Is Hollywood Settling for One Hit Wonders?
By David Outten, Production Editor
The Hollywood Reporter recently provided some box office analysis titled, “’Suicide Squad’ and the Summer of Steep Second week Drops.”
The story exposes a new problem in Hollywood whereby box office totals for blockbuster movies plummet sharply in their second week. Some of this they attribute appropriately to bad word of mouth, but it’s also true that times have changed. The typical digital projection multiplex theater can now host 15 or more daily showing of a new release. There’s less need to fear a full house and wait for the second or third weekend to see a movie.
In 1985, BACK TO THE FUTURE opened in 1,420 theaters to $11.2 million. Its second weekend came in at $10.6 million, a drop of 5.4%. It’s next weekend was $10.3 million, then $9.5 million, $8.4 million, $8.1 million, $7.3 million, $6.9 million, and back up to $9.0 million. It was not until its 10th weekend that it fell to $5 million – still better business that the average summer-of- 2016 second weekend.
In 1965 THE SOUND OF MUSIC played in some theaters for an entire year. People went to see it multiple times. Looking at the movies in 2016 that opened above $50 million, you can see a clear difference in the second weekend drops. Family movies had the smallest drops by a wide margin.
ZOOTOPIA opened with $75,063,401 and dropped to $51,339,887, -31.6%
THE JUNGLE BOOK opened with $103,261,464 and dropped to $61,538,821, – 40.4%
FINDING DORY opened with $135,060,273 and dropped to $72,959,954, -46%
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS opened with $104,352,905 and dropped to
Movies for Mature Audiences:
DEADPOOL opened with $132,434,639 and dropped to $56,470,167, -57%
STAR TREK BEYOND opened with $59,253,211 and dropped to $24,754,339, -58.2
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR opened with $179,139,142 and dropped to $72,637,142, -59.5%
JASON BOURNE opened with $59,215,365 and dropped to 22,405,125, -62.2
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE opened with $65,769,562 and dropped to $22,825,484, – 65%
SUICIDE SQUAD opened with $133,682,248 and dropped to $43,536,013, -67.4
BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE opened with $166,007,347 and dropped to $51,335,254, -69.1%
Christian movies fared similarly to family movies in their second week. For example, MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN had a 34.6% drop, RISEN had a 42.3% drop, and GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 had a 44.4% drop: all under 50%.
What you don’t see anymore is a case like CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1980-81) where the movie’s highest grossing weekend was in Week 27. CHARIOTS OF FIRE built its audience with tremendous word of mouth bringing out people who rarely went to movies. Theaters could use much more of that today.
The modern movie business is not about building a theater audience with word of mouth. Its about getting people there opening weekend. BACK TO THE FUTURE made five percent of its total gross on its opening weekend. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE made 50 percent of its total gross in the first three days.
More and more the major studios stake out their weekends and bet the ranch on a huge three days. Four if you count Thursday night shows.
Of course, times change. Theaters used to be huge elaborate movie palaces. They evolved to duplexes and then multiplexes. Now, the push is toward reserved recliner seats and meals. Theaters and studios strive to fill seats but too often they overlook the basics that have spelled success since the days of Cecil B. DeMille.
What large general audiences want is entertainment built on a biblical, moral foundation. They don’t want sermons, but they do want their heroes to stand for what’s right, and they don’t want to be bombarded by vulgarity and promiscuity.
You need a great story, but great characters, structure and dialogue can fall flat if the foundation is immoral. To succeed, start with a solid moral base and build a wonderful story with great characters. Such a product will build word of mouth and will not suffer a steep second week collapse. A really great movie will build an audience. People will rush to tell friends and family, “You’ve got to see this.”
THE BLIND SIDE (2009) was a perfect example of this. Its second weekend saw a 17.6 percent box office increase. Its wonderfully moral and compassionate story surprised opening weekend moviegoers in a very rare way. As a result, its opening weekend was only 13 percent of its total gross. It was the biggest surprise hit of 2009 and made lots of money for Warner Bros. and the theaters that played it.
The opportunity to fill theater seats is tremendous for those willing to build great stories on a solid spiritual, moral foundation.
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