What’s the hook?
That’s the first thing I thought when I saw the trailer for Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella, starring Lily James in the title role and Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter hamming it up as the evil stepmother and Fairy Godmother respectively. Where’s the thing that told me this movie was was worth seeing even if I’ve already seen countless other Cinderella films, particularly Disney’s own classic animated musical from 1950? Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was a somewhat confusing quasi-sequel. Oz The Great and Powerful told us that it was like The Wizard of Oz, but a prequel, the story of how that strange man Dorothy encountered behind that curtain ended up in Oz in the first place. Maleficent basically admitted, “Remember how cool it was in Wicked when we saw The Wizard of Us from the Wicked Witch’s point of view? Well, now we’re doing that same thing with Sleeping Beauty.” Actually, scratch that, looking back at all those Maleficent posters Disney basically just said, “Come watch Angelina Jolie being awesome!”
Cinderella isn’t Wicked nor is it Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical-turned-film which features a Cinderella whose Prince Charming turns out to be a philandering d-bag, memorably explaining his actions with characteristic confidence, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” Of course, that is in service to an entire show which ends with all of the characters warning the audience to be careful the things they say because children will listen. If the classic Cinderella story tells little girls that ultimately a prince will rescue them, Into the Woods warns that as soon as he get what he wants from you Prince Charming will usually turn into something you don’t recognize because life isn’t a fairy tale.
The funny thing is that Disney is getting to have its cake and eat it too. They are the ones who made that live-action version of Into the Woods which came out last Christmas. As such, they have put out the ultimate revisionist commentary on fairy tales, including a Little Red Riding Hood who takes to carrying knives for self-defense, a Cinderella who leaves the prince, and a Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk whose actions cause widespread death and destruction across the lands at the hands of an avenging giant. Disney is now also the company responsible for this new live-action Cinderella which is astonishingly faithful to the 1950 version, described by RottenTomatoes as “refreshingly traditional in a revisionist era.” My question from the beginning was where’s the marketing hook? The answer is that there isn’t one. Just look at much of the plot the trailer gives away:
This fact was not lost on Disney, whose distribution chief, Dave Hollis, told THR:
“The challenge in marketing the movie was that there was no twist, unlike Maleficent or Oz. We were rolling out the quintessential version of the classic story. The danger was that people could say, ‘I already know what the story is,’ but the marketing team brought to the market creative materials that did an incredible job of creating a sense of urgency.”
Of course, they did actually have a hook which is that Cinderella arrives with an appetizer for an eventual Frozen sequel running in front of it, a short film showcasing a birthday celebration in Arendelle, starring all of the favorite characters like Elsa, Anna and Olaf. There is no telling how much of an impact that had, but Disney proved why they are the masters at this. What more perfect time was there for them to announce that Frozen 2 was officially in development than in the week building up to the release of a film, Cinderella, which features 7 minutes of brand-new Frozen footage in front of it?
The result is that they made a thoroughly traditional film, found themselves so bereft of star power in the cast that they really had to highlight the fact that the director (Kenneth Brannagh) also made the first Thor movie, and watched as audiences rolled in almost exactly on par with how Maleficent performed last summer when it debuted to $69.4m domestically. Maleficent cost nearly twice as much to make ($180m vs. $95m), was sold on the appeal of one of the biggest film stars we have left (Angelina Jolie), had the twist of getting to see a story we thought we knew from a new point of view, and was presented in 3D. Cinderella didn’t do any of that, and it made pretty much just as much money in its first 3 days, bringing in an opening weekend audience that was 66% women, 66% families, and 31% under the age of 12. The reviews (88% RottenTomatoes) and Cinema Score grade (A) indicate that this should continue to perform very well for at least the next 6 weeks.
This is a potential game-changer for how Disney had been approaching its live-action fairy tale subgenre of movies. They already have a version of Beauty and the Beast in the works with Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Josh Gad and Kevin Kline as LeFou and Maurice respectively. Alan Menken and Tim Rice will oversee the music as most of the songs we love from the animated classic will make it into the live-action film. After Cinderella’s big weekend, Disney quickly announced that this Beauty and the Beast will open over the comparable weekend in 2017, specifically March 17, 2017. They used to have bend over backwards to justify such a film’s existence by promising us something slightly new. Cinderella just made something very old seem new again, and if audiences don’t need a Shrek-like skewed view of the fairy tale then why even bother?
Of course, that’s not stopping the competition from trying. Warner Bros. has its odd Peter Pan prequel (?) Pan due later this year as well as a live-action Jungle Book prequel Jungle Book: Origins directed by Andy Serkis and due in 2017. Disney has an Alice in Wonderland sequel in post-production, a live-action/CGI hybrid version of Jungle Book directed by Jon Favreau in production, and they just signed Tim Burton to do his Tim Burton thing to some kind of live-action Dumbo. So, maybe it’s just business as usual, but after Cinderella they may not have to really try so hard to find fresh takes on old material. Traditionalism is back, at least for now. Or little kids just really, really dragged families to see that Frozen short movie.
This Weekend’s Actual Box Office Top 10 Totals (3/13-3/15)
1. Cinderella (Opening Weekend)
- Production Budget=$95m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$67.8m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$62.4m
- Worldwide Debut=$130.2m
2. Run All Night (Opening Weekend)
- Production Budget=They’re not telling
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$11m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$6.6m
- Worldwide Debut=$17.6m
Well, you could see this one coming. Liam Neeson has simply released too many similar movies over the past couple of years, particularly in the past 13 months when Non-Stop was a big hit, A Walk Among the Tombstones bombed, Taken 3 set a franchise-low in domestic box office, and along came Run All Night looking just way too familiar, i.e., instead of protecting his daughter this time he’s protecting a son. Moreover, it’s probably further cheapening the Liam Neeson brand to see fellow older stars like Kevin Costner (3 Days to Kill), Keanu Reeves (John Wick), and now Sean Penn (The Gunman) all mounting Taken-esque comebacks. The result is that Run All Night posted the lowest opening of any of Neeson’s starring films since Taken, and all of his talk about retiring from action movies within the next 2 years feels more like a decision which is being made for him.
3. Kingsman: The Secret Service
- Production Budget=$81m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$6.2m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$13.7m
- Current Domestic/International/Worldwide Total=$107.3m/$169.9m/$277.2m
This is Kingsman’s fifth weekend of release, and it has yet to leave the top 4, outlasting the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey and The SpongeBob Movie.
- Production Budget=$50m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.73m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$13.5m
- Current Domestic/International/Worldwide Total=$43.9m/$57.7m/$101.6m
- Production Budget=$49m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.7m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$13.6m
- Current Domestic/International/Worldwide Total=$23.3m/$33.4m/$56.7m
Is it too late for Fox to cancel Alien 5? That project only even exists because director/writer Neil Blomkamp brilliantly used social media to force it with the help of Chappie co-star Sigourney Weaver. However, he has somehow managed to fail upward here because when you’re someone coming off a financial failure like Chappie you’re not supposed to then get a cushy, high-profile gig like Alien 5. Then again, Chappie is a modestly budgeted film. Blomkamp’s most recent film before it, Elysium, cost more than twice as much to make ($115m). The other interesting angle here is that this is yet another 2015 film which seems to prove that film stars are increasingly irrelevant, with Johnny Depp (Mortdecai), Channing Tatum (Jupiter Ascending), Will Smith (Focus), Vince Vaughn (Unfinished Business), and now Hugh Jackman (Chappie) suffering either box office bombs or films which didn’t meet lofty expectations.
- Production Budget=They’re Not Telling
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.6m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$4.1m
- Current Domestic/International/Worldwide Total=$18/$28.9m/$46.9m
As Cate Blanchett said during her Oscar acceptance speech for Blue Jasmine it’s bloody fantastic that Judi Dench couldn’t be at an awards show because the film she starred in made so much money (Best Exotic=$136m worldwide on a $10m budget) they were keeping her busy on the set of a sequel. Second Best isn’t off to an amazing start, but it only declined 33% in this its second domestic weekend. That’s almost identical to the second weekend hold of a recent older-skewing movie like Last Vegas which proved to have a long tail after a mediocre opening.
7. SpongeBob Movie
- Production Budget=$74m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.6m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$4.3m
- Current Domestic/International/Worldwide Total=$154.6m/$116.2m/$270.8m
8. McFarland, USA
- Production Budget=$25m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$3.6m
- Weekend Gross (International)=Nothing
- Current Domestic Total=$34.8m
- Production Budget=$40m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$2.86m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$8.3m
- Current Domestic/International/Worldwide Total=$161.3m/$385.1m/$546.4m
Things are about to get very interesting for 50 Shades of Grey behind the scenes. It’s here, it’s an insanely big hit despite not being particularly well-liked, the director cannot stand the domineering author of the books who has final cut approval, and now the actors – Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan – want big raises. They may be overestimating their importance to the success of a film which already had a built-in audience from the novels – an audience which did not much care for Dornan’s performance and only kind of came around on Johnson’s.
10. The DUFF
- Production Budget=$8.5m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$2.85m
- Weekend Gross (International)=Nothing
- Current Domestic Total=$30.2m
What Left the Top 10?: Lazarus Effect (Current total: $21.7m domestic/$3.3m budget) & Unfinished Business (Current total: $8.6m domestic/$35m budget) – Unifinished Business is an obvious bomb, but you might be surprised to learn that Lazarus Effect kind of, sort of is as well. It’s a Jason Blum-produced film, and his business model is straight-forward: Make a movie for $5 million or less, and if they think it has a shot of selling at least $25 million worth of tickets then they spend the $20m-$30m in prints and advertising costs to put it into theaters. Anything that fails to reach $25 million is a failure for them.
What’s Up Next?: Insurgent (the Divergent sequel that may or may not be arriving a little too early), The Gunman (Sean Penn does his best Taken impression) & Do You Believe (A Christian drama starring Ted McGinley, Mira Sorvino, Lee Majors, Sean Astin, and Cybill Shepherd)