Box Office Top 10 Film News

Box Office: How American Sniper Courted the Military, Boy Next Door Focused On Latinas & Mortdecai Failed

We are starting to get more of a look at the ingenious marketing Warner Bros. employed in securing its mammoth business for American Sniper, and the hyper-focused marketing Universal used to turn Boy Next Door into just the latest highly profitable Jason Blum movie.  In both cases they had a plan, a clear strategy, whereas Lionsgate’s efforts for Mortdecai mostly came off as, “Doesn’t Johnny Depp look funny with a goofy mustache?”  Of course, that probably would have worked if audiences still liked seeing Johnny Depp play quirky characters.  After this weekend, it’s clear that they do not.  Meanwhile, American Sniper just had the best second weekend of all time for a film to make as much it did in its first weekend of wide release while Strange Magic flopped.  Let’s do the numbers:

Top 10 Actual Domestic Totals (1/23-1/25)

1. American Sniper American Sniper Movie

  • Weekend Gross=$64.6 million (-28% from last weekend)
  • Total Gross to Date=$200.4 million
  • Budget=$60 million

Foreign: After debuting in Italy three weeks ago, American Sniper added 7 more markets last weekend and 17 more this weekend, grossing $17.6m for a new international/worldwide split of $47.5m/$247.9m.  Italy – the place where Eastwood got his start in those Sergio Leone westerns – remains the most enthusiastic overseas market for Sniper, serving up $21m, far and away the best performance for a Clint Eastwood film in the territory.

Last weekend, we gawked as American Sniper broke just about every box office record you could think up for an R-rated, non-franchise movie released in January.  What came after that were the think pieces on how exactly Warner Bros., Eastwood, and Bradley Cooper had pulled this off.  In THR, Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman explained that he kept calling Eastwood over the opening weekend to update him on the box office before finally having to admit, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my career.”

But it’s not like they didn’t put a considerable amount of effort into helping to make that opening happen.  Their marketing campaign has been a practical masterpiece, playing “on patriotism and heroism without alienating moviegoers less prone to flag-waving.”  The combination of a director admired among conservatives, Clint Eastwood, with a liberal-leaning film star who seems to be equally admired by all parties, Bradley Cooper, also proved to be a stroke of genius.  Additionally, the platform release of playing the movie in just a couple of major cities (including LA, NY, and Dallas) for three weeks before expanding wide earned them some of the best per-theater averages of all time.

Less heralded, though, is the way Warner Bros. courted members of the military.  They hired Glover Park Group, a leading Washington-based consulting firm, and just before Thanksgiving Glover Park and WB began screening Sniper for leading veterans groups.  The euphoric word-of-mouth spread instantly in the military community, and Sniper was screened at 20 military bases.  Cooper and co-star Sienna Miller even conducted two separate Q&As with military personnel, one at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater in Brooklyn, another at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. It’s no coincidence, then, that American Sniper‘s strongest markets have been those with a significant military presence (North Carolina, San Diego) and high ratios of military veterans (the Southeast, Midwest and South).

Of course, it has also been a controversial movie meaning that it has remained part of the cultural conversation.  You go from Sarah Palin calling out “Hollywood liberals” who have accused the film of being glorified propaganda to Muslim groups crying foul as the threats of hate-crimes against them in the United States has sky-rocketed since the film’s release to defense lawyers for the man accused of killing of the titular American Sniper, Navy Seal Chris Kyle, openly wondering how they have any chance of securing an impartial jury now.  Plus, many who’ve actually read Kyle’s memoir are popping up to point out just how much of American Sniper is total and complete fiction.  The result is a film which is anecdotally getting that rare push from the type of people who only go to see a movie in a theater once every 3 or 4 years (Passion of the Christ got that, too), and just posted the best second weekend hold (28%) ever for a film which made more than $80 million in its opening weekend.  At this rate, American Sniper is looking at a final domestic tally somewhere between $350 and $400 million, making it a candidate for biggest film of the year.

2. The Boy Next Door (Opening Weekend)the-boy-next-door-poster

  • Weekend Gross=$14.9 million
  • Budget=$4 million

Foreign: Less than $1m from six territories this weekend.  It won’t start hitting key foreign markets until the end of February.

For me, this movie pretty much came out of nowhere.  I only learned of its existence a little over two weeks when I randomly caught a commercial for it on TV, at which point I admired that such an obvious woman-in-distress B-movie was getting a theatrical release.  I was also torn over whether it was sad seeing Jennifer Lopez making such an obvious push to re-establish her sex appeal (she plays a teacher who has an affair with the hunky boy next door who turns hostile when she tries to break it off) or refreshing that a woman in her mid-40s (Lopez is 45) was anchoring an erotic thriller.

The fact that I am a Caucasian male might explain why Boy Next Door snuck up on me.  According to Deadline, Universal’s marketing was laser-focused on Latin females, not just due to the presence of Lopez but also the fact that the titular Boy Next Door is played by a Hispanic newbie, Ryan Guzman (Step Up All In).  Lopez had her own press tour for the film in Miami, and visited several Univision shows, including an appearance on the network’s beauty pageant reality show.  Additionally, Lopez and Gusman filmed interstitials talking about their own experiences with crazed lovers which were then sold to female-leaning websites and networks, like Oxygen.  Their efforts paid off since from the beginning of January to this weekend Latin female awareness of Boy Next Door rose from just 53%-63% to 78%-80%.  The result is that 44% of the film’s opening weekend audience was Latin and 70% female.  Of course, they got people out to see it, but they didn’t necessarily get those people to like it, based on the terrible reviews and B- CinemaScore.  As such, Boy Next Door is expected to fade fairly fast, unlikely to end up higher than $40m domestic.  However, it’s a Jason Blum production which was made for super cheap, Lopez taking a minimal salary in exchange for profit participation.  Relative to that $4m budget, this is going to turn into a very profitable film for all involved parties, and it has dang near already outgrossed Lopez’s last film, 2013’s Parker ($17.6m domestic).

3. Paddingtoncolin-firth-paddington

  • Weekend Gross=$12.2 million (-35% from last weekend)
  • Total Gross to Date=$39.9 million
  • Budget=They’re not telling

Foreign: Paddington has actually been out in countries like Australia, Italy, New Zealand, South Korea, and the UK, among several others, since mid-December.  Currently, it has grossed $129.5m internationally for a worldwide total of $169.4m.

Originally ticketed for a December release, Paddington was pushed to January to avoid the family movie pile-up (Into the Woods, Annie, Night at the Museum 3, etc.) around Christmas.  Now that it’s finally here, critics have fallen in love with it, 98% Fresh on RottenTomatoes, but that level of adoration was not met at the box office last weekend, earning roughly as much as The Nut Job – a film with a dreadful 10% RottenTomatoes rating – did over the same weekend last year.  Now that the general public has had a chance to see it, though, this weekend was when Paddington‘s word-of-mouth could really kick in, but it continues to perform almost exactly on par with The Nut Job, which fell just 37% in its second weekend.  Not that Paddington‘s 35% second weekend hold is inherently bad because it’s so similar to The Nut Job‘s.  It’s actually pretty good.  It’s just that strong reviews have not propelled Paddington to great things any more than terrible reviews could have sunk The Nut Job.

4. Wedding RingerWedding Ringer

  • Weekend Gross=$11.3 million (-45% from last weekend)
  • Total Gross to Date=$39.3 million
  • Budget=$23 million

Foreign: Not sure how much it actually made this weekend, but its total foreign gross is just $1.6m for a worldwide total of $40.9m

This has the looks of a film which will end up a modest success, but it will be judged a bit harshly because Kevin Hart had a comedy that came out over the same weekend last year, Ride Along, and it made dang near $42m in its first 3 days.  The Wedding Ringer is 10 days into its run, and it’s still not even up to $40m.  It will be interesting to see if any kind of official Kevin Hart-audience fatigue sets in when his next movie, Get Hard with Will Ferrell, comes out just two months from now.

5. Taken 3

Taken 3 Movie

  • Weekend Gross=$7.4 million (-50% from last weekend)
  • Total Gross to Date=$75.8 million
  • Budget=$48 million

Foreign: $26.2m from 57 markets this weekend, including a career record for Liam Neeson’s best opening weekend in France ($8.2m).  Its international/worldwide split is up $132.6m/$208.5m.

Speaking of audience fatigue, after its big opening weekend the audience support for Taken 3 has been quickly waning, and the result is that this could be the first film in the franchise to fail to crack $100m domestic (Taken 2 got $139m, Taken 1 got $145m).  The diminishing returns at the domestic market aside, Taken 3 is continuing to perform exceptionally well overseas, with a worldwide total soon to pass the first Taken ($226m) but fall well short of Taken 3 ($376m).

6. The Imitation GameImitation Game

  • Weekend Gross=$6.9 million (+2.1% from last weekend)
  • Total Gross to Date=$60.4 million
  • Budget=They’re not telling

Foreign: $4.6m this weekend, including debuts in Germany and Austria.  Its updated international/worldwide split is $50.2m/$110.6m.

The way things are shaping up at other awards shows, the Imitation Game‘s distributor, Weinstein Co., is highly, highly unlikely to repeat the trick it pulled off a couple years back when The King’s Speech was a somewhat surprising Academy Award Best Picture winner.  The race for that particular Award this year is really just between Birdman and Boyhood, or at least that’s how it’s playing out at all the other awards shows.  However, everything else about The Imitation Game is proceeding exactly like The King’s Speech, identical release pattern, tons of Academy Award nominations (12 for King’s Speech, 8 for Imitation Game), and a remarkably significant bump in box office post-Oscar nominations.

7. Strange Magic (Opening Weekend)Lucasfilm-Animation-Strange-Magic

  • Weekend Gross=$5.5 million
  • Budget=They’re not telling

Foreign: No foreign box office yet

Strange Magic is a George Lucas passion project which started out at LucasFilm Animation.  It ended up being released through Disney’s Touchstone label, with little fanfare, basically dumped into January, failing to even put together TV spots which bothered to explain that the film’s plot was a riff on A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  Then again, it’s not like the ads for The Lion King back in the day were littered with phrases like, “It’s basically Hamlet with lions!”  Either way, Strange Magic feels like something that Disney simply had to make as part of their Star Wars deal, and by the time The Force Awakenes arrives this Christmas Strange Magic will have been long forgotten.

8. Selma la_ca_1021_selma

  • Weekend Gross=$5.4 million (-38% from last weekend)
  • Total Gross to Date=$39.1 million
  • Budget=$20 million

Foreign: No foreign box office yet

One of the stigmas against films featuring predominantly African-American casts or focusing on prominent black historical figures is that they don’t present much widepsread appeal at the box office, and however limited the appeal might be at home it’s practically non-existent overseas.  This is a perception Selma director Ava DuVernay has repeatedly argued against while promoting her MLK biopic, and recent films like The Butler ($116m domestic, $59m foreign against a $30m prod. budget) and 12 Years a Slave ($56m domestic, $131m foreign against a $20m prod. budget) have shown how immensely profitable films of this type can be.  Selma is clearly nowhere near the same league as either of those, financially, although it could certainly hang around for a while longer.  It is at least a bigger box office hit than Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, which scored just $27m worldwide last year.  DuVernay’s next film will be a “sweeping love story and complex murder mystery” set against the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  Selma‘s own MLK, David Oyelowo, might even star in it.

9. Mortdecai  (Opening Weekend)Mortdecai

  • Weekend Gross=$4.2 million
  • Budget=$60 million

Foreign: $5.2m from 33 markets this weekend, most notably the UK, France, and Germany, for a lowly worldwide debut of $9.4m.

Mortdecai was originally supposed to come out two weeks from now, but it was pushed up to avoid getting burried by Jupiter Ascending, Seventh Son, and The SpongeBob Movie.  Since making that move, Lionsgate/OddLot has attempted to get the word out about the movie via widespread TV and web comedy promos, even establishing a website pretty much solely dedicated to Johnny Depp’s goofy mustache in the film.  Sadly, though, no release date finagling or media saturation campaign would have likely prevented Mortdecai from completely bombing.  Ever since the last Pirates movie came out in 2011, the only financially successful Johnny Depp films have been ones in which he only had a cameo – 21 Jump Street, Into the Woods.  Otherwise, it’s been Rum Diary ($13m domestic/$10m foreign against a $45m prod. budget), Dark Shadows ($80m domestic/$165m foreign against a $150m prod. budget), The Lone Ranger ($89m domestic/$171m foreign against a $215m prod. budget), and Transendence ($23m domestic/$80m foreign against a $100m prod. budget).  Now, Mortdecai may seriously not even make it to $10m domestic after this dreadful opening, which is not just the worst of Depp’s career since The Astronaut’s Wife in 2009 but also the worst for any Lionsgate film playing in at least 2,500 theaters.  The industry trades have been quick to point out that due to some complex deals involving Mortdecai’s financing Lionsgate’s actual financial exposure here is minimal.  However, the damage to Depp’s career is anything but minimal, not when this comes after his extended run of failure.

10. Into the Woodsnew-photo-for-the-into-the-woods-movie

  • Weekend Gross=$3.8 million (-43% from last weekend)
  • Total Gross to Date=$121.4 million
  • Budget=$50 million

Foreign: $5.1m from over 20 markets this weekend, including a debut in Spain.  Its leading foreign market is still the UK ($10.9m), and that’s not expected to change even though it still has just over half of the total international market yet to go.  Its updated international/worldwide split is $34m/$155.4m.

One of the things working against Into the Woods was not just that another family-leaning musical (Annie) was going into the production around the same time and aiming for a similar release but also that Disney already had another fairly tale movie in development, Cinderella.  However, Disney decided to go for it mostly on the condition that Into the Woods be made for a modest $50 million, and that has paid off quite nicely for them so far.  The second part of Disney’s gamble will come into focus in March when Cinderella comes out.  Will having two different version of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick plays her in Into the Woods) in two different Disney films separated by just 3 months be a little bit too much for audiences?

What Dropped Out of the Top 10?:

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies (#8 to #11), Unbroken (#9 to #12), and Blackhat (#10 to #15).  Battle of Five Armies exits the top 10 with $249m domestic, an identical 40-day total to Desolation of Smaug, which ultimately ended up with $258m.  That’s after Unexpected Journey made just over $300m from its domestic run.  Five Armies did just earn Warner Bros’ biggest debut weekend ($49.5m) for any film in China.  That’s actually almost more than Unexpected Journey made during its entire run in China.  Thanks to this boost, Five Armies now has an international/worldwide split of $616m/$866m, which is still around $100m away from matching Smaug‘s worldwide haul.  Elsewhere, Universal’s Blackhat is turning into an astonishing box office bomb, with both domestic AND foreign audiences giving it the cold shoulder.  After two weeks, its worldwide gross is barely over $11m, and that’s for a movie that cost $70m to make and at least half of that to market.  Poor Chris Hemsworth is really struggling to get domestic audiences to pay to see him play anything other than Thor, although his last film, Rush, did okay for itself overseas relative to its budget.

What’s Up Next?:

Kevin Costner’s largely self-financed indie Black or White, a found footage time travel movie from Michael May (Project Almanac), and Karl Urban’s foreign thriller remake The Loft.

Sources: (domestic)

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