant-Man's $167 million at the same point).

However, what I am noticing is how the film's domestic underperformance (relatively slight--mainly an underperformance by the super-high standards of Disney's most successful products) is proving much less relevant than the film's international underperformance. Adjusting the numbers for inflation Ant-Man 3's domestic gross was a sixth less than what Ant-Man 2 made, but its international gross was little more than half what its predecessor took in when considered in those terms. Where the domestic gross is concerned The Little Mermaid could easily end up about a sixth down domestically if one treats Aladdin as its most meaningful predecessor--while being down far worse if the film's income in international release is anything to go by. With The Little Mermaid likely to finish up with $300-$350 million domestically, one would have, to go by the performance of its predecessors, taken in $560-$650 million abroad. By contrast the movie would seem likely to finish up with $225-$260 million or so globally--a drop of between 54 and 65 percent from what might have been hoped for just on the basis of this movie's earnings, and worse when one adjusts for inflation (from 68 to 72 percent in that case). Those chewing over the film's success, or failure, as they see it, should attend to that fact.

The Little Mermaid: The Opening Weekend Box Office and the Outlook for the Long-Term Gross

In its second weekend in release Disney's live-action remake of The Little Mermaid grossed over $40 million domestically, raising its total to $186 million--actually a bit better than the BoxOfficePro folks anticipated this weekend. (They had in mind a figure of $179 million.)

The result is that, given its strong parallel with preceding Disney films, among them the similarly Memorial Day weekend-released Aladdin (which similarly grossed $90 million+ in its first Friday-to-Sunday period, $40 million+ in its second, and $186 million in its first ten days), I still expect it to, if fading a little faster (with a weekend-to-weekend drop of 57 percent, as against Aladdin's 53 percent), break $300 million fairly easily, with a domestic gross north of $350 million not necessarily out of reach (and barring some collapse, not end up much lower than that in the worst case).

Of course, this may not be all that the film's backers and supporters hoped for. (Thanks to inflation Aladdin's $356 million in the summer of 2019 would be more like $420 million+ in the summer of 2023, so that even matching Aladdin would leave the gross one-sixth down relative to the other movie.) Still, it would be far from the disaster some are speaking of--if that was all that mattered. The international market generally delivered 65 percent+ of the global gross for Disney's big-budget live-action remakes of its animated classics in recent years--and the opening weekend raised real doubts about that. (It actually looked like it was going to be the other way around, the domestic market delivering close to two-thirds of the money.)

Has the film's second weekend in play changed that? The movie's overseas gross now stands at $140 million--a good deal less than what it has made at home, and working out to approximately 43 percent of the global total. This is actually about the same figure we had at the end of the first three days (when the movie made about $68 million of the $164 million then grossed, 42 percent of the total). Assuming the pattern continues I would expect The Little Mermaid to finish up with somewhere around $600 million globally on the basis of what we have seen so far, near the lower end of the $600-$700 million range predicted here last week.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Will the Bad Reviews Matter to the Prospects of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny?

What the critics say about movies does not always matter. Some movies do just fine with the critics against them--like The Super Mario Bros. Movie (this year's first and only billion-dollar grosser).

Is it possible that critical negativity will be similarly irrelevant in the case of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny?

I doubt that very much.

Why is that? I can think of three reasons.

1. Critical opinion matters more to adults, and especially older adults, than kids. And Indiana Jones 5 will be counting heavily on the older audience--rather more than a movie starring Mario and Luigi, which every Nintendo-playing kid will want to see even if it is supposed to be totally terrible, and make mom and dad take them.

2. No one expects critics to love a film like The Super Mario Bros. Movie, so that their dislike of the film would simply seem background noise. (Indeed, this may be why the critics were allowed to deviate from their usual function of rating movies "from good to excellent" in this case.) But they have been favorable to Indiana Jones in the past--and their not being favorable this time around matters, the more in as

3. Even those older Indiana Jones fans were likely skeptical about this one, given how many years had passed since the last movie (and how many more since the last really well-liked one) with all that means for "recapturing their magic," the sense that Indiana Jones 4 was both a disappointment and a close to the saga after which it should be left alone, an octogenarian Harrison Ford, a new director, new management at Lucasfilm, an amping up of the CGI (we all know how that affected the response to the later Star Wars films), and hints that the theme and tone would be a break with what had been attractive about the preceding films that might diminish the happy memory of them, among much, much else. It would have been helpful to have critics assuaging that skepticism--but instead their reviews make clear that they not only think it a lackluster film at best, but tell those who had such concerns that the movie is exactly what they were afraid it would be.

The result is that, yes, this is one where critical opinion matters--and is working against the movie rather than for it, with the consequences implicit in the BoxOfficePro forecast for the film's opening weekend and full domestic runs. (Remember what happened the last time Phoebe Waller-Bridge played sidekick to an iconic Harrison Ford character? Well . . .)

Is Excitement about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Already Dying Down?

Recently looking at the press coverage of Indiana Jones 5 the newer pieces seemed to consist of, a little on-set gossip apart, the kind of clickbaity material that could be produced at any time, offering nothing new as they did. ("How to Watch the Indiana Jones Movies in Order." "The Indiana Jones Movies Rated From Best to Worst." Etc.)

This is because the film has already had its premiere, and the critics have had their say--a month and a half before the global release of the movie. And those reviews have not been flattering. (This "tomato," according to the folks at RT, is rotten.) In the process they have shared so many spoilers that anyone who wants to can with just a little web-surfing find out pretty much every last little detail of the film down to the "big twist," and the tease of the final shot before the screen goes black and the credits roll. Thus there is no more place for the kind of speculation the press so loves to use as a substitute for actual knowledge and information.

So until the movie hits theaters and non-critics start seeing it and reacting the claqueurs have little to work with.

The bad reviews, the end of the speculation, the flatness of what we are getting instead, so far in advance of the movie's release, seem very, very unlikely to be helpful to the movie's gross--Disney-Lucasfilm gambled on a triumphant reception on the Riviera, and lost that gamble, badly. In the process it would seem to have shot its bolt publicity-wise, leaving it without a basis for recovering from its self-inflicted blow, such that the outlook, already terrible (a Solo-like collapse is no longer an outside possibility but safely inside the BoxOfficePro's range of expectation) could get worse rather than better over the next month--as it has for so many other Disney releases this summer.

The Prospects for The Flash Get Grimmer . . . Again

Last week we heard a great deal about how BoxOfficePro's forecasts for The Flash (and Elemental) underwent some downgrading.

After that--and with the disappointing prediction for Indiana Jones (a Solo-like performance is well within the range of their expectationsone could easily miss that they revised the film's prospects again, and not upwards. Where last week the "floor" for the film's projected performance of The Flash dropped significantly, now the same has happened with the ceiling too, this falling from $362 million last week to $308 million now--continued erosion amounting to a near one-fifth drop in the two weeks since the first ($375 million) forecast.

The movie's prospects could recover in the next two weeks--though I do not see how. By contrast I can very easily picture interest in the movie continuing to erode, in the process turning the highly touted "best superhero film ever made" into another failure, and reminding us all that Disney's executives have no monopoly on whatever fashionable corporate buzzword refers to the "skill set" of making for financially ruinous flops.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny: (Box Office Gross Prediction Reviewed: We May Indeed Be Looking at Another Solo)

Back in April I offered my prediction regarding the box office prospects of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (aka Indiana Jones 5). My conclusion, based on the inflation-adjusted performance of the prior films, and the downward trend evident among those performances, was that a fifth Indiana Jones movie could be expected to pull in about $400 million domestically, while making one-and-a-half times that overseas, for a $1 billion take. I also suggested a 25 percent margin of error here given the distance between this level and what past films had made, providing a margin of plausible, not-unprecedented success should it "overperform," and the effects of the considerable headwinds the film faced, with the film's undershooting rather than overshooting the billion-dollar mark--and a Solo-like collapse not to be wholly ruled out.

In short:

$750-$1.25 billion, with <$1 billion more likely than $1 billion<, and Solo-like collapse (e.g. circa $500 million) not out of the question.

Following the film's unfortunate reception in the wake of its Cannes premiere I saw more reason to expect the pessimistic outcome discussed above, and wondered what BoxOfficePro would say come June 2 (given its routine of releasing its forecasts four weeks before the release date).

Their opening weekend prediction is $81-$111 million--and the domestic run expected to finish up somewhere between $225 and $380 million.

Even the top end of the range is a bit below my base prediction of a domestic gross of $400 million--while the low end of the range is, rather than a quarter down from it, not much better than half that. The result is that the low end of the range we are talking about is a Solo-like collapse scenario, if not worse. (Solo's $214 million back in May 2018 was equal to $258 million in April 2023 dollars.) Should the film make a global gross of 2.5 times its domestic take the result at the bottom end of the range would be some $560 million (not so much better than Solo's inflation-adjusted $474 million)--while I do not rule out the film's underperformance overseas being worse than its domestic underperformance, such that, again, an even lower and more Solo-like gross cannot be wholly ruled out (the more in as nostalgia for this one may be shakier abroad than here).

So at this point: the prospect of the $1 billion gross seems to be ever receding, while the Solo-like crash, which I earlier treated as unlikely but still worth acknowledging looking more and more like a realistic (if depressing) possibility.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

BoxOfficePro's Weekend Projections (Guardians of the Galaxy 3, The Little Mermaid, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse): Some Thoughts on What They May Mean

BoxOfficePro has released its projections for this weekend.

Its figures for three films in particular caught my interest, namely those for Guardians of the Galaxy 3, The Little Mermaid and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

BoxOfficePro expects Guardians of the Galaxy 3 to have a $9 million fifth weekend, raising its total gross to the vicinity of $320 million--which seems to me consistent with my guess about the movie's ending up in the vicinity of $330 million domestically from a few weeks ago (if perhaps ending up with more like $335 million than $325 million). All this reaffirms that the film's overseas trajectory, where after the film's opening better than it did in the U.S. it seems to be fading more quickly, will be the key determinant in whether it finishes below $800 million, or gets some way north of it before the close of its run.

The matter of the weekend hold is more complicated in the case of The Little Mermaid. With a 61 percent drop from one Friday-to-Sunday to the next anticipated the projection would seem to be for a quicker fade than what the comparable Aladdin had (another Disney live-action adaptation of an animated movie of theirs from thirty years ago, likewise released Memorial Day weekend, which had only a 53 percent weekend-to-weekend drop). Leaving it running about 4 percent behind Aladdin in current dollars, this still leaves The Little Mermaid on track for a respectable $300 million domestically. However, a very big question mark continues to hang over its second weekend performance in other markets--this always decisive in determining whether a big Disney production is a success financially, though I cannot remember their previously having entailed so much uncertainty as they do with this movie.

Finally BoxOfficePro has issued an estimate, in about the middle of the range it forecast last week, for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, foreseeing a $115 million opening. Suggestive of a final gross in the $300 million+ range, it confirms what we have heard about this one playing like a regular live-action Marvel movie with all that may imply not just for the franchise, but for the superhero film and the Hollywood blockbuster generally.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

What Will Pixar's Elemental Make at the Worldwide Box Office? (A Box Office Gross Prediction)

Pixar's Elemental will be only the second film from that studio to have a "normal" release (theaters only, in a box office well on its way to normalization) since the pandemic cut off Onward's initially well-received and commercially promising run.

The first film was Lightyear--a major failure, commercially at least. (Deadline estimated the loss the studio suffered on the movie at over $100 million last year--making it a Solo-caliber flop.)

As it happens, BoxOfficePro, a mere three weeks before the film's opening, was not optimistic about this one either, estimating its likely domestic gross at $98-$167 million--what would at the low end be a disappointing opening weekend for such a movie, never mind its whole run.

Of course, a Pixar movie can put in a not-so-good performance domestically and make up for it overseas. Coco certainly did so--its $210 million in 2017 a far cry from Inside Out's $356 million two years earlier, to say nothing of the $400 million+ taken in by Finding Dory (2016) and Toy Story 4 (2019), and of course, the $600 million+ scored by The Incredibles 2 (2018). Still, performing at Pixar's usual standard overseas, bringing in nearly $600 million more, made it an $800 million hit.

All the same, that was very anomalous, the norm for Pixar its movies' making 50 to 60 percent of their money internationally (rather than the near-three quarters Coco did).* Moreover, Elemental's anticipated gross is way below Coco's at even the high end, even before we start thinking about what six years of inflation have done to the dollar.

What do these numbers suggest? Assume the film, in line with the most pessimistic extrapolation from the available numbers, pulls in $100 million domestically, and no better than that overseas. This leaves Pixar with $200 million in the till.

Alternatively, assume the film's gross is at the high end of the BoxOfficePro range, and like Coco makes three-quarters of its money overseas. We could be looking at a gross of $660 million+.

A range of between $200 million and $660 million is very wide indeed--but we do have a midpoint in $430 million, while we can consider a range of more specific scenarios within the parameters of the numbers discussed here, eschewing both the worst case (the movie's falling equally flat at home and abroad) and the best (the movie doing relatively well or better at home, and cleaning up internationally in that way so rarely seen).

Assuming the film makes the bottom of the range estimated by BoxOfficePro domestically (just under $100 million), but, as is usual when a Pixar film does relatively poorly in the U.S., somewhat better abroad--pulling in, say, 60 percent of its money there--we would end up with a global gross of $250 million. (And again, with three quarters of its money made abroad, Coco-style, it would bring in some $400 million.)

Assuming the film makes the middle of the range estimated by BoxOfficePro at home ($133 million), and only matches this overseas (as seen with Incredibles 2), we end up with about $270 million. With 60 percent of the money being made overseas (another $200 million), we have a take of more like $330 million (while with three quarters grossed there it would make more like $530 million).

Assuming the film makes the top of the range discussed domestically ($167 million), and matches this overseas, we end up with $335 million, while its making 60 percent of its money overseas would work out to its making a bit under $420 million.

Meanwhile consider an analogy we overlook if focused on the more recent and more successful films--The Good Dinosaur--which may be especially salient. At the moment I cannot say much about Elemental artistically--but it has seemed to me that, where the general audience (and especially the American audience) is concerned, science fiction and fantasy are an easier sell when the concepts are familiar and easy for people who are not hardcore sci-fi fans to grasp--and the setting not too different from contemporary Earth. Thus was it with the present day-set films about superheroes (The Incredibles), talking fish (Finding Nemo and its sequel) and talking toys (Toy Story) that have been Pixar's biggest moneymakers. By contrast The Good Dinosaur, with its counterfactual premise and quasi-prehistoric milieu and spin on the theme of the adventure of a "boy and his dog," was conceptually "too much." So might it go with Elemental, with its city where beings of fire, air, water and earth all live together.

How did The Good Dinosaur end up doing?

It picked up $123 million domestic and $332 million worldwide (making less than the usual, with American sales especially depressed so that it took in 63 percent of its money overseas). Adjusted for inflation this works out to $157 million domestic--and $424 million global in April 2023 dollars, about the midpoint between the bottom and top ends of the range discussed above.

Meanwhile, taking the circa $130 million estimate discussed as the mid-range for the domestic gross here, and assuming its accounting for just 37 percent of the global total (as the other 63 percent come in from overseas), we end up with more like $350 million.

Apart from the comparative outlier of $530 million, the figures I have amassed here --$250 million, $270 million, $330 million, $335 million, $420 million, $430 million in the better and worse scenarios, and the numbers from the more specific analogy with The Good Dinosaur too—fall within the range of $250-$430 million. Rounding up or down to the nearest $50 million for good measure, we end up with a range of $250-$450 million, and $350 million or so (the same figure we got with the looser analogy with The Good Dinosaur) right in the middle.

In the absence of more information at present that--$250-$450 million, and the middle of that range especially--is the vicinity in which I expect the final take to end up. All the same, I do not wholly rule out a $600 million+ take, especially in the event of the film finding a stronger reception overseas, which, if not putting it on a level with the $1 billion hits to which Pixar, like Marvel, got so accustomed in the late '10s, would make it no Lightyear-like failure.

* The figures for Incredibles 2, Finding Dory, Toy Story 4 and Inside Out were, respectively, 51, 53, 60 and 58 percent.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: The Beginning of a New Trend in American Animation?

The 2018 film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse made a bit under $400 million at the box office. Given the budget and expectations it was respectable, not spectacular--especially in comparison with the money made by both live-action superhero films (especially the consistently popular Spider-Man movies), and the animated films put out by studios like Disney, Disney-Pixar and Illumination (single films of theirs routinely raking in $1 billion or more at the box office in those same years).

This was also not too surprising--Americans tending to take their action-adventure in live-action form, while leaving splashy family films, especially comedies and musical comedies, to the animators.

The result is that it is interesting that BoxOfficePro, in contrast with its response to the tracking of so many live-action superhero films this year, has been getting more bullish about the prospects of the 2018 movie as we approach the movie's launch (scheduled for this Friday). Estimating a far higher take suggestive of what only the live-action superhero films have tended to make (the high end of the range for the domestic gross is now $360 million), Shawn Robbins explicitly acknowledged that its trajectory "seems to be mimicking a typical Marvel film more than a traditional animated release without a dedicated fan base."

The figures, and the parallel, have me wondering--could Across the Spider-Verse be a milestone for American animation? The moment in which action-adventure in that form as a major theatrical draw arrives? When, just as in Japan, animated action movies adapting the most popular comic book stories around start to routinely top the box office?

There seem to be good reasons to think so. Americans seem to have become more accustomed to this kind of experience as anime and manga fans flock to the theaters to catch Japanese animated films of the type in growing numbers. (Consider, for example, how in 2021, as Hollywood failed miserably to attract crowds of the usual size, the Japanese blockbuster Demon Slayer opened to $21 million on the way to selling $50 million worth of tickets--almost what James Gunn's much-touted The Suicide Squad managed that summer.) Moreover, exploiting the possibilities of animation would seem a way to inject a bit of creativity, or at least novelty, into the well-worn superhero movie genre, and the well-worn American blockbuster generally (perhaps, while also saving on production costs). Indeed, the folks at Warner Bros. pontificating about 10-year plans for rebooting the DC Extended Universe, if really thinking that far ahead, should be paying particular attention to the possibility.

So far, though, I know of no reason to think they are doing so.

How Much Does a $250 Million Production Need to Make in Order to Break Even?

We seem to hear the figure $250 million in relation to production budgets a lot these days. Thor 4 and Black Panther 2 supposedly cost that much. So did Guardians of the Galaxy 3. And lots of others.

Seeing how much money these films cost, and how much they made at the box office (well under $1 billion in the case of the first two, with the same expected in the case of the third), people wondered "Was that enough for them to break even?"

The completely unsatisfying but true answer is "It depends."

Not every reported production budget figure is accurate. Even when they are people do not always mean the same thing when they speak of "production budgets." They may be speaking of what it cost to make the movie--or the "net" cost, which is to say how much the studio had to spend, rather than what was covered by outside sources like product placement or tax breaks. They may, consciously or unconsciously, include the "interest and overhead," but not always.

Meanwhile there are the uncertainties about what was spent after production on distribution and promotion--"ads and prints." There is also the matter of "participations and residuals" (as in, someone else gets their cut of the gross, right off the top, pushing the moment at which the backer of a movie breaks even on what they laid out further off). All of this is never cheap, but it can vary very wildly--while the details get a lot less publicity than production costs with the participations and residuals especially complicating things greatly. (Certainly participations and residuals on Top Gun 2 cost almost twice the production budget of the film, $315 million to $177 million.)

Finally, there is how we think about revenue. We usually think in terms of box office gross, of which the studio that made the film is apt to get 40-50 percent of the total in "rentals." But home entertainment, TV, streaming are hugely important revenue generators, even for big hits often delivering 40 percent or more of the total income.

The result of the latter especially is that a movie that would not come close to breaking even on its theatrical run ends up not only breaking even in the end, but a money-maker, with a good example Thor 4. That movie, which according to Deadline really did run $250 million in production costs, without the interest and overhead (another $45 million), and far from slight expenditures on prints and ads ($160 million!), thus incurred well over $400 million in costs just getting into theaters, before any thought of participations and residuals came into the picture.

The movie ended up grossing $760 million theatrically--and netting just $350 million in theatrical rentals. And it would have been a big loss-maker if the issue ended there.

However, between home entertainment, television, streaming, the movie netted another $300 million. In the process the film got $650 million in revenues, for an eventual outlay (participations and residuals included) of a little under $550 million.

So in short--a $250 million movie that grossed just $760 million at the box office not only broke even, but made $100 million+, landing it a spot on the list of the most profitable films of the year. Moreover, all this is without getting into such matters as the value provided in its propping up of a bigger franchise (as is the case with the Marvel Cinematic Universe), or the colossal revenues derived by that franchise from marketing (which propping up that franchise helps, even beyond direct sales of Thor-related merchandise).

All this goes to show that a movie that can fairly be considered a disappointment and an underperformer (compared with, for instance, Thor 3 and the standard the MCU seemed to set in its storied Phase Three) was, taken in itself, very much worth the while for the investors. And so is it likely to go with other similarly expensive movies that at least avoid making much less than the Thor sequel.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

What We Can Expect of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: A Box Office Prediction (The Global Gross, and the $1 Billion Question)

With a mere week to go before the film's release, BoxOfficePro's Shawn Robbins upgraded the forecast for the domestic gross of the sequel to the animated 2018 Spider-Man film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, to the range of $259-$362 million (a rough one-ninth increase from the prior level at the high end, from $325 million).

Implying a potential gross almost 60 percent higher in real terms than what the first film raked in domestically ($190 million, which is more like $229 million in April 2023 money), it would be a very rare case of a post-pandemic sequel doing better--much better--than its pre-pandemic predecessor. (Indeed, the only point of comparison that comes to mind--perhaps not coincidentally--is the colossal gross of that other Spider-Man movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home, with its $800 million take.*)

Should the new film merely approach the upper limit of the range projected by BoxOfficePro it would very likely beat Guardians of the Galaxy 3 (my expectation still has it topping out at about $330 million), every other Marvel film this year (all of which I expect to do less business than Guardians), very likely The Flash as well (especially with its projected gross looking less impressive than before), Blue Beetle and, especially if the bad buzz is to be heeded, probably Aquaman 2 as well, at the box office--which would, again, leave it the highest-grossing Marvel superhero movie, or just plain superhero movie, of 2023, domestically at least.

Could it make the $1 billion mark, though? Assuming the bullish view about the film's domestic prospects is justified the big "if" here would be foreign response. Some movies, after all, do as much as three or more times their domestic business overseas, with the later installments of the Fast and Furious franchise excellent examples. However, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse did not do much more than match its domestic gross internationally ($194 million international to $190 million domestic). Were that international response merely to grow alongside the way the domestic gross is expected to expand one would call that an extraordinary success--but that would leave the movie with not much more than $700 million in the till. Thus, barring even more extreme domestic overperformance than has already been envisaged, foreign enthusiasm would have to grow much more than domestic enthusiasm has--the movie not seeing its gross rise by 60 percent in relation to the first film, but more like triple. (In April 2023 terms the movie's $194 million gross would be more like $234 million--as against the $640 million+ probably required to get the movie into the billion-dollar club.) This may not be impossible--but I have seen no evidence for it so far.

The result is that the safer bet would still seem to be something between the bottom of the BoxOfficePro projection combined with the foreign gross the first film got ($260 million domestic, $230 million overseas+), and the high end of the domestic range matched by a proportionately enlarged gross abroad ($362 million, plus $370 million abroad) as the lower and upper limits of the plausible range of the worldwide gross. This works out to arrange of approximately $500 million-$750 million, with the $1 billion take only an outside possibility for now.

* Spider-Man: Far From Home took in $390 million in the summer of 2019--which equaled $424 million in December 2021, when Spider-Man: No Way Home opened and collected almost twice as much ($814 million, 92 percent more than the prior film's already impressive sum).

How Much Will The Little Mermaid Make at the Box Office?; or, "Will The Little Mermaid Make a Billion Dollars?"

As I remarked in a prior post I had wondered if The Little Mermaid might not be the live-action movie that will break the billion-dollar barrier this year--and then when seeing the opening weekend numbers, particularly the numbers from overseas, I became much more doubtful.

Consider the track record of the movies that seem most comparable--the four live-action adaptations of Disney animated classics released pre-pandemic, namely The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King (as middle-of-the-pandemic, simultaneously-on-streaming Mulan is not likely to be very helpful here). Those four movies all made between 28 and 35 percent of their domestic gross during the first weekend of release (with Aladdin, like The Little Mermaid a Memorial Day weekend release making a third), while all four made 60 to 67 percent of their money abroad.

A $118 million opening gross would therefore work out to something in the vicinity of $340-$410 million domestic, with the usual level of international ticket sales suggesting a global total of some $850 million to $1.2 billion by the end of the run (the latter, about what Aladdin made when one adjusts for inflation).* However, in the first three days of release, rather than the U.S. gross being 30 to 33 percent of the total it was more like 58 percent of the money made globally (all as the movie came out in the larger and more lucrative markets, China included). Should that domestic/foreign split endure then a $340-$410 million gross would work out to something more in the vicinity of $600-$700 million globally.

Of course, we are still quite early in the film's run. Should it prove to have stronger than expected legs at home, or enjoy some "bounce" overseas after a weak early reception, it could do better. All the same, the $1 billion mark that the four preceding films cleared easily (at a moment when the dollar was less inflated) remains a long way off, even should the film do better than now expected. (After all, the movie would have to take in 40 percent+ more than the high end of the range I calculated here.) Meanwhile, in light of its reception it may be easier to imagine the film doing less well than "overperforming."

* Adjusting the May-July 2019 prices of the period of Aladdin's release for the prices of April 2023 the film's $1.05 billion gross at the time of release is equal to $1.24 billion today.

Analogies for The Little Mermaid's Box Office Run: Black Panther, The Last Jedi, Ant-Man 3?

As I remarked earlier a major factor in my hesitation to discuss the box office prospects of The Little Mermaid was the scarcity of useful points of comparison compared with other would-be blockbusters. (The most obviously useful analogies--other live-action adaptations of Disney animated classics--are few, and pretty much all pre-pandemic, in contrast with what I write here about Marvel Cinematic Universe films.)

Still, in the wake of the first weekend it seems to me that there are three points of comparison even beyond the prior live-action Disney adaptations.

The Little Mermaid is like Black Panther in being a Disney-backed film hailed in many quarters as a step forward for representation.

It is like The Last Jedi in its box office gross, at least at this stage of things, appearing a significant disappointment in comparison with its predecessors, all as supporters of the film claim that online trolls opposed to that step forward for representation are significantly at fault.

And it is like Ant-Man 3 in the film's underperformance, while being evident in the domestic market, being much more pronounced in overseas markets--the gap between anticipated ticket sales and what the film has actually made much wider there than at home.

Whether these latter two analogies will become less salient--or more so--to our thinking about the movie's run is something we will see in the weeks ahead.

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