June 8 update: This past weekend, the 2010 North American box office was down 24 percent from the equivalent weekend last year. Memorial Day weekend had the lowest box office take since 2001 and the lowest number of tickets sold since 1993.
Pundits and non-pundits everywhere have been blaming the low quality of the movies being offered, the sameness of the storylines, and the overabundance of sequels, remakes, and adaptations. In other words, movie audiences want both quality and originality.
Never mind that The Karate Kid (a remake), Toy Story 3, The Last Airbender (based on an animated television series later turned into a videogame), and especially The Twilight Saga: Eclipse are expected to be summer hits. Later in the year, there’ll be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and TRON: Legacy, among others. (As an aside: I, for one, wouldn’t put my money on The Karate Kid; and Christopher Nolan’s truly original – at least in concept – Inception is also expected to do solid business this summer.)
Never mind that among the top five highest-grossing 2010 releases (Avatar was released in late 2009) in the U.S. and Canada, two are sequels (Iron Man 2, Shrek Forever After) and two are remakes (Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans). How to Train Your Dragon is no original story, either, as it’s based on a novel. Among those, only How to Train Your Dragon was generally well-liked by critics.
And if you look at this year’s top 20 films to date – such as the highly original Valentine’s Day, the innovative A Nightmare on Elm Street, the instant classic Why Did I Get Married Too, the masterpiece Sex and the City 2 – I can only think of two with any chance of winning or getting top-level nominations when awards season begins: the aforementioned How to Train Your Dragon and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (no. 6).
If only Hollywood filmmakers learned from the past, when truly original, critically acclaimed movies were the big domestic hits year in, year out.
In 2009, for instance, Michael Bay’s highly original classic Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was the no. 2 movie. Ah, there were also two other franchises among the top five: The Twilight Saga: New Moon and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Avatar, of course, was the no. 1 hit. Now, you may find Avatar the greatest movie ever made anywhere in the whole wide universe, but its plot and characters are anything but original, borrowing from a range of ancient tales, from Pocahontas to The War of the Worlds. Its visual effects were indeed revolutionary, but had its characters and plot been truly original and innovative, Avatar would in all likelihood have been a monumental flop.
Now, the biggest movie of 2008? The Dark Knight, a sequel to Batman Begins, itself both a remake of sorts and a comic-book adaptation. The biggest movie of 2007? Spider-Man 3. In 2006? Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. In 2005? Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. In 2004? Shrek 2. In 2003? The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
True enough, some of those received good (or even great) reviews. Some didn’t. All of them were sequels or prequels.
Back to 2010 and the North American box office: Way down below on the box office chart you’ll find unoriginal and/or low-quality stuff such as The Ghost Writer, Remember Me, A Prophet, Ajami, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, La Mission, Vincere, City Island, The Secret in Their Eyes, Exit Through the Giftshop, The Runaways, Mid-August Lunch, The Secret of Kells, Mother and Child, Mother, Harry Brown, Greenberg, Please Give, and Fish Tank.
Those titles – most of which earned less than $5 million at the North American box office – provide further evidence that it’s all about movie audiences desperately yearning for quality and originality.
P.S.: No such box office woes overseas, where audiences are obviously too unsophisticated to care if Hollywood product consists of sequels, remakes, or are just downright rotten. Movies that have performed below expectations in North America have been faring quite well abroad, including Robin Hood, Sex and the City 2, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Box office data: Box Office Mojo
According to Hollywood.com, this year James Cameron’s Avatar grossed $465 million of its $749 million at the domestic box office. The Na’vi’s ability to bring people to (more expensive) 3D/IMAX theaters has helped to offset what has been otherwise a highly disappointing year, with underperformers such as Robin Hood, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Sex and the City 2.
Although revenues are up 3.65 percent largely thanks to costlier ticket prices (3D surely has played a big role in that), total attendance is down an estimated 2.74 percent to 561.9 million admissions, as Michael Cieply explains in the New York Times. (Whether Hollywood.com has factored in 3D/IMAX surcharges when calculating the number of tickets sold remains unclear.)
But if the late 2009 release Avatar is taken out of the picture, attendance in 2010 would then be down 12.9 percent and revenues 7.1 percent, as per Hollywood.com calculations.
Other 3D movies that have helped to keep box office registers ringing this year are Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, How to Train Your Dragon, and Shrek Forever After. In fact, five or the year’s top six (including Avatar) box office hits have been 3D releases.
June 10 box office update: Shrek Forever After, which features the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Eddie Murphy, and Julie Andrews, was once again the no. 1 movie at the North American box office on Wednesday, June 9. The 3D animated fantasy grossed $2.86 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
Starring Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, the comedy Get Him to the Greek was the no. 2 movie, with $2.23 million, followed by Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl’s Killers with $1.61 million.
June 8: Get Him to the Greek (barely) topped the North American box office on Monday chiefly thanks to the fact that Shrek Forever After shredded more than 70 percent of its Sunday business, according to figures found at Box Office Mojo.
Starring Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, Get Him to the Greek opened in the second spot this weekend with a passable $17.57 million. On Monday, it grossed $2.49 million.
Featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Antonio Banderas, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and Julie Andrews, Shrek Forever After earned $2.42 million.
At no. 3, Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl’s Killers took in $1.58 million, followed by Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, and Ben Kingsley, with $1.53 million.
At no. 6, Marmaduke, about a talking dog with Owen Wilson’s voice, grossed only $991,000.
Rounding out the top twelve were Cate Blanchett’s Robin Hood with $571,000, Vanessa Redgrave’s Letters to Juliet with $363,000, Queen Latifah’s Just Wright with $77,000, and Steve Carell’s Date Night with $75,000.
The Box Office Mojo chart had no information on Raajneeti‘s earnings. The Bollywood production was no. 11 at the North American box office this weekend, having grossed $850,000 at 124 sites.
Among the top twelve movies on the chart, Get Him to the Greek had the highest per-theater average, a not too impressive $925. Date Night had the lowest average, $115.
Also among the top twelve, Get Him to the Greek had the lowest drop-off rate, down 48.8 percent. Marmaduke had the highest, down 71.2 percent, followed by Shrek Forever After with down 70.4 percent.
Photo: Get Him to the Greek (Universal Pictures)
Shrek Forever After was the top movie for the third weekend in a row at the North American box office. The 3D animated fantasy featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Antonio Banderas, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and Julie Andrews, took in an estimated $25.3 million, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s closer to the lower end of expectations, as some had been prediciting $28-$30 million for the weekend.
To date, Shrek Forever After has earned $183 million in the U.S. and Canada. At this stage, it seems unlikely it’ll break even at the domestic box office. In order to cover its production costs alone – officially $165 million – Shrek would have to earn approximately $300-$330 million domestically.
Shrek isn’t alone. Five weeks into the summer box office season, total ticket sales revenue is down 4 percent from last year despite a 6 percent rise in ticket prices, explains the Los Angeles Times. According to figures provided by Hollywood.com, movie attendance in the U.S. and Canada has fallen 10 percent.
Starring Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, the comedy Get Him to the Greek (cost: $40m) took in $17.4 million, which is just about what pundits had been expecting – and hardly enough to shake things up at the box office. At no. 3, Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl’s Killers ended up with $16.1 million.
Neither new entry had very impressive per-theater averages: Get Him to the Greek with $6,460; Killers with $5,631. Considering Killers’ $75 million price tag – not including distribution and marketing costs – Lionsgate can’t be at all happy with the film’ opening numbers.
Down two spots at no. 4, Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, and Ben Kingsley, earned $13.9 million following a sizable but not unusual 53.8 percent drop. Total to date for the $200 million production: a disappointing $59.4 million. It seems like Prince of Persia will have quite a bit of trouble reaching the $100 million mark at the domestic box office.
And that’s where the international market comes to the rescue. Like Robin Hood, another domestic box office disappointment, Prince of Persia has been doing much better overseas (following a slow start). Total to date: $156.4 million. Does that mean Disney has a worldwide hit in its hands? Well, yes and no.
In terms of box office figures, it’s true that $215.8 million is nothing to be sniffed at (though, for comparison’s sake, Iron Man 2 has grossed about $580 million worldwide in six weeks). However, when your movie cost $200 million to produce, it’ll need to gross about twice that amount merely to cover production costs – not including marketing, distribution, and other contractual expenses. In that regard, Prince of Persia still has a long way to go.
Shrek Forever After‘s once again held the lead at the North American box office on Friday, June 4. The 3D animated fantasy took in an estimated $6.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
As a film made for children and their obliging (or, oftentimes, reluctant) parents or “guardians,” this fourth installment in the Shrek franchise will doubtlessly top the thus far unimpressive weekend as well, as kiddie movies soar on Saturday and Sunday. However, those expecting $25m-$30 million for the weekend may have overestimated Shrek‘s reach. We shall see.
Starring Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, new entry Get Him to the Greek collected about $6.22 million on Friday. Whether this comedy will match (or even surpass) weekend expectations – circa $18 million or so – depends on how well it’ll do on Saturday. But Get Him to the Greek will almost surely end up in second place, ahead of all other newcomers.
At no. 3, Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl’s Killers grossed an estimated $5.7 million on its debut Friday, and is probably on track to earn between $15-$18 million over the weekend.
Image: Iron Man 2 (Francois Duhamel / Marvel); Killers (Melissa Moseley / Lionsgate).