Thanks to Sisters and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, Star Wars is not the only new movie coming out this week. The question, though, is why. Why would anyone dare challenge the box office power of Star Wars? THR says Force Awakens will play in more theaters than any other movie in December history, and the experts are still arguing over whether or not Force Awakens will beat Jurassic World for the all-time opening weekend record. What chance does Sisters have against that? The same goes for Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Well, what chance did Pitch Perfect 2 have against Mad Max: Fury Road? Or The Fault in Our Stars against Edge of Tomorrow? Both of those female-targeted films went up against action movies and surprisingly took the box office crown on opening weekend.
It’s not an exact comparison, and only a crazy person would predict a repeat occurrence for Sisters. Unlike Pitch Perfect 2, Sisters is not a sequel, and unlike The Fault in Our Stars it’s not based on a YA novel adored by teenage girls, a group which, when mobilized, can easily turn a film into an over-sized hit. Instead, Sisters is an R-rated comedy featuring two SNLers (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey) who each have their own best-selling autobiographies, little-watched, but highly-praised TV shows (Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock) and occasional dalliances with film stardom. They did a movie (Baby Mama) together in 2008, but their profiles have been raised immensely since then, thanks in some part to their multi-year stint co-hosting the Golden Globes.
They are the type of people who will own the question of “Why are you opening on the same day as Force Awakens” by making a shot-for-shot parody of a particularly self-congratulatory The Force Awakens July video which tripped over itself to discuss the magic of the franchise and featured the new cast members speaking in their very British accents:
At the end, Fey jokes #YouCanSeeThemBoth, and she’s historically correct about that. There is a general belief with movie ticket sales that rising tides lift all boats. If there’s one big movie sucking everyone in with the gravitational pull of its marketing campaign and social media buzz that means more and more people getting dragged along to the theater and looking up at the ticket counter to see everything else that’s playing at that time (or, more accurately, checking Fandango on their phone before ever even leaving home). As such, there is a history of smaller movies prospering in the shadows of giants as opposed to being completely buried. In the case of Pitch Perfect 2 and The Fault in our Stars, they not only prospered but actually triumphed over the competition. Sisters won’t do that, but for as much it matters the reviews have been great. “The best comic duo since Lemmon and Matthau shine in this long, raunchy riff on adults throwing a high school-style house party,” says Movie Nation. “Delivers a consistent stream of laughs even as it descends into overegged chaos,” says The Observer.
Back in July, Forbes predicted this is what would happen:
The film will earn tons of free publicity by being the film that goes up against the Empire . Some will discuss it in “girls vs. boys” narratives, some will use the old “David and Goliath” schtick, but the fact that Sisters is opening against The Force Awakens makes the film far more media-friendly than if it were opening pretty much any other time this year. And if the film does well against the weight of the Jedi, it will be seen as a kind of “strike back against the towering Hollywood franchise machine” even if its numbers are no different than if it were opening sans-Star Wars. It is one thing for a smaller film to merely ride out to see against the oncoming tsunami. It is quote another to cannily use the current social media-driven new cycle to actually improve the profile of your smaller film by opening it against the most talked-about movie of the year.
And now I’ve played right into that by writing this very article.
If you look back at the prequels, you’ll see that the first two opened against female-leaning counterprogramming, The Love Letter vs. Phantom Menace, About a Boy vs. Clone Wars while Revenge of the Sith had to contend with the second weekend of Monster-in Law. None of those posted significant numbers opposite Star Wars, but the pattern was set that Hollywood would combat Star Wars with something designed for all those ladies who couldn’t care less about the exploits of the Jedis in whatever galaxy however long ago. Forbes argued Sisters is doing so much more than that:
That’s not even counting the whole “December legs” situation, which will allow Sisters to play as the adult/female option against Star Wars for the last two weeks of the year when most kids are off of school and many adults are on holiday. Point being, I would argue that Universal choosing to open Sisters against Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t just dependable counter-programming but a stroke of marketing brilliance.
Not everyone agrees. Jeff Block, the senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, told Business Insider, “I could see Sisters opening in the mid-teens against The Force Awakens, same for Alvin, but it baffles my mind why any studio would attempt to cross paths with The Force Awakens.”
Alvin and the Chipmunks seems aimed at all those kids who might be too young for Star Wars, and Fox likely wanted to get it out there prior to Christmas. Plus, maybe someone at Fox just wants to stick it to Disney, anyway they can, since until now Fox had been the distributor of the Star Wars movies. Then again, Fox is in the business of making money, and holding grudges like that would be bad for business. This is actually the fourth Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, and they’ve generally been on a downward trajectory at the box office:
If it dies in the face of The Force, so be it. Sisters, on the other hand, is either a stroke of marketing genius or an unfortunate victim of the mighty Empire. However, if you have the time, money and a sufficient level of interest, when it comes to Star Wars and Sisters there’s no reason you can’t see both of them.
Here’s the trailer: