Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Current State of the Box Office, Pre-Star Wars

For every Jurassic World, there's a Jem and the Holograms.
2015 has been quite the year for movies. Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Minions, and Jurassic World all cracked the top ten highest-grossing movies of all time. The aforementioned World became the highest-grossing sequel or reboot. Pitch Perfect 2 made the most on opening weekend for a musical film. Minions had the biggest opening day for an animated movie, breaking Toy Story 3's record. Finally, box office analysts have predicted that Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which has already nearly made up its own budget in ticket pre-sales, will definitely become one of the highest-grossing films ever, if not the highest-grossing.
And yet, other movies expected to perform well ended up flopping – some drastically so. Jem and the Holograms, based on the cult 1980's animated series, made less than $2 million in the two weeks it was in theaters, before Universal Studios pulled the plug. This made Jem the first wide-release film (2,000 theaters) to be shut down for underperforming. Victor Frankenstein, Creed, and The Good Dinosaur represented a comparatively low turnout for Thanksgiving weekend films, with Dinosaur having the lowest turnout for a Pixar film on opening weekend, and Frankenstein only passing the opening weekend of Jem by $610,000. Even The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is relatively underperforming for a blockbuster film (although, making a cool $101 million domestic could hardly be considered "underperforming").
However, the difference between the highest and the lowest performing films is stark – sequels do much better than original films. Of the ten highest grossing films of 2015, only two are non-sequels or reboots (Inside Out and The Martian), and only one is a truly original film (The Martian was based on a 2011 novel). Screenplays Rock the Kasbah, We Are Your FriendsOur Brand Is Crisis, The Walk, and Blackhat withered away and died at the hands of empty theaters.
None of this is really news, but take the case of Jem and the Holograms. Made for a mere $5 million, it won't even be able to make up its own dismal budget. Released by Universal (same folks who did the indies Jurassic World and Furious 7, so don't feel too bad for them), the film, similar to Frankenstein, had major marketing power behind it, but its tactic of nostalgia combined with a millennial twist for today's youngsters somehow just didn't stick, and the film was torn to shreds by critics (obviously expecting more from the director of Justin Beiber: Never Say Never).
It's hard to make the direct assumption that original films will always perform worse. Titanic and Avatar have disproven that. The issue with the most underperforming films of 2015 is mostly due to the fact that they are terrible movies. But, then again, the same case could be made for Minions, Fifty Shades of Grey, Pitch Perfect 2, Home, Hotel Transylvania 2, Get Hard, Ted 2, and Hitman: Agent 47, which all performed well with domestic audiences despite being hated by critics.
So as Hollywood prepares for Star Wars: The Force Awakens with dollar signs in their eyes, take the time to sit back and wonder: what movies are worth it?

-Are you guilty of seeing a sequel for the sake of it being a sequel?
-Which do you think does worse at the box office: bad movies or under-appreciated movies?
-Why do you think sequels and reboots do better?
-Are you planning on seeing Star Wars? Why or why not?



Emily Shen said...

I think that, in this day and age, marketing plays a pretty large role in how movies appeal to consumers. For example, the movie Ex Machina — a movie that explored the capabilities of artificial intelligence — very creatively used Tinder at SXSW to both promote the movie and echo the theme/message it conveyed (

Sequels do better because they already have a track record of success, meaning that they have an established audience and also have the resources/money to create an equally good product (not saying they always do, but they definitely have the capability to). However, something that distresses me about sequels is the way that they're exploited — a lot of times you'll see a sequel announced very quickly after the success of an initial movie (or other sequel), and clearly this has been announced solely on the basis of the previous movie's success without regard to the quality of the future production ( People are creating sequels for the sake that they are sequels and not because they are good productions in and of themselves...

Also, pretty sure that Furious 7 was as commercially successful as it was has to do with Walker's death. There was a break in production so everyone could grieve appropriately — and then they did all they could to capitalize on his death, which, of course, the audience ate up.

It's also interesting to me that movies are doing so well in this age of digital streaming. We have Netflix and torrenting websites. Why are people still buying movie tickets, if record sales seem to be going down? One possible answer might be that watching a movie is more of a social experience than listening to an album, and people value the social experience (record sales MIGHT be going down, but how are concert ticket sales doing?).

Jeffrey Song said...

I agree with Emily; successful sequels already have an established fan base which essentially becomes marketing for the movie itself without the studio having to do anything. Also, most movies that have sequels made can trace their source material back to successful franchises that have already made a name for itself (i.e Harry Potter's books, Transformers franchise, Hunger Games book). Personally, I've definitely seen sequels for the sake of it being a sequel; even if the second or third movie might not have the same quality to it as the original to a movie critic, it has the same quality to viewers and fans because of their attachment to the original. Sure, Transformers gets a lot of crap for making 'bad' sequels, but year after year people still come back and enjoy the sequels. While obviously it's ideal for sequels to have a high production quality standalone, the whole point of sequels are to build on the success of the franchise and pander to the fans who simply want more. It's definitely an issue IMO having low quality sequels for the sake of money, but let the numbers speak for themselves; if a sequel is truly bad enough to justify not watching it, then the performance and gross from the movie will reflect that.

For why movies are doing so well despite the rise of digital streaming, I think Emily hit the nail on the head. Movies are so successful because it's a social experience, "date nights" or just family outings naturally turn to movies as one of the events simply because it's an experience which has become an established part of our culture and identity. "Dinner and the movies" is so common now that it could probably be put in our dictionary as one phrase. However, I do think that in the future there will be less and less theaters overall; instead, I think that there will be larger theaters further apart from each other and allowing for a larger audience coming from longer distances. This would preserve or even heighten the "social experience" of going to the movies while reducing costs and personnel needed to man the theaters.

Tara Young said...

I do see sequels for the sake of seeing sequels. I feel like since I had seen the previous ones I have to finish. There is always the possibility that the series will get better even if I didn't like the previous movies. I think that bad movies do worse at the box office because if people hear that a movie is bad, then they likely won't pay to see it in theaters. They can wait until it plays on tv. However, if a movie is under appreciated, people will go see the movie and either agree that it was bad, think it was alright, or disagree and think it was amazing. What they think though after doesn't matter as they have already paid to see the movie. I think that sequels and reboots do better because for sequels, the first movie already caught people's attention. It leaves the impression that the first one was good, otherwise a second movie wouldn't be made. It also prompts viewers to watch the first one and then go see the second one in theaters. Reboots do better because it is a familiar story and has a sense of nostalgia. Also, a reboot attracts new viewers as the graphics and visuals are better than the previous version. I am planning on seeing the new Star Wars movie because I have already seen the others.

Anna Joshi said...

I agree with both Emily and Jeffrey on the continuing social aspect of going to the movies, but like Jeffrey, I foresee this slowly declining. Yes, “dinner and the movies” has been a longstanding trend, but now, “Netflix and chill” is slowly taking its place. Despite the social aspect, it seems as though the economic benefits of Netflix and other streaming programs are way more attractive to people, especially since the price of going to the movies has increased during the past few years. Even more, the convenience aspect of not having to go out of one’s way, and even avoiding previews, is appealing to some people since they can stay right at home, even in their bed, advertisement free, and watch new releases.

I think a major reason why sequels and reboots do better has to do with the attachment to the characters. When people read a good book, they demand a second from the author. I feel the same goes for a movie. Since watching a good movie visually takes one to a world outside of theirs, many people subsequently don’t want a good movie to finish; so when it does, they want a second so it doesn’t end. People want to follow the character, feel what they feel, and take part in their escapades. So, that being said, I do have to say that it is for this reason that I am planning on seeing the new Star Wars movie.