Monday, February 13, 2006

Horror trend to continue....

Horror never dies. Economically, little has changed from the ‘50s, when the drive-in circuit catering to undiscriminating teens ensured a profit for any sufficiently low-budget monster movie. Now it’s the home video/DVD market that all but ensures such profits.

Occasionally some low-budget horror film hit it (comparatively) big at the box office, by which I mean one might make $50 million or higher. Roughly half the ticket sales go back to the production company, meaning about $25 million. For most films, such a figure would be disastrously bad. For a film made for $15-25 million or so, though, that indicates an early profit.

The real money, though, is as noted in home video rentals and DVD sales. Horror fans are voracious, but more importantly, horror films and comedies (thus explaining the continuing stream of equally cheap gross-out comedies) are the default compromise rental choices of any group of two or more people planning to watch a movie together.

If anything, the real value of a theatrical release of a low-budget horror movie isn’t that it’s already in profit by the time it hits shelves. It’s that the remembrance of a theatrical release acts as an advertising tool. One might not bother to see some piece o’ crap like The Cave in theaters, but the fact that it was out and supported by television ads and such at one time raises its profile over its direct-to-video competitors.

In any case, expect to see the flood of such titles continue until the glut does temporarily reign in the market. This week’s number one film at the box office was Steve Martin Pink Panther remake, which pulled in around $22 million at the box office. For a film released (or dumped, perhaps) in February, that’s not a bad amount.

The second place film was Final Destination 3. In real terms, however, that was easily the weekend’s winner amongst new theatrical releases. (That includes Curious George, which pulled in $15 million, and Firewall, the latest Harrison Ford disappointment, which gleaned about $14 million.)

First, it actually made more per theater than The Pink Panther. In other words, Pink Panther drew more money, but only because it was on substantially more screens. Final Destination 3 made nearly as much in real terms (within two million dollars; exact BO figures due later today), but it’s $20 million average out to close to $7,000 per theater, whereas Pink Panther drew under $6,300.

Moreover, the Final Destination franchise is still growing. The third chapter’s $20 million handily beat the $16 million made in it’s first weekend by the second film, while the first movie draw only $10 million. In other words, there will be a forth film, and although the series box office will obviously peak at some point, things look strong for the present. Especially valuable for the films is that each film’s cast is largely is bumped off by the end of things. Sans continuing stars that might ask for raises, there’s little reason to worry about the budgets increasing and diminishing profitability.

Meanwhile, FD3 is merely the latest such success. This year already has seen three other low budget horror pics open with $19 million or more, Hostel, the comparatively high budgeted Underworld: Evolution and When a Stranger Calls (whose receipts are up to $35 following this weekend).

The big difference, as alluded to earlier, though, is cost. The Pink Panther had a reported $80 million production budget, and a heavy TV advertising campaign. Final Destination 3 cost less than a third of that, at $25 million, although it too heavily spent on TV ads.

Still, Pink Panther did better than it might have done, considering how awful it looks. Curious George didn’t draw giant numbers, but is a kid’s film, and should continue to play for several more weeks, after the other weekend leaders have fallen out of the top ten.

The most ominous flop is definitely Firewall, which seems to indicate that Harrison Ford has more or less dropped from public favor. This is his third low opener in a row, following the already forgotten K-19: The Widow Maker (2002) and the atrocious buddy cop flick Hollywood Homicide (2003). The fact that Ford took two plus years off after those surely hasn’t helped things. It’s notable that production cost info on Firewall has apparently not been promulgated.


At 11:21 AM, Anonymous KurtVon said...

I'd also point out that movie releases do have a secondary "advertising" affect. I was at the local library and overheard a woman asking for a list of all the Pink Panther films available. Not surprisingly (at least not to me, I'm a friend of the head of media purchasing) they were prepared for this and had everything on DVD. Though she had to settle for the VHS of "A Shot In The Dark" because she was not the only person to get this idea. I'm sure Blockbuster is having a similar run on the older films.

It's likely "Final Destination 3" is having a nice influence on rentals for the previous two installments also.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

True enough, and of course MGM/Sony was also prepared and just a few weeks ago released / re-released slews of Pink Panther material, including all the films (including the previously unreleased Inspector Clouseau with Alan Arkin), separately and in a box set, and a six-disc box set of Pink Panther cartoons to boot.

Plus, when FD3 hits DVD shelves, no doubt it will also be offered as part of a Final Destination three movie set. So that's definately true.

By the way, I work in a library, and what surprises me is how shocked people often are when they come in looking for stuff like this, and find out that other people had the exact same idea. They're always like, "Really?!"

At 12:33 AM, Blogger Jessica R. said...

hah, brings back memories of friday nights at the video store, and people being shocked that when a matrix sequel opens some folks get the crazy idea to watch the original.

As for Pink Panther I saw it (not my choice I swear) it's plenty bad, but it could have been a great deal worse. I can see it having some legs at the BO because of brand recognition (and it being the post oscar wasteland) but I think it will take a boom in rentals for it to land fully in the black.

And as for Firewall, Fametracker did a cruelly funny rundown of 'official' possible titles.

At 9:16 PM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

I think the era of the "movie star = box office" is pretty much dead. The people who get put in Entertainment Weakly week after week--Jennifer Aniston, Will Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts--none of their recent films has done very well.

I can't think of anyone who can make a film a big hit just by being in it; I don't count things like War of the Worlds because I'd be willing to bet audiences went to that for the special effects, like any other summer movie.

It's like Will Smith's career. He's a big star, as long as the movie is a big FX movie. Put him in a character film, like Ali, and it bombs (Hitch being an obvious exception).

I used to think Tom Hanks had draw, but his last few films haven't done terribly well. (Polar Express, again, being more an effects movie than anything else.)

At 9:44 PM, Anonymous tam1MI said...

I think the era of the "movie star = box office" is pretty much dead. The people who get put in Entertainment Weakly week after week--Jennifer Aniston, Will Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts--none of their recent films has done very well.

I can't think of anyone who can make a film a big hit just by being in it

I think it's more that Hollywood is in one of those fallow periods it occasionally hits, where the big stars are fading and don't have the box office draw they once had, and the new stars haven't gotten big enough yet to fill their shoes. Wait a couple of years, and all of a sudden you'll wake up one day to discover that Orlando Bloom or Heath Ledger is the hottest thing on the planet, or that Ben Affleck has staged a stunning comeback, or some guy we only know of now as "that guy who was over on the left in that one scene" is the king of the world.


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