DOCTOR STRANGE Soars Supreme w/$85 Million; TROLLS Parties & RIDGE Fights (BOX OFFICE)

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Marvel reaps familiar results with a strange debut as Benedict Cumberbatch works some magic to defy low box office projections.

Forecast to take in anywhere from $55-to-$75 million, Doctor Strange far exceeded expectations with $85 million over its first three days. The third best debut for any movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (trailing Iron Man‘s $98.6 million and Guardians of the Galaxy‘s $94.3 million), Doctor Strange conjured impressive power over a weekend that also saw a super launch from DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls. The feel-great semi-musical starring the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, and Zooey Deschanel brought in a vibrant $45.6 million.

Even with those two movies pulling in the masses, there was still plenty of room for Mel Gibson‘s much anticipated (and critically-hailed) return to the director’s chair. Hacksaw Ridge, based on the true story of a WWII Conscientious Objector’s heroics that earned him the Medal of Honor, took in $14.7 million. That’s a solid haul for the grisly-yet-uplifting Rated R adult fare that played on roughly two-thirds as many screens nationwide as the two big moneymakers. It stars Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughn.

With all three movies getting an “A” Cinemascore from audiences, they look to have legs going into their second weekend when the only new big release entry on November 11th is the sci-fi drama Arrival.

Debut Projections Not Magical For DOCTOR STRANGE and FANTASTIC BEASTS

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Two of the biggest brands in all of Moviedom are tracking for so-so launches.

That perspective is, of course, extremely relative, but still interesting to see in context of their brand histories, particularly when you also consider the growth of higher IMAX and 3D ticket prices in recent years.

Doctor Strange, the latest evolution in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), is currently tracking to debut at anywhere between $55 to $75 million on its November 4th opening weekend (an unusually wide dollar estimate). Two weeks later on the 18th, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, the Harry Potter prequel, is tracking to take in the high end of that haul: $75 million over its first three days.

These are solid numbers by most measures…but by MCU and Potterverse standards, each of these movies will rank among the lowest.

First, let’s look at Marvel. Doctor Strange will become the 14th movie of the MCU. Even if it opens at the highest end of that tracking estimate, it’ll rank 10th out of 14. But if it should come in at the low end, Doctor Strange would tie for the lowest Marvel opening ever (Edward Norton‘s one-and-done take on The Incredible Hulk). It would even be lower than the soft $57 million debut of Ant-Man, which didn’t have near the hype, promotion, or seeming anticipation around it (plus, that one opened in the middle of a crowded summer).

Then there’s Fantastic Beasts. It will be the 9th film in the broader Potterverse franchise. A $75 million opening would make it the lowest debut of the series ever, right under the $77 million and $77.8 million of Harry Potters 5 & 6 (aka Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince).

So what does that mean for both of these franchises, particularly since both movies have been as aggressively marketed as each could possibly hope for?

Certainly there are caveats to consider. With Doctor Strange it’s the launch of an entirely new character, and one that never had a devout culture-saturating following to begin with. This is outside the established (and highly lucrative) ongoing Avengers narrative. It shouldn’t be a huge shock, then, that’s it’s tracking closer to Ant-Man than it is the latest Captain America entry.

Fantastic Beasts shares similar challenges. It’s well outside the specific Potter narrative, doesn’t have the huge allegiance that the main Potter books enjoyed, and doesn’t have any crossover characters from the Potter books (or any that we know of yet) that could make the broader historical universe that much more intriguing. It’s a new story, essentially, with strong coattails.

Still…those are very strong coattails.

I’d wager that both Marvel Studios and Warner Bros have to be looking at those opening numbers with some mixed emotions. They’re certainly not disastrous by any stretch, nor should they be cause for hitting the panic button. But given the marketing push behind both and the brand power fueling them, I have to think each studio is looking at those tracking numbers and wondering, “That’s all we’re getting?”

There is one historical example these studios can hang their hopes on: Guardians of the Galaxy. It, too, was a lesser known property that tracked at $65 to $70 million for its opener, only to go on and set a then-record for August with a ginormous $94 million haul.

So who knows, maybe by the time it’s all said and done, Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts will conjure the same magic.

Summer 2016 Box Office: A Post Mortem

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It was feast or famine at the Summer Box Office in 2016. Mostly famine.

There’s a steep drop-off after the Top 4 movies that opened and played between May 1st and Labor Day, and even the last one in that top ranking is still deemed a mixed bag in terms of its success (in other words, a sequel is not guaranteed).

All numbers here are domestic – aka North America – not global.

Leading the way were two films under the Walt Disney banner, from the two most reliable brands in the business, Pixar and Marvel:

  1. Finding Dory – $482 million
  2. Captain America: Civil War – $408 million

Right below those were another animated (and original) hit from Illumination Studios, and a DC comic book movie that overcame horrid reviews and generally bad impressions about the direction of the DC Extended Cinematic Universe.

  1. The Secret Life of Pets – $383 million
  2. Suicide Squad – $300 million

From there, the would-be tentpoles faired much more poorly than their expectations, not hauling in desired takes comparable to their $100+ million budget and marketing costs. The most profitable of the bunch is at #8, which benefited from a reasonable $50 million budget.

  1. Jason Bourne – $156 million
  2. X-Men: Apocalypse – $155 million
  3. Star Trek Beyond – $154 million
  4. Central Intelligence – $127 million
  5. Ghostbusters – $126.2 million
  6. The Legend Of Tarzan – $126 million

Interestingly, if you included the $124 million box office that mid-April opener The Jungle Book took in after May 1, when it had already made the bulk of its gross, it’d still have nearly matched the entire run of those at the bottom of the summer’s Top 10.

The horror genre continued to enjoy great financial success. While none made the Top 10, these mid-to-low budget thrillers reaped high financial rewards.

  • The Conjuring 2 – $102 million ($40 million budget)
  • The Purge: Election Year – $79 million ($10 million budget)
  • Lights Out – $65.6 million ($4.9 million budget)
  • Don’t Breathe – $55 million, so far ($9.9 million budget)

The biggest financial busts? Those would have to be Independence Day: Resurgence, Alice Through The Looking Glass, The BFG, and Ben-Hur.

ID4 could not match the nostalgia craze of Jurassic World’s $652 million from a summer ago. Resurgence didn’t live up to its subtitle with a paltry $103 million to its $165 million budget.

Worse yet was Steven Spielberg’s The BFG. Its anemic $55 million domestic gross came in way under its $140 million budget, making for the biggest flop of the iconic director’s career (even if it was, by my estimation, easily one of this mediocre summer’s best). Alice Through The Looking Glass was a complete disaster, eking out $27 million while costing $170 million. Both of these movies were released by Disney, a Hollywood titan so gargantuan it’s the only studio that could weather such huge losses and still be happy about how their summer went.

As far as Ben-Hur goes, it was essentially crucified for not having a star in its cast (something that’s still clearly needed when so much money is on the line). The remake with the no-name lineup (save for Morgan Freeman in a supporting role) crashed at $24.3 million, just 1/4 of its $100 million budget.

Technically, one could also throw in Ice Age: Collision Course onto the bomb pile. Taking in a measly $63 million on a $105 million budget, American audiences have definitely cooled to the franchise. Nevertheless, the studio is making these sequels for international audiences at this point. It pulled in a mammoth $326.6 million overseas, which is why it’s likely we haven’t seen the last of this money-making series.

The same could be said for Warcraft, a $160 million budgeted blockbuster based on the popular video game. It tanked in North America with $47 million, but its $386 million overseas (with China in the lead) means a sequel is on the way.

Finally, other certifiable successes that didn’t crack the Top 10:

  • The Angry Birds Movie – $107 million ($73 million budget)
  • Sausage Party – $90 million ($19 million budget)
  • The Shallows – $55 million ($17 million budget)

On the whole, what looked to be an embarrassing summer run for Hollywood ended up rebounding thanks to a record August. The $4.5 billion total from May to Labor Day is the 2nd best ever, trailing only the Summer of 2013 (in which Iron Man 3 and Despicable Me 2 dominated).

PETS / DORY Break Box Office Records

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The secret’s out: animated films rule the box office.

This past weekend, The Secret Life of Pets opened to a record-breaking $103 million. That’s the largest debut for a non-sequel animated film ever (and the first to cross $100 million in its first three days), topping last year’s $90.4 million notched by Pixar’s Inside Out. Pre-weekend estimates had Pets tracking at a $70 million weekend, making the debut all-the-more impressive and unexpected.

Meanwhile, Finding Dory became the new stateside queen of Pixar movies. Its $422.6 million (and counting) surpasses Toy Story 3‘s $415 million. Finding Dory hit that milestone while still ranking as the #3 movie in the nation (and possibly #2 once final numbers come in on Monday); its weekend estimate is a still-healthy $20.3 million in its fifth weekend. It’s only a matter of time before it unseats Shrek 2 as the #1 Animated Film of All Time in North America, as Dory is just $19 million shy of Shrek 2‘s $441 million total.

But at a $642.8 million global gross, Finding Dory still has a long way to go if it wants to don the worldwide crown. That’s currently worn by Frozen with nearly $1.3 billion. (Its domestic gross was just over $400 million.)

Finding Dory also became the #1 North American movie of 2016 thus far, swimming past fellow Disney blockbuster Captain America: Civil WarThat Marvel tentpole is landing at around a $406 total haul. (Dory‘s $642.8 million global gross is currently 6th for the year.)

For producer Chris Meledandri, the head of Illumination Entertainment (Universal’s answer to Pixar, with original property hits Despicable Me 1 & 2 and Minions), his latest $100+ million opener cements him alongside Pixar/Disney animation chief John Lasseter as a titan in the industry. Particularly impressive to Hollywood (and Universal shareholders) is that the budget of Illumination films average about half those of Pixar and DreamWorks, and a quarter less than BlueSky (the Ice Age franchise).

The Secret Life of Pets, for example, is already in the black. Its budget was a thrifty $75 million. Needless to say, at that profit margin, a new franchise has been born.

(Correction: the initial posting of this report cited Toy Story 3 as the previous top grossing Animated film in North America. Thanks to Peter L. Chattaway for the correction that Shrek 2 still currently holds that honor.)

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Debuts Behind BATMAN V SUPERMAN, Then Surges Ahead

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Team Marvel vs Team DC. Who’s side are you on? The box office answer is clear.

Just a little over a month since DC launched their Universe with Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Marvel followed up with its own much-hyped Heroes v Heroes showdown, Captain America: Civil War. The latest Marvel entry outpaced BvS, as expected, raking in $181.7 million over three days compared to Batman V Superman‘s $166 million. But how they each tracked day-to-day is particularly revealing.

Despite the palpable anticipation for this default third Avengers movie, its first day at the box office actually couldn’t match that of the Batman and Superman battle. In a Friday-to-Friday opening day comparison, the $75 million hauled in by Captain America: Civil War fell $6 million short of BvS‘s $81 million. Unfortunately for DC, word of mouth on BvS saw its Saturday and Sunday numbers drop significantly. But for Marvel, positive buzz (and reviews – mine excluded) helped CA: Civil War stay on pace with its pre-release projections, as it became the 5th biggest North American opener ever.

In short, people were more hyped for but, ultimately, less satisfied with Batman V Superman.

Captain America: Civil War will likely dominate May, as it and Disney-sibling The Jungle Book (still playing strong in its fourth weekend, finishing second with $21.8 million to bring its total to $285 million) will largely have the month to themselves. The next few weeks will see a handful of mid-level range summer entries, but CA: Civil War won’t see any serious tentpole competition until fellow Marvel franchise X-Men (spearheaded by 20th Century Fox, who still retains rights to that property) launches over Memorial Day weekend with X-Men: Apocalypse.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN Passes Two Recent Marvel Favorites At Global Box Office

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Holy Context, Batman.

For all the bad press Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice has received – from scathing reviews, to a fast, steep box office dive after a strong opening – it has now reached a global box office total of $783.5 million. Not only does that make BvS one of the Top 10 highest grossing superhero movies of all time; it has also now surpassed two of the biggest, most successful Marvel titles of recent memory:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy ($773 worldwide)
  • Deadpool ($755.7 million worldwide)

Perception is a curious thing. Those two movies (the first produced by Marvel studios, the second by 20th Century Fox) are deemed unequivocal successes; specific light-hearted entertainments that took risks and paid off.

Of course a big part of perception is associated with expectation. Both Deadpool and Guardians were fringe properties that weren’t mass appeal guarantees; Batman and Superman should each be a license to print money, especially when you put them in the same movie.

Also, the two Marvel titles had solid domestic hauls: Deadpool has pulled in over $358 million in North America, and Guardians ended with $333 million. BvS is currently at $296.6 million; it may match Guardians, but it’ll struggle to reach Deadpool. Furthering Deadpool‘s positive perception is its moderate budget, a mere $58 million. (Guardians was much higher – $170 million – but still lower than BvS‘s $250 million.)

Drawing these contrasts is not a defense for Batman V Superman. When you factor in whatever was also spent on marketing, it’s fair to say that making anything less than $1 billion (which is probable) with such iconic characters is a letdown, and cause for concern over Zack Snyder‘s vision for the Justice League movies (Warner Bros. is probably relieved they’ve given stylistic and tonal freedom to their other DC movie directors; that will likely pay off).

Nevertheless, when you look at just raw worldwide box office numbers, what they reveal most of all is how truly relative success is in Hollywood.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN Takes Steep Drop In 2nd Weekend; Falls 69%

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UPDATE: Batman V Superman’s 10-day worldwide total is $683 million, a positive figure in light of the North American decline. The asterisk paragraph (*) includes information related to this global tally. Also, the Sunday estimate of a 68% drop was adjusted after final numbers came in Monday. The drop was officially 69%, making nearly $7 million less than first estimated.

Warner Bros. can officially start worrying about the viability of its Zack Snyder led DC Universe.

After a blockbuster opening that broached or broke several box office records, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice took a steep dive in its second weekend, falling 69% from its $166 million debut to a so-so $51.8 million. Its 10-day total now stands at $260.9 million. Other blockbusters have had steeper declines; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 plummeted by 72%, and the last two Twilight films both fell by 70%, but those movies were at the end of their franchise runs and likely suffered from some fatigue. BvS, however, is supposed to be kicking off a franchise – nay, a universe – not ending it.

Also particularly distressing to the studio is that BvS‘s competition in the marketplace is far weaker than what it would’ve faced as a summer release. Some suggest that its competition is school rather than other blockbusters, so perhaps the whole dynamic is a wash, but that would only account for declining weekday numbers.

After the opening weekend lament that critical pans don’t matter for movies like this, such conventional wisdom may begin to readjust. Yes, nothing is going to stop people from turning out in droves when a tentpole first drops, but there’s little question that audiences went into viewing BvS already predisposed into thinking it was going to be bad. When we see drop-offs like this, they are – at least in part – self-fulfilling movie critic prophesies.

Especially odd: in the realm of social media, Batman V Superman actually defied the brutal critical drubbing. Word of mouth over outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram was largely upbeat. 57% of the Twitter conversation has been positive while less than 10% of tweets are negative (with the rest falling into a neutral zone). These percentages are right in line with recent hits Furious 7 and Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

Another fascinating stat: online ticket retailer Fandango reports that repeat ticket sales are 30% higher than any other typical blockbuster. So while many viewers may be one-and-done, and others are avoiding the tentpole altogether due to bad reviews, the strong diehard base is intrigued enough by what they’ve seen that they’re returning for multiple visits.

And yet…

* Yes, Batman V Superman is still ahead of DC’s previous chapter Man Of Steel after 10 days, but its trajectory of decline is similar. BvS will certainly finish ahead of Man Of Steel‘s lackluster domestic total of $291 million, but if its North American take only lands somewhere in the low-to-mid $300 million range, that’s a problem. Its saving grace may be its global haul. Now at $683 million, BvS has already passed Man Of Steel‘s $668 million worldwide final. Reaching $1 billion may be a stretch (and anything short of that would still likely cause some anxiety for WB), but the certainty of passing at least $700 million globally will assuage some of WB’s concerns about the sharp downward domestic turn.

In fact, the confidence boost that Warners and DC may need could be just a few short months away. That’s when the highly anticipated Suicide Squad (written and directed by David Ayers, not Zack Snyder) hits theaters, in August. Fans have been so thrilled by the 2nd trailer that WB has even sanctioned reshoots to give fans more of the humor they’ve been gushing about. Also promising is the stand alone Wonder Woman movie (also not steered by Snyder) scheduled to follow next year. Gal Gadot‘s supporting turn in Batman V Superman as the Amazonian superhero has been praised as one of BvS‘s bright spots.

But even if those movies deliver, Zack Snyder’s first official Justice League film is still scheduled to start shooting this month. It would be a dramatic (and unlikely) step for WB to pull the plug on that at this point but, if they do, then it will solidify just how worrisome these domestic numbers are. It could also portend a lengthy pause on the timing of the first full Justice League movie, as WB would likely put a stand alone Batman movie – directed by and starring Ben Affleck (he’s reportedly already written a script) – on a fast track.