A little over 6 months before X-Men: Days of Future Past came out we learned it had become the second most expensive film in the nearly 80 year history of 20th Century Fox, trailing only Avatar, which officially cost nearly $240 million. Uh-oh. After Superman Returns and Jack the Giant Slayer, was this yet another Bryan Singer movie with a runaway budget? Was this a wise investment for Fox considering how the X-Men films had been on a box office decline since The Last Stand? Were they pushing the profitability bar too high? At a certain point we’d kind of like to see a sequel and huge budgets don’t really help with that, not when most major film markets outside of Asia are either flat right now or on the decline.
Just a couple of weeks later, Bryan Singer announced on Twitter “#Xmen #Apocalypse 2016!” which was quickly followed up by an official clarification that a Days of Future Past sequel had indeed been greenlit for a 2016 release. That was a lot of confidence in a film using time travel to do The Avengers for the X-Men universe.
I was worried. I even made a chart and everything! However, it’s funny how a pretty good movie can make you forget all of that. Days of Future Past arrived, scored a franchise high for worldwide gross, and doggone it people liked it, even if it maybe created more plot holes than it solved and erased not just the films we didn’t like (goodbye and good riddance to X-Men: The Last Stand) but also the ones we kind of did (with great regret, goodbye The Wolverine). Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg and company are now preparing X-Men: Apocalypse. All financial concerns are largely forgotten.
But don’t you kind of want to know why Days of Future Past is considered such a success even though its worldwide gross was just around $40 million higher than The Amazing Spider-Man 2, i.e., the film that completely killed its franchise?
Deadline put together its best estimates for how much 2014’s biggest films actually cost to make, market and release in theaters and on home video, and how much they made from all potential revenue streams and how much of that they had to share with the talent on back-end deals. I previously wrote about that in my list of the 12 most profitable blockbusters of 2014. The year’s biggest comic book movies, Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, made the cut while Days of Future Past and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 did not. Since I have already written so much about the business behind both Days of Future Past and ASM2 I thought I would follow-up and briefly cover their profit breakdown as reported by Deadline based on “trusted experts and seasoned veterans”, remembering that studios only take roughly 50% of domestic ticket sales, 40% of international, and 25% from China:
X-Men: Days of Future Past
- Total Revenue: $653m
- Domestic Box Office: $119m
- Foreign Box Office: $155m
- China Box Office: $29m
- Global Home Video: $192m
- Global TV: $153m
- Merchandise: $5m
- Total Costs: $576m
- Production Budget: $220m
- Global Advertising & Prints: $130m
- Global Home Video: $62m
- Interest/Overhead: $31m
- Talent/Residuals: $129m
- Net Profit: $77m
- Return on Investment: 13%
It cost $350m to make, market and release Days of Future Past worldwide, but Fox only took $303m from worldwide ticket sales after dividing the $748m worldwide gross with theaters. What really screwed them was the $100 million they had to pay out on talent participation deals to the likes of Bryan Singer and Hugh Jackman and various other cast members, and what saved them was home video. However, that’s apparently the real cost of trying to do an all-star comic book movie with actors and other talent who won’t come as cheaply as those in the Marvel Studios films.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
- Total Revenue: $640m
- Domestic Box Office: $103m
- Foreign Box Office: $161m
- China Box Office: $23m
- Global Home Video: $185m
- Global TV: $143m
- Merchandise: $25m*
- Total Costs: $570m
- Production Budget: $255m
- Global Advertising & Prints: $175m
- Global Home Video: $62m
- Interest/Overhead: $38m
- Talent/Residuals: $40m
- Net Profit: $70m
- Return on Investment: 12%
Sony spent an insane-sounding $430m to make, market and release The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a film which ultimately gave them just $287m from their share of worldwide ticket sales. That level of spending would not seem to make much sense considering the first Amazing Spider-Man set franchise lows in pretty much all significant box office categories.
Perhaps not coincidentally, ASM2′s $255 production budget is pretty much identical to Spider-Man 3’s, the reviled emo-Spider-Man story which threw too much together for one movie to handle. A significant source of the cost in that case was their need to create an entire new technology to achieve the CGI effects for Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman. Here, I am not sure why ASM2 cost that much to make, especially since the most likely candidate, i.e., the special effects, was often a target of criticism, fantastically eye-popping in some scenes, surprisingly ho-hum video game-y in others.
Sony likely figured you have to spend more money to make money, and that strategy worked out beautifully for Warner Bros. and The Dark Knight after Batman Begins had been a mediocre theatrical hit with insanely euphoric word-of-mouth after the fact.
Despite all of that, Sony made nearly as much from ASM2 as Fox did from Days of Future Past. So what gives? Why is one the end of a franchise and the other earns a sequel?
It’s all about track record. The last Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie grossed $890m worldwide, and the character’s cinematic adventures have been on a downward trajectory ever since. ASM 1 did $757m and ASM 2 did $709m (before those grosses were divided up between the studio and theaters).
Days of Future Past, on the other hand, easily set a franchise high in worldwide gross, with $748m compared to The Last Stand’s $459m in 2006 (not adjusted for inflation). Plus, just as importantly, people seemed to really like Days of Future Past, not so much for Amazing Spider-Man 2. That’s why even though the two films returned nearly identical profits Days of Future Past is getting a sequel (Apocalypse) and spin-offs (Deadpool, Gambit) while Amazing Spider-Man 2 resulted in Sony scrapping everything and partnering with Marvel.
*I have no idea why merchandise is listed as profit for ASM2 since THR previously indicated Sony does not make anything off of Spider-Man merchandise sales as those all go back to Disney. Maybe Sony makes money off of Amazing Spider-Man-specific sales, like the video games or officially branded shirts, but anything Spider-Man that’s not explicitly connected to their films falls under Disney/Marvel’s purview.