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Posts Tagged ‘liar’s poker’

Cowboys tie Smurfs

August 1st, 2011 No comments

 

It’s a Tie: The Smurfs win!

As the summer movie season heads into its final month, the preliminary box office report is in for the past weekend, and the winner is… “The Smurfs.” But wait… Didn’t “The Smurfs” tie with “Cowboys & Aliens” at a reported $36.2 million each for their opening weekends? Well, technically, they did. But Sony and Columbia’s animated, 3-D, kid-oriented feature outperformed for its opening, while Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” series follow-up underperformed. And there’s always the ‘liar’s poker’ aspect of preliminary box office – frequently it turns out that the margin between a ‘tie’ or even a $100,000 ‘squeaker’ finish is far wider than studio ‘estimates’ suggest. In other words, sometimes people inflate figures to enhance their company bottom line. Gee, when did artifice, insincerity and self-interest creep into Hollywood business? Oh, right – never mind. [As this post was being completed, the final numbers came out for the weekend: “Cowboys & Aliens” $36.4 million, “The Smurfs” $35.6 million.]

Favreau got smurfed like nobody’s business

“Cowboys & Aliens,” which cost $163 million to make, is writer/director Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man 2” follow-up, and producing partners Universal, DreamWorks, Reliance and Relativity were depending on Favreau’s mojo with fanboys to drive the film’s opening. The movie participated at Comic-Con last weekend, and its stars Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford have been grouchily honoring their publicity obligations, but this project seems to have fallen on Favreau’s shoulders, and getting gang-smurfed at the weekend box office probably came as a rude surprise to him. It doesn’t help matters that “Cowboys & Aliens” was shot in (apparently now passe) 2-D, so it did not get the 3-D premium coin its diminutive blue Belgian competitors enjoyed. Western films, in general, have been poison at the box office in the last few decades, with a few notable examples like last year’s remake of “True Grit” or 1990’s “Dances With Wolves.” Just a handful have made it past the $100 million dollar B.O. mark, and “Cowboys & Aliens” will have a tougher time making it there now that it has opened lower than hoped. Let’s face it, though: “Cowboys & Aliens,” a genre mash-up, is about as much a ‘Western’ as next year’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” can be called a ‘Lincoln biography.’

The (small) Blue Man Group

It’s pretty clear Sony’s marketing machine revved-up and ‘got its smurf on’ in a big way. In addition to a huge advertising campaign, the company pacted with Build-a-Bear, FAO Schwartz and McDonalds to grow awareness of the film among the Smurf set. Neil Patrick Harris dilligently performed his PR duties with a smile, appearing across the TV channel spectrum. As a result, the $110 million production resonated with youthful audiences, who, accordingly, dragged along at least one parent to pay enhanced 3-D prices for their tickets. Tellingly, “The Smurfs” was on 355 fewer screens than ‘Cowboys,’ so the final B.O. totals should be interesting, to say the least. The end result was a happy weekend for director Raja Gosnell and the folks at Sony and Columbia – at least until the final B.O. figures come out. [See the end of the first paragraph for ‘Cowboys” narrow margin of ‘victory.’]

‘America’ comes in third; ‘Love’ loses big…

Last week’s number one film (it opened at $65 million), “Captain America: The First Avenger,” slipped dramatically (62%) into 3rd place, with $24.9 million, but its box office take (and B.O. stalwart Harry Potter – see below) bested the only other film opening last weekend, the adult-skewing “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” Disapointingly for Warner Brothers, ‘Love’ brought in only $19.3 million from more than 3,000 screens, earning it 5th place  for the weekend, behind the ‘boy-wizard-who-could,’ Harry Potter. Although it claimed most of the adult audience (and a more-than-half female audience), “Crazy, Stupid, Love” simply couldn’t beat the world’s love affair with Potter, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” earned $21.9 million over the weekend, giving the final picture in the Potter series the notable achievement of being its first of the Potter franchise to make over $1 billion at the box office. ‘Hallows Pt. 2”s domestic total is $318 million, but the film has earned over twice that overseas, with $690 million (and counting!).

Coming Soon: Even More Remakes!!

If you haven’t gotten enough of Hollywood’s ‘creativity’ in terms of re-inventing (exploiting?) franchises they already own, get ready for next weekend’s “Rise of Planet of the Apes,” from Twentieth Century Fox, starring graduate degree record holder James Franco. In the alternative, if quality adult drama appeals to you, there’s “The Whistleblower,” starring Rachel Weisz.

See you at the movies!

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

‘Ass’ Kicks ‘Dragon’

April 20th, 2010 No comments

For the second time in two weeks, the order of the reported #1 and #2 weekend films has changed. It’s not surprising, given the closeness of the two amounts; “How to Train Your Dragon” reported an estimate of $20 million, while the presumptive #2, “Kick-Ass,” reported $19.8 million in weekend box office receipts.

Of course, that’s ONLY if you believed the studio estimates… And that’s not always the best thing to do. Because sometimes (like twice in the last two weeks!!) the studios ‘fudge’ their numbers. So, in the end, “How to Train Your Dragon” actually made $19.6 million – meaning someone at Paramount fudged the total by $400K. Ironically, “Kick-Ass”‘ estimates were spot-on, remaining at $19.8 million.

Of course, ‘Dragon’ remains popular at the box office, having taken in $158 million domestically, and the 3-D version represents about 65% of that total. Fanboy flick “Kick-Ass” should continue to do well for the next week or so, but then it (and every other film in the marketplace) will run into the “Iron Man 2” buzzsaw when Paramount’s tentpole picture opens on May 7th.

Liar, Liar…! ‘Dragon’ on Fire?

April 19th, 2010 No comments

 

 It was another squeaker at the domestic box office this weekend. And another extraordinary round of B.O. estimating, Liar’s Poker style…

According to “Daily Variety,” new release “Kick-Ass” won the Friday ‘frame’ of the weekend, with $7.5 million, while two other films, “Date Night” and weekend opener “Death at a Funeral” were in a virtual Friday tie, with $5.5 million each. It would suggest a tough battle between niche markets to take the weekend. BUT – there’s always the inevitable Hollywood third-act twist (… or IS THERE?)!

Gotta hand it to those distribution dudes… they really know how to wring the suspense out of a weekend. So, as the dragon-smoke clears, and those estimates are faxed in (or emailed in – who knows? With the occasional ‘accuracy’ of some of these numbers, maybe they’re sent by Ouija board…), a new box office champ is crowned – sort of. Last week’s ‘surprise’ repeat #1, “Clash of the Titans,” slipped to the number 5 slot, supplanted by ANOTHER 3-D film, “How to Train Your Dragon,” in its 3rd week of release. As a reminder, ‘Dragon’ opened in the  #1 slot, but quickly fell to #3 in its second week. Its buoyed finish may have something to do with the higher price of 3-D movie tickets – or a particularly bold ‘bluff’ in the Liar’s Poker game of weekend film gross estimating. 

Kick-Ass still

And here’s the rub… ‘Dragon’ beat out “Kick-Ass” to take the #1 weekend slot – but only by $200k. In ESTIMATED dollars. So, I think you know where this is headed… If, as happened last weekend, one studio (or more) got ‘generous’ with their estimated weekend take, the order of #1 and #2 would certainly change… And “Kick-Ass” would open at #1, which is undoubtedly what Lionsgate, its studio, wants. PLUS – and this is one of those ‘only in Hollywood’ scenarios, Lionsgate is mired in a nasty takeover bid by Carl ‘Destroyer of Worlds’ Icahn, and having a number one picture at the box office would be a big boost to the beleaguered mini-major.

As for the rest of the liars at this poker game, “Date Night” and “Death at a Funeral” finished at #3 and #4, with $17.3 and $17 million respectively, but with only $300k between them, it’s anyone’s guess who the ‘real’ #3 and #4 are. Unless they substantially underreported, “Clash of the Titans” should definately have a lock on fifth place, with $15.8 million.

WE’RE #2!! WE’RE #2!!

April 13th, 2010 1 comment

  

 Well, ‘the final numbers’ are in for last weekend’s box office…

AND GUESS WHAT?!

Somebody played ‘liar’s poker’ with the estimates – so to speak. Because in the final analysis, much-derided (but apparently popular) “Clash of the Titans” retained #1 position, while the pretender to the box office throne, to coin a phrase, “Date Night,” dropped to #2 when their estimate of $27.1 million actually turned out to be $25.2 million. That’s nearly $2 million off… Is it studio spin – or really, really bad addition? I think anyone who understands how the movie business works knows it’s the former and not the latter.

 

For its part, “Clash of the Titans” was relatively conservative in its ‘upward’ estimation, coming in with a final box office draw of $26.6 million, versus their weekend estimated total of $26.9 million. Even still, having the movie hold on to the number one slot for another week is a feather in actor Sam Worthington’s cap, and you can bet his agent is already using the ‘corrected’ box office chart as proof his client sells movie tickets.

 

Getting credit for the most accurate ‘estimating’ is “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too,” which presented an estimate that underreported the movie’s gross by a mere $17 thousand.

 

And MGM underreported as well – and Disney over-estimated, so “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “Alice in Wonderland” switched positions on the box office chart, flipping Monday’s reported #6 and #7 films: now the Lion’s on top of Alice, to conjure a strange image. 

Liar’s Poker, indeed. Gotta love Hollywood – it embraces artifice not just in its films, but in its bookkeeping as well! 

Is Third the NEW #1?

April 11th, 2010 No comments

The conclusion of ” My Favorite Year” will be posted soon… In the meantime:

 

Well, the weekend box office numbers are in, and they’re a perfect example of what I call the ‘liar’s poker’ potential of film distribution. Every weekend movie theaters report box office estimates on a daily basis starting on Friday, to the studios (or their distribution companies) whose films they are exhibiting. As a result of these ‘numbers,’ as they’re called, the studio/distributor comes up with an estimated total of what the film did overall each day and total for the weekend, which is considered Friday to Sunday. By early Sunday morning, the “numbers are in…” and the studios/distributors announce how their films ‘did’ at the box office. Industry insiders, media and other cinema pundits get the numbers first and attempt to make sense of them, generating buzzworthy articles about record openings – or utter bombs. (Think: “Clash of the Titans” for the former, “Pluto Nash” for the latter.)

But there’s a problem. Because the reporting of ‘numbers’ are left in the hands of mere mortals like you and me (no ‘Titans’ to be found in Distribution, alas…), ‘mistakes’ can be made. And by mistakes I mean exagerations, errors of scale, mathmatical miscalculations, providing for inflation, unconscious prevarication and/or out-and-out lying. There have been times when the ‘number one’ and ‘number two’ pictures for the weekend have been reversed in order after the ‘final numbers’ come in on Tuesday, but to the distributors and studios, it’s the sizzle, NOT the steak they’re selling. More often, the second, third and fourth pictures jockey for reality, but occasionally it’s clumps of pictures fighting it out for position. And that’s precisely what this weekend’s numbers suggest.

The number one film of the weekend (according to “Daily Variety”), was 20th Century Fox’s comedy “Date Night,” with $27.1 million. Directly behind was the aforementioned “Clash of the Titans,” which reported a total of $26.9 million (and which was called ‘cheeseball’ recently by Jeffrey Katzenberg in a ‘Variety’ interview when he disparaged the film’s post-engineered 3-D process as a way simply to cash in on a craze). The films’ two hundred thousand dollar difference is small enough to be ‘corrected’ after Tuesday’s final numbers, but it does imply that one film triumphed over the other at the weekend box office.

BUT WAIT – There’s more…. The #3 picture for the weekend was Dreamworks’ “How to Train Your Dragon,” with a reported estimated total of $25.4 million. Doing the math, that means that there is less than $1.7 million separating the #1 picture from the #3 picture. That is certainly enough for someone playing ‘liar’s poker’ with box-office receipt numbers to manipulate the order of finish. AND – to complicate things, the next tier of films ALSO ended up in a close finish. “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married, Too?” ended up with a reported $11 million,  but the Miley Cyrus-starrer “The Last Song” finished only 10% behind, with $10 Million. Who’s bluffing – and who’s holding the cards?…

The films rounding out the remaining four films also clump up, suggesting studio distribution guys were working overtime with their calculators massaging totals for a ‘Hollywood’ happy ending. The #6 and #7 films, respectively, were “Alice in Wonderland” with $5.6 Million and “Hot Tub Time Machine” with $5.4 million. Bringing up the rear was a virtual tie between Sony’s “The Bounty Hunter” and Fox’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” with $4.3 and $4.1 million each, respectively. Again, we’ll just have to wait until the REAL numbers come out on Tuesday…

But who knows? Maybe everybody told the complete truth this weekend and there was no ‘liar’s poker’ at the box office. Stranger things have happened. If it happened in Hollywood, there was probably someone nearby to spin it into publicity gold!