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Worst Year? Numero Uno? Goin’ Bust?!

August 31st, 2010 No comments

  

Worst Movie Year Ever?

Last month in the Wall Street Journal, pundit and scribe Joe Queenan raised a lot of hackles in Hollywood when he wrote an article asking whether 2010 was “The Worst Movie Year Ever?” The piece got a lot of play, and Queenan’s alternately comedic and sarcastic tone is entertaining, even if it’s unfair to the film industry. He points out (accurately) that big-budget tentpole films like “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and “Robin Hood” were critically panned and commercial flops, but goes on to suggest “Inception,” the summer’s biggest non-animated hit, should be used to burrow into film execs’ minds and get them to stop making dreck like “Dinner for Schmucks.”

What Queenan doesn’t take into account is that nobody sets out to make a bad movie. (OK, maybe “Showgirls,” but it’s only good because it’s so bad, at least from a story standpoint…) “Dinner for Schmucks,” which may turn out to be the year’s biggest turkey, was based on a very successful French comedy, and clearly had studio support throughout its long gestation. “Grown Ups” has made $160 million, and follows Adam Sandler’s tried & true formula of delivering movies squarely aimed at his fan base, which obviously doesn’t include fussbudget Queenan. And Queenan’s lack of opinion on “Inception” speaks volumes: he can snipe about the summer’s misses, of which there have been a few, but he fails to give credit where credit is due. “Inception” is the top non-animated film of the summer, a cerebral $270 million hit with audiences (and most critics); the top animated film, “Toy Story 3,” comes out of the redoubtable Pixar studio, and has made more than $400 million domestically in addition to garnering some of the best reviews of the “Toy Story” franchise.

It seems like every year some pundit declares the year’s movie offerings as ‘the worst ever.’ Does 2010 stack up? Well, let’s put it this way: box office is up. If that seems like good news, you might want to stop reading right now…

It’s Liar’s Poker Again…

This past weekend’s final box office grosses have come in. Initially, Sunday’s ‘preliminary’ tally reported Lionsgate’s “The Last Exorcism” as the winner over Sony’s “Takers,” both of which opened over the weekend. Lionsgate reported $21.3 million versus Sony’s $21 million, giving ‘Exorcism’ the vaunted #1 spot. But, as we have written in the past, this process offers a lot of ‘wiggle room’ for studios to fudge their results for effect. That’s apparently what happened, because when the smoke cleared and the final numbers came in, the order was reversed: “Takers” was #1 with $20.5 million against “The Last Exorcism”‘s $20.3 million opening.

Where are YOU going…?

It certainly can be taken as a good sign that the box office gross is tracking up 1% this year from last year’s record $10 billion total. On the other hand, the fact that there have been a number of lackluster 3-D films inflating overall box office with higher ticket prices has hidden an alarming 4% drop in movie attendance in 2010. Combined with the unsustainable models of “Avatar” and “Paranormal Activity,” which helped elevate 2009’s box office to its record, it seems clear that expectations in Hollywood are out-of-whack with results. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the year plays out, and whether Hollywood can reverse this troubling moviegoer slump. Will technology and economic forces conspire to make Hollywood follow the old ‘record business’ into freefall?

But, then again, have you seen the slate of films due in 2011? They’re awesome, as we say here in Tinseltown. Trust me

Is that a Tentpole in your pocket? (Or are you just shoring-up your slate?)

May 10th, 2010 No comments

Here’s a number for you: 133,600,000. That’s the amount of money, in dollars, “Iron Man 2” made in the U.S. over its opening weekend, putting it in first place (and fifth among all-time 3-day opening weekends).

Here’s another number: 14.5. That’s how many times greater “Iron Man 2″‘s B.O. take is than the #2 grossing film of the week, the rebooted “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which couldn’t crack $10 million – it made $9.2 million. As a matter of fact, the “Iron Man” sequel brought in three and a half times as much money as the rest of the weekend’s remaining ‘top ten’ combined. And worldwide, the film has already topped $325 million.

All this preoccupation with numbers and large box office opening weekends can only mean one thing: the summer movie tentpole season is here.

So, what IS a tentpole? There are varying definitions, but it basically boils down to one thing (doesn’t everything?): money. A tentpole film is a ‘property’ whose commercial potential a studio feels so strongly about that it throws money at the production (and subsequent marketing, advertising, publicity, and so on) and counts on its box office results to line studio coffers and reinforce the studio’s other releases, some of which may be mere ‘filler,’ like B-movie ‘programmers’ of old. In other words, a tentpole props up the studio bottom line, and it is part of a strategy the majors have grown increasingly dependent upon for nearly the last two decades.

“Iron Man 2” is the first of the summer tentpoles, but it will soon be followed by a flood of contenders for box office supremacy, from Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s reteaming in the testosterized version of “Robin Hood” to the gynocentric “Sex and the City 2.” Along the way, there will be a video game brought to the big screen – Disney’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” a couple of the summer’s few remaining 3-D films, “Shrek – The Final Chapter” and “Toy Story 3” from Disney. There’s also a retooling of “The Karate Kid” starring Jackie Chan alongside Will Smith’s son Jaden, and other big-budget entries like “The A-Team,” Tom CruiseCameron Diaz starrer “Knight and Day,” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender.” And that’s just the half of it.

 Sony will release “Grown Ups,” starring Adam Sandler and his pals Kevin James, David Spade, Chris Rock and Rob Schneider. There’s another episode in the ‘Twilight’ saga, “Eclipse,” opening June 30th, and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, will come out July 16. “Inception” has already garnered ‘industry buzz’ because of the secrecy surrounding the project, its large budget and rumors that the final result is mind-bendingly inaccessible. Angelina Jolie returns to big screen action in the spy drama “Salt” in late July. One week later, Matt Damon-starrer “The Adjustment Bureau” opens, just before a last 3-D summer entry, Disney’s “Step Up” three-quel “Step Up 3-D.” Though probably not technically considered a ‘tentpole’ picture, it’s important to note that Julia Roberts will return to the screen after a protracted absence in the film version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” on August 13.

This is the time of year the studios depend on to bring in the ‘big bucks,’ and they’re throwing everything they can into their efforts to ensure their tentpole films are successful. Watch for lots of TV advertising, viral marketing, and commercial tie-ins, not to mention talk-show appearances and other promotional efforts. It’s Hollywood’s high season, and every studio will do anything they can to get you into THEIR tent – as they hope their tentpoles can help keep them covered…