Box Office Top 10 Film News

Box Office: I Wish I Didn’t Care How Much Money Man from U.N.C.L.E. Makes

Last summer, when Edge of Tomorrow made less money in its first month of release than Transformers: Age of Extinction made in its first 3 days many in the film community shook their head and declared, “You see, America, this is why you can’t have nice things!” It was an easy stance to take because everyone seemed to agree that Edge of Tomorrow was really good and Age of Extinction was really not, yet their respective box office performances suggested the complete opposite. In response to this Transformers-shaming, BirthMoviesDeath argued:

I don’t care how much money Edge of Tomorrow makes. I’m happy it exists. I’m happy that the people who found it did. I’m happy that Tom Cruise got to give a terrific performance. I’m happy that Emily Blunt got to kick ass. I’m sad that more people won’t have a chance to experience this movie on a big screen, but I’m okay knowing that in a few years Edge of Tomorrow’s box office take won’t matter. In ten years no one will watch the movie and fret about its cume – they’re just going to watch the movie and like it.

I find that sentiment refreshing when I look at this weekend’s box office top ten and see that a movie I quite liked, Man from U.N.C.L.E. (read my review), is pretty much dead on arrival. Its first weekend ($13.4m) couldn’t beat Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’s third weekend ($17.1m). That’s bad. Since its production budget is thought to be somewhere between $75m and $80m, it is going to have play huge, huge I tells ya’, at the international market to have any shot at getting that sequel its ending so clearly tries to set up.  Considering its European setting, it theoretically could turn into an outsized hit overseas.

skIvAXZIt debuted in 23 territories outside of the US/Canada this weekend, and easily pulled a #1 finish in Russia, not surprising considering that one of the main characters, Armi Hammer’s Illya Kuryakan, is Russian. However, the production budget probably doesn’t include all the sunk costs from the project’s development hell period dating all the way back to 1993. After producer John Davis waited that long for this thing to finally happen, a mere $25m worldwide debut must seem anti-climactic. This weekend’s other new release, Straight Outta Compton, almost made that much on its first Friday in the US/Canada alone.

Edge-of-Tomorrow-Poster-Crop-600x393The difference here is that people really liked Edge of Tomorrow and were happy to argue in its defense. I mean, come on – it has a 90% on RottenTomatoes! Yeah, Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s looking at a mere 67%, which is “good, not great” territory. WhatCulture just called U.N.C.L.E. one of the summer’s 14 most disappointing movies (I respectfully disagree). Plus, there’s no easily-dismissed Transformers movie around making way too much money and thus standing in as a symbolic enemy to “good movies.” Instead, the two movies U.N.C.L.E. finished behind in the domestic top 10 this weekend, Straight Outta Compton and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, are legitimately great. Why bother writing U.N.C.L.E.’s obvious obituary when you can praise Compton for grossing the type of money ($60m) normally reserved for big budget spectacles and animated family films?

Don’t you kind of want to know why Compton just enjoyed the fifth best August opening ever (passing Signs) while towering over prior rap movies like 8 Mile ($51.2m debut) and Notorious ($20.5m debut)? Doesn’t its opening beg for a socio-political analysis, like NBC News’ observation,Straight Outta Compton may take place more than two decades ago, but its themes of racial tension, poverty, and police brutality ]clearly] still speak to moviegoers living in a post-Ferguson world”? Isn’t it interesting how four different companies – Universal Pictures, Universal Music’s Interscope label, Apple and Beats audio – came together to promote Compton, and ended up scoring multiple viral hits, especially the “Straight Outta Somehwere” meme? What does it mean that Compton’s opening weekend was almost evenly split on gender, men (52%) and women (48%), and age, those over 30 (51%) and those under (49%)? Or that while African-Americans made up 46% of the audience Caucasians accounted for 24% and Hispanics for 21%?  Isn’t it inspiring to see just how inspired Ava DuVernay was by Compton?

Straight_Outta_Compton-620x412Yet I keep coming back to Man from U.N.C.L.E. because, dangit, I was really hoping to see a sequel, and based on that budget and worldwide opening it’s hard to imagine that’s going to happen now. As a point of comparison, Kingsman: The Secret Service had a nearly identical budget ($81m) and opened to $36m domestic before topping out at $128m here, $406m worldwide, yet Fox took its sweet time in announcing a sequel.  If such an obvious success can take so long to turn into a sure thing when what hope does U.N.C.L.E. have, especially with American Ultra and Hitman 47 flooding the action movie market next weekend?

Warner Bros. isn’t conceding defeat, though (not that I’d expect them to). The studio’s distribution chief told the press, “Guy Ritchie made a terrific picture, but unfortunately it didn’t catch the audience this weekend. We know the older audience doesn’t come out on the first day, so hopefully they will find the movie over the next couple of weeks.” His bigger concern should be the fact that 86% of the opening weekend audience was over the age of 25. It’s a stat like that which makes it easy to simply write this off as yet another franchise revival which missed its nostalgia window and took way too to arrive.

However, there’s probably a bigger factor at play here than, “What did they expect since barely anyone remembers the old U.N.C.L.E. TV show anymore?” No, U.N.C.L.E. was doomed on January 26, 2015 when Paramount surprisingly moved Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation up to a July 31 release, aiming to repeat Guardians of the Galaxy’s trick of being a bigger-than-expected August hit. How dare they! Warner Bros. had the same thing in mind on August 12, 2014 when it moved U.N.C.L.E. back from the dumping grounds of a mid-January 2015 release to the suddenly fertile lands of a August 2015 release, giving the project of a vote of confidence after Guardians and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had proved you could open big in August. At that point on the release schedule, the only other spy movie the summer was going to have was Melissa McCarthy’s rather matter-of-factly named Spy. The moment Rogue Nation turned into a summer movie to avoid November-December competition from Spectre and Star Wars is the moment U.N.C.L.E. went from a potentially refreshing change of pace to the third spy movie of the season, opening in the shadow of whatever insane practical stunts Tom Cruise pulled off this time.

mission-impossible-rogue-nation-teaser-trailer-and-poster-is-out-mission-impossible-rog-317255Then Rogue Nation got here and turned out to be amazing, so amazing that it’s on pace to be one of the highest-grossing films in MI franchise history.  U.N.C.L.E. is light on star power (for however much star power really matters anymore) and comes from a director (Guy Ritchie) whose quirky style is rather divisive. However, it is exactly the kind of light, breezy movie which should play well in the summer, and for a variety of reasons not many people went to see it and even those who did split on whether they liked it (opening night audiences graded it a B on CinemaScore). Sigh.

I don’t care how much money Man from U.N.C.L.E. makes. I’m happy it exists. I’m happy that the people who found it did. I’m happy that Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer got to give a terrific performance. I’m happy that Alicia Vikaner and Elizabeth Debicki got to come off as slightly more modern women without seeming anachronistic. I’m happy that everyone in the movie got to play dress-up in the coolest 60s clothes they could find. I’m sad that more people won’t have a chance to experience this movie on a big screen where the marriage of Guy Ritchie’s camera and orchestrator Daniel Pemperton’s remarkable period music is best enjoyed. I’m okay knowing that in a few years Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s box office take won’t matter. In ten years no one will watch the movie and fret about its cume – they’re just going to watch the movie and like it. But I would have really liked to have seen a sequel.  Fingers crossed and all that.

This Weekend’s Actual Box Office Top 10 Totals (8/16-8/18)

1) Straight Outta Compton (Worldwide Debut)                                                                                                                

  • Production Budget=$29m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$60.2m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=Less than $20k
  • Worldwide Debut=$60.2m

2) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

  • Production Budget=$150m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$17.1m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$46.1m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$138.3m/$235.3m/$373.6m

3) The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Worldwide Debut)                                                                                                              

  • Production Budget=$75-80m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$13.4m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$12m
  • Worldwide Debut=$25.6m

4) Fantastic Four                                                                                                                                                                             

  • Production Budget=$120m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$8.1m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$16.2m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$42.1m/$60.1m/$102.2m

And that is a second-week plunge of 68%, putting Fantastic Four just behind X-Men Origins: Wolverine (-69%), Elektra (-69%), Hulk (-69.7%), Jonah Hex (-69.7%), Hellboy 2 (-70%) and Steel (-78%) on the list of biggest second weekend declines for a comic book movie. It’s doing better overseas, but not enough to make much of a difference.

5) The Gift

  • Production Budget=$5m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$6.5m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=Less than $1m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$23.5m/$2.5m/$26m

This is the first movie from STX Entertainment, a new mini-major run by former Universal execs. with billions of backing from Chinese investors. It is also a Blumhouse Production meaning it was made independently for very little and then put on the market, STX picking up distribution after everyone else passed. It dropped 45% this weekend, which is a good hold for a micro-budget thriller. By comparison, Blumhouse’s last effort, The Gallows, dipped 59% in its second weekend and ultimately topped out at $22m domestic.

6) Ant-Man

  • Production Budget=$130m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.4m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$5.6m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$157.5m/$189.5m/$347m

7) Vacation

  • Production Budget=$30m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.18m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$2m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$46.7m/$4.8m/$51.5m

8) Minions

  • Production Budget=$74m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.14m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$15m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$312.9m/$644.5m/$957.4m

Minions will soon pass Toy Story 3 to become the fourth highest-grossing film ever internationally.

9) Ricki and the Flash

  • Production Budget=$18m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$4.5m
  • Domestic Total=$14.6m

10) Trainwreck

  • Production Budget=$30m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$3.8m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$6.2m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$97.9m/$13.7m/$111.6m

Within the next day or so, Trainwreck will become Universal Pictures’ 6th movie of 2015 to cross $100m domestic. The next closest on that list is Disney, which has 4 movies past $100m. Sony doesn’t have any.

What Left the Top 10?:

  • Pixels – Current total: $64m domestic on a $88m budget
  • Southpaw Current total: $45m domestic on a $30m budget

What’s Up Next?: American Ultra, Hitman: Agent 47, Sinister 2


  1. I have the feeling that Straight Outta Compton might not do so well internationally. It’s such an American theme (honestly, when I heard about the movie I was all “who? And what is so interesting about it?” Granted, music buffs would most likely know this).

    Has Man of UNCLE already been released in Russia? (It is on the my “maybe watch list” because I actually do remember the show. There were reruns).

    1. Uncle made $3.1 million in Russia this weekend, double what Rogue Nation made (which is what’s supposed too happen since Rogue is in its third weekend). Uncle only opened in 23 foreign territories, but it is already playing in a lot of the big ones, including the UK. The most significant markets from this point forward are India, Brazil, South Korea and Japan. It does not have a release date in China, and it is not guaranteed that it will get one (at least not until next year) considering how that country caps it’s annual number of foreign releases.

      As for Compton, there is a long held belief that black – leaning movies do not play well overseas. This is a belief which is backed up by years of historical data. For example, the rest of the world really couldn’t care less about Kevin Hart movies even though they generally do well here. However, there are exceptions. 12 Years a Slave did very well worldwide even though, like Compton, it is so specifically about the African American experience in the United States. Hoever, if I had to guess I’d say that Compton will not do any significant biz overseas, at least based on historical precedent. If it turns into an awards contender though, which some have suggested it could, that might change things a little. The beauty part is that they already doubled their production budget. They will not need overseas money to put this into a profit unless it absolutely falls off a cliff next weekend.

      1. That’s because Slavery is a more overreaching theme and at least the foreign audience gets the historical significance of it. With most of the other, well, “Das Wunder von Bern” and “Deutschland Dein Sommermärchen” did outstanding in Germany, but those movies are specifically addressing German culture (though I think that “Das Wunder von Bern” is a movie every American should watch at least once, just to understand why football is so important for some other nations). In short, I don’t think that the movies don’t do well because they are black-leaning, but because they address an issue which is not really of that much interest outside of the US.

      2. After we exchanged comments, THR ran this story about Compton’s international prospects:

        But Universal is so bullish on the N.W.A story’s appeal overseas that it will open Compton in 23 territories, including Britain (Aug. 28), Korea (Sept. 10) and Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates (Oct. 1). Discussions are underway in additional territories, where there is growing excitement based on the F. Gary Gray-helmed film’s U.S. performance. “In order to greenlight it [at a budget of $29 million], we had a conversation about its prospects internationally,” says Universal chief Donna Langley. “To us, it’s a very aspirational, very inspirational film — a great rags-to-riches story with a political component.”

        Just three years ago, Fox’s George Lucas-produced Red Tails — about a crew of African-American pilots during World War II — was released overseas in only Croatia and the U.K., earning $489,000. Even Universal’s 2014 comedy hit Ride Along, co-starring Compton producer Ice Cube, took in only $19 million — or 12 percent of its $154 million worldwide total — in international territories.

        But Compton could pave the way for other films with predominantly black casts. N.W.A enjoys a rabid following in Europe, where Universal is hoping to launch a reunion tour. What’s more counterintuitive is that the film — starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell — will play in Asia and the Middle East. “There is a potential audience to reach [outside Europe],” says analyst Phil Contrino. “I don’t think anyone should assume it’s a North America-only kind of movie.”

      3. Well…it will interesting to see how it pans out, but I think they are wrong. Not because of the black cast, but because of the topic of the movie.

  2. Love this read. It’s very true. This is one of the reasons why I think it’s so important to look for some of these films that fall through the cracks. Some of the best films I’ve seen in the past ten years have been independent films. Obviously Man from UNCLE doesn’t fall into that category, but yeah, we have seen plenty of quality studio backed films fall through the cracks because some summer or holiday juggernaut film happened to debut. Have no fear though. The creators and everyone who works on these films I’m sure would appreciate you backing them.

    Great stuff!

    1. Exactly. It feels odd championing Man from UNCLE considering it carried an $80m budget and was distributed by a major studio, but one of the points of writing about movies online is to raise awareness about things that might fall through the cracks. Of course, you also want to join in the conversation about the movies everyone’s already talking about, like the big comic book movies and what-not.

      Roger interviewed a Harvard Business professor about a book she wrote detailing how the blockbuster mentality has taken over the entertainment industry, and on the topic of film criticism she had this to say:

      There’s an ongoing debate among academics studying the film industry on whether critics are true influencers or merely leading indicators of what audiences end up seeing. I don’t presume to have the answer to that question, but there is certainly an abundance of evidence for the significant role that critics play. There’s a reason why Roger Ebert became a superstar himself! Movies are what marketers call “experience goods,” meaning consumers cannot judge the quality of the product without having consumed it. That makes critics and others who express opinions about movies so instrumental to moviegoers’ decision-making.

      I’m biased, of course, but I think it’s actually quite helpful for critics to understand the business side of entertainment. There are big and small things they can do to champion smaller films. Take the self-fulfilling prophecy that we discussed earlier: if you know this phenomenon is real, you also know that as a critic, thinking deeply about how you select the movies you review can help in breaking down that pattern. Merely spending more time or column space on the smaller films may just help elevate their chances of success.

      I know Roger Ebert always tried to champion the underdog, and that may be more important now than ever. Critics are probably especially instrumental to movies that are released on a limited number of screens in the hopes that positive word of mouth will propel sales. Here, reaching the right target audiences at the right time is crucial for filmmakers, and critics are often in a very good position to do just that.

      Earlier in in the interview, she further described what she regards as the self-fulling prophecy of blockbuster filmmaking:

      Production and marketing budgets are important signals to the marketplace. Audiences aren’t the only ones falling for this; everyone in the “value chain” for films takes it as a cue. Theaters, for instance, will often commit to dedicating more screens to big-budget films, and will also give them more favorable weekends. Their decisions can have a huge influence on potential revenues; we know from research that the number of screens given to a film is the single best predictor of its box office success.

      Then the media will give these big-budget—or “tent-pole”—films more attention, which drives awareness and the intention to see a film among audiences, and thus also increases likely ticket sales.

      Even critics help fuel the self-fulfilling prophecy: no critic has a chance to review all films, but they’ll make sure to cover all the big-budget ones that everyone is talking about, thereby giving the ones that were already drawing attention even more of a push.

      I have to make it clear that spending big is no guarantee for success, though. All studios can do by adopting a blockbuster strategy is significantly increase the odds of success. They’ll still have big flops. And great small films can still find a way to large audiences

      And Man from UNCLE looks like on of those big flops, despite the fact that it probably deserves a better fate than that.

  3. I’ll agree that Man from UNCLE was ill placed. Summer, even late summer, was not a good place for this. However, I think the lack of word of mouth really killed it. It was neither amazing, nor grossly bad. People don’t talk much about the okay stuff. So place on the calendar when it shouldn’t, surround it but similar movies, and not have it be a strong enough movie will kill it every time.

    1. I know that they had some kind of Man from UNCLE presence at Comic-Con, and it clearly didn’t make much of an impact. Even if Rogue Nation wasn’t around, UNCLE probably wouldn’t have done substantially better because WB’s marketing failed to really generate any word-of-mouth, although I was clearly far more charmed by the trailer and, indeed, the actual movie itself than most. It’s not perfect, but I had a lot of fun with it, warts and all.

      People were more interested in talking about Fantastic Four’s failure than turning the page to looking forward to UNCLE, and I don’t blame them – the FF stuff is juicy gossip central. No such drama connected to UNCLE.

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